“Today’s headlines and history’s judgment are rarely the same. If you are too attentive to the former, you will most certainly not do the hard work of securing the latter.”
This morning I walked the dog – alone. Thus begins the ending of one routine and the beginning of another. Let me explain.
Over the past 18 months, every morning, around 8 AM, I would head out the door with the dog for a half-mile jaunt accompanied by my 10-year old son. On occasion, my 12-year old would join us. A perk provided us by a pandemic that has proved devastating in so many other ways.
As we walked, the air would be peppered with inquiries,
“Would you rather have a Corvette or a Jaguar?”
“Is Trevor Bower going to play for the Dodgers anymore this year?”
“Do you think our baseball team will be any good?”
“Why don’t you throw the poop bag in somebody’s trash can instead of carrying it the whole way?”
The last is a favorite, though the answer never changes.
During the school year, since the travel distance for school was only to his bedroom, classes never encroached on our morning routine. That’s all about to change as campus reopens this week and we’ll suddenly be thrust back into frenzied mornings that seem to leave little time for anything but preparing for the day. It’s with a mixture of joy and sadness that I greet this change.
I’m happy that once again my children will have the opportunity to join with their peers and work to unlock their capabilities. It’ll be good for them to once again be exposed to the in-person artistry of their teachers – yes, I did mean to use the word “artistry” because teaching is equal parts art and science.
But I’m also sad, I enjoyed having my kids around and the opportunities afforded by them being under the same roof all day. I’ll miss the enthusiastic updates immediately after a class has ended. I’ll miss the shouts of excitement from their room when participating in classroom activities. I’ll miss the freedom to just get everybody in the car and head to Chipotle for lunch if we desire. Most of all I’ll miss having a front-row seat to their lives as they mature and grow all too fast.
It’s not without fear that I watch them slowly creep back to what was once normal. I trust the people I am sending them to, but not necessarily the places. There is too much around the continuing pandemic that has been left unsaid, and I fear, unplanned for, both in relation to COVID and the aftereffects of a year spent remotely.
I’m sure everything will be fine. After all, at this age, I’ve seen enough, that the burden of proof is higher for pessimism than it is for optimism.
Tomorrow will begin another chapter, coming on the heels of a chapter that for all of its trials and tribulations, offered enrichment as well.
As the kids get on the bus tomorrow, off to reclaim what was lost last year, my hope is that they will retain some of what was acquired as well.
My head knows that things must continually move forward, but forgive my heart’s desire to hold on to the past for just a few more minutes.
THEATER OF THE ABSURD
Last week, the Tennessee Department of Education released proposed penalties for teachers and school districts who violate the newly enacted legislation designed to regulate conversations on race and gender. The proposed rules will be available for 10 days in order for the public to weigh in, after which, they’ll head to the State Attorney General for legal review. That’s right, the AG, not the State Board of Education. That alone makes this a strange piece of legislation. One arguably without precedent when it comes to education policy
Typically the way it works is that legislators pass a law. The Department of Education helps craft the rules based on the legislation and then presents them to the Board of Education, who codifies policy. This is not what is happening with this policy. The writing of the schedule of fines rests almost entirely in the hands of Commissioner Schwinn and her band of Merry Men. Subject only to legal review by the State Attorney General’s office.
There has been a reaction to the severity of the penalties. Losing 2% of state funding or $1 million, whichever is less, on the first offense is enough to put the fear of God in anyone. The penalty grows to 10% or $5 million by the fifth offense. Apparently, nobody talked to former Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman about the backlash evoked when leveling a million-dollar fine against an LEA.
Huffman, while commissioner, in response to the Nashville School Board refusing to issue a charter for his personal darling Great Hearts charter school, fined MNPS $3.6 million. The action brought heavy criticism against an already controversial figure. While it may not have had a direct effect on the ending of his tenure, it certainly served as an accelerant.
