A DAY OF CELEBRATION

“Knowledge is a skyscraper. You can take a shortcut with a fragile foundation of memorization, or build slowly upon a steel frame of understanding.”
Naval Ravikant

 

This morning, out in Knoxville, the nation’s First Lady Jill Biden kicked off her Road to Success Back to School Bus Tour. Joining her on the tour will be U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. After a morning stop in Tennessee, they’ll head to North Carolina for an afternoon event in Greensboro.

In Tennessee, the focus was on the state’s recently created and federally recognized “Grow Your Own” program, essentially a teacher apprentice program with a fancy title. While the program is still in its infancy, and thus its effectiveness remains unknown, we do love to celebrate conception versus accomplishment. So it’s a party in big Orange country this morning, complete with a marching band and cheerleaders,

For the Commissioner and Governor Lee, this presented a bit of a political sticky wicket, as they are entrenched in the Trump camp and pictures with the current FLOTUS certainly won’t further endear the dynamic duo to a dwindling number of voters who still cling to the illusion that either is an actual Republican. That said, both rarely miss an opportunity to collect a participation trophy, so they weren’t going to pass up an opportunity to spread the smoke, and make sure the mirrors were positioned appropriately. Near as I can tell they navigated these rapids with aplomb, both Biden and Cardona were on the stage but I didn’t see them address the gathering.

I’m sure both had a speaking role of some sort, as there are pictures, but between Tennessee President Randy Boyd’s questionable fashion choice and Commissioner Schwinn’s Homecoming Queen antics, their words slipped past me.

However, there were a few things broadcast from the dais thatcan’t be left without comment.

Several times throughout the event, the word “enthusiastic” was tossed around as an essential element for a teacher, on par with adjectives like…say…competent, highly-skilled. organized, experienced, or any other number of better-suited descriptors. Yes, enthusiasm is nice, but when somebody asks you your opinion of your doctor or lawyer, do you leap to “enthusiastic” as their primary trait? I didn’t think so. So why is it at the forefront of desirable traits for teachers?

Prior to the live speakers taking the stage, there was a recorded presentation. As part of the presentation, there was an acknowledgment that as a country we are facing a teacher shortage, but the 3 reasons offered for this shortage fail to address the deeper issues.

Per the video, there is a shortage because becoming a teacher is expensive and many potential candidates can’t meet the challenge. Ok, I buy that, but I can’t fail to mention that before entering the profession 16 years ago, my wife and many of her peers would have crawled through glass in order to obtain credentials to teach. During the first year of our marriage, we lived in a one-room apartment about the size of Bill Lee’s living room, while she worked at Chilis and attended classes. Does that kind of enthusiaim still live? Just saying.

The second reason offered was that many schools aren’t staffed in a manner where the teacher force accurately reflect the community. While this may be an issue, I’m not sure how it contributes to the current staffing problems, but okay.

The third reason given was that many first-year teachers struggle due to a lack of support. That is very true, but not a complete picture. Many veteran teachers are tired of increasing responsibilities that far outpace compensation.

Those are the only reasons offered by Tennessee’s Department of Education. If you think those are the only reasons why there is a current shortage of available teachers, you are ill-informed. If you are a policymaker and believe that those are the only reason, you are part of the problem.

There are few worse feelings than when you secure your place in your dream profession and you realize it is not what you actually dreamed about. For many, teaching is a calling, what are you left with when you realize that call was a wrong number?

Most teachers enter the profession looking to make a difference in kids’ lives, not to become slaves to data and bureaucrats’ ambition. Unfortunately, that’s the reality of today’s teaching profession.

Everybody clutched their pearls in agast at the words uttered by Hillsdale’s Larry Arn describing teachers in unflattering terms without for a second considering how their daily actions reinforce the words the falsehoods he was ignorant enough to say. Instead of giving in to the our growing desire to take offense, that time could have better used in reflection, evaluation, and adjustment.

