Change Has Got To Come

“We’re lost,’ she said. ‘We’re here,’ Bateman replied. They were both right.”
Joseph Knox, The Smiling Man

 

My apologies, I’ve been a bit remiss in keeping to a regular schedule with the blog. About a month ago, I agreed to cover education issues for the Tennessee Star – an online conservative newspaper. It’s a move that has been met with some criticism by activists I’ve worked with over the years. I’m sorry for that, but I’m not sorry.

My views on education policy have evolved over the years. Where once I saw black and white, I now see shades of gray. These days I seek more clarification than condemnation.

Furthermore, it’s never been my desire to stand on a cliff and throw red meat to the masses. I’m not necessarily looking for people to agree with me, as much as I m looking for people to think deeper about issues because of the points I raise. When I first started this, I was inspired by a blogger from Louisianna with the moniker Crazy Crawfish.

The man behind the keyboard was Jason France, a former employee of the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). In 2014, he made a run for the state board of education with a slogan, “Throw the bums out! Let Crazy in!” Despite a valiant effort, he lost to Chas Roemer, a Republican and son of former governor Buddy Roemer. Roemer was closely aligned with then-governor Bobby Jindal – there is a topic for a Where are They Now episode – who supported education reforms that expanded school vouchers, ended teacher tenure protections, and made teacher evaluations dependent on student test scores. Ah…the halcyon days.

When France lost, it took a toll on him personally. He receded from commenting on public policy. In 2016 he resurfaced for a bit but again faded off. I get it, covering education policy gets redundant and frustrating. You never seem to get anywhere, and the bad guys seem to be on a continuous winning streak. Whatever, the world is worse off for not having the thoughts of Crazy Crawfish to chew on.

Damn, but I miss Crazy Crawfish.

While I was contemplating kicking off Dad Gone Wild, France told me, “I never work from the assumption that I’m the man with all the answers – the smartest man in the room. That’s not my job. My job is to get a lot of really smart people in the room together so that they can come up with a solution.” He then went on to tell me that he’d use any tool he could – be it outlandish humor or outrage – to drag people into that room. It was never about him, but rather a means to better policy.

I adopted his philosophy as my own, and for the last decade I’ve been trying to drag really smart people – and some not-so-smart people with valid ideas – into a giant room to craft better education policy, with moderate success.

The Tennessee Star offers a vehicle to grow that room. It gives me a pipeline to potential readers that might never find the blog, It also forces me to become a better writer.

Some may view a conservative news outlet as playing fast and loose with the facts. That has not been my experience with The Star. I’ve been blessed with an editor that is both diligent and knowledgeable.

My writing with them has been straight reporting, with no grace for opinion. Every time I’ve tried to sneak a little opinion in, I’ve been rebuked with either a, “where is the link” or “how do you know this” rebuttal. There has been a fairly large learning curve for me, and I’m hoping that I improve before they grow weary of me. I’m very proud of the work I’ve produced under their by-line.

My eventual goal is that you can read my report of a story at The Tennessee Star, and then come here for the explanation.

Commissioner Schwinn may have told the Governor at budget presentations that the department had no plans to bring any new legislation to the table this year, but in talking to state lawmakers, I can assure you, that’s not what they are thinking.

There have already been indications that bills designating more support for k-4 students will be submitted, along with revisions to the 3rd-grade retention law and maybe even the new state school funding law. Textbook commission member Lauri Cordoza-Moore has been speaking publically about pushing legislators to pass a bill further addressing what books should be in school libraries. Student discipline continues to be an area of concern for lawmakers and administrators. Any way you dice it, it’s going to get interesting.

So, please stick around.

Reading Wars Part XX

Here we go again. The only subject that generates more education policy skirmishes than charter schools, is reading instruction. I’m sure that most of you have been bludgeoned to death with cries about how only one-third of students are reading on grade level. Twitter is especially flooded with self-proclaimed reading researchers and scientists, I always like to look at the profiles of the most hyperbolic and usually find that they usually link the commentor to a publisher, tech company, or non-profit – which for the record, a non-profit title is a tax designation not a reflection on the amount of money you bring in.

Fairly often they identify as former teachers or administrators as well.

Another favorite conversation starter is to ask what method they are using to arrive at their numbers. The reality is that most assessments administered are standards-based and not skills-based. Up until about 3rd grade the standards are mostly skills but that changes as kids transition from learning to reading, to reading to learning. TCAP is based on Tennessee state standards, while NAEP is based on Common Core standards, The two are arguably the same, but still, differences exist.

We also need to remember that Tennessee has so many standards, that oftentimes individual standards are omitted from testing, or there is only one question that relates to them. If a student gets it wrong, is it indicative of an inability to read, or they didn’t understand the question?

For the record, neither Twitter nor any other social media platform has taught a child to read. It’s just another source of information, one that should be subject to the same scrutiny as other sources.

Recently, journalist Holly Korby delivered a podcast that delved into the so-called “Science of Reading”, and served to criticize the usage of “Balanced Literacy” in reading instruction. In response to the podcast, 65 reading specialists got together wrote a response, and asked for the rest of the story. This prompted 650 other teachers to write another letter challenging the other 65 to embrace science. Now my social media feed is clogged with rebuttals on both sides.

This is not a new battle, but one that does serve as an example of the wide chasm between what advocates and policymakers think happens in schools, and what does actually takes place.

