NO SURPRISES HERE

“A journalist should never join the Establishment, no matter how tempting the blandishments. It is our job to hold power to account, not join it.”
Frederick Forsyth, The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue.

At 3pm today, Governor Bill Lee announced an executive order allowing parents the right to opt their children out of any district-based mask mandates. In Lee’s opinion, nobody cares for kids like their parents, and thus he is putting the decision in their hands. He will not call a special session to address the issue.

Should be interesting to see how this works out. All Republican members of the House signed a request for the special session. We’ll see if the executive order meets their desire. If not, it could make for an interesting re-election campaign.

At his press conference, Lee was asked several “what if” questions, he refused to answer any of those. He also expressed that vaccine mandates are never a good idea, and reiterated that as Governor he would not consider enacting one.

Should be interested to see how this one plays out, but are we surprised?

IF IT AIN”T SURPRISING…

Local Tennessee school districts have received the results from Spring’s TCAP testing. Almost universally those results have been met with a chorus of, “no surprise”.

Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn have both expressed that the data holds no surprises for them.

Earlier today, the Tennessee Commission of Education Recovery and Acceleration met, and in their conversation declared that the recently released data held. “no surprises.” There was nothing in the data that they weren’t expecting.

At last week’s MNPS School Board meeting, Dr. Battle explained to the board that there was nothing in the soon-to-be-released data that they were surprised about. Battle and team reassured folks that they had a lot of data on students and thus they were well aware of what would be in the results.

Let’s forget for a moment, that the results for this year’s TCAP are complete utter rubbish. Let’s forget for a minute that Tennessee students, families, and teachers have been the victims of a high-level game of three-card monte. Tests were given under the guise of being accountability-free. Legislators were lavish in the self-praise when announcing that districts would be held harmless, in fact, I think quite a few likely threw an elbow out slapping themselves on the back for the hold harmless bills that they had helped the Governor pass. Yet what’s happening now, certainly doesn’t have a hold harmless feel.

Not only are legislators and the Tennessee Department of Education using the data to decry the dire straits of the state’s children, but there is talk of using this year’s data as some kind of benchmark data. Data in which future data would be compared in order to gauge success.

That’s like you being in the hospital recovering from open-heart surgery, and the doctor coming up and telling you he’s going to time you in the 40-yard dash so they cant set a benchmark for your health. Coming from your doctor it would be a ridiculous proposition and it’s no less so coming from the Commissioner of Education.

Let’s ignore for a minute that the whole discussion is a canard and the veracity of much of the data is still under question. I got a couple questions.

My first question would be, if we all knew the results of the test before the test was administered, why did we even bother?

If we knew there were going to be these dismal results, due to a lack of structured instructional time, why did we interrupt potential additional instructional time in order to engage in an activity where we admittedly already knew the outcomes? many asked that question back in the Spring, but it’s even more relevant now.

If kids are truly first, why did we spend 9 weeks engaged in an activity that would only confirm what we already knew?

MNPS’s Paul Changus and his boss Dr. Battle both bragged to the board during the last meeting about the extensive amount of data we already had on kids, so an argument of need can’t be made.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, data is like cocaine to some of these people – there is never enough. They are constantly looking for more. Last Spring was not unlike the cocaine user who’s been up all night and upon running out at 4Am, is frantically dialing up sources trying to score more, instead of calling it a night, going to bed, and starting afresh in the morning.

Since we have so much data, we should be able to provide more context to the recently released TCAP numbers. Despite what you might have been led to believe, all districts have been administrating Universal Screeners three times a year. So comparison numbers exist.

MNPS has been using MAP testing and has long held it up as a predictor of TCAP. Who the kids are that take TCAP would seem to be important, one of which MAP should be able to shed light on.

Since only 85% of Nashville’s students took the TCAP exam, who was missing, and what would the likely outcomes have been, had they taken TCAP, seems like an important question.  During his presentation to the board last week DR. Changus lightly touched on the answer.

First off, the students who were eligible for TCAP and did not take it scored higher on average on MAP tests than those who took the TCAP test. Had they taken the test, MNPS’s scores would have likely been better. To what degree, is open to debate, but it’s just one more caveat in a litany of caveats.

