AND TO THINK I THOUGHT I HAD NOTHING TO SAY

“When life seems hard, the courageous do not lie down and accept defeat; instead, they are all the more determined to struggle for a better future.”
Queen Elizabeth II

This week, two notable events transpired that are worthy of examination. The first, obviously. is the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Regardless of your opinion on royalty, the fact remains that she lived a life of service, dedicated to a higher calling than herself, Sense of duty is one of those outdated values, that often appears to have gone the way of Blockbuster video stores and film rolls, but don’t be deceived.

Elizabeth’s display of selfless devotion transpired on the grand stage, far removed from that arena are thousands of parents and others who make similar sacrifices every day. Parents for the benefit of their children, regularly sacrifice in order to give more to their children. Despite dwindling numbers, there are still teachers, clergy, and first responders among others – all displaying a sense of selflessness in a world that shoves them aside to chase self-grandeur. There are still neighbors that will get out of bed in the middle of the night to help neighbors that they barely know.

It is right to mourn the loss of England’s longest-reigning monarch, but we should also celebrate her ideals and the countless others who share her sense of duty. Together they have made the world a much better place than it would be without them, and they deserve our gratitude in this time of reflection. The Queen may have worn the crown, but she is not the only one who modeled the ideals.

This leads me to the stories that have emerged about why Tom Brady missed a significant part of training camp this year. It seems that the Hall of Fame quarterback’s reversal of his decision to retire from the NFL didn’t sit well with his supermodel wife, She expected that with his retirement he would be taking a more active role in family life, freeing her up to pursue some opportunities she had let pass over the years in order to take care of the family. It would be easy to chuckle and mock the follies of the rich and famous, but theirs is no different than what happens in households all across America.

Marriage is hard. Raising kids is hard. Striking a balance between professional pursuits and supporting our loved ones is a struggle we all face. I find it strangely reassuring to learn that wealth and privilege provide no immunity from life’s challenges. While I am no Hall of Fame quarterback, though I might argue that my wife is a supermodel, as a family we struggle to balance a professional life with ensuring that our children can seize every opportunity available. Sometimes we succeed, and other times we fall short.

Family life often fails to meet the pre-imagined ideals we hold. Meals are missed or truncated, with much of life spent either transporting kids or waiting in parking lots. Job requirements are done late at night or early in the morning, and the luxury of sleep is bypassed. Unlike in the professional environment, where you might earn a Super Bowl ring or a lucrative new modeling contract, rewards and accolades are far and in between. Instead, the inverse is often true, the more success your children achieve the more demands that you face. It’s all overwhelming and deliberating, but lost in the chaos is the realization that it is also fleeting.

While the years seem to extend to eternity, the reality is that it all ends way too fast. No matter how talented your child is, there are a limited number of sporting events and recitals. Children, per the natural process, soon move on and the demands on parents lessen. It’s hard to grasp just what a small portion of our life is being sacrificed when we often feel like we are drowning. It’s hard to appreciate something that feels like it is sucking us dry, but somehow, we must.

I take heart that even folks on the level of the Bradys are facing the same life-defining challenges. Hopefully, they can take heart in the fact that if I can get through it, so can they.

This week, I have even fewer answers than usual. But I got questions, indeed I have questions.

Over the last decade, I have had a front-row seat to the trappings of the education world. Unfortunately the more I see the more I become confused. It’s like when someone keeps turning the focus dial in the wrong direction, and despite all your shouting and advice,  they refuse to adjust, even as the picture continues to become more out of focus. . Let me explain.

Take for example the argument consistently made that schools are underfunded and under-resourced. There is no money for education. Fair enough, there is evidence that supports the claim on the individual school level, but then explain to me the overabundance of outside private and non-profit entities that continually work to influence policy and ultimately student outcomes. All of these organizations’ CEOs and Executive Directors pull six-figure salaries while the average teacher’s salary remains in the mid-five-figures. Where does that money come from?

Hell, David Mansouri, executive director for SCORE, despite never spending any time in a school building as anything but an observer,  pulls in north of $300K and the organization still has enough cash left over to pay $991,603 to TNTP. Not to mention the $200k they give annually to former ED Jaimie Woodson who is in semi-retirement. I say semi-retired because she still sits on the state’s charter commission and will be a vote in deciding if the state overrules local decisions on charter observations or not.

