IT FEELS LIKE A NUMBER

“They are pretty good at improvising, but God help us if they are given time to think. Dean Atchison”
Robert Dallek, Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House

 

A couple years ago I was coaching 10U baseball. It was after one of our first games, with the team huddled together, that a parent asked me if he could address the team. As I’m always encouraging greater parental involvement, I allowed it.

The parent began by telling the boys how much he loved the energy they brought to the field, to watch them compete was a joy to behold. So far, so good.

He went on to tell them about the spiritual rewards to be found in sports. How effort and sacrifice led to success. It wasn’t just about winning but growing and competing. Excellent stuff. Couldn’t have said it better myself. The kids were hanging on every word, and I was smiling ear to ear.

Then without warning, he pivoted. Apparently, we were going to start a new program, One that paid players $5 for each home run they hit.

Cur the sound of a needle being dragged across a record.

I quickly jumped in, thanked the parent for their inspirational words, and put the kibosh on any kind of pay-for-play policy. Afterward, I politely informed the parent that while I appreciated his enthusiasm, we weren’t going to start monetizing something whose value should be intrinsic. A policy that was arguably exclusionary in practice.

Some kids would never hit home runs, no matter how hard they tried or worked. The practice of rewarding the highly talented would punish those who were less gifted but enjoyed competing every bit as much as their more gifted peers.

That’s what the state of Tennessee should have done when the idea of including outcome bonuses in the new school funding plan was introduced. But instead of pulling the needle off of the record, they reached down and turned the volume up to 11. Now those districts that already benefited from a student body with less individual needs stand poised to reap even more rewards.

Last week, the rules for the new funding formula quietly took another step towards reality as the state board of education unanimously approved the proposed new school funding rules with minimal change from those crafted by the TNDOE. In the wake of this vote, board members were quick to clap themselves on the back over a program that will likely fail to deliver as advertised and has been fraught with political arm twisting despite being touted as good for kids.

“Yesterday, the State Board of Education gave its seal of approval in the form of positive recommendations for each of the TISA rules proposed by the Department of Education. From my perspective, the process has been an outstanding example of how the General Assembly, the Department and the State Board have come together acting on extensive input from the residents of Tennessee to provide our districts with a funding process that will ensure the needs of individual students are addressed,” said State Board of Education Vice Chair Bob Eby. “The Department’s vision is ‘Best for All.’ In some way, I believe TISA shifts us to the ‘Best for All through the Best for Each.’ The next step in the TISA rulemaking process is approval from the Government Operations Committee. The Board’s action yesterday says we are ready to fully support that action.”

and,

The State Board of Education’s positive recommendation on the Tennessee Department of Education’s TISA rules did not happen by chance; we held a public and transparent process that included a section-by-section review of all 14 rules written and presented by Department staff during the Board’s July 21 workshop and in yesterday’s special called meeting,” said State Board of Education Chair Lillian Hartgrove. “During these sessions, board members asked thoughtful questions and suggested relevant changes that included input from constituents and stakeholders across the state. Collectively, we have taken another significant step toward launching a new student-based funding formula. Congratulations to Commissioner Schwinn and the Tennessee Department of Education for their hard work and extensive processes that led to the Board’s unanimous recommendations.”

Public and transparent? Hmmm…I need to look up those definitions, public and transparent because neither truly happened with the passage of TISA, but it sounds good if you say it fast enough. I would say. “heavily influenced by outside special interests” would be a better descriptor.

One of those special interest groups, Tennessean’s For Student Success, was out touting a rule they got changed, requiring outcomes bonuses to flow directly to the charter schools where they were generated. Remember this is the same organization that invested heavily in charter-friendly candidates in the last primary election. That investment led to two Republican members of the state General assembly losing their seats – Republican incumbent House member Terri Lynn Weaver and Senate member Bob Ramsey. Here’s where a lack of common sense takes over and bites us in the ass.

News of Weaver’s demise was greeted by many education advocates like the falling of a house on the wicked witch of the east. Here’s the problem with that perception, it’s not real. For all her perceived faults, Terri Lynn Weaver was one of the few members of the House willing to stand up to the governor. Some of the legislation she proposed, born out of an intent to protect teachers and public schools, was what set her at odds with the governor himself. She was never a fan of charter schools and worked hard to fight against the passage of TISA.

Weaver compared the vote to when the Legislature was called to vote for Race to the Top legislation in 2009, when she said legislators were pushed to vote for a bill that it would fix later. Something that never happened.

Michael Hale, her opponent, didn’t run out of a deep desire to serve his community. He ran because Governor Lee got tired of hearing Weaver fight back against his education wishes. Weaver may not have been perfect but she was willing to fight while the governor is very familiar with Hale’s belly. If you hated Weaver, you are really going to hate Hale. Weaver could compromise, Hale has promised not to.

