“there was no honor among thieves. Boys in the game only respected you in direct proportion to how much they needed you divided by how much they feared you.”
I’ve probably told this story bout a dozen times, but I’m going to tell it again because it continues to be relevant.
Back in 1989, when I moved to the not-yet-booming metropolis of Nashville, I went to work for a man who consumed a lot of pot. When I’m talking a lot, I’m talking Bob Marley, Snoop Dog levels. His thing was he’d take a cigarette, extract the tobacco and replace it with a heap of ganja. Called them busters.
His thing was, not to show up to the office until around 1pm and smoke one. As the day progressed, so did the consumption. The thing was, I hit the office around 7:30 in the morning. By the time 7pm rolled around, I was ready to get, while he was ready to work well into the night. So I’d leave him to his devices and head on home.
When I arrived in the morning, more times than not, I would be greeted by a sheet of paper on the desk with a post-it-note, “Look what I got done last night! Busted ass!”, or something akin, would be scrawled on the little yellow sheet attached to a single piece of paper.
I’d read through the paper with great anticipation, only to find just some rudimentary phrases, the results not aligning with the advanced promotion. Puzzled, I’d look around the desk to see if there was more. I look under the desk for further evidence of accomplishment. Not finding anything else, I would re-read the single sheet of paper, often repeatedly, desperately searching for the proposed miracles that had transpired while I lay in my bed at home. But they remained elusive.
Eventually, it would sink in that this single sheet was all there was, despite the grand statements of the post-it-note. With an air of resignation, I would begin my day, realizing that about all that had really happened in my absence the previous evening was the consumption of several busters. There was still a lot of work to do and it wasn’t going to take care of itself.
The first few times it happened, I would get mad, but eventually, anger gave way to acceptance. This was what it was and no amount of anger was going to change that, I just needed to get to work.
Within months, my employment ended, He’d found another person who was capable of more and willing to overlook his transgressions. Like most of my employment partings over the years, it was with an underlying sense of relief that I sought work elsewhere. But some of the lessons remained with me for life.
This week has called forth those lessons and memories in vivid fashion.
Yesterday, the TNDOE released a press release proclaiming,
Today, the Tennessee Department of Education announced 79 school districts, over half of all districts in the state, intend to participate in the Tennessee Accelerating Literacy and Learning Corps (TN ALL Corps) tutoring program to mitigate learning loss and accelerate student achievement. The participating districts and the department will invest a projected $200 million in federal education funding in TN ALL Corps tutoring supports which stands to benefit nearly 150,000 Tennessee students over the next three years.
Mind you, this announcement doesn’t celebrate any actual achievements, merely intentions. Nobody has actually spent $2oo million dollars, nor have they actually done anything proven to benefit 150k students. Just that they intend to. Well, you know what they say about intentions. To quote that crusty old irrelevant scribe, William Shakespeare,
“If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottages princes’ palaces. It is a good divine that follows his own instructions: I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.”
But apparently, our elected officials are easily impressed by intentions instead of actions, as the press release is riddled with their quotes tripping over themselves to clap a department they are often critical of on the back,
“This is a wise investment that will address the significant learning disruptions of the past year by helping students to both recover these losses and to reach new heights throughout their educational journey,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth. “We look forward to seeing the results of this investment in our students as we work toward our goal of leading the nation in education.”
So what, the other 70 districts in the state are now going to fall to desperate lows because of their failure to recognize the largesse of legislators and bow to the will of Commissioner Schwinn? By the way, how’s that special session coming Mr. Lambrith. You know the one that you got every House Replucian member to sign on to but still couldn’t deliver. But I digress
“Through this program many students will have the ability to recover critical learning skills lost during the 2020/2021 school year,” said Senate Education Chairman Brian Kelsey. “While we still have much work to do, this is a huge step in the right direction towards setting students on a path to a successful learning career with positive education outcomes.”
The mere intention of providing tutors does not mitigate the staffing issues schools are currently facing, along with the looming potential teacher shortages statewide. I wonder if Kelsey knows that there are roughly 7000k teachers eligible for retirement employed in Tennessee right now, with an additional 1500 eligible at the end of the year, and 1800 more at the end of the next school year. That’s over 10k teachers that could potentially pack up the old kit bag and head into the sunset. Are tutors going to offset that?
“Ensuring students all across Tennessee are receiving the one-on-one help they need is one of the most important things we can do as a legislature,” said House Education Instruction Subcommittee Scott Cepicky. “This is a huge win for students and teachers across our state as we move Tennessee to number one in education in our country.”
