FIRST WEEK FOLLIES

“Nothing is more irreligious than to persecute the seekers of truth in order to keep up absurdities and superstitions of bygone ages. Nothing is more inhuman than the commission of ‘devout cruelty’ under the mask of love of God and man.”
Kaiten Nukariya, The Religion of the Samurai A Study of Zen Philosophy and Discipline in China and Japan

 

Several weeks ago I wrote a piece in response to a Crumuducation piece about threats to public schools’ existence on the national level. My basic premise was, and remains, that we don’t need to look for national figures in order to find the root of the decline in fidelity to public schools – we are doing a good enough job on her own without creating straw men. Peter Greene flattered me by writing a response.

While I’m not in complete agreement with his rebuttal, he does make several points worth considering. Greene did not acknowledge my point before welcomingly pushing back,

Between problematic administrators and the non-zero number of problematic teachers, there are, as Weber suggests, more than enough explanations for dissatisfaction with schools without resorting to guys like Chris Rufo.

But I am going to push back against his point because I think there are serious ways that Chris Rufos exacerbate the situation.

He then goes on to make an argument that is too nuanced to reduce to excerpts, but rather worth reading in its entirety. One paragraph does warrant highlighting.

And then there’s the other problem we don’t talk enough about–the trouble finding good administrators. Just as students can see whether or not teaching looks like a great career, teachers can see what it means to be an administrator. For twenty-some years, it has meant having all the responsibility, but none of the power. It means putting out fires. It means dealing with all the political fire being brought to bear on education these days.

We will never know how many teachers who would have great administrators looked at the job and thought, “They don’t pay anyone enough money for that job.” But tough times reveal character, and the past years in education have revealed that many administrators aren’t very good at their jobs.
So very true, and ties in with another point of view that I heard recently. Once an educator leaves the classroom the world of education begins to align more with the world of business than it does with education. These days people are expected in the business world to remain with one employer, and the education world is taking on similar characteristics.
Energies are consumed by either planning the next exit, securing the next 6 figure gig, or justifying the need for the current 6-figure position.  Politicians are busy crafting their message for the next election cycle. While teachers for the most part operate with a sense of longevity, everybody else from the Secretary of Education on down operates with a sense of brevity, As a result, accountability is difficult because everybody expects to be gone  by the time any ramifications from bad policy bear fruit,
The average tenure of an urban school superintendent is less than 3 years, yet every new superintendent spends the first year of their tenure crafting a five-year strategic plan., knowing full well the unlikeliness of them being in place at the end of the cycle/ That’s just one part of the kabuki theater that unfolds on a regular basis – leaving teachers and parents to try and craft a stable world fraught with instability. As a result, the system continues to take hits it can ill afford.
Over the summer there was much rending of the garments over the hurtful words of Hillsdale’s CEO Larry Arnn. It’s an outrage that I would argue was misdirected. Arnn is a marginal figure with limited influence. The Governor may want him to commission 50 states in Tennessee, but he hasn’t commissioned that many in the entire country. He’s a fringe figure that would remain such until our hyperbole drags him onto the main stage. Where his message is magnified.
There is not a parent who receives Arnn’s message and suddenly says. “Whoa! That guy is brilliant. I loved my kid’s school. The teachers were awesome and my kid always feels welcome and safe. But now that I’ve heard him, I’m pulling my kids out and heading to Hillsdale.”
Do you know who is hearing his message and contemplating it? The parent of the excited-for-school third grader I walk by every morning waiting for a bus that will arrive after the school day has begun for the third day in a row. They may not say it aloud yet, but in the back of their head they are thinking, “Maybe there is a better way to do this.”
That’s on us.
I’m hesitant to write about my kid’s school out of a respect for their privacy. Being a middle schooler is hard enough without a loudmouth parent postulating on the internet. But at times, situations can’t be ignored.
Last year, there was a loaded gun found on campus. One of many challenges the school faced. Without rehashing too much, let’s just say that it wasn’t handled correctly. In response, administrators could have just admitted where errors were made and outlined plans to ensure those mistakes weren’t repeated in the future. Most would have been satisfied and forgiving with that message.
That’s not the path that was chosen, instead, district officials attempted to create a false narrative, one in which the school was placed on immediate lockdown once the principal was aware that a gun wasn’t on campus.
Back in July, a meeting was held at the school under the guise of allowing parents to ask questions about the gun incident. Instead, parents were given a traditional back-to-school meeting with little opportunity to get desired questions answered. When parents continually demanded answers, they didn’t line up with what they already knew.

At the meeting, both principal Hawaya Wilson, and Craig Hammond, MNPS executive director, told parents that as soon as the gun was discovered, the school went on immediate lockdown.

