IT’S ALL LOCAL IN THE END

“The context in which a photograph is seen affects the meaning the viewer draws from it.” ― Stephen Shore, Ed.D.

 

It seems almost derelict to write a post this week without mentioning the mass shooting in Texas. But I got nothing.

It’s horrific and a tragedy beyond words, but the last two decades are failed with tragedies that defy description. In the wake of these events, our response has become depressingly predictable – recycled rhetoric and prayers.

Potential solutions are available, I believe more stringent background checks and the increased use of SROs would be a potent combination, But, in order for that to happen, both sides would have to make concessions and we live in an age where it is more important to obliterate your political enemy then it is to craft meaningful policy.

Maybe it’s always been like that, and technology has just made it more apparent, but the unwillingness to compromise means that we continually do nothing. As a result, precious children continue to die.

Former Tennessee Titan OC and current Atlanta Falcon’s Head Coach Arthur Smith released a statement via Twitter that sums up my feelings,

“I’m not going to get into some political rant. Part of me thinks our political process is broken. On both sides. It has been hijacked, in my opinion, by extremists. I think there is a lost art to compromise. I’m an independent thinker and appreciate everyone’s opinion. There’s a lost art to debate, but I’m going to stay out of the political debate because that’s now why I’m concerned. It’s more as a parent, father, husband, son, and concerned citizen. I believe in the people of this county, and I think it’s a shame the leaders, and I don’t care about your politics, that you can’t find a compromise solution to keep military-grade assault weapons out of the hands of mentally ill people.”

For his trouble, Smith has been roundly criticized via social media, and held up as an example of “both-sidedness”. As if it’s suddenly a shortcoming to be able to see both sides of an argument.

I grew up with guns, but haven’t owned any for decades. When managing rock and roll clubs, I was given the option to carry and declined. In my eyes, there were only two predictable outcomes to carrying, and I wasn’t comfortable with either. But that was my choice.

I have friends, who do carry and I don’t understand their decision but try to respect it. I don’t doubt them as good people, nor cast aspirations on their intent.

Growing up I was an avid sportsman, and I miss being out in the woods on the first day of deer season, I no longer reside in a rural community. I live in the city and thus I am not afforded many opportunities to engage in an activity that is not understood by many, but I found it extremely pleasurable.

The point is, that the argument can’t be reduced to soundbites and generalizations. The nuances can not be ignored, Finding a solution requires the ability to listen as well as shout.

One thing I think we can all agree on is that the massive loss of innocent life at the hands of a shooter can not be tolerated. It shouldn’t acceptable to anyone.

I always tell people that when I got sober, I had to put aside some deeply held core beliefs. The thing was, I wanted to be sober so bad that I would do would whatever it took to get there. It’s the only reason I’ve enjoyed the level of success I have.  Others weren’t willing to make those compromises and as a result, they fell short. Some are now dead or living in misery while I’ve been gifted 22 years of clearer thinking.

The mindset that I adopted in getting sober, is the same as we need to take in addressing the mass shooting issue. Everything should be up for consideration. If not…well, we know what the outcome looks like.

Before moving on, I’d be remiss in not sharing the words of Greg O’Loughlin, a teacher and the founding Director of The Educators’ Cooperative (EdCo). O’Laughlin argues that things have changed since Sandy Hook, but it’s a change facilitated by teachers.,

Teachers changed the way we taught, changed the way we talked, changed the way we did our seating charts, changed the way our windows looked, changed the way our doors looked, changed the way we spoke about violence, changed the way we spoke about what to do in very scary situations, changed the way we addressed the notion of murder with children, and so much more. Teachers acted swiftly and immediately to address the trauma inflicted upon us and upon our students by both gun violence and by ineffectual leadership that lacks initiative, creativity or willpower. So, let’s be clear: it is not that there was no action in response. Teachers acted swiftly, decisively, and in ways that were traumatic and effective.

He’s not wrong. But it’s clearly not enough. Now it’s time for the rest of us to act.

CHANGE IN MEASUREMENT

Last week I talked about MNPS not giving the third administration of MAP testing, the district’s adopted progress monitor. Turns out that there is more to the story. The district intends to move away from MAP testing and instead utilize the services of Fastbridge, a product of Illuminate Education and one already in place for K-4.