SCORE has this kind of cash despite a dismal record of success. As Joe B Kent points out in a recent editorial in The Tennessean,

Given the former and with the backdrop question, does it concern anyone that the Bill First chaired State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), and known leading Tennessee educational policy driver is a complete failure? The facts are clear on SCORE.

Since around SCORE’s establishment in 2010 and though pre-COVID 2019 and with the help of $500M in Federal Race to the Top funds – based on compiled data from the National Center on Educational Statistics – Tennessee is next to last in percentage post-secondary education completion increases, in the Southeastern United States, and only ahead of Louisiana.

SCORE’s K-12 results have introduced grossly deficient Tennessee post-secondary outcomes all while charter schools have increased statewide and particularly in Tennessee’s largest Shelby County, where proficiency outcomes have continued to falter vs the Tennessee average. Increased competition by charters has not worked to increase academic outcomes in Shelby County. And this Shelby County faltering occurred while all three Shelby County SCORE Board members stood by and watched.

Someone might want to ask that question. But don’t limit the scope to SORE, they are not the only ones,

Recently, Education Trust’s national leader John King took a leave of absence to run for Governor of Maryland. He failed to secure the nomination securing less than 4% of the vote. Rushern L. Baker III, the former Prince George County Executive whose tenure was plagued with controversy. Lucky for King, he still gets to collect his half-million dollar annual salary from Education Trust, a luxury not afforded to Baker. Which raises the question, how is this money available for an organization whose track record is not dissimilar from that of SCORE?

If writing hypothetical policy pieces and showing up in legislators’ offices to advocate for pet projects is worth a half-million a year, surely I should be collecting at least a quarter of that., but alas I’m not even getting 1%. Voters in Maryland rejected his vision wholesale, but Tennesseans are forced to accept his influence in state education policy.  Does that seem right to you?

The CEO of Great Minds, Lynne Munson, pulls in an annual salary of more than $700K. This is from a non-profit with the following stated mission.

GREAT MINDS SEEKS TO ENSURE THAT ALL STUDENTS, REGARDLESS OF THEIR CIRCUMSTANCE, RECEIVE A KNOWLEDGE-RICH EDUCATION IN THE FULL RANGE OF THE LIBERAL ARTS AND SCIENCES INCLUDING ENGLISH, MATHEMATICS, SCIENCE, AND SOCIAL STUDIES. WE WORK WITH TEACHERS AND SCHOLARS TO CREATE INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS, PROVIDE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION SERVICES, CONDUCT RESEARCH, AND PROMOTE POLICIES THAT … ORDER TO BUILD KNOWLEDGE OF IMPORTANT TOPICS AND MASTER LITERACY SKILLS. ALL STUDENTS READ AND DISCUSS GRADE-LEVEL TEXTS, WITH SUGGESTIONS FOR SUPPORT INCLUDED AT KEY MOMENTS THROUGHOUT EACH LESSON. GREAT MINDS HAS ALSO DEVELOPED GEODES, A SERIES OF READABLE TEXTS FOR GRADES K-2 PHD SCIENCE IS A PHENOMENON-DRIVEN CURRICULUM. THROUGH AUTHENTIC ANCHOR PHENOMENON, EACH MODULE EXPLORES CORE SCIENCE CONCEPTS …

Munson for the record has never gotten within spitting distance of a public school. Yet, she commands an annual salary that exceeds what the average teacher would make in a decade of educating children.

Here in Nashville, NPEF, announced this week that they’ve partnered with MNPS to create a new training program for Middles School teachers.

In partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools, the Nashville Public Education Foundation is offering a new professional learning opportunity for MNPS Middle School Core Content Teachers. Teachers will be eligible to receive Professional Development credit upon completion of the learning series.

Participating teachers will delve into the science behind how the brain encodes new information, consolidates information into long-term memory, and retrieves information from long-term memory. Teachers will learn concrete practical applications of this science that can have an immediate, positive impact on increasing student achievement. Office hours will be offered between sessions to support teachers in applying these strategies.