“I know when I was informed that there was a gun in the building, that we went on lockdown immediately,” Wilson said.

“As soon as the weapon was found, the school was placed on lockdown,” Hammonds said.

Documents secured by reporter Jeremy Finley from MNPD show that police were called and arrived at 11:14. Separate documents provided by MNPS show that the school wasn’t placed in lockdown until…11:30. That’s a 16-minute discrepancy. Why?

Now let’s assume that Mrs. Wilson is telling the truth, she deserves the benefit of the doubt, but that would mean that police were on her campus for 16 minutes before she was alerted. Somebody probably ought to provide an explanation for that, no?

Finely tried to get an explanation from the district’s communication director Shawn Braisted.

Obviously, they were incorrect to say that the lockdown was called immediately after the gun was found,” Braisted said.

“Did the district bold face lie to these parents?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.

“No. We didn’t have access to things like the CAD until you provided that, so that helped us get a better sense of the timeline,” Braisted said. “We should have done a better job of investigating that so that we could address that.”

Okay…maybe they didn’t have access to the CAD report, or apparently any impetus to check it during the previous three months, or is this a report that is only available to new reporters? Even if that is true, both Wilson and Hammond know what time police were notified. What time was recorded in the official timeline?

That’s another problem, there is no official timeline according to MNPS, nor is there an explanation why. Now a timeline could be reconstructed through video footage if the district so desired, but since they didn’t even feel the need to look at the CAD report, I can’t see there being any inclination to do so.

Finley’s report is a powerful, but incomplete, report. Based on anecdotal information, the confiscation of the gun was brought forth by a bullet falling out of the pocket of a student. For some inexplicable reason, a student from that classroom was allowed to go to the bathroom. It was there that they supposedly deposited the gun in a trash can where it was eventually recovered.

San’s an actual official incident report that includes a timeline, we don’t know if any, or all of that is true. But think for one minute how different today’s conversation would be had that student made a different decision on the way to the bathroom. We got fortunate, and that should be recognized and lessons incorporated into future strategies.

I never understand why a leader chooses to be disingenuous when everybody will eventually know the truth. The danger presented by the loaded gun is bad enough, but the fostering of distrust is potentially equally as great. Public trust is a valuable commodity and should always be treated as such.

I commend Finley for his efforts, but at the end of the day, there will be no accountability. Next year at this time, everybody involved will still be employed by the district and still drawing a 6-figure salary. Some parents may leave, in pursuit of better opportunities, but the financial implications of their departure won’t be felt until most of those responsible for this egregious event will have moved on to the next 6 figure salary.

in the wake of the original incident, “Metro Nashville Public Schools told NewsChannel 5 that there was no threat to any students following the cancellation.” I’ll let you be the judge of the veracity of that statement.

Consider the irony that we’ll scream in outrage at the top of our lungs about comments from an aged crackpot, while equally concerning comments from officials charged with keeping our children safe are largely dismissed.

Doubling back to the piece by Peter Greene, he concludes with the following,

Look, I do agree that some of us focus so much on the larger picture of policy and attacks on education that we may neglect the local issues that may have far more direct effect on the health and survival of a particular local district. But I believe that the local and the large policy pictures are linked and connected and intertwined in ways that matter. Likewise, I think those of us who write about local issues and those of us who write about national stuff are both important. It’s a big complicated puzzle and it’s going to take a lot of people to put it together.

If we don’t start bringing the same level of scrutiny and demanding equal accountability to local figures as we do national boogymen, the system is going to continue to bleed and it’ll be on us.

SAY WHAT?

This past week, MNPS extended the contract of the ELA curriculum Wit and Wisdom. If you’ll remember the previous board agreed to a shorter contract instead of the full adoption period. The hope was that changes could be made in the interim.  Hope that has not come to fruition.

The motion to extend was made by Gini Pupo-Walker-Walker. Walker rolls off the board next month, completing a term that has been plagued by questions of conflict of interest due to her role as State Executive Director for The Education Trust. A prime example would be EdTrust’s support of recently passed legislation concerning school funding, while the district’s official position was one of non-support.

The conversation around the contract extension proved interesting. One 0f the main concerns raised around Wit and Wisdom is its limiting of teacher autonomy. After a back and forth over the degree of scripting involved, MNPS’s David Williams responded to board member Abigail Tylor by saying, “It takes a lot of preparation, if it was scripted, it wouldn’t take as much preparation.” Because that’s what teachers do, they face their classes with as little preparation as possible.

A primary argument for the need to provide scripted lessons was offered by Williams as a means to mitigate MNPS’s high mobility rate. An argument not without merit.  But Williams loses me when he continually offers curriculum adoption as a benevolent action that seeks to benefit teachers and students. yea…do you want to talk about my bridge in Arizona?