We discuss teacher shortages a tone of one teacher being interchangeable with another. In case you didn’t know, the state of Tennessee grades teachers every year on a scale of one to five, with 5 being the highest. How many of the teachers who left the profession last year were rated level 5’s? How many were 1’s? Good luck finding out, but shouldn’t the information be readily available?

Here’s one of my sports analogies, Ii Tom Brady retires, and you replace him with Teddy Bridgewater, would you consider your quarterback problem solved? Bridgewater is by all accounts a good fellow and a competent player, but he’s certainly no Tom Brady, and few would expect a team to achieve the same level of success after the switch, So why would we assume such in education?

How about if a team replaced Brady with Kevin Hogan? Who, you might ask. That’s the point. The word around Hogan when the Titans signed him a few years ago was, “His NFL career has been stalled for several seasons, but he comes from a football family and continues to get opportunities.” Bet he was enthusiastic as well, and he did go to Stanford. But he wasn’t Tom Brady, and in the end, he wasn’t even a viable option, and he’s now out of professional football pursuing other opportunities.

The argument could be made that all careers are finite, and eventually, no matter what, you have to give some new blood a shot. NFL teams go through this quandary regularly, but they don’t try to force their stars into early retirement. Nobody said to Tom Brady after his second Super Bowl win, “You ever think about being a coach? You’d be a good one.” or “Hey, you ever think about working for this non-profit that consults the league on diversity issues?”

No, what they said was, “What do you need to win the third one?”

So why don’t we do the same with proven veteran teachers?  Why do we load them down with so-many peripheral responsibilities that they have little time left to practice their developed craft? Why do we insist that we know more about winning Super Bowls than they do, in spite of us never having set foot on the playing field, while they have hoisted the coveted hardware on regular occasions?

We don’t think that just anybody can perform at the same level as Tom Brady. We acknowledge the amount of preparation and training he engages in to be successful. Why do we not extend the same courtesy to our teachers? I don’t think that over the last decade anybody has referred to Brady as enthusiastic Why do we assume that the solution to an ever-growing teacher crisis is just to find more enthusiastic young faces?

Let me say it again for those in the back, “enthusiastic” does not equal ‘skilled” and you can’t fill a leaky bucket by just turning up the faucet. We can’t solve the teacher staffing issues without acknowledging the real problems – low pay and too many responsibilities. While “Grow Your Own” programs may have some real upside, there is nothing attached to them that prevents current teachers from running out of the bottom of the bucket, nor that these new hires won’t soon join them.

All of this is just another example of a deeper issue that is contingent on how the education world is structured. Think Venn diagram with me, if I was more skilled I’d draw it out.

You’ve got circle A, which is all the policy and money makers filled with grandiose ideas, rooted in their self-professed genius, as opposed to actual real-life experience.  Then you have circle B, which is made up of young people that could really care a rat’s ass about circle A. They’ve got their own agenda, and while they are certainly thirsty for knowledge, it’s not always the knowledge preferred by circle A.  Nor the knowledge that they attach priority to.

Trust me when I tell you nary a member of circle B is hanging around the soccer field saying, “We need to apply ourselves on these upcoming tests, as they are an accurate measure of what we are learning thus ensuring that we will be able to take our place among the responsible citizens of Tennesse in the near future.”

I have a carload of pre-teens and teens in my car on a fairly regular basis, and from what I can overhear, they are more concerned with the antics of their classmates – especially those of the opposite sex, the latest internet phenomenon, who is going to the game on Friday, and comparing notes on their teachers. Notes that bear little resemblance to those captured on the latest district-sanctioned survey. 99% of Circle A fail to even enter their radar.

In our Venn diagram, there is very little overlap between circles A and B. Events like today, with their curated student interactions, sadly serve as the primary source of information between the two. This is where Circle A gets all those endearing student quotes that justify their initiatives.

