When The Woke Get Awoken

“The facts miss the heart of the matter; to give us a clear picture, the facts need a vehicle, the anecdote”
Tim Krabbé, The Rider

I am going to ask that you allow me a touch of self-indulgence this morning. A moment to chuckle at those who are typically quick to deliver pronouncements on others, and now find themselves on the other side of the equation. The universe has a way of humbling us all.

Meaghan Mangrum used to cover education issues for the Tennessean. She came to Music City from Chattanooga, where she worked for the Times Free Press. Mangrum had her fans in Nashville, but I was not one of them.

A writer of marginal talent, she perceived herself as having earned a place among the greats of journalism despite accumulating less than a decade of experience. Unlike the greats she wished to emulate, Mangrum tended to focus as much on her social media presence as she did on her craft. Unfortunately, social media served to expose her thin skin and lack of maturity.

She was quick to take any criticism personally, and not afraid to use stereotypes to refute arguments. It was always old white guys who were the source of her shortcomings along with society’s inherent misogyny. When the paper shorted her on a paycheck, she was quick to bring it to her boss’s attention via Twitter, a move that earned her some time off for reflection. In August, she left Nashville and went to Dallas, for a “self-described dream job.”

This week, she lost her dream job due to actions that should surprise nobody. In a response to a Tweet from Dallas Mayor Johnson, one that wasn’t directed at her, claiming reporters had no interest in reporting good news, Mangrum typed: “Bruh, national news is always going to chase the trend. Cultivate relationships with quality local news partnerships.”

The Mayor didn’t take to her sense of familiarity lightly, posting, “Gotta love when folks let their inherent biases show. I get to be addressed as ‘bruh’ by someone who writes for my daily local paper whom I’ve never met.”

And just like that, Mangrum found herself on the outside looking in. The irony of the exchange that took place between Mangrum and her bosses is not lost on me. Executive Editor Katrice Hardy asked whether she would have used the word “bruh” had the mayor been White. (Mangrum is White; Johnson and Hardy are Black.)

“I told her I would have used the word “bruh,” in any context,” she told The Washington Post. “I told her I was shocked that anyone would perceive it as being racially charged.”

For the record, I believe Mangrum, but if you become all too comfortable in leveling accusations at others, you shouldn’t be surprised when roles shift.

The bigger question for me, is why was that question even asked? Hardy’s question lends itself to an insinuation that had Mangrum asked the question of a white male, it wouldn’t have been as egregious. Perhaps it would have been acceptable if the reporter was a black female or a black male. None of that should come into play in this conversation.

Mangrum offers as a defense, “I’m a millennial,” she said. “That’s a term I use all the time.” Ok… but again, there are codes of professionalism that apply to everyone. Allowances are not made for millennials or generation Xers. Those codes should be applicable to all, regardless of race, color, creed, or generation. But I’m not sure Mangrum or others get that.

She goes on to say, “I do think there’s a generational divide on values and the use of social media,” she said. “I think that I probably, maybe to my detriment, have followed a lot of vocal, young, strong reporters on Twitter.”

Well, we see how that worked out.

The young reporter has also been active on union and labor issues, which supporters cite as a factor in her termination. As a union member, she helped organize a protest on the same day as her termination. Causation or correlation?

Here’s my closing thought though, We’ve taught kids to believe that everyone is equal, and that’s just not reality. It’s all much more complex. LeBron James doesn’t lose his job because he says something stupid. His value to the organization provides him with a level of privilege.

The rookie guard averaging 4 pts a game isn’t afforded that same level of privilege, they can and will lose their job should they irritate the powers that be. The reasoning is, I can get another rookie guard at the drop of a hat, players of James’s caliber come few and far between.

I ain’t saying that Magnum is equivalent to a rookie guard, but she’s certainly no LeBron James either.

The lesson here is the same as that taught to me at a young age, “Don’t let your alligator mouth write a check your hummingbird butt can’t cash.”

In the long run, she’ll be all right. We’ve all had to retreat home, lick our wounds, and heal. The question becomes, what does she do next? I always tell my kids, it’s not the mistake that defines you, but what you do after the mistake.

That doesn’t just apply to Mangrum though, it applies to all of us and the question of whether or not our pursuit of equity is serving to create more inequities.

I’m also going to say to the Mayor of Dallas – and I’d say it to any mayor – as stupid as I think Mangrum’s comments were, if a perceived slight from a 31-year-old education reporter produces this kind of response, you have much bigger issues.

Pearson Testimony

It has been an interesting week on the hill here in Tennessee. A highlight for me was the testimony provided by Pearson rep Amanda Deaner. Pearson supplies Tennessee schools with both the state’s annual TNReady test and the recently adopted universal reading screener, AimsWeb Plus. The company took over the multi-million dollar state contract to create and administer the annual standardized test in 2020 after several years of missteps by then-vendor Queststar.

Deaner shared a lot of interesting things, a few of which I want to highlight.

During her testimony, she painted a picture where Tennessee teachers create the cut scores that set the levels of TNReady. To some extent, that is true.

After the first administration of a TCAP test following the adoption of new materials, teachers are brought in, and questions are sorted from easiest to hardest, and then teachers weigh in based on their experience and what they feel a proficient student should know, From these conversations, levels are drawn.

Now after the levels are set by teachers, the work doesn’t end. Questions are continually analyzed and the psychometricians provide impact results. For example, if cut scores are set where you asked, 70% of kids would score “below’ or “approaching”, so maybe we want to shade it one way or another. Before being set in stone, the Tennessee Department of Education and the State Board of Education weigh in. So yes teachers have a voice, but they are far from the deciding factor.

Furthermore, Deaner gave the impression that scale scores are consistent until the next standard review, something that made me cock an eyebrow. The statement is true, but…while the required score remains consistent, the number of questions required to meet that score varies from year to year. So if say…450 is considered proficient, one year a student may need 19 correct answers to reach it, and the next year it may take 23. That’s an important distinction.

State Representative Mark Cochran (R-Englewood) pushed on Ms. Deaner and the lack of transparency around TCAP, “As far as analyzing previous TCAP tests, it is like we’ve asked for the Kennedy assignation file, or the nuclear codes, so tell me why is that? Is there ever a time when I can look at the 2020 TCAP test and view the whole thing? Is that even possible?”

In Pearson’s defense, Deaner offered that the inability to release a full test for examination by stakeholders isn’t because of a lack of will, but rather due to a question bank that was depleted when they took over. This is interesting because, in July 2019, there was a plan in place to release tests in 2021.

At that time, there was one vendor for the creation of test questions and one vendor for crafting and administrating the test. Educational Testing Services (ETF) were providing the questions. In reviewing a memo between the TDOE and ETS there was a clear intent communicated, and reassurances were given, that plans were in place to release full operational forms beginning with the spring 2021 administration and continuance of this release into the future.

Yet here we are two years past the expected delivery date, and Deaner is telling legislators that it will be another several years before this is possible. Why?

One clue may reside in this excerpt from the memo:

ETS is pleased to collaborate with TDOE on this plan but would like to note that the plan takes us past the contract end date of September 13, 2020. This date has always been problematic because it lands squarely in the middle of forms construction for fall 2020 and spring 2021. The full forms release plan requires addition to staff very soon to support the expanded item and passage development. ETS would like to request that TDOE and ETS work together to change this milestone to a more realistic date that allows for planning and execution of the forms release plan, if this new scope will become an amendment to the current contract. If this scope will be part of the next RFP for assessment development, ETS recommends that TDOE carefully considers these timing issues as that document is crafted.

The ETS contract was not renewed and Pearson is now responsible for crafting the questions. Somebody might want to ask the Commissioner for some clarity around this when she returns to the Hill next week.

One final thing that bears repeating. There has been an effort to paint TNReady, benchmark testing, and screeners as interchangeable. They are not.

One measures skills and the other is standards-based. Two are nationally normed and one is normed to Tennessee State Standards. Unless one is willing to concede that Tennessee Standards are really just Common Core standards wearing an Ol Smoky T-shirt, you can’t even use TNReady results to compare Tennessee kids’ performance to those in the rest of the country.

So while all these exams provide us with useful information, and can serve to guide instruction, they are not the be-all and end-all that they are depicted as, and as such, not worthy of the power we afford them.

When State Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), who recently proposed legislation that would divorce Tennessee from federal education funding,  says, “I don’t think the TCAP test measures much of anything, and I think teachers would tell you that you’re teaching to a test”, you might want to believe him.

The Mysteries of MNPS

Here’s what we know. Jeff Smith, MNPS’s Director of visual and performing arts is on administrative leave with pay as of Thursday, March 2, pending the outcome of an investigation.

On March 1st, around 6 pm, the district’s principals received communication that there had been a change in the department of visual and performing arts and that Smith was restricted from all MNPS buildings. Principals were instructed to notify the people who admitted guests to be aware. Most of them had no idea who he was. No other information was provided.

An email to Sean Braisted, public information officer for MNPS, quickly produced a copy of the administrative leave letter but a follow-up request for the communication sent to principals produced crickets.

On Thursday, Smith posted a cryptic missive to his social media pages.

Nothing powers the rumor mill like a mystery, and these events certainly qualified for that title. Principals almost universally claim that the tone of the district email is unprecedented. Questions arise about what the director of performing and visual arts could possibly do to warrant such restrictions. Are children at risk if he enters the building?

I understand the need to protect people’s privacy, but perhaps a little more clarity would be helpful.

Personally, I hope everything is ok with Smith. These are difficult times, and people are dealing with all kinds of personal battles. Even those who appear the most adjusted on the outside could be struggling inside, It’s one thing to talk about valuing employees, it’s another to demonstrate that value through practice.

That’s where MNPS ultimately, and consistently, falls short. It always seems to come down to protecting the machine at the sacrifice of the individual. Here hoping this isn’t another example.

Quick Hits

Last week Speaker Sexton introduced his bill to expand charter school offerings. If the bill passes the state will allow for a charter school that provides room and board and those who serve home-schooled kids. Details of how it is all going to work are a little scarce right now, but should clearer in the coming weeks.

– – –

Kelsey Beyeler continues to provide recaps of the MNPS board meetings for the Scene. She’s back with a summation of this week’s proceedings. Apparently MNPS has invested $1 million with a company to provide gun detection and monitoring software. Indications are that there was little conversation on this item, and it was passed via the consent agenda. There was more comment by teachers during public commentary than there was by board members on the floor.

“This is a problem that should instead be addressed by investing in raising substitute teacher pay to a level that respects the skill, professionalism and absolute necessity of both long-term and day-to-day guest teachers,” said Antioch High School teacher Hallie Trauger. “Surveillance is not safety, and enhanced cameras cannot substitute for the relationships that make adequately staffed schools thrive as safe and supportive communities.”


– – –

Nashville has another announced candidate for Mayor, Alice Rolle. Rolle, a former official with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and a staff member for former U.S. Sen Lamar Alexander, says in formally announcing, “I see, and I hear, that while Nashville may be a party for our visitors — it isn’t a party for everyone who lives here,” Rolli said in a statement.  “Our young families and our most vulnerable neighbors are struggling.”

Per the Tennessee Lookout, “Most recently, Rolli has worked with QuaverEd, a Nashville-based education technology company using interactive resources to develop curriculum to be used in elementary education. Earlier in her career, Rolli taught school in Los Angeles and was on the founding regional board of Teach for America.”

– – –

Nashville Public Education Foundation has announced the winner of its annual teacherpreneur completion. The completion is seen as a professional learning opportunity that will help teachers identify, design, and pilot innovative solutions while changing the way the community sees educators – as change-makers both in and beyond the walls of their classroom. Select winners receive seed funding to implement or scale their innovative proposed solution.

This year’s winner is Jennifer Love, an AVID coordinator and teacher at East Nashville Magnet High School, who earned first place and a prize of $10,000 for her idea for a program to incorporate a social-emotional learning curriculum in student athletics to provide increased access to mental health supports for high school students.

Congratulations to all who participated.

– – –

Putting this blog together requires a great deal of time and resources, If you think it’s valuable, your support would be greatly appreciated.

A huge shout-out to all of you who’ve already 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, Christmas is right around the corner.

If you’d like less opinion and more news, check out my writing for The Tennessee Star. It’s a bit drier but equally informative.


Categories: Education

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