How is the mere intention voiced here, ensuring anybody of anything? Districts can’t find teachers, bus drivers, para-pros, cafeteria workers, nurses, nor substitute teachers…yet Cepicky and company somehow have a pipeline to deliver 7k tutors, thus ensuring all students get the one-on-one help they need. Forgive me if I call bullshit here.
Cepicky’s quote bothers me the most. While the others have a long history of endless bloviating, Cepicky has been willing to actually put in the work and learn what he doesn’t know. Now he seems to be regressing to a level where intentions trump action..
Money is not the only resource required in order to meet the goal. You’ve got to find the tutors, and I don’t see that happening. Not without sending a few more teachers into breakdown mode.
Proponents of using teachers as tutors will support their position by arguing that, “most teachers are already working a second job, and will leap at the opportunity to have thatr second job be in education.”
Say that out loud just to fully appreciate how idiotic it sounds. Substitute doctor, lawyer, or Indian chief into the statement and tell me how it works.
What we are really saying is, we are going to ignore the toll that having two jobs takes on a teacher’s life and their family, and instead of finding a way to eliminate the need to take a second job, we are going to make the second job a bit more palpable to them and useful to us. The latter being the key takeaway.
“We’ve heard that there is a lot of interest,” said Keri Randolph, who’s overseeing the tutoring initiative for the district. “But there’s a lot of: ‘I just can’t do it this semester, there is too much happening.’”
Yep…this is a huge win for students and teachers across our state as we move Tennessee to number one in education in our country. And if you don’t want to sacrifice to be number one you can just move to somewhere else.
Of course, when talking scams, like most related to education, the TN All Corps thing ain’t nothing new. Go back to 2012, in the wake of the Obama administration’s infusion of cash into the system through Race to the Top, and you’ll see it included a provision where if districts would kick in 5k for teachers from Teach for America, the state would kick in 6k. The large urban districts that participated, typically hired between 75 and 100 teachers from TFA. That scam only brought in around $5 million over a couple years, but with tutoring, the sky’s the limit.
Under current guidelines, participating schools get $8oo for every student from the state if they agree to put up $700. That’s money that can add up quickly but who is ultimately going to find it in their bank account? If I’m a private firm that can provide tutors for $13k a student, $2k per student ain’t a bad profit. What if I’m a vendor who can provide tutors at $12k per student and I only charge the district $14k? keeping that extra grand a kid is going to be enticing.
Keep in mind, that every one of the 79 participating districts will receive a list of vendors who have the TNDOE stamp of approval for delivering high-dosage tutoring. Thus facilitating corruption even where it may not be intentional, I’m speaking of LEA’s here.
If I’ve got cash for tutoring, but I don’t have the means to score volunteers, why would I not contract with vendors off of the state list? If I’m overwhelmed trying to support my school employees, why would I not turn to the district referred vendors list to establish my tutoring program?
Lots of questions, very few questions. Thus, here I am once again, reading and re-reading a single sheet of paper looking for something meaningful beyond the delivered accolades, Looking on the floor, searching behind the desk, seeing if an accompanying sheet of paper got misplaced. Alas, this is all there appears to be, a celebration of intent over success.
I can’t help but wonder if Cepicky’s baseball teams celebrated the games they intended to win as heartily as the ones they actually won? was it enough just to buy the best bats, or invest in gloves, or did they wait to celebrate after they actually won?
Speaking of the race to be number one in education among states, this quote in the Tennessean referencing tutoring from Chetham County’s Director of Schools Cathy Beck couldn’t fail to catch my eye,.
We’ve noticed in our TCAP data that a large majority of our students are at the ‘approaching’ level. We know that students who are very far behind are going to get that double to triple dip through the tiered system of instruction but those who don’t qualify don’t necessarily have that double or triple dip during the school day
If this were a movie marquee, it would scream, Return of the Bubble Kids. An oldy but a goody. Take those kids just below the line of accomplishment, get them over the hump through increased focus, and you win the trophy. But does the child?
Between a campaign to use last year’s TCAP scores as a new benchmark, and a rallying around the “bubble kids”, some very duplicitous people are setting themselves to be perceived as superheroes of epic proportions. A perception that will have little, or no relationship to reality. One that is based solely on intentions and manipulation. Not actuall accomplishment.