Registration will close on September 16 or when all spots are filled. Teachers must register to participate and are expected to attend all three sessions.

Ok, let’s forget a moment that if I suddenly hired an expert in the medical profession and started holding workshops on how to be a better doctor, I’d likely be ridiculed, who is empowering them to take this initiative? If further training is needed why is the district not providing and paying teachers for it? Why the middleman? Every one of the sessions takes place at 7 at night, which means that unless it’s only 20 minutes long most of those teachers will be getting home past their normal bedtime. Shouldn’t somebody who professes to serve teachers be cognizant of that?

So who’s conducting this offering, Of course, it is a Teach for America alumni and a long-time leader at KIPP, charter schools,

Nancy Livingston is the founder Village Court Consulting, an education consultancy focused on developing instructional leaders. She brings over twenty years of experience in K-12 education. She has managed and coached principals, assistant principals and curriculum teams in New York and Nashville. In 2019, three of the schools she supported received Rewards status from the state of TN. During her career, she has built teacher and leader training programs grounded in the science of learning. Nancy began her career in education as a Teach For America Corps member in New Orleans, LA. She has an MBA from Yale University and BA from Davidson College.

Is this because the district doesn’t have any veteran teachers capable of leading this training? Is it because classroom teachers aren’t smart enough, or do they come from the dumbest teacher prep programs. Perhaps she’ll teach teachers how to cherry-pick students in order to earn Reward School status.

The irony is, that once again MNPS is taking money that should be targeted to schools and filtering it through a private entity to enrich an alumnus of another organization that has worked to destabilize the teaching profession and public education for decades. Which to be honest, is the only success of scale they can cite. Why?

Now that we’ve established that in reality there is a shit ton, to put it bluntly, of money in education, why is it continually going to the wrong places? Why does investment in private entries, be they for-profit or non-profit, continue to grow, while investment in schools themselves falters? Why does this investment continue to grow at a rapid pace while student outcomes only grow slightly?

Fifty years on this earth have taught me that people don’t continue to invest money if they don’t feel like they are getting a return on their investment. So what’s the return here? Who knows, none of the private entities are required to disclose where they get their money from and are only nominally required to share where they spend it. Why?

If public education is a public good, and schools funded by local and state governments, are required to be transparent about their finances, why is the same not required of those who regularly try to subvert the work of those who are charged with educating children?

Education continues to be a field where everyone who has ever sat in a classroom feels like they are now an expert. We continuously scream about equity in education, yet the system is designed to hold those closest to children accountable while those most removed are granted the most influence and held free of accountability. Really doesn’t meet my definition of equity, but seldom is a question raised about who is receiving the most benefits from the public school system.

I’d argue that purposely underfunding schools forces a reliance on outside entities. It’s like my house, if I never have time to clean, then I’m more likely to look for an outside company to clean it regularly. provide the funding and resources necessary for districts to serve their families, and some of the need to rely on outside entities likely dries up.

You frequently hear about threats to kill public education. I have my doubts about the veracity of those claims, Killing public education, kills the proverbial golden goose. Destroying public education who be akin to slaughtering a sheep before fully sheering it.

RETAKE BLUES

My new pet peeve these days is over policy around students being permitted to retake exams. Getting past MNPS not having a universal policy, why are individual school policies not geared towards facilitating learning instead of punishing students?

Recently I took my AHIP exam in order to sell Medicare. In order to be licensed, I was required to score over 90%. If I failed to achieve that score, I was provided 2 more opportunities in which to pass. If I scored an 85% on my first attempt, and a 93% on my second, my score was 93, not the average of the two. I passed. demonstrated mastery of the subject, and am licensed. Nothing else matters.

Every test that a student will take as an adult has similar parameters. I can’t think of a single one where there is not an opportunity for a retake. Some may argue that the Bar and medical licensing may be an example, but let’s face it, in the past, the stringent requirements were designed to keep the riff-raff out of the profession. So why would we want to emulate that with students?

The purpose of instruction is to facilitate student learning. Assessments are intended to get a read on if the instruction is serving its purpose, not to punish those who fall short. If a kid comes to school on a test day feeling under the weather because mom and dad were up all night fighting and they didn’t get enough sleep causing them to score poorly, is that a reflection on their learning or on current circumstances? Why should we make them drag a resulting low test score around like an anchor for the rest of the quarter?