As the proposed penalties for the new legislation were announced, Governor Lee had the following to offer,
“The department has just released guidelines, open for public comment. That will be important to hear. We need to know what the public thinks about those guidelines. But we need to be very clear. Our legislature, the people spoke, and we will not be teaching critical race theory in Tennessee,”
It continually amazes me that despite legislators painstaking efforts to separate their bill from Critical Race Theory, both the Governor and Commissioner Schwinn have gone out of their way to use language that aligns the two, Doing so removes any benefit of the doubt that legislators were trying to act in a prudent manner, and instead leaves them wide open for criticism at all levels. Call me crazy, but it feels like a big “fuck you” by the dynamic duo to the people who did the heavy lifting for them.
Here’s where things get really absurd though, the majority of complaints already filed in regards to the teaching of CRT are in response to the curriculum that his hand-picked commissioner worked so hard to get adopted. In other words, LEA’s were cajoled into adopting the curriculum by the Commissioner of Education that now leaves them open for heavy fines prescribed by…wait for it… the Commissioner of Education.
In any other administration, this would be considered an aberration. However, when it comes to the Commissioner and the Governor, it is just another day at the office.
MASKS AREN’T ENOUGH
Prior to last week’s MNPS School Board meeting, the battle raged over a mask mandate as kids prepared to return to schools while cases of the Delta variation of COVID were on the rise. Battle lines were clearly drawn, and the conversation was…passionate.
The mask mandate passed. Supporters celebrated. Opponents plotted the next steps. Everybody acted as if the conversation was over. Well. the tip of the iceberg may have been dealt with, but what lurks below was still threatening.
As I stated on Friday, MNPS, and to be fair many other districts across the country have employed a strategy that seems to communicate – ignore and it’ll go away.
Few guidelines have been spelled out about what a mask mandate will look like in schools. Last Spring video circulated of a 5-year old being denied entrance to school by an administrator for not wearing a mask, surely we don’t want any repeats of that incident.
It’s being communicated that teachers who are vaccinated and contract COVID don’t have to guarantee, why? They are still capable of spreading the virus, so why the exemption.?
More importantly, if a teacher must quarantine, how is their time and pay getting covered. In the past there was federal money to cover the required absence, now it seems teachers have to use their own sick time.
What about kids who refuse to wear masks, or for whatever reason, can’t comply? How are their infractions being handled? That has real-world implications for many kids. I know, all of you have altruistic children who understand the need for mask-wearing and therefore have no issue with complying with the edict all day. For those of us with kids a little less altruistic, this is a real concern with legitimate potential long-term implications.
Friday district leadership indicated that there would be no religious exemptions permitted and that health exceptions would be closely scrutinized. Apparently, nobody was paying attention to the plethora of legal actions spurred by the Dr. Joseph regime’s heavy hand. For people who are so concerned about how history is taught, we pay scant attention to recent history.
The mask mandate is a prudent move, but one that is mitigated by a lack of addressing accompanying issues. Last year school administrators could stand behind the defense of these being unprecedented times, that defense is now moot.
Had the district spent the summer utilizing the inquiry cycle to evaluate last year instead of trying to resurrect it and the goals from two years ago, we’d be in a much better place. Parents would have a greater understanding of what to expect as they send their kids back to campus. Teachers wouldn’t feel like they were reinventing the wheel every time they walk into the building. Principals might actually be equipped to answer questions from staff, students, and families.
Last note before wrapping up this topic, district administrators rarely interact with the public and have limited interaction with building staff. That doesn’t hold true for principals whose success rests on daily interactions with teachers, students, and families. When they are not given clear enough information so that they can answer daily questions from the aforementioned, you are hindering their ability to be effective leaders.
I promise you that any principal who has won “Principal of the Year”, is empowered by district leadership that is transparent and forthcoming. It’s not for lack of talent that none of Nashville’s district principals were finalists for this year’s Tennessee Principal of the Year. Got to do better.
MNPS’s external communication has improved marginally, now it’s time for its internal to do the same.
Or all the man mandates in the world won’t make a bit of difference.
MORE ON LEARNING LOSS
Few things have stuck in my craw like the narrative of so-called “learning loss”. Last week professional educator Peter Greene wrote a piece that sums up a lot of my thoughts, with a few caveats.