Let me give you a little background. Tennessee state law requires that a benchmark test be given by each district 3x a year in an effort to identify students that may require additional services. About 5 years ago, then-Superintendent Shawn Joseph contracted with NWEA, who produces MAP. NWEA produces a solid product designed to be a formative assessment meant to guide instruction. If used as prescribed, MAP can provide useful information about gaps students have and holes that need filling.

Unfortunately. MNPS has misused MAP from the beginning. Instead of guiding instruction, it became a means to justify policy. It has also been used as a gatekeeper for advanced education programs. Something that a simple call to NWEA will confirm is outside of the product design. The frustrating thing here is that internally district officials would admit that we were using MAP in a manner it wasn’t designed for, but externally, that usage continued.

MAP, like it’s competitors is a normed adaptive assessment. Now that may sound like gobbly-gook, but all it means is that results are compared nationally and that the test gets harder, or easier, based on student response. The important thing to remember here is that when the advertisement says “nationally normed”, it means normed against students nationally who take the referenced assessment, not all students in the United States. This is important because it means that results between assessments may have some surface correlation, they are all a combo of standards and skills-based, but can’t be closely correlated with any real validity. A score on one is not the same as a score on the other.

This is also the reason why care should be given when switching assessments. MNPS has amassed a data bank of 5 years of results in relation to MAP. This is extremely useful to spot trends and maybe figure out what’s working and what’s not. A switch to a new assessment renders that data moot. Experts will also tell you that with a new exam comes a learning curve, results initially go up, but that’s often a result of students’ increased fluency with the test and not due to increased student outcomes. This means that for roughly two years, MNPS will not have any overly reliable data.

This will impact how students are evaluated for advanced education programs. If we are going to misuse Fastbridge in the same manner as we did MAP, that could have a potentially negative impact on students. How is that going to be mitigated?

As part of its integration, parents were educated on what MAP scores mean and how to interpret results. I would think parent education would be important in any transformation, but there has been no discussion around this aspect.

Nor has there been discussion around the training of teachers in upper grades to use FastBridge results to drive instruction. While elementary school teachers have experience with this practice, it’s not common with middle and high school teachers. What’s that implementation and training going to look like, at a time when teachers are already overwhelmed?

Any prospective change should probably take financial considerations into account, it appears that the district may save some money by transitioning to FastBridge. The contract approved by the MNPS board on Tuesday calls for compensation of $3.75 million over 5 years and an additional $1.25 million for an additional question bank. Last year, the contract with NWEA had a not-to-exceed value of $2.35 million, and according to a purchase order included, a price of $387K for 2021. Admittedly I could be reading all of this wrong, hence the need for conversation.

In keeping with the current practice of Dr. Battle and her administration, there was no public conversation around this pending change. Initially, it was put on the consent agenda, and what little conversation that was held, only came after board member Abigail Traylor pulled it from consideration. While she did her best to spur discussion, other board members appeared disinterested. The conversation was brief and the motion to approve quickly passed. More time was spent discussing a potential janitorial contract, subsequently tabled until the next board meeting, then there was discussion on the means by which we track student learning, That feels like misaligned priorities.

Ultimately, Fastbridge will likely prove to be no better or worse than MAP. Some will love it, while someone will hate it. In itself, other than the lost data bank, the change does not overly concern me. But the continued practice of operating in the shadows, with little input from the board, let alone the public, should be of grave concern to all. The lack of inclusion in major decisions sends a message of unconcern, which is likely contributing to attrition rates, for both students and teachers. Unfortunately, this board shows little inclination to force itself into conversations, content to merely accept the decisions of the director.

Dr. Battle should be considered a benefactor of the switch, Her contract is slated to run until April 2024. I would think that student achievement data would be a significant portion of considerations for an extension. Alas, all that will be available is this year’s TNReady scores, due back next month. But some board members aren’t even waiting for those results to be available before pushing for an extension. Dr. Gentry gave notice to the board this week that she intends to discuss an extension for Dr. Battle at the next board meeting.

While it is common to discuss terms and extensions a year ahead of time – nobody wants to be a lame-duck – nearly two years in advance may be considered a bit of a stretch. Perhaps before that happens, the board should give the director an actual evaluation rooted in data, as opposed to the charade previously delivered(Director’s Summative Evaluation Results).

Let’s keep an eye on this one.

WHAT $22 MILLION?

