“People truly engaged in life have messy houses.”
A three-day weekend is often a time of rumination and reflection. The break from work provides a means to break out of the constant state of reaction, and think proactive thoughts. In that light, here are my thoughts as they pertain to public education, – some more fully formed than others.
I’m often in a position where I get to be in the company of my financial betters. Since I’m rarely central to the conversation, I’m allowed to stand back, observe and overhear. It’s lately dawned on me, that conversations held by wealthier folks around the education of their children are entirely different than those that take place among public education parents.
The conversations aren’t centered on charter schools. There is little talk about kids sitting in gyms with no teacher, merely monitors. Fights and other disciplinary issues don’t take center stage either. They don’t talk a whole lot about equity, instead choosing to focus on excellence.
Instead, they talk about the Latin class their kid has. They compare notes on the tennis team. You hear talk about the teacher who’s spending a summer at an archeological dig in Central America and will be returning fresh from that experience in the Fall. Almost all of the conversation is around outcomes and experiences.
Sure, there is talk about Ms. Jones the new science teacher who’s been spending a lot of time in the Dean of Students office or the teacher that had a mental breakdown and started yelling at kids. But those are the exception, not the rule.
As a public school parent, it seems every conversation I engaged in is about equity, discipline issues, or teacher shortages. When you have an exemplary band program like that of Oliver Middle School, it’s like talking about catching lightning in a bottle, and parents speak of how fortunate they were to have their children experience such a program of excellence. It never feels sustainable, or that it is the expectation.
Keep in mind, that my experiences come from being the parent of students in an urban setting. I’m sure that there are many rural districts where the degree of excellence exists at a higher level, but even in those instances, there are forces working to undermine success.
I’d offer up Williamson County Schools as an example. Long a bastion of excellence, and held up as a model of how well public schools can do, they are of late constantly under attack by critics. Conversations continually focus on what they are not doing as opposed to what they are doing.
Now we can argue all day whether the education a student receives at a private school is better than that they receive at a public school. That’s a subjective determination, as such reliant on individual interpretation. A feat made more difficult by the lack of a common definition for the purpose of public education.
Is it to advance the individual student?
Should the guiding Northstar be to produce better citizens?
Over the last decade, I’ve thought deep and hard about this and I think it can all be reduced thusly. We want to offer children as many doors of opportunity as possible, and to have them prepared to take advantage of those opportunities should they choose to walk through the doors provided.
I think the idea of producing better citizens is certainly an aspirational one, but the reality is that when it comes to this country, too many of us are like those contestants on the HGTV show Love it or List It. Until that is settled, the citizenship thing probably falls to the back burner.
When you evaluate based on opportunities offered and the ability to take advantage of those opportunities, are you going to argue that public schools are keeping pace? Where one is offering Latin classes, while the other is reducing advanced academic opportunities? Is the pursuit of equity over excellence really setting kids up to seize future opportunities?
I’m not downplaying the importance of equity, but if our current strategy is the way forward, shouldn’t it include everyone, including those with the majority of power and wealth? It certainly isn’t at this point, Sure there are private institutions paying some lip service to the idea, but how long do you think they’ll hold out if they sacrifice excellence in its pursuit? How do you create an equitable society if those with influence aren’t participating in the conversation?
I have long argued that the path forward is through closer emulation of private schools and not through reducing public school offerings in the name of equity. Think about the stories we like to tell of individuals making it despite the odds. The one constant in all of those stories is a parent who demands excellence and works extra in order to ensure that their child receives the opportunities needed to succeed. The one who makes an extreme sacrifice to overcome the inherent inequity of opportunity.
My 11-year-old son’s goal is to start and excel on his high school baseball team. That means he plays a lot of baseballs right now. Sometimes he has to make sacrifices, like not going roller-skating with his friends or foregoing other activities that his friends are participating in. It means my wife and I spend less time sharing meals together and more time spent separately sitting in parking lots. Our plight is not an outlier, it takes place every night across the country.
For those future spots, he’ll be competing against kids whose families were able to provide private coaches and expensive equipment. We try to emulate those opportunities to the best of our ability, but often fall short, Luckily we’ve found programs that offer similar benefits at a reduced cost, and we seize them when opportunity knocks.