Here is another one for you, the point of a standardized test is to track individual student trajectories. Something extremely difficult in a highly transient district like MNPS. This year’s TCAP, due to a lack of a 2020 test, compares back to 2019, the last year the state-wide testing was administrated. In comparing 2021 scores to 2019 scores, Changus discovered that 38% of MNPS students from K-8 with a 2021 TCAP ELA score did not take TCAP in 2019. In other words, the 2021 kids were different from the 2019 kids. That’s kind of a big deal, no?.

At the same board meeting, MNPS Director of School Adrienne Battle sought to reassure board members that the district had a strong plan for addressing the low scores. In describing the plan. Battle tosses around a plethora of buzz words – high-dosage tutoring, summer school, back to basics. To be fair, these are the same words tossed around by Commissioner Schwinn and her posse. The words sound pretty, but is the strategy truly sound?

Well lucky for us, there is a way to check. Due to legislation passed during last year’s special session, all districts who offered summer school – MNPS was one of them – must administer an assessment before and after the summer school session. So all we have to do is check the results, and we should be able to evaluate the proposed plan, right?

Unfortunately, despite summer schools being completed nearly 6 weeks ago that data doesn’t seem to be readily available. It seems to me, if we are truly data-driven, we would be looking at the latest data to ensure that we are employing the right strategies before going forth. But instead, once again, we are doing what we always do – only relying on data when it tells the story we want it to tell us.

Even worse, we are not even considering the existing data while rushing off to secure more data. Like the aforementioned cocaine addict looking for another 8-ball when they still have a gram in their pocket, MNPS is making MAP testing a priority to returning students, even placing it above their need to become acclimated.

Most students have not consistently been in a school building for nearly 18 months, yet district leadership is continuing to act as if the pandemic never happen. They are demanding that students take MAP testing and other benchmarks before even forming a relationship with their teachers. For quite a few students, re-entry is a source of high anxiety. But instead of addressing that, demand is being placed on them to show us how much they have lost in the past 18-months. With scant attention to how much they’ve gained.

If that is not deficit thinking, I don’t know what is.

The same holds true for teachers. Instead of allowing them time to connect with students and start to assess their individual needs, they are thrown directly into assessment mode. While teachers try to connect with their students Battle and her team are demanding less personal connection and more connection to their data points. It seems, knowing all children doesn’t necessarily mean knowing them personally but rather having a personal relationship with the abundance of data we have on each student.

Once again, it’s safe to say, no surprise here.

BUS DRIVER BLUES

It’s the beginning of the school year, so once again we must be talking bus driver shortage. At last week’s aforementioned MNPS school board meeting, HR Director Chris Barnes revealed that the district was currently around 60 drivers short. Something that probably ought to have been discussed back in June.

Though the driver shortage was disclosed, left unspoken was the other transportation issues currently being faced, partially due to current circumstances and partially due to poor planning? Let’s run through them and then at the end ask ourselves if we are surprised that the district is short drivers.

Masks are mandated on school buses. And just who is charged with making sure that policy is adhered to? Bus drivers. You explain to me how drivers can focus on the road and police mask simultaneously.

I’ll bet you’ll be shocked to discover that mask protocols aren’t being strictly adhered to on buses. So what is the benefit of wearing masks all day in school buildings, only to get on a bus at the end of the day and ride it home with a mask around your chin?

Last week’s temperatures ran in the mid to high 90’s and over 100 with the heat index. Buses are overcrowded due in part to driver shortages. This makes for a potentially dangerous combo. Especially when you factor in the aging demographics of the district’s bus drivers.

The combined routes mean that kids are riding 3 to a seat, and in some instances standing in the middle aisle. Remember when we were talking about adding seatbelts to buses?

My favorite part of last week’s meeting was when one board member directly asked Barnes and Battle, what can we do to help? The two looked at each other like they’d just been asked directions to Katmandu, before settling on an answer of advocacy. Unless I’m missing something, there is a little something more than advocacy needed here.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by any of this.

