A FOND ADIEU

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

 

This week Nashville lost another one of those people that have contributed so much to making the city the great place it is today. Father Joseph Patrick Breen was a man of faith, but more than that he was a man of conviction. Convictions he held fast no matter who lined up in opposition.

During his three decades of service to Nashville, primarily at St. Edwards Church, he often found himself at loggerheads with the Vatican. His faith in his convictions, and willingness to take a moral stand,  earned him three formal reprimands from the church, including one that threatened his standing with the church. Throughout Father Breen remained Father Breen.

His love of community was not reserved solely for those of his church but extended ever outward. Back in 2005 when we decided to create the Flatrock Art and Music Festival dedicated to celebrating the history and growing diversity of the community, Father Breen was one of the first to jump in line to help. Digging into his own pocket for a $100 pledge and offered up the church parking lot on the date of the festival for free.

At a time when the church often found itself justifiably under fire for shortcomings, Breen served as a reminder of what a true man of the cloth looked like.

Father Breen was 87 years old and I figure God decided heaven needed a little bit of a shakeup, This past weekend he got just the man for the job.

Back here on earth, we’ll be left with a hard-to-fill hole and a mountain of gratitude. Rest assured, Nashville would not be Nashville without the years of service provided by Father Joseph Patrick Breen. For that, we owe an eternal thank you.

Father Breen indeed spent more time being a good man, than he did worrying about what made a good man.

ACROSS THE COUNTY LINE

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been telling you about the teachers at a Williamson County Elementary School who were suspended for lack of fidelity to the adopted curriculum Wit and Wisdom. The response from district leaders has been denial, denial, and then the patented, “Well you don’t know the whole story. It wasn’t about Wit and Wisdom and it wasn’t;t about taking away teacher judgment. We’d like to tell you the whole story, but we don’t discuss teacher disciplinary actions.”

Yet, that is exactly what Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Schools Juli L. Oyer did when she sent out an email to parents that not only named the teachers but spelled out their infractions, including the naming of Wit and Wisdom. The following paragraph sums it up,