For his part, Bob Ramsey voiced a concern we should all have,

Sending your kids to private school on public money has been the holy grail since integration for conservatives,” Ramsey told The Tennessean. “The fact that they won so many elections will put the fear in some members, and my guess is they’ll be quite a bit more influential.”

TISA rules will now advance to a review by the state Attorney General and, if approved, filed with the Tennessee Secretary of State. Once filed, the rules will be subject to a 90-day review period and will be subjected to a final review by state lawmakers in the Joint Government Operations Committee.

Essentially, the process is a done deal and we are left with the damage. But that does not mean it is time to stop paying attention. Because mark my words, this new formula will make it easier than ever to fill private coffers with public dollars.

MORE THAN A NUMBER

As school gets underway, talks around a teacher shortage continue to take up the front page. While most acknowledge that staffing is becoming increasingly difficult, and the supply chain is broken, too much time is spent arguing whether it’s a “shortage” or a lack of people willing to do the work under present conditions.

Professional Educators of Tennessee Executive Director J.C. Bowman writes,

Lack of respect, inadequate administrative support, and the need for student discipline are frequently cited as reasons why teachers leave the teaching profession, often as frequently as low salaries and poor working conditions. To turn this around in Tennessee we need more education decisions that are parent, educator and student-driven, not forced by political action committees that are funded by out-of-state interests — with money nobody seems to be clear about the source of.

While professional educator Peter Greene writes,

But that’s not a shortage. Call it an exodus, a slow-motion strike, or a wave of teachers responding to the old, “If you don’t like it, then get out” with a resounding, “Okay, then.” Teachers have not vanished. The supply has not been used up, like a gold mine stripped of its last nugget.

The trouble with teacher shortage rhetoric is that it mislocates the problem. If we argue that all of the nuggets have been pulled from the mine, we don’t have to consider the possibility that there’s plenty of rich veins left, but we can’t mine it with a plastic spork.

Not only does the teacher shortage rhetoric continue, but this recent round treats it as a new phenomenon. Absent from most “teacher shortage crisis” articles is any historical context, any note that this exodus has been going on for years. A few researchers have tried to make the point that filling teaching positions is no harder than it has been, that current crisis talk is overblown. The trouble filling positions, as has always been the case, varies by certification and geography. An increasing number of voices make the argument that this is not a shortage, but a set of working conditions driving teachers from the classroom.

Neither is wrong, but here’s the thing both are missing, once again we are reducing criteria to a number. In doing so we are merely echoing the words of Hillsdale College president Larry Arnn when he implied that anyone could teach. By focusing on the job-filled numbers we are, whether intentionally or intentionally, making the case that all teachers are alike. That they are interchangeable and that if you lose a level 5 teacher you can just go out to mine and pull another level 5 out of the ground. What’s the difference between that, and believing everybody can do it/

If previously, you were able to find 100 teachers with 72 of them turning out to be considered high-quality, and now you can still find 100 teachers but due to a number of factors, only 30 of them are considered high-quality, that’s a teacher shortage, no?

I realize that we don’t have a well-defined metric for measuring teacher quality, but we can’t act as if all teachers are equal. They are not.

Focusing solely on numbers gives the impression that we are only losing new teachers, also not the case. In too many cases it’s the experienced educators that are walking out the door and taking their institutional knowledge with them.

My kids’ school lost 31 teachers this past year, over half with 5 or more years of experience, not to mention deep ties to the community. Do you really believe that you can head over to the local “grow your own” program, or other alternative staffing program and replace that? Yet, virtually every HR department in the country operates under that premise.

We talk about the benefits for kids of stability, yet we continually act as if teacher attrition is easily mitigated. I can testify that virtually every one of those 31 teachers is missed, and the new staff is compared by students on a daily basis to the previous staff.

We need to get our heads out of our asses and stop debating over classifying the crisis and simply recognize it as one.  It’s like when I was diagnosed with diabetes. Doctors weren’t sure if it was type 1 or type 2 but knew the treatment was similar, so let’s get to it. Teachers are leaving and new ones are starting to get harder to find. The prescription is pretty much the same whether it’s a shortage or not, and we need to get busy.

Of course, that might mean talking to more than one teacher, and we know how much we hate to do that.

WORTH CONSIDERING

Nashville’s premiere investigative reporter,  News5’s Phil Williams continues to doggedly pursue the expansion of Hillsdale College in Tennessee. Or I should say, “talk” of growth, as they’ve yet to do any actual growing.

I must admit that the irony of a reporter who recently converted to Catholicism going after a private school organization is a bit delicious. Some of my best friends are products of Catholic schools, but ask yourself who stands to lose the most if 50 new private schools become established in Tennessee? Public schools aren’t the only ones poised to lose enrollment. As a devout cafeteria Catholic, I’m well aware of the glass houses maxim… but I digress.