But then Walker weighs in. She starts by expressing her optimism about last year’s TNReady testing results. Results which are virtually meaningless, due to the high number of variables around their administration. Predicably being back in school full-time has been a major contributor to increased student outcomes, to what level curriculum changes, tutoring, and summer school have affected outcomes is yet to be determined.

Walker goes on to state that “literacy scores have been too low for too long” and that “it’s time to do something different”. She gets a little mealy mouth then, while sorta acknowledging that teachers want students to do well.

“To have ambitious and rigorous standards…and I’m not saying that teachers don’t want to be rigorous and want students to excel…”

Ok…then what are you saying?

Eventually, the extension passed, and luckily Gini Pupo-Walker has introduced her last motion and will soon be left to work her agenda unencumbered in the private sector. Every dark cloud has a silver lining.

SAY WHAT? 2

We are constantly barraged with calls to have data-supported conversations. But that is impossible without quality data. A case in point, challenges around school staffing. Chalkbeats Matt Barnum recently wrote an article where he put forth a counterargument to the prevailing fear of a growing teacher shortage.

Definitive data is limited, and school hasn’t started yet in much of the country. To date, there is little firm evidence to support claims of an unprecedented crisis. When American students return to school, the vast majority will be greeted by a classroom teacher.

Though he does acknowledge,

But the ingredients — high levels of teacher stress, more teaching positions to fill, a long-term decline in people training to become teachers, and competition from jobs outside schools — are there for it to be a harder than normal year for recruiting teachers. High-poverty schools in particular will face familiar challenges staffing their classrooms with skilled teachers.

This week MNPS presented its numbers to the school board. By their count, the school district was short a mere 135 teachers, a number that had beenBdwindling throughout the day. If you believe Battle and company on this one, I have a fleet of bridges in Arizona to sell you.

As we’ve become more dependent on data to make policy decisions, we’ve reduced everything to numbers. That reduction opens the door to manipulation, and we walk right through that door. Be it discipline rates, test scores, or staffing numbers, all are massaged to tell the desired narratives.

In the case of staffing, classes are collapsed, assignments are changed, and positions that aren’t filled are closed. All to make the numbers match the story. The issue doesn’t go away though.

When you go to your doctor, the expectation is that you will inform him if you are smoking, drinking, or snorting cocaine. Without that information, we wouldn’t expect him to make a reliable diagnosis, but educational leaders have no problem putting forth that expectation.

The problem is acerbated because 99% of the time the fabrication isn’t fooling anyone. Parents know when a school has the right number of teachers. They also know the quality of those employed, just having a body in place shouldn’t be considered sufficient. Yet that is the argument continually made.

People will argue that a leader who commits adultery is none of our business and their personal life is their own. Maybe. But marriage is a legal contract and I would argue that if you were willing to break one contract, what other contracts are at risk?

The same holds true here, If you are willing to lie about staffing numbers, what else are you willing to lie about? That leads to an erosion of trust and with that erosion comes disengagement with the system. Same record, different track.

Just tell the truth.

QUICK HITS

Over at ChalkbeatTN, Marta Aldridge has an excellent update on Hillsdale College and its proposed expansion into Tennessee. My favorite part of this article is the updated quotes from House Education Committee chair Mark White. Previously White had declared Hillsdale persona non grata in Tennessee, well post primaries, he’s sing from a different hymnal,

But the fallout over Arnn’s remarks presents a challenge, acknowledged Rep. Mark White, a fierce charter advocate who sponsored the legislation that created the commission.

“We cannot allow the commission to get caught up in something political because that would taint its integrity,” said the Memphis Republican, who chairs a key education committee in the legislature. “The commission must approve or disapprove charters based on the qualifications before them.”

No matter the outcome, White believes that Arnn’s highly publicized words have made it harder for American Classical — and for every would-be charter operator in Tennessee.

“The charter conversation now has nothing to do with charters, but it has everything to do with a comment that you can’t explain away,” he said.

“It’s set us back years.”

I’d argue that White and his leadership have set us back years.

Over at the Nashville Scene, Kelsey Beyeler provides a nice little recap of this past school board meeting. It is a damn sight more enjoyable than watching the event.

Over at the TNEd Report, there is a nice little summation of where we are in Tennessee in relation to vouchers. Despite the TNDOE claiming that over 2000 families had expressed interest in the program, only 30 applications have been received and none of them have yet to be reviewed. Not exactly what I would call a massive groundswell.

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

1 reply

  1. TC – what is the story on the “several elementary schools without assigned crossing guards?” Thanks, Beth O’Shea

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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