But don’t think for a minute that the state is the only place where intentions trump accomplishments. MNPS’s Keri Randolph has managed to turn anticipation into a 40K a year raise, as she’s set to assume the role of Chief Strategy Officer based on the assumption that her initiatives will produce results. She was hired last year as an Executive Officer of Strategic Partnerships and now, per the district press release,
Dr. Keri Randolph, our Executive Officer of Strategic Partnerships, will continue her leadership in the district in the role of Chief Strategy Officer, reflecting the immense impact she has had in developing the initiatives and programs that have helped our students and schools recover from the pandemic. Dr. Randolph has overseen the creation and implementation of the Navigator program, Promising Scholars, ESSER planning, and the Accelerating Scholars high-impact tutoring program.
Every one of those initiatives is still in the very early stages. None of which have been executed with any fidelity and all of which have yet to produce measurable results. Yet here are, a new title and a heavier paycheck. rewarding intentions over success.
Let’s look at this week’s board meeting where people tripped over themselves to praise the new initiative between Vanderbilt’s Peabody College and MNPS to examine educational inequities. In the words of board member Gini Pupo-Walker, “”I think this will be a game-changer for us to ask the hard questions and then find the answers together,”
What game is being changed remains unclear to me. A look at those posing for the photo op paint a picture that resembles the same old game – a couple black people, no Hispanics, no Asians, no Muslims, couple dudes.
As former school board candidate Robert Taylor so succinctly but it via Twitter, “So, in a city with 4 HBCUs, Vandy is chosen as the institute to study inequities.” Go figure.
I’m sure they intended to call one of those HBCUs, but the action was never completed.
Any discussion around inequities held presently needs to center around the inequity of teachers killing themselves while district officials have the privilege of holding meetings dominated by intentions versus actions.
I can not say it enough, teachers and principals are drowning while legislators and district administrators are sitting in the boat playing the ukelele or lounging under an umbrella being serenaded. Stop trying to give educators what you think they need and start giving what they are actually asking for – help.
It’s a simple request but one that is going repeatedly unheeded – send help, please.
Speaking of MNPS, when is that long-forgotten director’s evaluation going to happen? The school board is supposed to review the Superintendents performance twice a year, yet here we are, two years into her tenure and not a single performance review. Couple that with fact that Dr. Battle never had to interview for the permanent position, and is it any wonder that she feels justified in keeping the board on a need to know status. I’m sure they intended to conduct her required review, just like they intended to cover her job interview.
Speaking of need-to-know status, those of you gluttons for punishment that has been watching board meetings of late have probably heard about a study on tutoring being conducted by MNPS in conjunction with Brown University and the Annenberg Group. In Keri Randolph’s brief descriptions we get a picture of an experimental group receiving tutoring and a control group that doesn’t. No mention has been made as to the length of the study.
Too bad if you want to know more. Because this is another study taking place without a contract or a scope of work. Though this time there is a data-sharing agreement. If you’ll remember when Dr. Joseph agreed to do a partnership with Florida State around CKLA, he had to secure permission from the board. Something that Dr. Battle apparently feels no compulsion to adhere to and the board feels no compulsion to require.
In reviewing last week’s board meeting, my favorite part has to be when in response to a board member’s thoughtful question about MAP testing and how it’s used to classify students, Chief Academic Officer Mason Bellamy challenged any parent who was unsure about their children’s tier designation, to schedule an IEP meeting. Going as far as encouraging them to, go ahead and waive their right to a 10-day notice and schedule it immediately. Anybody who has actually participated in an IEP meeting can testify to how laughable this idea is.
Under the best of times scheduling an IEP is a complex process that requires the aligning of several different schedules. In the face of an ongoing pandemic, where people are being forced to cover co-worker roles all too frequently, it becomes even more challenging. By all means, parents should talk to schools, but the district’s CAO shouldn’t set false expectations that potentially put school officials in a defensive position. But then again, he does that almost every time he opens his mouth, so maybe I should lower my expectations.
In a not surprising move, Tennessee Governor Lee has indicated that he plans to extend his Executive Order allowing parents to opt their children out of district mask mandates. And why not, it’s not like anybody is paying attention to it and it’ll help stimulate the state’s economy through the generation of more legal action. On an unrelated note, I’ve also decided to extend my executive order that everyone tithes me 10K annually.
Fall Break is fast approaching, and I shudder to think about the number of teachers that won’t return after its conclusion. How many bus drivers will realize during the time off that they really don’t need this headache? How many substitute teachers will decide that it’s just not worth it to answer their phones anymore. If you are not concerned, you are not paying attention. it’s in this light that I implore you to do something kind for a school-based employee – be it a custodian or a principal.
Don’t just say thank you, use your creativity. Then we’ll send out our own press release, one that focuses on actions over intentions.
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