William’s reporting has been up to his normal high standards. At the close of last week, he was reporting that,

‘After the huge backlash against @Hillsdale president Larry Arnn saying public school teachers come from “the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges,” @GovBillLee‘s friends are now texting parents with a PR message that Arnn was “telling the truth.””

The personal messages were unwelcome ones for most recipients, but also raised the question of where data for the messages was derived from. Voter rolls and traditional commercial lists seem unlikely. The question remains unanswered but I’d have you consider this.

A website was created to promote TISA during the Governor’s new education funding formula campaign. At first sight, it appears to be a product of the TNDOE. But appearances can be deceiving as Ian Round of the Daily Memphian points out,

Chiefs for Change built the website promoting the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act (TISA), FundingForStudentSuccess.org, through a vendor. Lundberg said he dispatched a staffer to get the vendor’s name: Woodberry Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based public relations company, of which many officials are political operatives.

As part of the website, visitors are allowed to enter a name and contact information in order to receive updates. But what else is that data used for?

Chief for Change operates in Tennessee without a contract or scope of work. There is no data sharing agreement between any of the aforementioned parties What’s to prevent Lee from calling up his Commissioners of Education and saying, “Hey Pen, how about getting me a copy of that database from the TISA website. Lar wants to send some text messages out.”

We’d never be the wiser, after all, “TDOE believes Chiefs for Change is not subject to procurement laws, but not everyone agrees. Without a contract or much of a paper trail, nonprofit avoid oversight by lawmakers and the public.”

So while I’m not saying that’s what happen, I’d challenge someone to prove that’s not what happened.
The last three Tennessee Commissioners of Education have come from the ranks of Chief for Change, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the next one does as well.
QUICK HITS
In talking to educators across Nashville, most are reporting one of the smoothest openings on record. While many of the issues from past years still remain, the first week went remarkably smooth. Good news for everyone and let’s hope the rest of the year follows suit.
I came across this article from Derby, Kansas this weekend. The purpose of the poster sharing was to draw attention to the fact that a school board had rejected a 5-year strategic plan based on some uncomfortableness over language around diversity and inclusion. Worthy of discussion, but I would also ask, “Why the hell are they wasting time with a 5-year strategic plan?” It’s an archaic strategy that fails to recognize that the current superintendent will be long gone by the time the plan comes to term. as such, it’s become the goto method in which to appear as if you are doing something when you are actually not doing anything. It’s also another way to ship some public money into private interests pockets. The money shot is in the closing,
“…After the motion to approve the strategic plan failed 3-4, the board provided the direction for Superintendent Heather Bohaty and Max McGee from Hazard Young Attea & Associates (HYA – strategic plan facilitators) to work along with the board to determine the next steps in the strategic plan process. Previous strategic plans we’ve had in place were designed to be a roadmap for the school district, outline focus areas and articulate a common foundation of expectations and goals in place to prepare our students and staff for success. The development of the next five-year strategic plan will continue to be a high priority and should be representative of all stakeholders. We appreciate the extensive work the steering committee that developed the proposed strategic plan has put into this point.”
Ah…good old HYA.
Apparently, Tennessean’s interest in vouchers is a little more robust than I communicated last Friday. Sam Stockard reports,

Only 203 families have applied for vouchers, according to the Tennessee Department of Education, even though the law allows up to 5,000 students to receive the voucher money, roughly $7,300, in the first year of what is expected to be a three-year pilot program. The number of students could increase by 5,000 in the following years.

Applications are still coming in, so that number could increase. Stockard also reports that 40 independent schools applied to participate in the program as of 11 a.m. Thursday and their eligibility is being reviewed, according to spokesman Brian Blackley. Read his whole for some great information and insight.
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 and a reminder that I will be out here heavily shaking the can all month. 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.

Fees associated with the blog are due the first week in September and any help with those is always appreciated. An old rival used to accuse me of begging on the internet, an accusation with a ring of truth. But we all do what we can.

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Categories: Education

2 replies

  1. It was once pointed out to me, around 10-15 years ago, that teachers are hard to come by when the economy is good, and easy to find when it is bad. Math and science teachers weren’t hard to find in 2008. It’s interesting now that we are in a recession that the teachers aren’t turning up. It is also important to remember that the teacher shortage hits certain spots worse than others. EL, EE, math, and foreign language were already in short supply and are just becoming moreso. One question that we will never know is how much charter schools affect the teacher supply line. They may take plenty of new teachers in, but how are their attrition rates compared to MNPS? Their day-to-day requirements on teachers tend to be higher, and the burnout probably much faster than someone who had received more schooling beforehand and less PD during the year. Again, just a thought that would take a lot of work to uncover data for.

    • the result of another 14 years of systematically making it a less and less appealing field to work in. i’d never recommend someone become a teacher or a police officer unless they are dead set on that field.

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