I can hear the condescending replies now, “I know you hate testing, but it’s a part of the real world – a fact of life – that kids need to get used to dealing with.” Sure it is. But it’s a practice that in the adult world looks nothing like it does in a student’s world. When somebody is deciding whether or not to buy insurance from me or not, they are not considering how many tries it looks to pass my exam, or even what my score is, on;y that I passed and am licensed. Why do we think all of that is important when it comes to evaluating student learning?

Again, the question arises, who’s benefit are we doing this for? What are we measuring, student learning or their ability to comply with whatever arbitrary rules we cook up?

HOUSE FOR SALE

An interesting real estate listing hit the market this morning. Penny and Paul Schwinn have listed their house in Nashville. Yes, that would be Commissioner Schwinn. Now what this means is anyone’s guess, but she has been awfully quiet as of late. Interestingly enough there is a press conference scheduled for Monday to tout Grow Your Own in which both First Lady Jill Biden and USDOE head honcho Miquel Cardona are scheduled to be in attendance. Perhaps that door to the UDOE is opening for Mrs. Schwinn. Or consider this wrinkle, what if she heads to the Department of Labor as part of their initiative to create more teacher jobs.

Washington D.C. is a big town. If she wanted to bring back some old associates, she could probably slip in the door with little notice. Maybe this would be an opportunity for her and Paul to work together again. A lot of upside to moving to DC, especially if she can get out before all the smoke clears around her policies and narratives.

Or, maybe she’s looking to buy a bigger house in Nashville because the growing brood has outgrown this humble abode. Maybe Paul got a gig, remember Mrs. Schwinn is not opposed to collecting a paycheck from an employer in one state while living in another state as she has done in the past – working for both the Texas and Maryland DOE and collecting her salary from her California charter school where she was listed as its executive director.

The only thing that is ever certain with commissioner Schwinn is that there is always more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye.

QUICK HITS

Last week, I mentioned a new education newsletter coming to Tennessee. This week TNED’s Andy Spears asks, why?

That’s interesting because TNEdReport has been offering the truth about education news in the state since 2013. There’s also Chalkbeat. And, of course, Dad Gone Wild.

In short, there’s no shortage of people and outlets offering clear analysis on education news in the state. Heck, the Tennessean and Daily Memphian offer up regular doses of education news. There’s even Center Square.

I don’t normally engage in this kind of kabuki theater, but I’ve long been an admirer of Ryan Jackson, so I’m going to go ahead and congratulate him on his being named a finalist for Tennessee Principal of the year. Though I must say that with all the level 5 schools in both Memphis and Nashville, it is odd that a principal from neither district was named. I’ll let you draw your own conclusion, but don’t let any of that diminish the hard work that Jackson has put in over the years.

Tuesday, September 13th will be the first meeting of the newly elected MNPS School Board. A quick perusal of the agenda indicates a fairly benign evening. Though the director is slated to give an accountability update and seeing as there is a press conference slated for that day to announce reward schools, I suspect a fair amount of back-patting will transpire. But since Priority Schools are also being announced, we are probably safe from seeing any administrators strain an elbow, as some restraint will be required.

f 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.

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.

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

1 reply

  1. Nice post on the bogus and corrupt reform movement. In my district, we’ve surrendered teacher expertise to the esteemed Dr. Robert Marzano. We’ve paid him and his goons thousands of dollars to spew nonsense. They constantly reference data and research in their presentations, but fail to adhere to the most basic research regarding attention spans. So they talk at a room full of teachers for 7.5 hours in a mind-numbing, soul-crushing display of self-serving hubris.

    The true culprits, though, are the administrators who fall prey to, and pay for, this nonsense. This fealty to “experts” demonstrates poor leadership among administrators. They cannot lead organically so they hire outside consultants to provide canned workshops to resistant faculty. Then administrators are off the hook because they’ve provided their staff with “appropriate” training. Once they’ve established this premise, any failures can be blamed on teachers for poor implementation. The consultants move on to their next quarry while teachers are left seething about another lousy idea shoved down their collective throats. The whole thing is maddening.

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