Speaking of things we don’t talk about, apparently, MNPS is roughly $22 million short due to a decrease in the BEP. Remember school funding is calculated annually based on the number of students a district serves. MNPS has been losing students en masse over the last decade. A 14% decline over the last 10 years. This year they are down almost 4K, hence the decrease in state funding.

The notice from the state came after Mayor Cooper approved the district budget and gave them $92 million in funds for support staff salaries. How this was not predicted earlier is a question for me, as the state is required to do 20-day counts. So were MNPS leaders expecting a mass influx of students in February? Or were they hoping that the state wouldn’t notice? To be fair, there is some question about a discrepancy between district numbers and those provided by the state.

Whatever the case, Metro Council is left with limited options. Some Council Members have requested that MNPS cut $10 million from the budget. Others have proposed going into the fund balance to make up the difference. All of that will solve the issue this year, but what about next year when an additional investment will be required to meet principal salary needs. Those salaries while they appear robust have not been increased for years, and a change in the salary schedule is long overdue.

This also illuminates the unspoken question that is beginning to be voiced with increased frequency, why is MNPS continually asking for more money to educate fewer students?

Shouldn’t that question also be part of any proposed contract extension?

OF ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION

Metro Nashville Public Schools’ 2021 Teacher of the Year finalists, Stratton Elementary teacher Kristen Reckelhoff opened up this week to Mainstreet Nashville about mental health studies. It’s a story likely to resonate with teachers, and an important message for everyone. Embedded in the article is the following passage,

“MNPS Executive Director of Benefits David Hines said about 25% of MNPS faculty members are undergoing treatment for anxiety and depression. Hines has been with the district for 15 years and said that, in 2020, the number of faculty using mental health services increased by 4%.”

One-quarter of the workforce is receiving treatment for anxiety and depression, if you consider those that are in need but don’t seek help, for whatever reason, the number likely doubles. Those charged with delivering social-emotional support to students are in desperate need of increased social and emotional support themselves. Yet nobody seems to think that we should be concerned. No pun intended, but that’s insane and leaders should be ashamed of themselves.

We can’t keep asking for more without removing something. And we are shocked to find out that there is a lack of applicants for open teaching positions. Maybe we should start handing out anti-depressants at job fairs, because by all accounts if teachers last more than three years they are going to need them.

That’s no criticism of teachers, just recognition of the toll we are extracting,

SHORTCUTS

MNPS announced 9 new principals this week. East High is still waiting to be decided upon. I must admit that for the most part, I am unfamiliar with this cohort. I assume they’ll do great things.

This week saw the announcement of yet another misguided initiative by MNPS. As of July 1, Metro Schools has effectively barred charter schools from participating in the middle school sports league. They will be required to create their own league going forth, a decision that smacks of pettiness and punishes the wrong people. Last year my son competed in basketball, a third of the schedule was comprised of charter schools and there were never any issues. He also competes on a club team made up of students from Valor Academy and three district schools, again, the experience was exemplary. The focus should be on providing more opportunities for students, not limiting the existing ones.

I don’t normally do this, but I must admit that I have some trepidation over today’s announcement of Oliver Middle School’s Band Director Dr. Susan Waters’s imminent departure. Waters announced her departure today along with that of respected percussion leader Dr. J. With this announcement, all four of Oliver’s current band leaders have announced their intention to ply their craft elsewhere next year. Oliver has been one of the preeminent band programs in the state under Water’s leadership and her departure raises questions about the school’s continued commitment to the arts. It’s hard to believe that an entire leadership team would leave a program of this stature unless the school’s leadership’s commitment to excellence had wavered. Coming on the heels of a year like what Oliver has experienced, now is not the time to dismantle legacies that serve to attract families.

The band leaders are the high profile departures, but outside the glare of the spotlight are departures by talented administrators and teachers with deep ties to the community. We are talking about teachers who enlist their spouses and families in serving the community – hosting coat drives, delivering food during the holiday, and fundraising for athletics. The kind of teachers that don’t come along often. equally alarming is the fact that this very scenario is playing out at other schools in the district. While I have a great deal of faith in Oliver’s principal, this doesn’t bode well for the future of the school and should be cause for concern.

On a positive note, I’d like to thank Waters and Dr. J for the magic they’ve created over the last couple of years. They awakened a love of band in a young lady that never envisioned herself being in a band, let alone auditioning for mid-states. My family will always owe them a debt of gratitude.

Enjoy your holiday weekend, we’ll see you at some point on the flip side.

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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