Wealthier parents are not going to cease offering extra benefits to their offspring. They are not going to stop offering their progeny every advantage they can afford it. It’s equitable, and it’s not fair, but it’s reality.
I’m at a loss why we don’t do the same with our public schools.
Instead of pointing out the shortcoming of others, we should be fortifying our own. Instead of constantly focusing on what we can’t do, we should be focusing on the miracles that are performed every day. Equity doesn’t come through lowering the standards for everybody, it comes when we empower students to not only kick open the doors of opportunity but to seize control when they dom providing the ability for others to follow. It’s what private schools have been doing for decades.
When Overton High School baseball standout Mookie Betts received his second MVP award do you think he focused on all the reasons he shouldn’t be getting the ward? Or do you think he cited his mother, his coach, and the other adults in his life for expecting nothing less?
As a child he was undersized and his parents were far from wealthy. To this day, experts still marvel at the amount of power he gets from such a slight frame. Did he succeed by focusing on bringing everybody down to his level, or by surpassing theirs?
Why can’t we do the same with our public schools? Why must we always be reduced to playing defense?
THOUGHTS AROUND DEPARTURES
As of late, there has been a lot of talk about teacher attrition. Most of it centers around the inability to provide every student with a quality teacher. But what about the impact on students when that quality teacher is forced to move on?
Over the past few decades, the expectations for teachers have morphed into them serving as almost surrogate parents. They are supposed to provide love for every child, yet at the same time, we’ve made the profession even more transient. Completely ignoring the pain that comes with a loved one leaving.
Whether it’s 20 teachers leaving a middle school, a whole band leadership team departing, or a beloved principal leaving in the middle of the school year, kids are negatively impacted when teachers are forced to find new positions. For those kids who already suffer from a lack of stability, it’s just another incidence of life being inherently unstable.
I’m not being critical of teachers here, they are doing what they can while administrators and politicians design a system that works counter to their efforts.
Look at the initiatives that have been recently laid out, Conversations are regularly centered around means to provide teachers more opportunities for advancement, seldom around ways to support the work they are already doing in the classroom.
It’s amazing that in a field, where the value of stability is readily acceptable, so much energy, is focused on disrupting that stability.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
I filled up my tank today and gas was $4.69 a gallon. That adds a consideration to these crosstown camps and sporting events that I must transport children to daily. Luckily for Tennessee’s Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, gas prices are not a consideration.
Right now she’s home laying out her red dress, her blue dress, and her green dress, in preparation for once again driving the highways and bi-ways of Tennessee visiting schools. What the purpose of these visits is, other than providing photo ops for a media-savvy opportunist, is beyond me, but here we go again.
Per Mrs. Schwinn,
“Tennessee has led the nation in implementing innovative and student-focused strategies to accelerate student achievement and outcomes,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “The Accelerating TN 2022 bus tour will support the essential work continuing this summer—highlighting best practices, facilitating key discussions on strategic initiatives and the new TISA public school funding formula, and connecting the many stakeholders who want to help all Tennessee students succeed. By engaging, listening, and learning during the tour, we can help ensure Tennessee continues to lead on behalf of our children.”
It’s like a bad Saturday Night Live skit.
Word has it that there are some pending departures among MNPS’s Chiefs. If rumors are to be believed, someone is heading back to the south side of Lookout Mountain.
There is a pending road trip in the near future for MNPS principals. On June 9-10 they’ll be heading to Florence, Alabama for a two-day retreat. Why Florence? Why not? MNPS is picking up bus transportation down as well as food and lodging for the two days. Be safe principals, and see you when you get back.
It seems that the TNDOE might have mislaid a very important file. Federal IDEA money isn’t free money, it’s contingent on the state matching the federal contribution. When it comes to that match, the federal government doesn’t just take the state at its word. They want to see some evidence. That evidence is pulled from multiple departments and compiled on a spreadsheet created by the TNDOE. That spreadsheet is then given to the comptroller for verification before being passed on to the USDOE.
Well…it seems that in all the dust kicked up by the rush of departures from the TNDOE, someone may have mislaid said file. No word on whether it has been found yet, or if it will have to be reconstructed, but that seems like a question that could be asked at an accelerating learning tour stop.
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