Then you have circle C. This one overlaps heavily with circle B, as its the one that is responsible for the instruction and management of the occupants of circle B. They are the pones that all hear the quotes from Circle B that are the flipside to the ones espoused by Circle A. Circle  C  has very little interaction with Circle A, despite A supplying the measurement tools that determine the compensation rates and work environments of those in Circle B, thus causing increased levels of stress.

Confused yet? See any issues?

Yea, until the balance is restored, all the flashy programs in the world are going to be little more than sound and fury signifying…nothing. But hey, it makes for good TV.

HILLSDALE BLUES

The Tennessean has a report out today that draws attention to Hillsdale College, and its affiliated charter school’s focus on the state level versus the local, in their pursuit of bringing new schools to Tennessee. It’s a well-written article that reinforces Hillsdale as a nefarious actor. While that may be true, this instance is likely a case of them acting in a prudent manner,  and understanding how the system is constructed.

I’m sure that they did their homework and realized that any charter applicant would be met with resistance on the local level, and realized that their path to existence was more likely to come from state officials than local ones. Thus, they went through the motions at the local level and instead focused on the state. You may disagree with the appropriateness, I certainly do, but it is the way the system is designed. I don’t think you can find fault with someone studying the system and working it to meet their initiatives.

What kicks off the spider-sense for me is the revelation that while the other two districts targeted by Hillsdale offered up their communications with the school, “Rutherford County Schools declined to provide The Tennessean with information regarding their communications with Hillsdale”.

What you might not know, is that Rutherford County recently held partisan elections for school board seats for the first time, and now has a board with a 4-3 Republican majority. Perhaps, they are not sharing details because a plan is already in place. It’d be a whole lot easier if the state’s Charter Commission could kick this one back to the local level. Rutherford county is facing overcrowding issues…so maybe.

I don’t believe there is anything untoward in the TNDOE meeting with Hillsdale officials. They don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing who they offer assistance to and should provide all with equal access. As for, Commissioner Schwinn, she has long demonstrated that she will meet with folks on either side of the aisle as long as there is a little self-serving incentive involved, and her boss has indicated his preferences. Though I would like to hear more about her interactions with school officials. Per The Tennessean.

Most of the communications between the Tennessee Department of Education and Hillsdale College started with Schwinn after she crossed paths with college officials on at least two occasions.

She visited the school in May 2021 and then attended a luncheon with officials from the college the following September. The September meeting included a speech by Arnn, where he alluded to the college wanting to open 50 K-12 charter schools in Tennessee.

The charter commission will hold public comment hearings on each of the schools up for consideration this week before rendering a decision on the status of their applications later this year. after that, we’ll have a better view of what the landscape will look like going forward.

STATE RATING BLUES

MNPS is announcing good news,

Metro Nashville Public Schools has been designated as an “Advancing” school district by the Tennessee Department of Education based on 21-22 TCAP results, the second highest rating a district can achieve in the state’s accountability model, taking scores from a variety of metrics to show how the overall district has performed for its students. MNPS has increased the number of reward schools this year to 48, with 34 district-run and 14 charter schools shown achieving this top accountability status.

Nice, furthermore the following schools are designated rewards schools. Amqui Elementary, Charlotte Park Elementary, Cole Elementary, Crieve Hall Elementary, Dan Mills Elementary, Dodson Elementary, Eakin Elementary, Early College High School, East End Preparatory School*, Explore Community School*, Fall-Hamilton Elementary, Glendale Elementary, Glengarry Elementary, Granbery Elementary, Harpeth Valley Elementary, Head Middle Magnet, Hume – Fogg High, Isaac Litton Middle, J. E. Moss Elementary, Joelton Elementary, John B. Whitsitt Elementary, J.T. Moore Middle, Julia Green Elementary, KIPP Academy Nashville*, KIPP Nashville College Prep*, KIPP Nashville College Prep Elementary*, Lakeview Elementary, Liberty Collegiate Academy*, Lockeland Elementary, Martin Luther King Jr School, May Werthan Shayne Elementary School, Meigs Middle, Nashville Classical*, Nashville Prep*, Neely’s Bend Elementary, Old Center Elementary, Percy Priest Elementary, Purpose Prep*, Rocketship United*, Rose Park Middle, Smithson Craighead Academy*, Strive Collegiate Academy*, Sylvan Park Elementary, Una Elementary, Valor Flagship Academy*, Valor Voyager Academy*, Warner Elementary, West End Middle (* denotes charter school).