Greene is more willing than I to accept the argument that kids “learned less last year”,
There’s no reason not to believe that students mostly learned less last year than in a “normal” year. When people squawk about Learning Loss, they’re not making up an issue out of thin air. As education crises go, that’s kind of a first.
To accept this postulate, I would need a little more evidence. Now if you are arguing that they learned less of what we think they need to learn, or what we measure – yes, that seems reasonable. But I would argue that many kids were forced to mature at a faster rate in order to meet the requirements of interrupted formal schooling. With maturity comes learning, so did they really learn less? And are the things we measure the right things or are we as adults slow to evolve?
Keep in mind also, that those so-called benchmarks that kids supposedly fell short of this year, were set by an entirely different set of kids. Kids with different talents and under different conditions. Kids are not interchangeable.
My long-standing response to those who preach learning loss remains, show me the data from the assessment that specifically measures learning loss. Until that can be produced, the argument is disingenuous.
My other caveat comes when Greene talks about instructional differentiation,
Teacher differentiation. Best shot we’ve got, since teachers do it already. But every week filling up last year’s gaps is a week less spent on this year’s usual material. Meaning that even in a best case scenario, the pandemic pause will ripple on through the coming years. Remember–this year’s high school seniors haven’t had a “normal” year since they were freshmen.
This is one of those semi-myths that folks like to hold up but it’s not an accurate picture – not quite a unicorn, but certainly a white rhino.
Teachers may do it regularly, but few do it well. It’s an extremely difficult proposition that challenges even the most experienced teacher. I’d be a little cautious is offering this up as a solution.
Greene does hit the nail on the head when talking about tutoring,
Tutoring. The idea of tutoring is sound enough, but the number of people required to tutor 55 million students (give or take a few million) is daunting. Not to mention training and paying them.
I appreciate Greene’s attempt to be conciliatory. The tendency is to just look at these propositions and ask, “Are y’all fucking insane?” But that won’t get you very far, so you try and find pieces where you can offer some agreement.
Read Greene for his many salient points, and then keep it all in mind when later today the TNDOE releases numbers on a test that was supposed to not have consequences, though suddenly the consequences are very real.
Tuesday brings another MNPS School Board meeting. Expect lots of superlatives about the start of school and plenty of public commentary on the mask mandate. In between the two, buried on the consent agenda are two million dollar contracts for teacher residency programs. One is for the Nashville Teacher Residency Group for 4.5 million dollars and other goes to TSU for 1.3 million dollars. The TSU contract covers 35 candidates, while the former is for 73. In other words, a third of the cost for half the number of candidates. Also on the agenda is the new MOU between teachers and the district that was hammered outpouring the recently completed Collaborative Conferencing process. Good stuff in there and I urge you to read the whole thing.
My favorite quote of the week comes from Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton via a tweet in response to MNPS’s mask mandate,
Just another issue to address in special session. No health board should have the authority to tell a private institution what they can & can’t do. It’s time to stop unelected bureaucrats from deciding what is best for our children!
I wonder if he’ll have a similar convo with SCORE. I’d argue that David Mansouri and posse are the epitomai of unelected bureaucrats trying to decide what is best for our children. Glad the Speaker and I am in agreement that these bureaucrats must be stopped.
Lawmakers are continuing to scrutinize the use of sole-source contracts by the Lee administration. Of particular interest is the TNDOE, where according to the Lookout,
Sen. Todd Gardenhire, chairman of the Fiscal Review Committee, estimates the Department of Education alone entered more than 760 contracts totaling $1 billion from March 2020 through May 2021, based on information provided by Fiscal Review staff.
Equally disturbing is that,
More $9 million of that went to New York-based TNTP for reading programs, a company that employs the husband of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. She sought approval through the state Central Procurement Office in advance and promised to distance herself from the deal. But some lawmakers still called it a conflict of interest.
This is attention that has long been overdue.
August is the month in which I engage in my annual fundraising pitch. While undertaking this blog was my choice, it’s grown past expectations. It takes a lot of work and resources in order to keep up with it. That’s where I need your help.
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