THE WRONG INVESTMENTS

Outrage is conditioned not by the nature of the atrocity but by the affiliation of the victim and the perpetrator”
Patrick Radden Keefe, Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

 

A couple nights ago I drove my daughter home from Ballet. It was a dark night, one of those Fall/Winter evenings where it feels like it is approaching midnight when in reality it’s only 7:15.

We drove by the ballfield where my son has spent so many Spring and Fall nights chasing dreams and making memories. It was deserted and exuded almost a sense of melancholy,

“Look at the ball field dark and empty”, remarked my daughter, “Can’t wait till Peter’s games start back up and it comes back to life. Love that place.”

My mind instantly went to the place of memories. The field has been home to inspiring victories, both moral and actual, and soul-crushing defeats. A place where lessons come to fruition, even if it seems at times they never will. Friendships are forged, and players find seeds of who they will be as adults. Born from the pursuit of a little white ball.

All of this passed through my mind as we hurtled past the field on the way home. As the ball field filled my rearview mirror, it dawned on me that the field and schools were very similar. Both arenas of magic, only brought forth by those who take the field.

For the baseball field, it was the ballplayers and the coaches – in schools it’s the teachers and building administrators.

Imagine if I was to suggest hiring an outside consultant to come in and “turn around” my little league baseball team? It would be considered a ludicrous proposition.

Now hiring a little extra training, or coaching for individual coaches and players, that would have some merit. But that would be tied to the needs of the individual. Each to their needs.

Ultimately, the value of the play comes down to the individuals on the field and is contingent on the authentic relationships created by players and coaches.

You can’t teach a kid to hit if he doesn’t stand in the batter’s box and take cuts while a ball is hurtling towards him at what is perceived as a dangerous speed. Getting a kid to stand in the batter’s box, without retreating, is dependent on a coach convincing a child that he won’t get hurt, and if he follows directions he has a reasonable shot at success. It all starts by building authentic relationships.

The same holds true when it comes to pitching, fielding, and base running. Mastering the skills all come after a relationship of trust is formed. The same is true for schools, no matter how hard we try and deny it. Without the relationship between student and teacher, no program will evoke the magic required for learning.

We can argue all we want about the proper balance between science and art when it comes to teaching kids, What is undeniable, is the fact that teaching will never be a paint by numbers proposition. Despite the repeated attempts by those that stand to profit from the ability to standardize everything.

It has been put forth that a budget is a moral document, as it demonstrates what we value. Truth is,  it goes further than that, it shows who we value as well as what we value. And the evidence points to us putting a whole lot more stock in programs, and their providers than we do in people.

We’ll spend $3 million on a supplemental math curriculum without a blink, but investing in math teachers takes an act of congress.

We’ll spend millions on SEL programming while failing to check on the mental and emotional health status of those who are integral to its implementation.

We’ll spend several million dollars on a scripted literacy curriculum that requires hours of prep time in order to deliver each lesson. The argument being this curriculum would give teachers more time. Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case at all.

The examples are endless. It’s always another program that’s going to solve the educational conundrum of the day, rarely is it the people that will actually do the work. Their skills and experience are quickly dismissed in favor of the latest flavor – Common Core, Science of Reading, charter schools, vouchers, HO Curriculum, integrated math. They all share one thing in common, the value of programming over people.

At the last school board meeting, MNPS’s Dr. Battle and her team tried to sneak the latest programs-over-people initiative past an unsuspecting board. A contract to hire a turn-around specialist to in essence run Jere Baxter Middle School was quietly placed on the consent agenda in what can only be interpreted as a means to limit conversation.

As a side note, it could be argued that district and state administrators often show as much disregard for school board members as they do for teachers and building administrators. Granted, that’s not in every district but happens often enough to acknowledge.

In MNPS’s case, it’s a feeling strengthened by the fact that even after board member Abigail Traylor pulled the item from the consent agenda, providing MNPS Chief Keri Randolph an opportunity to educate board members, every effort was made to keep the conversation at the surface level and not admit what was actually transpiring was akin to a state takeover.

Think I’m being hyperbolic? Take a look at what was provided to SCS board members(fSchool_Turnaround_Pilot – Board Presentation-1(1)) and compare it to what MNPS board members saw and heard.

The presentation by SCS not only educates board members on the new legislation but demonstrates what district administrators have done to mitigate the potential damage from a harmful bill. MNPS placing the contract on the consent agenda does none of that.

If you read through the PowerPoint provided by SCS, the reasons for concerns come crystal clear. The largest is that once again, just like with the failed Achievement School District, faith is being put in the hands of outsiders as opposed to the schools working with students.

Sure there is lots of talk about collaboration and consensus-building. Lots of talk about inclusion, and local input. But at the end of the day, there is only one entity with the possibility of reaping a half-million-dollar financial reward – the turn-around school company.

That is the one thing that keeps sticking in my craw. If success arrives, the ones most responsible for the success get half an atta-boy, and maybe a pat on the back.

Those not in the classroom, get a financial windfall and a shot at future profits.

This afternoon, Alabama will take the field against Georgia in the SEC championship game. Alabama has been a perennial player in this game for well over a decade, and Georgia has become their primary rival by emulating their approach to the game.

Both schools recognize that you win games by having the best players, and so they make sure they don’t have a great starting lineup, but that three deep at every position. So when the starters tire, there is another player of near equal caliber to pick it up.

Alabama’s coach Nick Saban is not successful because he is an innovative play-caller, or is some genius behind the scenes. I would argue that the only innovation that Saban brings to the game is the recognition that players win championships, and if you have more high-quality happy players than the other guy, you’ll win more championships.

The magic doesn’t lie in programs, it lies in people. Recruit the best, and then set them up for success by allowing them to use the talents that made them attractive in the first place.

It really is as simple as that.

Hopefully, as Tennessee continues its pursuit of reforming the way schools are funded, there will become an increased awareness to the value of people over programs, and the new budget willreflect that awareness. If not…well…it’lljust be more of the same.

I have more to say, but little time to do it. The Christmas season is upon us. But I’ll be back on Tuesday.

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.

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If you are interested, I’m now sharing posts via email through Substack. This is a new foray for me and an effort to increase coverage. ‘ll be offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. We’ll see how it goes.

If you wish to join the rank of donors, you can still 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.



Categories: Education

1 reply

  1. Wonderful to hear when our School Board members say “hang on a second”. There is way too much smiling and nodding, generally. Calling out nonsense is so welcome.

    One reason reason that Nashville and the other counties targeted in the powerpoint deck are being singled out could be that these urban districts have resisted policies which foster socialy integrated education. As we push poor students into ever poorer corners of the county, and isolate them further with our flight to charters, magnets, etc, that results in more stressful work environments for the kids left behind, scores spiraling downward, and the rest of it that all of his informs us, and predicts. No surprises.

    In our rural counties, schools tend to be more integrated, often feeding into a single high school, and that is why we see average average ACT scores across vast swaths of rural Tennessee public schools, roughly as we should have in our cities, if our student populations were not so segregated by our Boards, and isolation were not so left in the wake of mass affluent flight.

    As for the turnaround gurus, you’d think, with all their energy to accomplish that which no one has been able to accomplish anywhere in the history education (consistently and replicably educate very poor children to have the scores of very rich children), they’d at least have the energy to change the area code on the slides from 901 to 615. Though, if they are still using area codes, and supposedly phone number, how visionary can they really be?

    Thanks for a great post.

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