COVID BLUES

Last week MNPS instituted a mask mandate and this week according to The Tennessean, after just four days of school, more than 1,000 Nashville students and staff are currently in quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19. Despite being the official account, not everybody is convinced of the veracity of the count. There is speculation that the true numbers are actually much higher.

Teachers, at this point, are still required to use personal sick days in order to cover quarantine time. A fact that doesn’t make many happy, “Staff have to take unpaid time off if we get COVID or have to quarantine after we run out of sick time. This is especially difficult for new teachers who just don’t have very many sick days yet or teachers who have medical conditions and have to be more careful and quarantine more often,” Cassie Norton, a Metro Schools teacher said during last week’s board meeting.

MNEA has proposed that the district utilize federal funds to cover any time teachers are forced to miss due to COVID. But that request is still pending approval.

For students, required work is still being planned out. Virtual schooling is no longer an option, as there are currently only 300 approved virtual school seats and all are filled.

Numbers are expected to rise in the coming weeks, so finding some concrete solution becomes paramount.

TEXTBOOK BLUES

Over the last year, I have spent an inordinate amount of time chronicling the machinations of Commissioner Schwinn and her cohorts at the DOE in regard to their hijacking of the ELA textbook adoption process. Their actions were so egregious that legislators have re-codified the textbook adoption process in a manner that minimizes the input of the DOE. Unfortunately, Schwinn and the company don’t see things that way and are excited to conduct some more Shawinigans as the math adoption process kicks off.

In preparation for the upcoming math materials adoption, they have released an RFQ for a company to guide the process that extolls the virtues of the ELA adoption process,

Building off the successful English Language Arts (“ELA”) adoption of instructional materials aligned to revised State standards, the State has identified components of that adoption cycle that helped lead to the success of not only district adoption, but also in district implementation. As the State moves forward with the upcoming mathematics adoption, the State will create an implementation strategy using the lessons learned and success stories from the ELA adoption. The Contractor selected through this RFP will support this work and the State’s focus on the unique needs of mathematics materials adoption and implementation.

I’d be interested to hear those success stories, not to mention the lessons learned. This RFQ seems to run in opposition to legislators’ voiced opinion that the Commissioners and her team have as little influence on the adoption process as possible. Furthermore, it seeks to undo steps taken by the General Assembly to assure that lessons were learned and won’t be repeated after the fiasco that was the ELA textbook adoption process.

It’s a very puzzling move, but shouldn’t be considered atypical for Commissioner Schwinn. Since her arrival she hasn’t given two wits – pun intended – for anyone’s opinion but the Governors.

WHY AM I NOT SURPRISED

When Dr. Fiscus was fired as Tennessee’s vaccine Chief, there were some howls of protest., When she was reportedly mailed a muzzle the week before being dumped, the outcry grew and included a national audience. It was painted as another symptom of Tennessee’s COVIS stupidity and Fiscus’s army of supporters grew. Well, not it seems, that she mailed that muzzle to herself. Looks like once again, they’ll be laughing at Tennessee. let’s see how many folks admit that they were wrong. I’ll be surprised if it is more than a handful.

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.

This year I began sharing posts via email through Substack. It has been a new foray for me and has helped to increase coverage. I offer both free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. Still a work in progress.

If you don’t wish to subscribe but would like to join the rank of donors, you can head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated.  Not begging, just saying.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.
If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.


Categories: Education

2 replies

  1. “MNPS has been using MAP testing and has long held it up as a predictor of TCAP.”

    MAP is not an indicator of TCAP. NWEA provides a cut score for each grade level and says that any student who meets or exceeds that cut score will likely be On Track or Mastered on TNReady. While that may bear out with a larger study size (which I doubt considering the lack of validity of TNReady), I found it ridiculously untrue for ELA across grades 5-8 at my school every year from 2017-2019.

  2. for all the folks up in arms about the mask exemption order – where is the evidence that masks actually DO reduce the spread of covid? they never were designed to work in the way they are being utilized.

    all we get are people repeating ‘masks work’ over and over and over. that’s not evidence.

    i called the fiscus deal when it happened – i knew she or her husband were involved. #fake

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