While your child’s classroom teacher has been working toward teaching the State standards, they have not been following our State and School Board approved curriculum in math and English language arts, including Wit and Wisdom and GoMath. In addition, the teachers used a phonics program we have used in the past rather than the State approved curriculum. The teachers and administrators were errant in these decisions.
What’s not included is an explanation of why this is bad, other than that they were using something that had been approved in the past but is no longer on the approval list. So had they with district approval, previously used subpar materials? Did the material they were using have passages about starfish having coital relationships? I mean why is it bad that they used their judgment, gained through education and experience wrong?
The rest of the email reads like a description of a re-education camp to get offenders realigned with the state.
If I’m a parent getting this email, my immediate reaction is, “Why do I care?” Is my kid progressing? Then I’m happy. If not, then we have questions, and perhaps Mrs. Oyer has data that will address that concern. None of which is included in this email.
My next question would become, who exactly is at the root of the umbrage?
It’s well documented the lengths that the TNDOE has gone to make sure that their preferred curriculum is the law of the land, is this more of that?  Oyer refers to the teachers not using a state-approved phonetics program, the proper descriptor would be “state-created” phonetics program. In order to get Wit and Wisdom approved for use in K-2, the state had to literally create a phonic curriculum to address shortcomings. An unprecedented foray into curriculum creation.
It’s not hard to imagine the TNDOE’s Commissioner Schwinn and CAO Lisa Coons bullying districts in order to get them to toe the line. After all, they’ve already bullied them about ESSER spending, participating in the Best For All program, ELA materials adoption, and of late math materials adoption. I hate to assume the worst of people who always seem to be paying homage to their worst angels, but since WCS leaders are still in an active state of denial, it’s hard not to make assumptions.
For the record, the teachers in question were initially suspended, and then the district came back after the fact and restored their pay. Still, the teachers were out for 9 days, and a very succinct message was sent.
My favorite part of the email comes on the third page when Oyer offers an apology to parents on behalf of “your child’s first-grade teacher, the school administration, and the school district for not following the curriculum”. Usually, when I get an apology, I’m aware of the harm that’s been done, but in this case, that seems to be an afterthought. Of all the things that schools can apologize to parents for, I’m not sure that not reciting scripted lessons should leap to the forefront.
But what do I know?
MAP TESTING
 Those of you in Nashville, who have longer memories than most, may recall that back in February MNPS leadership made a lengthy presentation to the board on the incredible results they were seeing from MAP testing. Kids were showing solid growth, and everybody was on the right track. It was cause for celebration among some board members, those with a little more experience in literacy instruction reserved judgment. Taking a wait-and-see approach, until after the administration of the third round of assessment scheduled for May. An assessment that won’t be forthcoming.
For those unfamiliar, MAP testing is an assessment that is nationally normed with other schools that administer the test. It is meant to be a formative assessment that guides instruction, as it shows growth and helps identify areas of student weakness. Typically it is administered three times a year – Fall, Winter, and Spring. NWEA, makers of the test, will tell you that it is not designed to be used for determining what services students receive, i.e gifted or remedial.
Despite that MNPS has been using the scores for entry to magnate schools and other programs.
The assessment was first brought to MNPS upon the arrival of then-superintendent Shawn Joseph. It was administered in August, January, and May. The next year the dates changed to August, November, and February, due to the scores dropping or showing less growth in May. This was attributed to “test fatigue” and used to discount those numbers.
MNPS continued administering tests on that schedule for the next several years, despite a lack of congruity with the norming schedule of NWEA. In defense, it was offered that NWEA was pioneering the use of matching test results of those who used various weeks of instruction between tests. It was a defense widely accepted by most stakeholders, Notice that I said most.
This year, Dr. Battle announced a return to the original schedule, one that aligned with NWEA. Somehow, “test fatigue” was no longer an issue. Most that understood MAP testing and its value, which is considerable, welcomed the change. I would argue that MAP results are more valuable than TNReady because instruction can be rapidly adjusted due to results being quickly available, unlike state testing which often doesn’t arrive until well after the fact.
So here we are in May, and MNPS has quietly dropped the third administration of MAP testing with no explanation.
This does not come without implications. First of all, it leaves the district with an incomplete independent assessment of student performance. The state-mandated universal screener, I-Ready, was administered last week.
How much growth did students make from February to May? For that answer, MNPS is dependent on outside consultation from the state. The state has not always provided the most accurate results, so some independent verification of progress would be helpful. You would think with all the attention being given to “learning loss’ it would be imperative that we had up-to-date real data on which to base tutoring and summer school strategies,.
Is the district going to discontinue the use of MAP going forth? Who knows?  If not, what data will be used to demonstrate growth after the Fall administration of testing? Will it be compared to data that at that time will be almost 6 months old?
As a parent, this statement from MNPS concerns me,
 XYZ Middle School will use multiple data points such as the fall and winter MAP tests, math iReady diagnostic tests, and spring 2021 TNReady tests to identify advanced learners for Integrated Math I, Physical Science, and Honors ELA. Parents will be notified via letter prior to the end of the school year whether their child will be enrolled in the above courses.
In other words, a test administered 4 months after a return to in-person learning and only halfway through the school year, a test whose results won’t be available for weeks, and one whose results get sent directly to the state will be used to determine a child’s academic future. That doesn’t make me really comfortable and leaves little margin for error at a time when error is in the air.
THE NEVER-ENDING RACE
The Atlantic has another one of those “kids are miles behind” articles out this week, Another one of those pieces designed to scare parents into buying into prescriptions that are readily available for the low, low, low, price of….,
In this case author, Thomas Kane substitutes the dubious “learning loss” descriptor with a more accurate term – “loss of the instructional time”,
One-fifth of American students, by our calculations, were enrolled in districts that remained remote for the majority of the 2020–21 school year. For these students, the effects were severe. Growth in student achievement slowed to the point that, even in low-poverty schools, students in fall 2021 had fallen well behind what pre-pandemic patterns would have predicted; in effect, students at low-poverty schools that stayed remote had lost the equivalent of 13 weeks of in-person instruction. At high-poverty schools that stayed remote, students lost the equivalent of 22 weeks. Racial gaps widened too: In the districts that stayed remote for most of last year, the outcome was as if Black and Hispanic students had lost four to five more weeks of instruction than white students had.
 And with those lost instructional weeks comes a predictable decline in test results. at least for the years immediately preceding the pandemic. Put in the context of the previous decade, Kane doesn’t tell us. Likely way behind some years, and on par with others.
These hyped declines come in areas previously measured, but what about in areas not previously measured, but likely important – like say, technology fluency or ability to work unsupervised?.
What we also don’t know, is elasticity rates. How quick will students naturally rebound as stability is restored? Kane, and others, work under the assumption that elasticity is limited without intervention. Thus the need for programs like summer school and high-dosage tutoring. The value of which is debatable in my eyes until a complete diagnosis has been conducted.
Kane’s piece is fairly predictable, and normally I would just dismiss it, save for one passage that warrants particular attention.
It comes amidst his argument for a double dose of math instruction and the need to increase efforts in that area. As a benefit to employing tutors over teachers, he offers the following,
Like tutoring, double-dose math will be hard to scale up. Staffing the additional sections of math requires hiring more math teachers amid a historically hot labor market. Unlike tutors (who can be contractors), districts are hesitant to add permanent teaching staff for a short-term catch-up effort.
Yea, don’t think those words won’t be whispered in administrators’ ears in the foreseeable future, and don’t think for a second we’re actually talking about an “a short-term catch-up effort”. Nah, this is all about long-term changes to education policy.
Read the article. Heed the warnings embedded.
QUICK HITS
This is the last week of school for MNPS students, so of course, Tuesday is a great day to hold a budget committee meeting, followed by a parent advisory committee meeting, followed by a board meeting. How a meeting is scheduled is always an indicator of the desired level of stakeholder participation.
The budget meeting is to approve next year’s budget which includes a large raise for bus drivers and a smaller, but still substantial, one for cafeteria workers and paraprofessionals,. The agenda for the regularly scheduled board meeting feels pretty perfunctory.
Two years ago this month the Tennessee Lookout was launched. Since its inception, they’ve provided stellar coverage on local issues, many of which would have fallen throughh the cracks without its diligence. Join me in congratulating them, and if you don’t already, I encourage you to bookmark them.
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.

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Categories: Education

2 replies

  1. Feeling the gap left by Father Breen’s passing…

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