As professional educator Peter Greene writes in a recent column for Forbes Magazine:

Teachers who have been in the classroom for more than a few years are all too familiar with the policy pendulums of education. Because teachers deal with a wide variety of students, they employ a wide variety of instructional strategies and techniques. But there is an inexorable push (particularly by people who don’t actually work in classrooms) to tidy up, to sort out all these tools by determining which are best, even to decide that one particular tool is the only one that effective teachers should use.

That is it in a nutshell. These internet commenters, on both sides, seem to labor under the assumption that teachers subscribe to one school of thought and never waiver from it – more loyal to ideology than to the students they face daily. They go even further by making the assumption that teachers have no access to the internet and without guidance from those well-meaning folks outside the classroom, they’d never stumble into any other strategy beyond the one magical idea they learned in teacher prep school. Never mind that many finished formal schooling over a decade ago.  It’s all, to put it bluntly, bullshit

Here’s another fact that bears mentioning. I promise you that none of these researchers and scientists are lying awake in bed late into the night, because they are trying to find the key that will unlock learning for George who is struggling despite a variety of approaches, But George isn’t the only one, there is Sophie, and Lashawn, Emily, Rochelle, Sam, Jorge,…and…well you get the picture. But I promise you there is no shortage of teachers doing that very thing every night. You see, teachers are not looking at data points and considering how to increase the trajectory.

No, there are real faces in front of them. Faces that have unique stories and challenges attached to them. Stories that impact whatever strategy is employed. So to insinuate that teachers are holding tight to one postulate, even in the face of evidence that it is not working, is insulting. To insinuate that teachers aren’t talking to colleagues about alternative methods is insulting. Maybe a teacher is inexperienced with practices associated with foundational skills, but I guarantee you, not everybody in the building falls into that category.

To imply that a teacher will daily face a student who is struggling, and respond by shrugging and saying, “Well I used additional phonics exercises and it didn’t work, so I’ve done my part.” is beyond insulting.

Here’s my revelation of late, 90% of the conversations around education policy and practice serve as nothing but noise and distraction. Charter school argument, Wit and Wisdom, Common Core, all of it, really doesn’t matter.

The only thing that is truly important, and delivers success with more regularity than anything else, is the relationship between a student and a teacher. If you don’t have that…you got nothing.

That should be the litmus test applied to every proposed policy or practice. Does it facilitate the strengthening of the relationship between a student and a teacher? If not, there is no room for it.

The other thing is, how long until we really look at our measurement tools and question their validity? Despite billions of dollars in investment over decades, the trajectory of student outcomes based on standardized tests is fairly flat. Sure they are moving upward, but not at a rate that reflects investment.

If I was a homebuilder and continued to build lopsided houses, would I just keep building or would I start to question my measuring tape?

I’m sitting out this round of the Reading Wars, I’ll leave it to those who have the capacity to engage in endless fights that fail to accurately reflect what takes place in classrooms across the country. I’m more interested in growing a teacher’s toolbox than I am in making sure they are using the right brand of hammers and screwdrivers.

Quick Hits

Guns in Metro Nashville Public Schools continue to be a growing issue for the district. Today, per Scoop Nashville, “A Hillwood High School 10th grader is charged with carrying a gun on school property after she was reportedly walking in a hallway, upset, and stating that she had a weapon and would shoot up the school. ” According to the news website, it was the s16-years olds first day at the school, She was taken to the office and searched.  a nine-millimeter with 12 rounds in the chamber was recovered.

It’s easy to criticize schools, but this is an issue that goes beyond their scope. In addressing the crisis, we need to shed our agendas and have an honest conversation before it’s too late.

This week I was talking with a long-term teacher at Maplewood HS. We were reflecting on a shooting that occurred at graduation over a decade ago. That day 21-year-old Andreus Taylor lost his life, and the trajectory of countless others was forever altered. Is it going to take a repeat occurrence before we get really serious? Would anybody be surprised if we read about a student being shot in a local school?

MNPS has announced openings for a newly created position – Transition Teachers. Best as I can tell, transition teachers are long substitute teachers. The immediate questions that come to mind are about the number of openings, and why there is a sufficient need to create this workforce, At some point…ah, never mind.

The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) is considering a proposal put forth by Polk County’s Copper Basin High School that would move all public charter schools out of Division I, where they are currently competing with traditional public schools, to Division II. This proposed move would have public charter school students competing against independent schools.

The thinking is, public charter schools have open or less restrictive boundaries and thus have access to a greater population of students. Not sure how this addresses larger districts like MNPS, which offer families the option of selecting a school outside their neighborhood or zone through a school options process. Could get interesting.

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.

If you are interested, I’m sharing posts via email through Substack. This has proven to be an effective way to increase coverage. Readers have the option of either free or paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will potentially 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. Perhaps we should write instead “After billions of dollars in investment over decades, per-capita average income has more than doubled since 1970.

    https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/A939RX0Q048SBEA

    … and the editorial could go from there:

    To the extent the trillions in returns are driven by the billions in investment, we should do everything we can to keep trying to educate every child, which means that we must keep the scores flat for the next half century, if we are up to the task.”

    To your other great point, the relationship between teacher and student IS ABSOLUTELY the most important aspect of the puzzle. And that is exactly why the distractions you list need to be wiped off the board (except for Common Core – which 1/3 of our kids can definitely attain… if only Tennessee would embrace this simple standard used in other states). We’ll never keep our scores flat if we fragment the system and blame teachers for normal statistical fluctuations of student performance on tests that are designed to spread individuals onto bell curves.

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