PUSHING FOR THE FINISH LINE

“To love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.”
Mohsin Hamid, Exit West

 

The school year is in the home stretch now. Nashville students have just 3 more weeks and then it’s all over but the crying. It’ll mark the closing of the books on what for many educators has been the most difficult ever.

I know that gets said every year, but in reality, not every year comes on the heels of a pandemic that changes everything we thought we knew. And trust me, whether we acknowledge it or not, the pandemic has changed everything.

Too many decisions were made in the spur of the moment, with purely short-term goals in mind and little thought towards future implications. Money was thrown at schools with little consideration of what was really needed, and the practicality of schools actually being able to spend monies in an effective manner was rarely considered. The overwhelming mantra was, do something, doesn’t matter if it is the right thing, just do something.

TIn hindsight, the idea of giving millions to schools, that must be spent within two years, for capital projects amid labor and supply shortages that are causing inflated costs, probably doesn’t feel particularly prudent.

Instead of actually benefiting students on scale, the money quickly became seed money for the pet projects of bureaucrats – tutoring and summer school. Despite neither showing any discernable impact, both are now baked into state budgets ensuring permanent funding for profiteers like TNTP and their ilk. Much like hurricane Katrine proved to be a boon for charter operators in New Orleans, the pandemic has been good for business for education profiteers.

The fear of so-called “learning loss” and the promise of “acceleration” was the impetus to implement agendas written well before the onset of the pandemic but generated little interest among policymakers prior to the crisis. COVID became a boon for those looking to disrupt the teaching and learning world. Imagine getting the aforementioned tutoring programs financed without a fearful populace. But since we are all petrified, it becomes an easy sell.

COVID mitigation has been used as justification to pass taxpayer money on to friends and family. MNPS  invested several million dollars with a local university with little evidence that they had the capacity to do the work on the scale required. They didn’t.

As part of that plan, full-body thermometers were purchased that now haunt storage closets and backrooms of district schools. Fodder for future scavenger hunts, because they ain’t being employed any time soon.

We were so busy fighting about what school was going to look like in the present, that we never made plans for what school would look like once the pandemic abated. Who knew that a year of limited social interaction, would create heightened behavior issues upon a return to full-time in-person learning? We should have. But apparently, policy makers didn’t.

For the record, those that pushed for a return to in-person classrooms appear to have been championing the right course of action. I was one of those who argued that my children were doing fine with remote learning and we could afford to be prudent with opening schools. I was wrong, and the data is emerging to prove it.

My kids, and the majority of the children that remain remote for an extended period of time, suffered more than we realized. Parenting is about making the best call at the time based on the information available at the time. It’s also about admitting when you are wrong, and there is presently precious little of that going on.

Do I think that we have created a “lost generation” that will be wandering the desert for decades, searching for a way to tie their shoes? No, but I do think that children’s social development has been hampered and that failure to address that impact will hinder student outcomes in the foreseeable future.

I also firmly believe that all of the calls for “catching up” and “acceleration” have taken an undeniable toll on teachers and students. Sometimes the supposed cure is as bad as the illness.

Teacher’s already had full plates and now they just had extra helpings of stuffing dumped on them. It’s unsustainable and will accelerate an already alarming rate of teacher attrition.

USDOE Director Miquel Cardona seems to recognize the issue, but keeps on pushing ineffectual solutions,

Schools and districts must also hire more support staff and partner with area colleges and universities to recruit and prepare people from diverse backgrounds to join the teaching profession if we want to provide our students with the best education in the world.

Wonderful idea, but call me when those positions are even 50% filled. Allotting monies may be the first step, but it does not ensure those positions are filled. Again, we fail to recognize that there is not a grove of para-pro trees out past the teacher orchard, where we can just go pluck candidates and plug them in. If the teacher orchid is becoming barren, what makes you think that the trees growing support staff aren’t already bare?

When it comes to teacher attrition, state and district officials have long argued that the statistics don’t match the anecdotal narrative, and I’ve counterargued that if it ever does we are screwed for at minimum a decade. In that light support staff, including but not limited to cafeteria workers, bus drivers, secretaries, and custodians should serve as a warning call for all of us.

This year schools across the country have been plagued by bus driver shortages, to the point where we finally get around to talking about making wages competitive. But by the time we recognized the issue, the damage has already been done, qualified applicants have left the profession and are supporting their families through different employment options. Ones that do more than pay lip service to their needs.

We have the hubris to think that people have no other options but to wait around for officials to make the compensation competitive. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality and those that have left aren’t suddenly dumping their new jobs to come running back because of some marginal increases in pay.

When it comes to the effects on learning caused by the pandemic, the assertions of the previously mentioned Harvard Report are debatable, but in an interview with the Harvard Gazette, co-author Thomas Kane makes a statement that is not,

School districts have never been through a disruption of this magnitude before. School districts have until the end of 2024 to spend the federal aid for academic recovery. Most of the district plans I have seen are undersized. Of course, districts will eventually learn that their efforts are not sufficient. However, the great danger is that they will realize that too late — after they have committed the federal aid.

