“As for cognitive empathy, there is, it appears, no shortage of people in the world who can unwittingly offend, misunderstand and steamroller over the delicate signals of others, all while maintaining the self-perception that they are unsurpassedly sensitive to subtle social cues.”
Spring break comes to an end in Nashville this morning. Simultaneously, the mask mandate for MNPS all sunsets. Some argue too soon, while others wonder, “what the hell took so long?”.
Kisa now has a choice upon entering school buildings, to mask or no mask, I have one kid that is meeting the new policy with glee, while the other remarked to me this morning, “I bet I get COVID by the end of the week.” Both are valid takes.
These days we all like to hide behind “the science”, or position ourselves as purveyors of “facts” as if we form our opinions by simply accepting the opinions and interpretations of others. I don’t really want to run down that rabbit hole right now, but suffice it to say our positions are formed through a plethora of means, and science is never settled. The very nature of science is that it is constantly evolving, constantly measuring, constantly collecting new data, hopefully leading to new insights.
My hope today is that people recognize this and share grace with each other. Masks and COVID itself have left a lasting imprint on our society. Just because we’ve decided not to mask, does not mean there is no risk anymore, Just because you chose not to wear a mask does not mean that you are selfish and want everyone’s grandma to die. It simply means that you’ve made a choice based on your own risk assessment. That’s it.
COVID will leave its mark on us for many years, It is a generation-defining catastrophe that will impact not just Tennessee, nor the US, but the whole world for decades. The idea that things will ever return to the way they were, or as we say, “normal”, is farcical. If your whole mission is to try and put the genius back in the bottle, you’d be better off buying a unicorn farm. but we’ll still try.
Technology has had some profound benefits for society, but it’s also made us impatient. We have come to believe with a keystroke everything becomes instantaneous. That’s just not true, And infectious viruses tend to work on their own timeline.
As historians look back on this time, history will reveal things done right and things done right. Hindsight is almost always 20/20. Today there is an opportunity to do things right. Respect each other. Respect that each decision by each person is a personal one based on reasons you are not fully privy to. Just because someone chooses a path different from yours does not make them a selfish person or one who lives in fear. Just someone with a different risk-reward calculator.
Showing kindness and acceptance does not equal endorsement, but is always rewardable. Remember that.
On Friday, I wrote a piece focusing on the fundamental flaw with TISA. To recap, it’s the built-in balloon payment that kicks in every time the General Assembly might try to increase the base amount. Put in $100 million and you are on the hook for 230 million dollars, because of the way the weights are structured. They are calculated for students who fall into unique learning challenges and they are the base plus a percentage of the base. That means you cant fund one without increasing the cost of the other.
If Tennessee adopts this proposed model for school funding, the eventual unintended consequences will be higher taxes for the residents of individual districts and a limit on overall funding to education in general. That was put very succinctly by State Senator Bo Watson when he was seeking clarification during the testimony of Commissioner Schwinn on TISA, “We are giving you #100 million, not $250 million.” With TISA, there, there is no way to do the former without doing the latter.
That sums up the root problem with this model, but the real issue with school funding goes much deeper.
Name me one thing that your family invests in without a clear accepted definition of its purpose. Take car ownership for example. When considering a vehicle for your family, would you ever walk on a car lot and say. “I want the best car. And money is no object?”
if you did so, the salesman would probably task a series of questions, the very first being, “What is the primary purpose of this car?”
If you have a large family, you probably need a larger vehicle. If you live in the city, a pick-up truck might not be appropriate. Whereas if you live in the country a high priced sports car might not be the most prudent investment. A long work commute means the best car would likely be fuel-efficient. In defining the best car, there is a lot to consider.
When you invest your personal money, you almost always do so with a clear expectation of outcomes. I hire a landscaping company, I know exactly what I can expect for my money. The same holds true if I hire a lawyer.
With the latter, I’m looking for legal advice that leads to a favorable outcome for me. If a lawyer wins me a case, I don’t care if they ease my anxiety along the way or educate me on the inner workings of the legal system. That’s not what I hired them for.
When it comes to public education. We talk about accountability and funding before we ever discuss the purpose and expected outcomes. Governor Lee likes to talk about all the public hearings that were held prior to the introduction of his school funding plan. He’ll talk till your ears fall off about the 18 subcommittees dedicated to making sure all stakeholders had input. But how much of those conversations identified a collective defined purpose and money needed to accomplish that purpose? The individual committees were more focused on how to secure the most money for those sub-groups they represented.
Going back to our car analogy, it’s like if before buying a car, I formed a steering wheel sub-committee, a tire sub-committee, a sub-committee that represented my children, and maybe a manufacturing sub-committee. Each would argue to secure maximum funding for their area of expertise, but would they consider how they fit into the overall need and purpose for a family vehicle? It’s not just enough to have diverse voices at the table, they must be united by a shared desired outcome.
The intended purpose should have been established before everybody convened, but we never do that. Instead, we are left with a multitude of goals, that may appear similar in design but really aren’t.
The folks with the money are arguing they need workers. Others are arguing that a tool to escape poverty is being built. For others, the purpose is to build good citizens. while still others are looking for a system that will facilitate the development of individual potential.
A quick glance may lead to thinking that these overlap more than they do, but that’s not necessarily true, For every critical thinker required by corporate America, there are at least 20 people required that know how to shut up and do what they are told.
Some might say, all that’s good, but we’ve got tools for measurement and what we need is for kids to pass these tests. Ok…but are we sure we are using the right tools for measurement?
We’ve been hard at work on this improving education thing for decades, but our tools of measurement continually show us falling short. Falling short by a large margin. Student testing has become like baseball’s batting average, hit 400 and you are considered a Hall of Fame. When was the last time you heard about a school district consistently hitting over 60% on student achievement?
Some would say that there are districts in Tennessee and elsewhere that regularly show in the mid-50s. But is that the whole story?
Tennessee’s best districts may be showing around 60% proficiency, but don’t look at their sub-groups because that ain’t so pretty. with numbers again running in the low 20s and 30s. You’d think by now somebody would scratch their head and say, “All this intense work has been done by all these smart people, and a cost of millions of dollars, yet we are still falling way short, I wonder if this ruler isn’t what’s flawed.”
And here is where the cynic in me comes in. After a decade of being involved in education policy debates, I’m convinced it’s all about the money. About holding on to your share, and about getting a piece of somebody else’s.
Don’t let anybody fool you, there is a lot of money in education. It’s just not getting to the right people, because we never have the right conversations, because everybody is too focused on guarding and growing their individual pot of money. Meanwhile, Teachers and Principals are left dancing to a tune with no decipherable melody.
Case in point. I think everybody can agree the single greatest factor in student achievement is that of the teacher to the student. We’ve tried for years to supplant that, tutors being the latest model, but no matter what it always comes back to the student-teacher relationship.
Along the same lines, we recognize that the most successful schools are led by the most effective leaders. Principals and building leadership matters.
Yet when it comes to compensation, these two positions rank among the lowest paid.
How come there are people in the ‘support hub” getting paid more than the average teacher? How come the head of the Education Trust is making more than the highest-paid MNPS principal? Why is the head of SCORE earning more annually than 6 teachers combined?
This is like building a football team where guards, tackles, and tight ends are the highest-paid positions on the team, and the quarterback is the lowest paid. You wouldn’t expect a team constructed in such a manner to annually compete for the Super Bowl, yet that’s the expectation for schools every year.
We’ll invest $8 million in a curriculum and then pay a teacher $50k. We’ll spend $6 million to hire consultants to facilitate curriculum adoption, and then pay a principal of $100K a year. We’ll pay an equity officer 6 figures annually while a bus driver makes $15 an hour, which do you think has a greater impact on equity?
We talk often about the military-industrial complex, it ain’t got nothing on the education industrial complex. Right now schools have more money than they can spend, yet there are still calls for more money., even as we can’t agree on specific needs. Ask yourself, when is there enough investment? When are schools fully funded?
When you don’t identify a true purpose, you have the ability to constantly move the goalposts. When you control the measurement tool, you have the ability to write a favorable story. I’ve always said, “He who controls the cut scores controls the narrative.” That’s more true now than ever.
This week, TISA legislation will be heard again in the Senate and the House. Lt Governor McNally has indicated that he thinks it’ll pass. In the Senate. what McNally thinks, usually comes to be.
Over on the House side, Representative Sexton has suggested that if the bill passes, it doesn’t go into effect until next year, giving legislators time to fix it. If the past is any indication, that translates to individual districts receiving individual protections from harmful consequences. In this case, those consequences would be in the form of increased property taxes. Look for some cleverly worded amendments to show up in the near future.
The idea of fixing a bill after it passes strikes me as a bit ludicrous. That’s probably how we ended up with the El Camino. Somebody bought a car and then realized what they needed was a truck. So they tried to fix it after the purchase.
My recommendation will likely fall on deaf ears, but for what it’s worth, I think we need to hit a pause. Yes, the bill can be fixed after it’s passed, but it can also be done right before it is passed. As part of the review, we need to identify the collective purpose of public education and what exactly we are looking for with our investment.
I don’t think any of us would buy a new car with the intention of improving it after the purpose. Not when it’s possible to get exactly what we want and need from the outset. We should have the same expectations for our elected officials.
Congratulation to East Nashville High School Basket Ball. They are 2021-22 State Champions! Well done and a tip of the hat.
School board races in Nashville are heating up. I must admit that I like the messaging of District 8 candidate Chris Moth. Moth has been very involved in school issues for nearly a decade and is no stranger to a campaign. In the past, he ran for a House seat against the sitting speaker. He didn’t win, but he was competitive. He’ll bring that same work ethic to the school board.
It’s safe to say that the salad days are over for Teach For America. I’d like to say I’m sorry to hear it, but I’m not. This year they are posed to meet a 17 year low in recruitment. Per Gary Rubenstein,
Teach For America has an operating budget of $300 million. Their main responsibility is to recruit and prepare corps members to teach for a minimum of two years in low-income communities. They started in 1990 with 500 corps members. In 1991 they grew to 750 corps members. By 2005 they had 2000 corps members and they peaked in 2012 with 6000. Now, according to Chalkbeat, They are at a 17 year low, back to 2000 recruits.
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