THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE

“What am I? The data? The process that generates it? The relationships between the numbers?”
Greg Egan, Permutation City

 

One of the most discussed topics in education these days is teacher attrition and the increased difficulty of retaining quality teachers. Though the data has yet to catch up with anecdotes, it’s becoming more and more of a universally recognized crisis.

Teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate, whether through retirement or exhaustion, and there are fewer and fewer prospective replacements in the pipeline. This means that schools are continually having to scramble to find adults to cover classrooms.

I remember when my wife started teaching 16 years ago, the thought of a teacher leaving in the middle of the year was limited to those who were either pregnant or terminally ill. It was something that rarely happen, which doesn’t hold true today.

The teacher crisis exposes more truths than many are uncomfortable admitting. The disruptors and reformers. who have become so prevalent of late, will frequently pay lip service to their love of teachers, the reality is a little different. What. they are really talking about when professing their love, are the compliant ones. Those are the ones they truly love.

The ones that’ll sacrifice their after-school and weekends time for no extra pay. The ones that will give up their planning time because who needs to plan when you are being provided the script. In that light, even more, popular are the teachers that don’t push back on the script and readily do as instructed, content to form relationships with children, keep them safe, and make sure they stay on track with the script. The latter part of that description sounds strangely familiar…oh well it’ll come to me. Or maybe, it’s already come to you.

Who they are not quite as fond of, are these teachers that after investing heavily in a college education to prepare for the classroom, expect to be paid at a comparable rate to other professionals. These damn teachers want retirement accounts, regular raises, the ability to use their training to practice their craft, along with expectations of being compensated when they work outside their contracted times. Ain’t nobody got time for all that,

It is enough to give a certified disruptor a pounding headache. There’s got to be a better way. But wait, what if…

You took the teaching part out of being a public school teacher? What if you could pay someone a lower rate to individually teach students the scripts that you write? You could hire all young people, or older retired teachers, folks that wouldn’t give you too much of a pushback? You wouldn’t have to worry about benefits and perks because they’d only be part-time. What would you call that?

These days we are calling it tutoring, and Tennessee is all in. Apparently, the irony is lost on everyone that Governor Lee is proposing to invest $125 million in teachers but Tennessee is spending $200 million in federal funding to build the Tennessee Accelerating Literacy and Learning Corps, to provide tutoring to nearly 150,000 students over the next three years. Kinda shows priorities, eh?

You want to know what these folks truly think about teachers, just listen to them.

Craig Selinger is the CEO of Brooklyn Letters, a New York-based tutoring company that is experiencing high growth in its business model. He’s a speech therapist, who never taught in a school but, worked with children of all ages with and without disabilities for over 18 years as a day camp and sleep-away camp counselor, respite care worker, tutor, volunteer, He’s quoted in a recent NBC report,

“The reality is that teachers, in general, way before the pandemic were not well-trained to teach literacy. That always existed and like many other things, the pandemic exacerbated an Achilles heel, Young children, they’re the ones that have been hit the hardest. When children are not being taught these critical skills in critical windows, it becomes a disaster.”

He is not alone in his thinking. just one of the few willing to voice it bluntly. So instead of finding new ways to retain teachers, we chase after an elusive unproven element, with the added potential of eventually allowing us to supplant teachers. It’s the old adage, “this would be a great place to work if it wasn’t for the customers” taken to the nth degree.

Luckily for us, these disruptors are only good at disrupting and seldom prove capable of actually building anything. Just like they haven’t figured out how to secure staffing for teaching, substitute teaching, bus driving, cafeteria work, or virtually any other position in schools, the recruiting of tutors remains an elusive pursuit for administrators and state officials.

The Tennessean recently looked at MNPS’s efforts to establish a tutoring force, and there are a few things worthy of elaboration.

First off, once again, MNPS Chief Keri Randolph is quoted as saying, “It’s been more challenging than we thought.” Forget about this being the standard quote from Randolph in every article covering MNPS’s tutoring program over the last two years, who exactly is “we”?

Because since the conception of this idea, I’ve been saying staffing was going to be really hard. So who was she relying on for counsel that this would be easier than it is, and what else have they led her astray on?

The math in this article gets a little confusing. In one paragraph it claims, ‘that his spring, 820 tutors are working with 1,703 Metro Schools students. About half of the tutoring sessions are occurring in person and the rest online, using a virtual platform.”

Ok…but just a few paragraphs later, the numbers change,

“Though about half of tutors this school year have been volunteers, more than 670 are current MNPS staff members and receive extra stipends for tutoring.”

670 ain’t half of 820. More like 82%. And when you take Randolph’s next quote into account you begin to see a problem,

“A big part of our tutor corps are educators. And they’re stretched. So we have more educators, I think, who want to do this, but this year, they were just like, ‘I don’t think I can take on one more thing,'”

Yes, they are, and shouldn’t we be addressing that first and foremost? Instead of rushing off and throwing millions at a shiny new object, perhaps we could increase investment in the proven model? It’s like an NFL team signing a backup quarterback to a million-dollar contract before securing the starting QB. It’s ludicrous.

Something else to put on your radar when it comes to teacher appreciation. During committee hearings, Commissioner Schwinn pointed to North Carolina as an example of school financing being executed properly. At the time I pointed out that North Carolina lived in the same neighborhood as Tennessee when it came to supporting schools financially. But there is another wrinkle to North Carolina and how they fund schools. And Schwinn may have revealed more than she intended.

Currently, the Tar Hill state is trying to pass a law that changes teacher pay from focusing on experience to focusing on student outcomes. it’s the old merit pay canard brought to life once again, despite evidence of its effectiveness. If the law passes North Carolina will become the first state to ditch a pay scale based on years of service,

Instead, compensation would be based largely on teacher effectiveness as determined by EVAAS, a computer algorithm developed by the SAS corporation which analyzes standardized test scores.  Teachers who do not have EVAAS scores would receive salaries based on principal observations, observations by colleagues, and student surveys.