He goes on to say,

You wouldn’t try to patch a hole without making sure that the patch was as big as the hole. Very few school districts have done the math to figure out if the effect sizes of the interventions that they’re planning and the share of students to be served by each match the loss their students have endured. Troublingly, there’s nothing about the federal process that requires that district plans are commensurate with their losses, even on paper.

That’s the problem in a nutshell, we never take the time to make sure the patch is as big as the whole, and as a result, it seldom is.

If some changes aren’t made quickly, and we don’t start ensuring that patches are the same size as holes, next year ain’t going to be any better and we’ll be the worse for it.

MNPS SCHOOL BOARD RACES

The primary season for MNPS School Board races came to a head last week and brought forth few surprises.

In District 2, the Republican primary saw “No woke Penbroke” edge out two challengers, while incumbent Rachel Elrod ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. Elrod wasted no time in rolling out her arrogance flag in the wake of the primaries, goading Pembroke via Twitter,,

The “NO WOKE” candidate won by 6 votes over the book banning county GOP favorite in yesterday’s primary for my SB district. I got 1,800 more than all of them combined in my uncontested primary, but I can’t take it easy when the stakes are high. Join me in kicking off my campaign!

In District 4, incumbent John Little got his clock cleaned by former board member Berthena Nabaa-McKinney. That should come as no surprise in the wake Nabaa-McKinny being endorsed by 6 sitting board members. Little did himself no favors, as he was continually bogged down in residency issues that brought his eligibility into question. He was also viewed as a charter champion at a time when charter schools have fallen into increased disfavor. Berthena Nabaa-McKinney will now square off against political novice Kelli Phillips, a Republican parent who ran unopposed in the primary.

District 6, former board Chair Cheryl Mays defeated challenger Natalie Martin. Incumbent Fran Bush is running as an independent.

District 8, saw a close race between Chris Moth and Erin Block, with the latter winning by a handful of votes. Block is the preferred successor of sitting board member Gini Pupo-Walker who chose not to seek re-election. For the general election, Block will square off against independent and newcomer Amy Pate. Pate has been critical, with cause, of MNPS over COVID-related procedures.

As we head into the general election, a common theme has emerged – stay the course or change direction. If you think the way things are going is copasetic then cast your vote for Elrod, Mays, Block, and Nabaa-McKinney. If you are not, then you might want to take a closer look at the others. Fran Bush for the record has been fighting for increased transparency and accountability.

Myself, I’m looking for candidates that will actually push Director Adrianne Battle and demand the same level of accountability as required from teachers and students. The bullshit Director Review that was produced by the current board(Director’s Summative Evaluation Results) should serve as an affront to us all.

The fact that nobody was held accountable for the Meherry fiasco should be a reason to raise concerns.

The fact that so many teaching positions are going unfilled and the best we do is hold a job fair, maybe reason enough to start thinking about new thinking.

Let the games begin.

QUICK HITS

The first poll in relation to next year’s Nashville Mayoral race is out and it’s good news for challenger Hal Cato. It shows him with a comfortable lead over current Mayor Cooper. Cato did pay for the poll, so maybe take it with a grain of salt.

Nashville Public Library has kicked off an “I  Read Banned Books” campaign. While I agree with the idea, in theory, I can’t help but point out that banning books has become a highly effective marketing tool. Nothing spurs sales like an attempt to remove a book from the shelf. Though based on adult reading rates, further questions arise about how many people are reading any book? Even if they are purchasing it. This is nothing new though, supposed reading lists have long served as a form of virtue signaling.  A glance at mine would show, some classics, a few biographies, and a lot of trash. For which I remain unapologetic.

I do have to chuckle over the banned book wars, in light of virtually every kid walking around with a phone that supplies unfettered access to everything. As a parent, I’ve come to learn how futile it is to ban anything. But hey, if it gets people talking about reading, I’ll pretend right along with the rest of you.

While we are on the subject, ChalbeatTN has published a new series of articles focusing on the effects of the culture wars on students. It’s interesting reading, but also reveals that we expect too much from kids too early, While other countries all tackle difficult subjects, they primarily do it in middle school.

South Africa, Canada, and Germany all mandate the teaching of history that they know will cause discomfort. Holocaust education in Germany has been mandatory since the early 1990s. In South Africa, the slave trade, colonialism, and apartheid are taught in Grade 7, 8, and 9, respectively. As of 2015, following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations, several Canadian states have made it mandatory to teach the history of “residential schools,” where indigenous children were abused and thousands died.

Chalkbeat’s articles are essential reading to everyone looking for a more nuanced discussion, which should be all of us.

There is an MNPS School Board meeting tomorrow if you are still interested in that kind of thing. A look at the agenda shows it to be a fairly innocuous affair. There will be an approval of the final budget for next year which includes a welcome increase in compensation for everybody.

The Tennessean has a story this morning about a 15-year-old being arrested in the murder of a 17-year-old. Stories happen too frequently. Breaks my heart and we just don’t do enough about it.

That’s it for today, see you at the end of the week.

If 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

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