Priority schools are not listed. But, among the six schools that have exited priority school status are two schools, Warner Elementary and Amqui Elementary, which exited priority and have achieved Reward Status. The four other schools exiting priority status are Alex Green Elementary, Cumberland Elementary, McMurray Middle, and Robert Churchwell Museum Magnet Elementary. They go on to say,

Overall, MNPS has gone from 24 district-run priority schools named in 2018 to 18 schools in the latest release. Eight schools, including one charter, have been newly designated with priority status for a total of 19. Typically, schools receive priority status for a three-year period and move into the Schools of Innovation division within MNPS to receive additional, intensive turnaround support. This year, the state is only issuing designations for a one-year period. The district will be working with these schools to ensure that evidence-based turnaround and success strategies are being implemented to support their students and faculty.

It’s good news, but the proof will be in next year. So stick around.

QUICK HITS

Tennessee getting some glowing remarks. We ranked 10th for education freedom in a new report card from the Heritage Foundation. You may ask how we move up on the list,

“Tennessee could improve its ranking by expanding eligibility for, and boosting participation in, its private-school-choice program, and eliminating unnecessary regulations on participating private schools, including the state test mandate,” the report said. “Tennessee could also improve its ranking by making it easier for more charter schools to open and operate, and by giving families more choices among traditional public schools.”

Yea this may be one of those cases where the middle of the pack is more attractive.

MNPS held their first ever Septemeber Job Fair this past weekend, According to a report from  Fox 17 News, “MNPS Director of Talent Acquisition, Brigitte Tubbs-Jones, says they have over 100 open teaching positions, 90 open paraprofessional positions, and 80 bus driver positions that they need to fill.” When asked, “What incentives are you giving teachers so that they want to work for Metro schools?”” She answered, “So the incentives that we provide like I mentioned before is competitive pay. We have the highest paid teachers in the state.”” As I said, you can’t solve the problem if you don’t recognize the issues.

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

3 replies

  1. the only ‘road back to success’ from jill biden would lead to the dismantling of the federal DOE.
    ask – since the DOE was created under Carter – have schools gotten better or worse?

    i dont know anyone, not financially involved in the DOE and its various money spigots, that would say better. it’s been a huge waste of resources at best, and hurt local schools at worst. and the worst is more realistic.

  2. Dr. Biden spoke for around 9 minutes. A stream of the event is below. Her portions is in the last 10 minutes of the video.

    The full list of school designations is here:
    https://www.tn.gov/education/data/accountability/2022-school-accountability.html

    The video that talked about educator needs was part of a pre-presentation, prior to the First Lady’s arrival. Dr. Biden’s 3 points were that we need to work to “Recruit, Respect, and Retain” educators.

    The point around “enthusiasm” wasn’t that it is a necessary trait, but that we have many people who really want to become teachers and we need to find ways to break down barriers and implement supports for those who really want to enter such a difficult profession.

    I think it is important not to conflate the two distinct presentations that were part of this day. One was Dr. Biden’s bus tour and recognition of the Grow Your Own programs in TN. The second was the TN Department of Education and UT, cheerleading for their own efforts to implement these programs, all the way down to a pep band and cheerleaders yelling “Go Big Orange!”

    It would have been fun for someone to have noted that the TN DOE and our TN legislature fully intended to push teachers out of the profession and that they were very ‘successful.’ Maybe Bill Dunn could have taken a bow as part of his very hypocritical presence at the event.

    • Thank you. I read hers afterwards, and truth is, she doesn’t convince me anymore than the TNzDOE does. The three “R’s” are a catchy slogan, but…nothing Cardinnna has proposed really echos them.

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