I’d encourage you to listen closely to Mrs. Schwinn when she talks about the flexibility in TISA when it comes to teacher salaries. Especially when she talks about pay schedules changing when lawmakers put more money into the TISA formula in the future. The ironic part of this is, that there was a study conducted right here in Nashville that demonstrated the fallacy behind this thinking. That evaluation concluded,

While the general trend in middle school mathematics performance was upward over the period of the project, students of teachers randomly assigned to the treatment group (eligible for bonuses) did not outperform students whose teachers were assigned to the control group (not eligible for bonuses). The brightest spot was a positive effect of incentives detected in fifth grade during the second and third years of the experiment. This finding, which is robust to a variety of alternative estimation methods, is nonetheless of limited policy significance, for this effect does not appear to persist after students leave fifth grade. Students whose fifth-grade teacher was in the treatment group performed no better by the end of the sixth grade than did sixth graders whose teacher the year before was in the control group.

It’s not a stretch to envision TISA being a setup to even more disruption down the road. In fact, I’d say it’s a pretty good bet that TISA is likely a gateway drug to all kinds of future experiments conducted with taxpayer money.

The most effective means of increasing student outcomes is to ensure that ALL students have access to a quality teacher. You can’t recruit your way to a robust teaching force. At some point, we are going to have to patch the holes in the leaky bucket.

Tutoring is fine, obviously, it can benefit some kids. But can we address the primary challenges before building the support systems?

THE ASD CONUNDRUM

On Friday the Tennessean quietly ran an article about Tennessee’s Achievement School District. To describe the last 10 years of this debacle as anything but an abject failure would be disingenuous at best. Yet here we go again, the same game, the same rules. It seems like the ASD has more lives than Michael Myers from the Halloween movies. Everytime you think they’ve met their demise…

The TNDOE announced last. week in a presentation to the state’s charter school board that it’s full speed forward next Fall and that they intend to take some new schools and match them with charter operators, even as they hand back schools they’ve failed back to local districts. This proposed growth is in spite of not having a superintendent in place for nearly 2 years, and none even on the horizon. I love the quote supplied by TNDOE’s Eve Carney,

“We do not have a candidate that we are able to extend an offer to at this time,” Carney said, adding she didn’t have any additional information to share. “But I am optimistic and hopeful that we will in the weeks and months to come.”

Months to come?!? WTF?!?

To me, that quote seems to indicate that they are not looking for someone with vision, but rather a person to oversee the failed practices of the past. Why would anybody possibly take this position, knowing full well that it’s a fast track to failure? Do you think any one of these charter operators being recruited has any intention to adopt their philosophies and practices to those of whoever is hired as superintendent? Not likely.

Per The Tennessean, “On March 11, the state put out a request for information for interested charter operators for the district’s new set of schools, documents show. Carney expects respondents could be local or national. That request, due Friday afternoon, will inform the procurement process.”

I can’t wait to see these responses. At this point, any of the established charter chains are well aware of the risks of pairing with Tennessee. I doubt they’ll find such a pairing complementary to their business model unless there is a lot of incentive tucked behind the scenes. That’ll leave us with newbies and less successful applicants. Though once again, I’m sure Schwinn knows a guy, who knows a guy.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why people that spend so much time spouting their fidelity to kids, continue to refuse to pull the plug on the car wreck. Instead, we continue to just run cars into the wall, at the expense of our state’s most vulnerable and her taxpayers.

QUICK HITS

Shout out to Representative Mark White. After failing last week to get TISA legislation out of committee, it looked like he’d created a scheduling conflict for Commissioner Schwinn. If something didn’t change Schwinn was slated to be in San Diego presenting at a conference on a panel led by her former Chief of Staff and current ILO founder Rebecca Shah at the same time discussion on the school funding bill would resume. . Lucky for her, she’s got a friend in White, and that discussion is slated to be taken up on Tuesday at 1pm instead of when Schwinn will be in San Diego. Freeing the commissioner up to fly out on either Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, No word on whether Riley the Reading Racoon will be joining her on the trip.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton has been talking on the radio of late. During one of his chats, he quietly dropped the nugget that the governor’s plan to invest in the building of a new stadium comes with strings. A percentage of future tax earnings from the new stadium will supplement rural school funding. I kinda figured that when Mayor Cooper took a shot at the Titans, and I believe subtly at Lee, that Nashville was in the educating children business and not the stadium business, Lee would twist things to his benefit. And I’m not disappointed in that assumption. It seems like once again the whole state will benefit from the success of Nashville.

State Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, is planning a run for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District.

“Every family deserves the freedom to thrive, living a good Middle-Class life and working a good job without the constant question of how you’ll make ends meet. As your representative in Congress, I will always put freedom for our families first,” Campbell said in a statement.

She will retain her state senate seat while pursuing higher office. This is good news for everyone.

Good news for Maury County teachers. they are getting a raise. Per Mainstreet Nashvuille, 

The $6.5 million increase in payroll costs was approved at a March 22 special called meeting and includes all teaching positions. The increase will go into effect later this spring and MCPS employees can expect a raise in pay of $3,000 annually.

Good news.

That’s it for today. See ya later in the week.

f you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

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 are interested, I’m sharing posts via email through Substack. This has proven to be an effective way to increase coverage. I am offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

If you wish to join the rank of donors but are not interested in Substack, 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. sadly, teaching – along with nursing and law enforcement, is one of the vocations being destroyed in terms of being a ‘good’ career. i’d advise anyone against considering them unless they are EXTREMELY sure of it, and know what they are getting into. even then they might not last long.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: