A PACKED SCHEDULE

I hope all of you in Nashville are planning to get to bed early tonight, because tomorrow is going to be a busy, busy day in the Nashville education world. MNPS will be holding their annual choice festival tomorrow night at the fair grounds starting at 5pm. and going to 7pm. At 7pm it is the Tennessee gubernatorial education debate. If that’s not enough, tomorrow night is a MNPS school board meeting with an agenda packed enough for 2 or 3 meetings. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING

This morning I took a look at the agenda for the school board meeting and then I proceeded to spend the rest of the day on the phone asking questions. To say there is a lot packed into the agenda would be an understatement. I would say several things on it could drive their own meeting. Let’s see if we can’t unpack some of the items and give you a few things to look for as the action unfolds tomorrow. Make sure you keep the agenda handy because I’m going to refer back to it a number of times in this article.

The biggest agenda item to me is the one scheduled to come at the end of the meeting, MAP testing results. Last winter the district began implementing MAP testing as a benchmark. The test is given three times a year, so to date we have results from 4 testing periods over the course of a year and a half. MAP will be administered again in a couple of weeks for Spring 2018. For whatever, reason the presentation for tomorrow’s meeting only shows results for this year. Those results show a 2% drop in literacy and a 1% drop in math between Fall and Winter 2017.

Let’s step back though, and look at all 4 results combined. For the purpose of brevity, and because that’s where our focus has been, I’m only looking at literacy today. MAP testing results are divided up into 5 quintiles, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. MNPS’s presentation charts tomorrow groups the numbers in the 4 and 5 quintile together. When results were presented in October of this year, quintile 3 -5 were grouped together. For the sake of comparison, I’ve grouped quintiles 3-5.

Winter 2016, showed the 3-5 quintile at 51.3. Over half of our kids were scoring on par or above kids in the rest of the country. Spring 2017 showed a drop to 46.3%. Fall 2017 testing, given a few weeks after kids returned from the summer, saw us bounce back to 50.3%.  Winter 2017 showed a drop back down to 47.1%. Taken as a whole, these results warrant a few questions.

First question should be, why are kid’s doing better after summer break than they are when they are in school? My next question would be why are we not moving the needle at all. As one education advocate pointed out to me, these results are like my gas tank. I put a little in. I take a little out. Four tests, four results, and no trajectory.

It’s very troubling to me that with all the focus we’ve put on literacy, and all the resources dedicated, we are still not even as high as we were when we first began MAP testing. Clearly the vaunted scripted curriculum is not having the desired impact. I suspect, that that lack of impact is the impetus for district leadership doubling down on the IFL units at recently held curriculum update meetings.

The argument could be made that teachers are not implementing the literacy plan and without fidelity to the plan, increases won’t be seen. However, leadership continues to fail to grasp that you can’t get fidelity without trust and there is no trust.

There are a limited number of hours in a day and as a teacher am I going to focus on MAP testing and sacrifice on TNReady test prep. The district says MAP and TNReady align, but what evidence does a teacher have of that? If it turns out the two tests are not as close as advertised and a teacher’s kid’s score well on MAP but bomb on TNReady, there could be a real devastating effect on a teacher’s career. That’s not a risk reward equation that compels participation.

In looking at individual school results some other questions emerge. I don’t want to get deep too into those individual school results, but I do think some things need to be highlighted. First up, how do you accurately compare school with 103 kids taking the test to school with 432 students taking the test? With apologies to Dr. Young at West End Middle School,who is doing a fantastic job, lets compare West End Middle at Oliver Middle, specifically 7th grade in order raise further discussion.

West End has 48.5% of their students in the Q 4-5 (the highest quintile) and 24.2% in the Q 1 (the lowest quintile). Oliver MS has 47.5% of their students in the Q 4-5 and 18.4 of them in the Q1. Both solid results but West End is doing it with 493 students while Oliver is doing it with 900. Both very solid numbers, but is it a fair comparison. Again, I only bring this up to further discussion.

We talk about how parents should opt to keep their kids in a zoned school instead of choosing an academic magnet, but if I am at the choice festival I’m going to ask Meigs Magnet for their MAP scores. If the answer is 91.2% in the Q 4-5 and 0% in the Q1, where do you think I’m going to try and send my kids?

I know I’m not even touching on the growth scores, but to be honest, I need more instruction on interpreting them. In further fairness, all my interpretations may be wrong. I would argue though that the way I see the results is the way the average parent would interpret them. Therefore if the problem isn’t with the scores, than there is a problem with the messaging.

The next major item on the agenda is the discussion on the recently released  results of the climate survey. I’ve spent a fair amount of time diving into individual school results and the biggest take way I come away with is the disparity in participation. My recommendation going forward would be to put some kind of participation thresh hold in place, 70 or 75% say, and if a school didn’t hit that mark the results were nullified. As it is you are comparing schools with a 50% participation to schools with 85% participation. I don’t believe that is recipe for fair comparisons.

At some point there should be a deeper conversation on what is the climate survey’s purpose. Is it to get an idea of how policy and initiative are being translated and impacting in the classroom, or is it to back up a pre-conceived narrative. I’ve heard reports that not all teachers received the same questions and that some received an abbreviated survey. I’ve also heard that climate survey results and MAP scores are being used as the sole criteria in giving some principals sub-par evaluation scores. With a nod to Three 6 Mafia, its hard out here for a principal.

Once again Smithson-Craighead is on the agenda. This time the district has created a presentation sure to convince the most soft hearted school board member that the school should be closed. I believe it probably should be closed as well, but this presentation raises some concerns.

There are survey results incorporated into the presentation that I assume come from student responses. But there are only 20 – 23 respondents per question and the school has 189 kids. So…I’m confused.

There is also a chart on a non-branded slide that lists all the district charter schools and their “success rate”. MNPS is listed with a success rate of 31.1. Smithson-Craighead is listed at the bottom at 6.8%. What catches my eye though is that there 8 other charter schools listed below MNPS. There is no context given, nor further explanation.

If there are indeed 8 charter schools with a “success rate”, whatever that is, below MNPS, I would think that warrants a larger discussion. We probably ought to take a hard look at what’s happening in those schools. If this is not an accurate representation than I think it’s disingenuous to just throw this chart out there with out explanation or context.

Just the aforementioned items would be enough to constitute a full night’s work, but there is more on the agenda. The capital improvement budget plan is being shared. It’s only a $348,824,762 request that includes money for new schools in the Antioch, Cane Ridge, and Overton clusters and a new School of the Arts.

Last but not least the board is scheduled to approve new board policy in regards to fiscal management. Under Fundraising Activities, it appears that there will be tighter control placed on individual teacher created go-fund me campaigns. I understand the need for tighter regulation, but I have some trepidation when it comes to limiting the methods teachers can use to address some of the fiscal shortcomings teachers encounter.

This agenda asks for a heavy lift from board members, especially in light of the other activities taking place in the district. Every one of the aforementioned agenda items requires the full attention of all members of district leadership, so who will be representing leadership at both the school choice festival and the gubernatorial education debate? Some how I can’t help but think that something, or someone, is going to get shortchanged and in the end students and their families will pay the price.

QUICK HITS

Denver, a city that has a lot in common with Nashville, is seeing many lower income families squeezed out of the city. That means less lower income families enrolled in DPS. Now KIPP is looking to possibly follow those lower income families out to the suburbs. Could it happen in Nashville? A KIPP school in Mount Juliet? A Rocketship in Spring Hill?

Look for the Dad Gone Wild interview with Nashville Rise’s Allison Simpson later this week. It’s been a long time coming but I think well worth the wait.

Former Eakin ES principal Tim Drinkwine has been writing a blog to chronicle his families year long trek of the globe. His latest entry is a harrowing one.

Steven Singer is a public education teacher that has written a new book called Gadfly On The Wall: A  Public Education Teacher Speaks Out On Racism and Reform. It is a worthy read.

Sometimes you just have to go old school and today I’ve been listening to a little Toni Toni Tone. Getting my 90’s new jack swing on.

SURVEY SAYS

I’ve yet to figure out just what makes one poll question garner more answers than another. This weeks questions certainly didn’t rise to the challenge but we still got some interesting results.

The first question asked for your opinion on the idea of allowing individual schools flexibility on snow days. The overwhelming answer, with 69% 0f the vote, was that it was a recipe for disaster. Several of you brought up reasons that I hadn’t considered – open enrollment zones, kids in multiple schools, number of teachers who live in district.

Here are the write-ins:

Needs to be done through quadrants 1
Won’t work because of many open enrollment zones 1
Stats bureaucracy might prevent it 1
Families have students in multiple schools

Question two looked for your response on NPEF giving seats on their board to the prison management company CoreCivic. The idea didn’t set well with y’all as 33% of you found it completely inappropriate. 30% expressed reservations toward NPEF independent of the seating of the CEO’s. I really hope NPEF rethinks this action.

Here are the write-ins:

Inappropriate and furthers my concern with NPEF 1
Why not? MNPS schools are already like prisons 1
More crockedness from Dr Joseph

Last question asked for your which city council person you trusted the most on education issues. If you count the write-in votes, the number one answer was…no one. Coming in at number 2 was Dave Rosenberg, closely followed by Russ Pulley. For some reason this one garnered considerably less votes than the other questions, but it did get the most write-ins. Like I said, I haven’t figured it out.

None 2
Jacobia Dowell 1
Not sure 1
None! 1
None? I’ve become skeptical of all leadership 1
One that will fire Dr. Joseph 1
Snoopy 1
CMs in my experience lack knowledge/expertise re:education 1
None of the above 1
No one! They aren’t in today’s schools!

That’s it for now. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well

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TIPS FROM A CM

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I was casting about today looking for things to write about. A week of snow days, and an extra edition, translated into fewer new things to share. Luckily, Nashville’s 19th District is home to a Council Member (CM) who is deeply invested enough in public education to keep his finger on things and raise questions when appropriate. Today I have two items to bring to the forefront, courtesy of CM Freddie O’Connell, and for that, I am very appreciative. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all CM’s were as involved in public education as he is?

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

Back over the Christmas holidays, I wrote about MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph making a questionable call for donations to the Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF). In my eyes, there are a lot of non-profits doing exceptional work in the district, and the students of MNPS would be better served by Dr. Joseph making a broad appeal for giving, instead of singling out just one charity. Many of you indicated that you held a similar view.

Things have since gotten even more interesting with NPEF. Today it was announced that the head of private prison giant CoreCivic — formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America — will join the NPEF Board of Directors. According to NPEF’s president and CEO:

“We know that large employers have a lot at stake when it comes to Nashville’s public education, for both attracting and recruiting employees and for building their future pipeline,” said Shannon Hunt. “That is why it is so important for us to expand our board to include these two business titans, who know that the success of Nashville’s business community is dependent upon the success of our public schools.”

That’s a beautiful statement. Since CoreCivic’s business is the operation of jails and prisons, I think it’s safe to say that they have a deeply-vested interest in the success of our public schools.

Private prisons were an idea hatched back in the 1980’s. That was the heyday of getting tough on crime and having fiscal responsibility. The drug war was in full swing and Republicans had discovered that getting tough on crime was a message that resonated with voters. Turning over prisons to private contractors allowed the building of more prisons at less cost to taxpayers. Currently, private prisons oversee about 8 percent of the country’s total prison population.

A recent article in Mother Jones Magazine, written by a journalist who went undercover as a guard, outlines how private prisons get paid:

Whatever taxpayer money CCA receives has to cover the cost of housing, feeding, and rehabilitating inmates. While I work at Winn, CCA receives about $34 per inmate per day. In comparison, the average daily cost per inmate at the state’s publicly run prisons is about $52. Some states pay CCA as much as $80 per prisoner per day. In 2015, CCA reported $1.9 billion in revenue; it made more than $221 million in net income—more than $3,300 for each prisoner in its care. CCA and other prison companies have written “occupancy guarantees” into their contracts, requiring states to pay a fee if they cannot provide a certain number of inmates. Two-thirds of the private-prison contracts recently reviewed by the anti-privatization group In the Public Interest had these prisoner quotas. Under CCA’s contract, Winn was guaranteed to be 96 percent full.

Now how do you think a state makes sure that it’s not making payments for beds it’s not using? By making sure that legislation is reflective of the need to keep filling beds. Who is going to make up those beds? Why, the poor and undereducated, of course. So more than any other business in the district, CoreCivic’s bottom line is affected by the quality of our schools. I would say that makes for strange bedfellows.

I must say, though, that NPEF has never appeared to be particularly concerned over their bedfellows. If you’ll remember, shortly after Dr. Joseph arrived in Nashville, Ms. Hunt was trying to set up meetings between the newly-arrived Director and the Gates Foundation. This was in spite of a just-held school board election where voters expressed little interest in increasing private involvement in the public school system. It seems that wherever there is a check to be had is where you’ll find NPEF.

Now if NPEF was just one of a handful of education-related non-profits floating around on the outer edge trying to peddle influence on education policy, none of this would probably matter. But over the past couple of years, the relationship between the organization and MNPS has become increasingly entwined. Originally, NPEF was hired to help fund the search for the new Director of Schools, and they also served as a vehicle to prevent the over scrutinizing of the search, since they weren’t susceptible to Sunshine Laws. Along with the donation ask from Dr. Joseph at the end of last year, principals were greeted upon return this year after break by an NPEF survey soliciting their opinion on principal meetings. Several principals were told that their responses were mandatory. Now why is a private entity soliciting feedback on district employees’ feelings on employee meetings?

I’m sure that in exchange for seats on the NPEF Board, the CEO of CoreCivic wrote some fair-sized checks. After all, that’s the way it’s supposed to work, right? You help us with our much needed makeover, and we make some resources available to you. The question is, what are those resources going to be utilized for? I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine. Remember that Sunshine Law thing? I think there is more than a little to be concerned about here. Thanks to CM O’Connell for raising awareness on this one.

SNOW DAY DEBATES

The other issue that O’Connell has drawn attention to this past week is the use of snow days. This past week, MNPS students were out the whole week due to snow conditions. Invariably when this happens, questions start to surface as to why the whole school district has to close and why don’t we allow individual schools the flexibility to make that decision. These were the questions that CM O’Connell was asking this week. I think they are very reasonable questions.

My concerns with such a system would be one of equity. Those schools that would seldom be forced to close would be more appealing than those in areas that needed closing more often. O’Connell entertained the idea of allowing schools to grant “snow absences.” That would be a fine idea in schools populated by wealthier students, but in our poorer schools, every hour of every day is essential and inadvertently those who most needed the schooling would be the ones who amassed the absentees.

MNPS is a large and diverse district. A snow day presents a unique challenge to all those involved. Often we tailor our decisions towards the neediest, but equal consideration should be given towards our working parents. Joseph’s team deserves credit this go around for making announcements in a timely manner so that parents had adequate time to plan. But could some of the weekdays have been spared if some schools had more flexibility? And what should that flexibility look like? I think that is a valid conversation.

Perhaps we should turn the question back to Metro Council. Activist John Little pointed out on Facebook that MNPS posted pictures of roads that were still trouble spots. If those roads were trouble spots today, then they would probably be trouble spots in the future, and maybe somebody from MNPS could get together with Metro Government and develop a plan to address those streets. Maybe all that’s needed is the simple purchase of a couple additional salt trucks and a re-prioritizing of which streets to clear first.

I would also suggest getting together with community centers and seeing what it would take to make them more accessible to working parents during snow days. I know that borders on offering free day care, but is that such a bad thing? Perhaps MNPS could partner with the Chamber of Commerce and explore different ways that individual businesses could ease the burden on working parents during snow days.

Everybody loves a task force. Seems like this would be a perfect opportunity for one. At the very least, it’s a conversation worth having. Hopefully one that won’t remain relegated to social media pages like the conversation on later start times for high school students has been. Like how I did that?

QUICK NOTES

We have all heard the clarion calls on the dire state of public education in America. We are constantly reminded that two out of three kids are not reading on grade level and we are sufficiently alarmed by that. My question, though, remains. What does that statistic really mean? How is “grade level” even derived?

Interestingly enough, this week saw the release of a new study conducted jointly by the National Superintendents Roundtable and the Horace Mann League that concludes that the benchmarks used for Common Core assessments are wildly unrealistic. In fact, in no nation do a majority of students meet the NAEP Proficient benchmark in Grade 4 reading, and only three nations have 50 percent or more of their students meeting the Proficient benchmark in Grade 8 math (Singapore, Republic of Korea, and Japan).

In an interesting twist, Dr. James Harvey, Executive Director of the National Superintendents Roundtable states:

“The report also encourages school leaders to educate communities about the flaws with the term Proficient and how school systems abroad would perform if held to the same standard. “This report doesn’t endorse an anti-testing agenda or seek to lower standards. We believe in assessment,” says Harvey. “But in the words of a Turkish proverb, no matter how far you have gone down the wrong road, turn back.”

I encourage you to read the whole report.

Tuesday, January 23 is the date for the 2018 Tennessee Gubernatorial forum on education. Put it on your calendar and watch. It should be an indication of what to expect from the state in the future.

Have you heard the one about Tennessee teacher education programs turning out bad teachers? Andy Spears over at TNEd Report has, and he doesn’t find it very funny. Make sure you read his deconstruction of the joke.

By now, everyone should be familiar with the incredible work being done at Overton HS via their Cambridge program. Here’s a chance to take a deeper dive.

During the recent snowpocalypse, Family Resource Centers across the district opened up to get needed food to families. There wasn’t a Family Resource Center in the Donelson/ Hermitage area, so the Community Achieves Partners at Two Rivers Middle Prep stepped in to support. Nice Job!

Vanderbilt’s SSMV is looking for Metro Schools eighth graders interested in launching a career in math and science.

Indianapolis has many of the same education battles as Nashville does. Now they have a study that shows where Indiana students go when they leave a public school district. It’s an interesting data dive.

I consider James Lee Burke to be one of America’s greatest living authors. He’s got a new one out called Robicheaux, and you’ll want to check it out.

Looking for something new music-wise? Check out the latest by Glen Hansard. It provided the soundtrack for this edition of Dad Gone Wild.

That’s it for now. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

SNOW DAY BLUES

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What do you do when you write a blog on education issues and you are stuck in the house because of snow and ice? Why, you write a special edition blog post, of course. Unfortunately, the last two days have provided enough fodder to make that a possibility.

TRAGIC LOSS

Monday night brought the news that once again a MNPS student’s life would be cut short by gun violence. It is a story that we have heard all too frequently over the last year. Sixteen-year-old Glencliff High School student Jose Gutierrez was shot in the head while out riding in a car. He was a sophomore at GHS.

Apparently, he was with another male and two females who just dropped him off at Southern Hills Medical Center around 1 AM and then took off. The unofficial story is that someone in the car was handling a gun and it accidentally discharged. That has not been verified, though, as his associates have not been located.

By all accounts, Gutierrez was not a child prone to discipline problems. He played on Glencliff’s soccer team. Now he becomes just one more senseless death in a city that has seen too many of them. At some point, we are going to have to get serious about addressing the issues of kids and guns. I don’t know what it’ll take, but it is far past time. I’d offer a prayer that Jose be the last child impacted, but it’s going to take a lot more than prayers to make that a reality.

DECIDING NOT TO RUN

MNPS School Board elections are scheduled to be held in August of this year. Yesterday, current District 8 Representative Mary Pierce announced that she was one and done, and would not be running for re-election this year. In breaking the news, media outlets referenced Pierce as the city’s leading charter school advocate. I think to reduce her to that role belies the amount of work she did for all schools. Outside the spotlight, she worked as hard for zoned schools as she did for charter schools. Work that never seemed to garner much recognition.

Pierce certainly had her detractors, and at times I could be counted among them, but she worked hard to educate herself on issues and to advocate for all the city’s kids tirelessly. I believe that over the years, her perception grew and deepened as her experiences and knowledge widened. Too often, people stake out a position and then cling to it like a dog with a bone. Over the last year, I’ve seen Pierce exhibit a willingness to re-evaluate and shift where warranted.

It’s my belief that her position on charter schools was a combination of her personal views and being forced into being a voice for families that MNPS often ignored. Lest you think that I’m penning a love letter to Ms. Pierce and engaging in revisionist history, I do feel that she had a tendency to over rely on test data and could at times get caught up in the personality and ideology politics that have plagued this board for years. Still, that should not diminish her contributions, nor should it relegate her to just being viewed as the board’s “leading charter school advocate.”

Early speculation on possible candidates to replace her include last election’s opponent Becky Sharpe as well as Conexion Americas’ Senior Director of Education Policy & Programs Gini Pupo-Walker. Pupo-Walker is an interesting challenger in that she would have the deep pockets of Conexion Americas assumedly backing her in a district that is predominately white and one of the more wealthy districts in the city. This would create an interesting dynamic as her work over the last several years has predominately been focused on the Hispanic community. Sharpe is deeply ingrained in the community and has remained active despite failing to secure a seat on the board in the past.

Pierce’s decision, along with an earlier announcement by District 6 Representative Tyese Hunter, means that at least two seats will change hands next go round. Word on the street has long been that District 2 Representative JoAnn Brannon also will not be seeking re-election. District 4 Representative and current Board Chair Anna Shepherd announced late last year that she intends to seek re-election. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also bring up rumors that District 7 Representative Will Pinkston is seeking a graceful exit in order to dedicate his time to the Senate campaign of former Tennessee Governor and close friend Phil Bredesen. A glance at Pinkston’s recent attendance record at board meetings and his social media silence would seem to lend credence to those rumors.

That means that come September there could be as many as four new board members in place. When questioned about what he cites as a success during his first 18 months as Director of Schools, Shawn Joseph touts the work done on improving the school board. To facilitate that work, there were numerous trips, several consultants employed, and some reworking of policies. What happens to that work once the new board members are seated?

Much of the work was centered around individual board members in an effort to increase their ability to work together. Do we now spend another year molding old and new members into a cohesive unit? What if the previous work is not embraced by the newly-elected board members? What happens to all the money spent on the work last year? It’s one of the reasons that I questioned the focus on the boardroom versus the classroom in the first place.

In Prince George’s County Public Schools, 60% of the school board members are appointed, which mitigates turnover. A situation that, last I checked, wasn’t working out so well for them and was raising questions from state legislators.

Early indications are that Dr. Joseph plans to play an active role in the upcoming school board elections. To be fair, to date, there have no open endorsements of favored  candidates, but apparently there has been a fair amount of backroom chatter about his preferences. I’m not sure that getting involved in politics is a good strategy for Joseph. During his last foray as a superintendent in Seaford County, Delaware, injecting himself into local politics led to his early exit from the district.

It is still very early in campaign season, but things are beginning to take shape. I have heard from numerous people that the ugliness of the last election is having an impact on who runs this year. As a result, I don’t believe that you will see the big money that has been involved in the last couple of cycles, and hopefully there will be more focus on policies versus personalities. Time will tell.

QUICK HITS

A recent article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal is sending shock waves across the city and the state. In the article, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson of Shelby County Schools indicates a willingness to turn over priority schools to charter operators:

“We spend so much money, whether it’s philanthropic dollars, state dollars, our dollars, on trying to improve these Priority Schools over the last five or six years, and we’ve gotten some gains but certainly nowhere near the transformative results that we would like to have had,” Hopson said. “So I think we’ve got to take another shot at it and do it differently.”

This would seem to indicate a sharp reversal on past board policy. The talk has caught education advocates and SCS board members off guard. This possibility is not something that has been discussed by the school board. Let’s see where this one goes.

One of the more exciting movements in education is that of community schools. Community schools are schools that educate children but also serve to meet the school’s families’ needs. Community Schools in Cincinnati have proven to be quite successful while utilizing this model. This year, the Tennessee PTA and the Tennessee Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools has partnered with the Tennessee Education Association and other public education-minded groups across the state to advocate for the creation of transformational community schools. This model proves that parents, caregivers, educators, and the community must be involved in developing solutions to reach transformational results. Look for more information on pending legislation.

Earlier in the week, I wrote about the recently-released MNPS Climate survey results. Since then, I’ve been told about a few other wrinkles. Apparently, not all teachers were given the same questions to answer. Panorama, in a response to MNPS’s desire to shorten the survey, gave some teachers abbreviated surveys. Non-classroom support staff received a slightly different version of the survey. Obviously, this raises further questions on the validity of the survey. Furthermore, what is the actual purpose of the survey? Is it to justify actions or to get an honest reflection on what’s going on in our schools? Where were the questions that evaluated the role of central office in our schools?

I’ve also heard numerous reports that the climate surveys, along with MAP scores, are carrying a greater weight on MNPS principal’s evaluation scores. Principal evaluations are based on a rubric set by the state. Climate surveys are a referenced piece, but there are some questions in regards to MAP results. Just one more thing that bears watching.

Since Nashville is in the midst of an increased focus on increasing literacy rates for students, I think it’s important that we educate ourselves on the steps involved with increasing those rates. Russ Walsh, an educator and blogger, has written an informative series of posts breaking down what’s involved with kids learning to read. His latest is on solving words, and I encourage everyone to read it. We all need to have a greater understanding into the process if we are going to have an impact.

Louisiana teacher and blogger Mercedes Schneider has written a must-read post on the relationship between Educational Research and Development Institute (ERDI) and Dallas Dance. This post is especially relevant for Nashville residents as Dallas Dance is a close friend of Dr. Joseph’s and was a member of the MNPS Transition Team.

Peruse social media pages and you will discover there is a great deal of confusion on just how many inclement weather days MNPS has used and what remains. Thanks to some of the fine folks in the Communication Department, this is what I believe to be true: We started the year with 6 available days, but 1 was immediately designated for the solar eclipse day. Therefore, the calendar states potential make-up days if over 5 are used. September 1 was an inclement day, so that makes 2 used. January 12 was the 3rd. The 16th and 17th are 4 and 5, respectfully. That leaves one remaining.

To further muddy the waters, there is a beginning of the year teacher in-service day thrown into the mix that has changed designations several times. Now I wouldn’t stake my life on it, but I do believe there is a planning/PD day owed to teachers. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Well not so fast. Hat’s off to Lillian B on Twitter for continuing to force the issue. Travel back with me to late summer. The calendar went through many revisions as the board wrestled with how to handle the eclipse day. Closed, not closed…who knows. On August 15 a final revision was approved. It designated August 21 as a inclement weather day and changed September 1 from a teacher pd/planning day to a regular school day to make up for the 21st.

So, we were out on the 21st for the eclipse but then flooding forced the cancelation of the first. But that was a make up day, so it and the 21st should count as one day. That makes January 12 the 2nd. The 16th and 17th are 3 and 4, respectfully. With the 18 being number 5 and one still remaining. Convoluted, but that is what happens when you change the schedule repeatedly. Thank you to MNPS communications public affairs officer for helping sort through things.

Now let’s see if that’s the way it gets interpreted or if we get another convoluted song and dance. But I think it’s a pretty strong argument.

Next Thursday, January 25, MNPS is hosting a community meeting at Westmeade Elementary about potentially building a new school building.

I just found out that Monique Morris, author of Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, will be speaking Vanderbilt’s Peabody University on Thursday, February 1! More info can be found here:  You’ll want to check it out.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love the new Tyler Childers record?

Sharing this for Nashville School of the Arts:

On the Spot Auditions for Nashville School of the Arts

What: We are actively recruiting students for the visual art conservatory at Nashville School of the Arts. Marti and Camilla would love to come out to meet you and your students to offer them an “On the Spot Audition.” We would love to make NSA a nationally recognized arts magnet and we need your help connecting with students.

We are offering “on the spot” auditions for your students on the day we come to visit. This is great for your students because they will have a chance to show us their work and practice their interview skills. We also welcome the opportunity to meet you and/or your students and explain more about our school.

These “On the Spot Auditions” are simple because students can show us work right from your classrooms which saves them the time of putting together a portfolio. Students are also encouraged to bring in other pieces and sketchbooks they have created on their own.

When: Thursday, January 25th

Cluster listed as the name of the high school your middle school is zoned for 

For clarification, we are only visiting middle schools

CLUSTER: Hunters Lane, Pearl-Cohn, and Whites Creek: sometime between 9:00 am – 11:00 am

CLUSTER: Maplewood, Stratford, McGavock: sometime between 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm

When: Friday, January 26th

Cluster listed as the name of the high school your middle school is zoned for

CLUSTER: Glencliff, Antioch, Cane Ridge: sometime between 9:00 am – 11:00 am

CLUSTER: Hillwood, Hillsboro and Overton: sometime between 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Where: We will come to you! Your classroom, the cafeteria, the hallway, the front office, the lounge – wherever you feel is the best spot. It doesn’t take anything fancy to conduct an audition; we can sit right outside your door to do this!

How:

– Email: Camille.Spadafino@mnps.org

– On the Spot Student Auditions

– Thursday or Friday – 1/25 or 1/26

– Marti and Camilla will come to your school

– Students can show us work right from your classroom shelves, drawers or cubbies

That’s it for now. Hopefully you are succesfully staving off cabin fever. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

 

 

 

THE RESULTS ARE IN

Hope everyone is enjoying their Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday. We should all take a moment to reflect on his words and deeds while we are enjoying the time off from work. This morning I re-read his quote: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” It is a quote that resonates with me and should be at the forefront of any conversation on education, but unfortunately is all too often pushed aside.

FRIDAY NEWS DUMP

If you are a regular reader, you’ve probably heard me reference the Friday evening news dump. If you are not familiar with the term, it refers to the action of releasing bad news on a Friday in hopes that fewer people will see it. This morning I took a quick look at the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) website to check the dates on the School Choice Festival – more on that later – and lo and behold, I found a release of the results from the MNPS Fall 2017 School Climate Survey. In all fairness, it was right there on the front page, but it was added on Friday, January 12, which due to being a snow day, was the first day of a four-day holiday.

Per the MNPS website:

Unique to MNPS’ strategic framework, Characteristics of a Great School describe those elements that research and practice have shown to improve student achievement and a school’s culture and climate. In MNPS, we want every school to be a great school.

To achieve that goal, we set out last to measure school climate– to improve climate it must be measured first. We launched a survey that asked teachers, staff and students how they felt about certain aspects of our schools. For example, teachers were asked about their relationships with students’ families while students were asked about student engagement. Staff were asked a different set of questions.

Together, their answers make up the Fall 2017 MNPS School Climate Survey and we will use this information as a basis to measure our work. This spring, we will survey parents to gather their feedback and plans are for these surveys to become an annual process to allow us to track and measure progress. We know we have work to do, but now we have a roadmap to guide our efforts.

The press release then goes on to put a little spin on the results. To me, the format of the survey, conducted by Panorama, is a little odd. Each question has 5 answers; the first two are the positive responses. Those two responses are combined to give each subject a percentage, i.e., Educating All Students gets a 79%. It’s a little confusing.

In the middle of the page in tiny letters, between several graphs, is a link to see individual school results. That’s where you want to go because that’s where the meat resides.

Once you get there, you’ll find some really interesting data. The results are broken down by student responses vs teacher/staff responses. You are also able to compare individual school’s scores against scores grouped nationally, district wide, and by executive principal, cluster, and quadrant. Which will give you some useful data, but perhaps not always reliable data.

When looking at any school results, I would go the bottom and check response rates. These rates tend to illustrate a wide discrepancy among schools. For example, let’s look at the response rate among teachers for 4 different schools:

  • Cole ES – 100%
  • Antioch HS – 50.3%
  • Dan Mills ES – 50.8%
  • Tusculum ES – 77.8%

I would argue that based on response rates, you are getting a more accurate picture at Cole ES and Tusculum ES than at Antioch HS and Dan Mills ES. At the aforementioned schools, there is no way to know the demographics of the teachers who responded. Was it predominately the satisfied ones or was it the ones with an ax to grind? There is no way of knowing, and just a few from one camp or another could have a dramatic effect on the results.

Sticking with schools – I’ll get to student results in a minute – let’s take a look at a school that has long been recognized as having serious teacher morale issues, Antioch HS. Looking at the School Leadership and Staff/Leadership Relationship results, it appears things are on an upswing with scores of 30% and 50% respectfully. These scores represent a growth of 12% and 23%.

However, go into the individual survey and click on the sub-category, leadership and staff, and you’ll get an ugly picture of what last year looked like. Under the question, “How much trust exists between school leaders and faculty,” 32% responded this fall with a positive answer, an uptick of 25 percentage points. Do the math, though, and you realize that last spring that number was at 7%. The trust between leadership and staff was at 7%, and nobody at the district level deemed a leadership change necessary. Instead, district leaders tried to deflect by offering alternative reasons for problems at the school.

I think it’s pretty clear that at the heart of these issues is trust. I’m not sure how having repeated meetings covering the same ground and a chocolate fountain inspire trust. You know what inspires trust? Acting on concerns.

Now you may be saying, “Hold on. Look at the growth they made. Leadership is getting it under control.” In response to that, let’s remember that over the summer, the school lost 67 teachers. Let’s also look more closely at the school’s response rate. That 50.3% response rate represents both teachers and staff. When looking at individual questions, it shows 79 teachers responded. Is that up or down from last year? I don’t know, but it is an indication that more information is needed to make any kind of accurate proclamation that things are improving or not.

Before we move on to student results, I want to look at one other individual school, Hattie Cotton ES. If you glance at the overall picture under Staff-Leadership Relationship, you’ll see that they scored a 48%. Not great, but not horrendous. Open up that section, though, and what you will find is alarming. Responses regarding trust have dropped 53 percentage points from last spring. Last year they were at 78% and they are now 25%. On the question pertaining to support, positive responses dropped from 74% to 31%, a drop of 43 percentage points. In fact, every one of the questions asked saw a double-digit drop.

That should be very alarming to parents and district officials. The current principal, who started this fall, was previously an AP at Charlotte Park ES, where the principal was let go shortly before the end of the school year because of similar issues. She brought the old Charlotte Park ES principal on as an AP under a 120-day contract. Did anybody not see this coming?

In this case, 87% of teachers at the school answered the poll. Yep, I think you have cause for alarm. Hopefully the district will do more than they did in the case of lead in school water, where they considered merely measuring lead levels to be a significant action. To be fair, I do know that the principal has reached out to some respected former administrators for support. Let’s see what spring looks like. Hopefully this is an anomaly.

I could spend all day going through these, but I would prefer that you do it yourself and draw your own conclusions. There are some very good results in here. The schools that you would expect to score high do and should be commended. We have some very good schools in this district, and we need to replicate what they are doing right.

Going forth, I would like to see charter schools participate in this survey. For some reason, they didn’t this year. The Choice Festival is coming up, and this would be just one more tool that parents could use in making their decision. It’s not really fair to have data on your zoned school, but not on one that you are considering having your child attend.

Before I turn it over to you, I want to take a quick look at student results. Whenever we discuss the policies implemented, we always defend them by citing evidence of how they’ve made adult lives easier. I constantly try, with little avail, to get answers on the impact on kids. Luckily, we now have survey results completed by kids to get an indication.

I’d like to point out the responses in three categories that I think are probably the most important, by quadrant.

Under Student Engagement:

  • Northwest quadrant – 41%
  • Northeast quadrant – 44%
  • Southwest quadrant – 45%
  • Southeast quadrant – 42%

Under Trust and Caring:

  • NW – 44%
  • NE – 44%
  • SW – 51%
  • SE – 44%

Under Safety:

  • NW – 48%
  • NE – 45%
  • SW – 51%
  • SE – 47%

Granted, the quadrant superintendents had only been on duty for a couple of months when the surveys had been conducted. Therefore, these scores can only be used as benchmarks. Let’s see what things look like in the spring.

Again there is a lot of great information in these survey results, but there are some things missing that could help with interpretation. Things like teacher turnover rate, past response rates, changes in student demographics, and teacher demographics are among the things I’d like to see included. I’d be interested to hear y’alls’ thoughts after reading the responses.

SCHOOL CHOICE

The MNPS School Choice Festival is scheduled for Tuesday, January 23, at 5pm. I know, seems that something of this nature should be on a weekend when parents have more flexibility to attend, but maybe that’s just me. If the district is going to offer a choice option to families, they shouldn’t make it more difficult to participate.

I don’t want to get too deep into the subject of school choice because I’m not a fan, but I understand why some parents like the ability to have school choice. I would just ask that if you participate, you recognize some of the problems that arise.

A choice system means there will always be those chosen and those not chosen, i.e., winners and losers. Some schools are going to be inherently more attractive to parents than other schools. That doesn’t make them better schools, just that their positives are more readily visible. I’ve heard principals say, “I’m not competing against XY school.” That’s not true. You are because that’s the way the system is constructed. We need to recognize that.

When you choose to send your child to a school outside of their zoned school, there is a loss of resources for that zoned school. That loss happens whether a parent chooses to send their child to a different district school, a charter school, a private school, or a home school. The cost of the loss is the same regardless and none of those choices should be perceived as more “evil” than another. As long as people recognize that cost, I have no issue with whatever choice a family makes.

My desire is that parents choose their zoned schools, but I recognize that there are many factors that make that a less attractive choice. I would also ask that we recognize exactly which kind of students are being courted at the Choice Festival.

Those parents who have the means and desire to take an active role are the ones being courted. Nobody is trying to recruit the students who are chronically absent, are chronic discipline problems, or who come from families that are disengaged in their child’s education process. Those children will remain at their zoned schools and are usually not the ones at the top of the choice list. This results in an even higher cost to those schools not chosen.

Again, let me reiterate, as long as parents recognize the inherent cost of offering school choice, I don’t think those who participate should be criticized, nor should the process be made more difficult. I concede that it is a process that wealthier families have engaged in for years, and that poorer families deserve the same consideration. I just don’t believe that it sets all of our schools up for success. I also believe that it reinforces an increased focus on data instead of on relationships, where I think I the focus should be.

QUICK HITS

One of the most successful programs in MNPS may be at risk. Over the last several years, under a federal program, MNPS has been able to provide free breakfast and lunch to students. This has been a vital service. Word on the street is that the program may end next year due to Nashville not having the poverty numbers required for participation. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as I get more info. If this program were to end, it would be extremely detrimental to Nashville’s children.

Need help with homework? Try the Homework Hotline! Free one-on-one tutoring and homework assistance is available by phone and online to all Metro Schools students, grades K-12, in every subject area, and in multiple languages. Teachers are available from 4-8 PM Monday through Thursday until May 2018. You can access the Homework Hotline by calling 615-298-6636 or visiting www.homeworkhotline.info.

Retired teacher and historian John Thompson has written an excellent review of one of the most most important books to come out in years, Daniel Koretz’s The Testing Charade. Both the review and the book are must reads.

It seems that the boy has become hooked on Kendrick Lamar, which is creating a parental dilemma for me.

This article out of Colorado outlines a school’s policy on recess that I find horrific, Will Recess Boost Learning, One Struggling Colorado District Wants To Find Out. It’s not like there isn’t research that demonstrates kids learn better when they have regularly-scheduled breaks. Hopefully this isn’t something that gets any legs.

POLL RESULTS

There was drop in voter turnout this week, but results were no less interesting. Let’s take a look.

The first question asked you to identify what quadrant you were in. I know that this question has been asked before, but it’s important to me that I continue to make my coverage as broad as possible. I was encouraged to see that the results indicated that I was making progress in that endeavor.

The Southwest Quadrant led things at 34%, but Southeast followed closely at 29%, and Northeast at 17%. It seems I still need to do a lot more outreach to the Northwest Quadrant, as only 11% of you indicated that was your home. Not many write-ins, but here they are:

Too scared to say 1
Live in northeast, teach in southwest. but quadrant borders are weird

Question two asked for your opinion on the recently-released Transition Team Report Update. If I scored this in the same fashion as the district’s climate survey, it would receive a score of maybe 7%. That’s the number of you that responded, “We’ve done a lot but I’d like to know more about the quality of work.”

The leading answer was “More smoke and mirrors” at 48%, followed by “Checking a box isn’t enough” at 24%. Those results would indicate that you are not buying what Dr. Joseph is selling, and he probably needs to get a little deeper in his evaluations. Here are the write-ins, and they are not any prettier:

Crap 1
would love some more details or links to docs and things like KPIs 1
I think he really believes the scope and sequence is good 1
Someone should investigate how money is being spent 1
Checking boxes to add to their resume. Leave already! 1
I didn’t read it, no need to. 1
It is in my hand as I type. Wish I had a color printer. I plan to read it.
The last question was in regards to the status of heat in district schools. This question illustrated why we need to ask more questions. How many of you knew that in several schools it wasn’t a lack of heat in rooms, but rather a lack of control that resulted in rooms that were too hot? Thanks to you guys, I now know that. Too hot is just as much a problem as too cold. It’s amazing to me how much information we lack simply because we don’t ask the questions.
The number one answer was “Hit and miss. Some rooms have it. Some rooms don’t” at 39%, followed by “Working like a charm” at 22%. Here are the write-ins for this one:

 

Slightly cool, but temps were fine. 1
Classrooms pretty good, but hallways cold. 1
Check back when it’s 20 next week 1
It’s been 82 in my room all week because the heat doesn’t shut off. Feast/famine 1
always too hot or too cold, never just right 1
Teachers have no control over the temperature in their classrooms. Mine is hot most of the time 1
Thursday was 80+ in some rooms. Other rooms were in the 50s just days prior.

As always, thanks for participating.

That’s it for now. Stay warm. Stay safe. Stay home. Rumor has it there may be more snow on the way tonight. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

A SNOW DAY OPUS

1

It’s a snow day for schools in Middle Tennessee. Now I know some of you Northerners are scoffing right now because we are only expecting 1 – 2 inches. The reality, though, is that here in the South, we just aren’t prepared for anything more than a dusting. Our cities don’t have the resources, our cars aren’t outfitted for bad weather, and our homes aren’t built for it. So scoff all you want – I’ve got a fire in the fire place, the new Black Rebel Motorcycle Club record playing, and a blog entry to transfer from my mind to paper. Today is a good day. No matter what happens weather-wise, I think Dr. Joseph made the right call. A quick disclaimer before we get started: this is a going to be a long post, but all killer, no filler.

STATE NEWS

I always like to get the state news out of the way first. As I reported earlier in the week, Tennessee legislators are back in session with a rather light schedule when it comes to education issues. Vouchers seem to be off the table, but as Andy Spears over at the Tennessee Education Report points out, advocates should never sleep without one eye open.

The big news out of the state this week was a report issued by the comptroller’s office on Educator Misconduct in Tennessee Schools Involving Students. The report, heavily reliant on a 2016 USA Today investigative report, identifies a number of ways that Tennessee is failing to offer adequate protection for kids against sexual misconduct. Among the things pointed out are a lack of policies that prevent teachers accused of sexual misconduct from moving to other districts in spite of a provision in the recently-passed ESSA legislation. The root of this problem lies in the fact that there is no uniform definition utilized across the state for what constitutes sexual misconduct.

Furthermore, there is a lack of clear uniformity in how districts expect teachers and administrators to report sexual misconduct. In 2014, Tennessee legislators passed “Erin’s Law.” As a provision of “Erin’s Law,” there was supposed to be the development of in-depth training for administrators, teachers, and students on what constitutes sexual misconduct and how to report it. This, unfortunately, runs counter to legislation passed in 2012 referred to as the “Gate-Way Law,” which puts teachers and school districts at risk if they teach anything but abstinence-based sex education. Creates a bit of a conundrum, no? Hopefully, that issue gets taken up this session.

I encourage you to read the whole comptroller’s report and don’t rely on newspaper reporting alone. The media coverage of the report has tended to be more focused on licensure issues, but I think the parts focusing on the Teacher Code of Ethics, reporting, and training are equally important. As the report states:

“(A review) of district policies concerning child abuse and neglect policies found that 118 districts’ policies provide information on how to report child abuse and neglect but do not refer to child sexual abuse at all.”

That needs to be addressed.

In late breaking news, a Nashville judge has sided with Tennessee’s Achievement School District in the fight over whether or not local school districts must share student contact information with charter networks under a new state law. MNPS has until March 16th to turn over data to LEAD Academy. At this point, there is no word on whether they plan to appeal or not. The judge set a deadline of March 16th in order to give the school district  a chance to notify parents of their opportunity to opt out and to give legislators a chance to possibly clear up any ambiguities.

WE GOT SNAKE OIL, Y’ALL

This past week, Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) Director of Schools Shawn Joseph took his act out on the road and made several stops around the district to sell his Transition Team Report Update (TTRU) and to double down on support for this year’s Literacy Scope and Sequence, which heavily relies on scripted curriculum from the Institute For Learning (IFL). To say that this new literacy plan has not been embraced by teachers and principals would be a bit of an understatement, and as I stated last week, the TTRU is nothing but an exercise in checking the box in an attempt to thwart criticism. Hence the need for the traveling road show.

The first stop was Monday at Jones Paideia Elementary School for the Northwest Quadrant Educator’s Voice Session. This was the first of four sessions scheduled, one for each quadrant. The session was scheduled for a 4:30 PM start time. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this was two-and-a-half hours after high school teachers are done, but only a half hour after middle school teachers. Reports tell me there were about 50 people in attendance with most being from central office.

Dr. Joseph presented his TTRU and then took input from teachers. In all fairness, some of the young teachers voiced approval and appreciation for the IFL units. Which speaks to one of my concerns: if young teachers embrace the IFL units, what will be the long term impact on our teaching pool? Will the art of unit planning and teacher autonomy be lost, and in 10 years will the district be forced into a position of having to outsource this function because nobody in-house will be capable of doing it?

Tuesday, Dr. Joseph presented his TTRU to the MNPS School Board, and I was heartened to see some questions asked by board members. If you go to the 53-minute mark in the video of the board meeting, you’ll see an interesting exchange with Chief Academic Officer Monique Felder and Community Superintendent Pippa Meriwether in response to a question from board member Jill Speering about feedback on school walkthroughs. Walkthroughs are supposed to be rooted in 3 core actions: level of text being utilized, level of questions students are being asked, and level of engagement exhibited by students.

Felder claimed that they were getting great feedback from the walkthroughs. However, when asked by Joseph to explain the 3 core actions, she and Meriwether struggled to explain actions two and three until a computer was given to them with information on the core actions. Now I’m not an educator, nor do I play one on TV, but I would think that in order to evaluate the quality of feedback, one should be fluent in the core actions themselves. Just saying.

At the 1 hour 5-minute mark, school board member Christiane Buggs gets into a Who’s-on-first? routine about planning days when she tries to get a clearer explanation on how the district plans to offer planning time to teachers. In all fairness, the TNDOE has not been clear on the designation of planning days, and it’d be nice if this year’s legislative session cleared up the existing policy. Felder mentions such an initiative, but offers no insight into what it looks like. It’d be nice if teachers had a clear indication of the amount of planning time they are going to have. Make no mistake, planning time is essential to student success.

Later in his presentation, Dr. Joseph speaks of the creation of an assessment committee and their task of evaluating assessments. Upon questioning, Felder admits that there are no teachers on this committee. Hmmmm…. since teachers are the ones utilizing the assessments, shouldn’t teachers… oh, never mind. Anybody detecting a pattern here?

Speering showed the ability to remain positive while asking hard questions, and both board members Dr. JoAnn Brannon and Mary Pierce added their own insightful questions along with Buggs. None were critical, but board members’ willingness to openly ask questions deserves some recognition. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend. There needs to be a focus on the quality of the action, not just whether or not the box was checked.

Wednesday and Thursday were the monthly curriculum meetings. Once again, the TTRU was presented and the administration doubled down on the use of the IFL units. Previously it had been communicated that the texts used in the IFL units were not mandatory but merely recommendations and that there was some flexibility in using them. Yeah, as it turns out… not so much. On a power point slide, the rules were spelled out very clearly:

  • Texts in the IFL can be supplemented but not substituted

  • The sequence of unit must be followed

  • Tasks are to be given as written

  • Scaffolding should only be used as needed on a limited basis.

A handout was given to participants arguing the merits of the IFL units. Some of the research sources cited were as follows: (Gamoran & Mare 1989), (Rubin, 2003), (Oakes, 1985, 1990), and (Callahan, 2005). So, 2005 was the latest source cited. I don’t include research in my writings older than 2012. If the earlier information is still valid, there would be a newer source to cite. Did literary research stop in 2005? It deeply troubles me that we are developing policy based on research over a decade old.

My next question would be why are we holding this conversation in January? Teachers have already planned lessons, begun teaching, established a rhythm, and are now shifting focus to upcoming TNReady tests. Why are we looking to disrupt the process now? A disruption that could potentially have a negative impact on upcoming TNReady assessments?

We can argue all day long about whether focusing on an upcoming standardized test is proper or not, but the reality is that when the test carries as much weight in determining the perception of both teachers, schools, and districts as TNReady does, that’s where the focus is going to go. Do well on the test and life is good. Do poorly on the test and you are deemed a failure. Failure to recognize that is a failure to understand what the day-to-day realities are for teachers and principals and further sets them up for failure.

I look at it like this, when bartending, I’ve had shifts where I’ve failed to do the proper amount of prep work. Do I stop in the middle of serving and make people wait while I do the work I should have done at the beginning? Or do I do the best I can with what I have, apologize and acknowledge shortcomings, evaluate at the end of the shift, and then make sure I do the amount of prep work needed before the beginning of the next shift?

At the board meeting Tuesday, Dr. Joseph made the statement that transitioning is hard but that teachers would adjust. He’d been in four different districts and teachers have always adjusted. I’m assuming he’s referring to Seaford School District, Montgomery County Schools, Prince George’s County Schools, and now MNPS. Upon closer inspection, I would question how much adjustment was made at those stops.

To some extent, Dr. Joseph is probably right though. People will and do adjust, but I would argue that the role of leadership is to not just set policy, but to ease any transition. If the job was just setting policy, then why pay someone $300k a year to do it. There are plenty of people who can create policy and sit back and wait for people to adjust. I thought the goal of the search committee was to find a transformational leader. Leadership is more than just setting policy. It includes, but is not limited to, inspiring, teaching, empowering, disciplining, and correcting people, and is rooted in the forging of relationships. Again, if you need a model – agree or disagree with her – Mayor Megan Barry will serve quite nicely.

Wednesday and Thursday saw two more Educator Voice Sessions held. Both reportedly were attended by about 50 people. Both long on the TTRU and defense of the IFL units. Were teachers’ concerns addressed? Doubtful. I’m loathe to share details because session sizes were so small and leadership has been so obsessed with discovering “moles” that doing so may put people at risk, and I never want to do that. Suffice it to say that Educator Voice Sessions were one more exercise in checking a box. Talk to teachers… check.

In doing my research, I came across a Nashville Scene article from 2008 written by Bruce Barry. Some of you may know him as the Mayor’s husband. The name of the piece is The New Math, the Old MNPS. He talks about a letter from “assistant superintendent Sandra Tinnon declaring (as if it needed declaring) that ‘mediocrity is an unacceptable goal in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.’ She announced that ‘middle school language arts and mathematics programs are currently being strengthened both in content and expectations’ and that ‘standard or mediocre courses will not be the norm.'” Sound familiar?

Barry goes on to say:

Few would object to higher expectations and diminished tolerance for mediocrity. But some parents are dismayed to see the system once again opting for a once-size-fits-all mentality mandated by the central office for every school, leaving little room for principals and teachers to adapt to the needs of particular populations and circumstances.

Hmmmm… The money quote for me, though, is the conclusion:

I’m inclined in theory to give school officials the benefit of the doubt and reserve judgment, but there remains a serious information deficit as reforms take shape. And it certainly doesn’t help when Metro school administrators overstate the role of state education officials as a means to diffuse their own responsibility. This kind of uncertainty about what school officials are really up to when they make noise about changes is all too familiar, and is precisely the sort of thing that breeds suspicion and doubt among parents thinking about opting out of the system. (Are you listening, school board candidates?)

Remember, this was written in 2008 by a man who has influence with our current mayor. Just saying.

QUICK HITS

At Antioch HS, the district continues to play Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush. A series of 3 Tuesday meetings have been scheduled to address the continuing low morale and performance issues. Unfortunately schools are closed today, so teachers won’t get the promised chocolate fountain. Why a chocolate fountain? Because nothing clears up professional dissatisfaction like a chocolate fountain… well, except for making meaningful change. Somebody needs to write on the blackboard, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”

I do need to give a little props to the MNPS communication department. They picked up their game this week with timely communications on weather, gas leaks, and cancellations. Thanks guys.

The Overton Cluster Parent Advisory Committee held its 3rd meeting of the year this week. Attendees sacrificed the first period of the National Championship game to attend, and we are appreciative. The PAC focuses on working together to strengthen all schools in the Overton Cluster. The next meeting will be the first Monday in March. Put it on your calendar.

Maplewood High School cut the ribbon this week on their new outdoor training lab. The lab will be part of the Maplewood Academy of Energy and Power. Go Panthers!

My niece has started a blog called Patriotic Hippy. Check it out. It’s not about education per se, but I think you’ll enjoy her thoughts. I know I do.

I’ve been trying to post all of MNPS schools’ Teacher of the Year pictures on the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. Check it out, and if you don’t see your school, send me a pic and I’ll share it.

Vesia Wilson-Hawkins is back with a new blog post, and she starts the year as fiercely as she ended the last one.

With the Tennessee State Legislative session commencing, it’s interesting to look at proposed legislation in other states. Colorado has quite a bit of interesting legislation hitting the floor. Some of it possibly quite good.

Harvard professor Daniel Koretz has a new book out called The Testing Charade: Pretending To Make Schools Better. In it, he takes a deeper look at standardized testing in America. Per the Amazon blurb: “Right now, we’re lying to ourselves about whether our children are learning. And the longer we accept that lie, the more damage we do. It’s time to end our blind reliance on high-stakes tests. With The Testing Charade, Daniel Koretz insists that we face the facts and change course, and he gives us a blueprint for doing better.” I plan to check it out and urge you to do so as well.

Looking for some great music? Check out the latest by My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, Tribute To 2.

Out of the Hillsboro Cluster… the Gaw family lost their house in a fire last night. Thankfully, everyone is okay, but the house is lost. Please help out one of our students and his family in their time of need. Thank you!

One of my primary themes is the need to have an honest and serious conversation. Blogger and educator Peter Greene gives an indication of what that conversation might look like when he asks, Can We Be Serious?

Congratulations to the Hume-Fogg Lady Blue Knights Bowling Team and Coach Stanley! Regional Champs! Brains and brawn!

Last, but certainly not least, mark your calendar for Croft Middle’s Chili Cook-Off. Should be an excellent time for all.

POLL QUESTIONS

Time now for our weekly questions. We’ve asked this before, but I thought I’d see if anything has changed. What quadrant do you live in?

Next question is about the Transition Team Report Update. What is your impression?

For our last question, I want to ask about heating conditions in your schools. Did the heat work, not work, or just kinda work? I figured I would go to the source for the answer.

That’s it for now. Stay warm. Stay safe. Stay home. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

 

IT’S LEGISLATIVE SESSION TIME IN TENNESSEE

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Good Monday morning to y’all. I hope the weekend was kind to you. Sunday was the 18th anniversary of my sobriety, and I spent it bartending a book signing by Fox and Friends contributor Brian Kilmeade. He was promoting his new book Andrew Jackson and The Miracle of New Orleans. It was a pleasant affair but trust me, the irony was not lost on me.

Today is going to be a bit of a hodgepodge, with no real overarching theme. It’s getting close to legislative season in Tennessee, and we probably ought to give a little preview of what to expect. A lot of folks are expecting it to be quick and quiet.

AT THE STATE LEVEL

The Tennessee State Legislative Session kicks off tomorrow, and normally around this time of year we would be gearing up to make another stand against proposed voucher legislation. However, this year, previous sponsors are saying they won’t be pushing legislation. Instead, they plan to focus on increased funding for schools. Hmmm… I’m not sure whether I’m ready to fall for that or not, but for now I’ll take them at their word. It’s got to be hard pushing legislation where every year new evidence emerges showing that vouchers do not improve educational outcomes for kids.

I suspect we’ll see some legislation addressing issues with both the Tennessee Achievement School District and standardized testing. At the end of last year, State Representative Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) and Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee held hearings on TNReady. After the hearings, Faison voiced strong concerns and vowed to bring legislation forward to untie scores from teacher evaluations. Last week he re-iterated that intent:

“Me and several others are going to attempt to tell the Department of Education that you can’t tie teachers evaluations to a flawed test,” said Faison, who said that plan would be aimed at not allowing evaluation scores to be tied to test scores until the TNReady process can be flaw free for a year.

This is legislation I think most teachers would welcome.

There have been rumors that some legislation addressing Response To Intervention (RTI) funding could surface. It’s not like we haven’t been down that road before. Last year Representative Joe Pitts (D-Clarksville) introduced some legislation with widespread support, only to have State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen say, “Not this year.” As a result, it was sent to summer study. What the plan may look like this year is anybody’s guess, and maybe tomorrow when McQueen presents to the House Joint Education Committee at at 3pm, we’ll get a clearer picture.

There has also been some talk about simplifying the teacher licensure process and giving teachers more planning time. Currently there is a little bit of ambiguity when it comes to planning days. MNPS has converted all planning days into professional development days based on supposed communication from the TNDOE. I don’t have access to said communication but have no reason to doubt the district. Whatever the case, planning days are essential to teachers’ success and policy regarding them should be clear of any ambiguity.

I do suspect there will be some discussion on the issue of granting in-state tuition to people living in the state illegally. Many of those are children who were born here to undocumented parents. Legislators have indicated that they will look to Washington for guidance on this issue:

“One of my hopes is that Congress will address the DACA issue. If they address that and make it a federal issue, it will help our regional bill,” said Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, a sponsor of efforts to enact in-state tuition for students who entered the country illegally as children or overstayed their visas. “That’s where we have lost in the past. It was an executive order. But it is Congress’ responsibility.”

Immigrant students who entered the country illegally must currently pay out-of-state tuition to attend a public college. The out-of-state rates — which can be two or three times higher than in-state tuition — can create a barrier for students who grew up in Tennessee, immigrant advocates say. A bill attempting to rectify this situation last year failed by one vote. This is one we are hoping passes this year no matter what Washington does.

Keep in mind there is a race for governor this year, as well as races involving state legislators, so people will want to get back to active campaigning as quick as possible. Whatever happens, we’ll be watching.

For an even better overview, make sure you read TN Education Report’s review. Andy Spears does a much better job than most of us at policy review.

QUICK HITS

This year in MNPS, and across the country, there has been a lot of talk about STEAM education. STEAM is rooted in the philosophy that Science & Technology is interpreted through Engineering & the Arts, all based in Mathematical elements. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, some questions are starting to be raised as more schools make the conversion. Chief question is becoming how much science instruction are kids really getting?

According to a report by non-profit group Change the Equation, which works with the business community to advocate for improved STEM learning, more than half of 4th graders spend less than three hours a week on science, the data show. And 1 in 5 students get less than two hours. Keep in mind as well, science is not going to be a part of TNReady this year. If I’m a teacher and scores are a major part of my evaluation, what’s getting focused on? Keep that in mind when you read the hype.

In related news, a recent article in the Washington Post about Google analyzing the most important skills for employee success might surprise you. The leading element wasn’t STEM-related skills but rather the ones promoted by a Liberal Arts education. The article closes with the following statement that I think we should all take to heart:

No student should be prevented from majoring in an area they love based on a false idea of what they need to succeed. Broad learning skills are the key to long-term, satisfying, productive careers. What helps you thrive in a changing world isn’t rocket science. It may just well be social science, and, yes, even the humanities and the arts that contribute to making you not just workforce ready but world ready.

We spend a great deal of time talking about the importance of literacy, but very little time on ways to improve literacy. Russ Walsh is a blogger who focuses on strategies to improve literacy. His latest, titled Oral Language, should be a must for everybody. When you finish that one, I suggest reading Background Knowledge. There is a lot more that goes into literacy rates than just what happens in schools, and the sooner we realize it, the sooner we can take steps to improve those rates.

Next Tuesday, January 16, Cambridge Assessment International and Regional Higher Education Advisory Council are hosting a College Connection Night at Overton High School (). Come learn about financial aid, admission requirements, and more!

MNPS has announced graduation dates for 2018. It’s never too soon to start planning,

Teachers, just in case you haven’t seen this, here is the 2017-2018 pay schedule.

Report Cards come home January 9th.

Congratulations to Tom Joy Elementary School teacher Ms. MacKay’s 2nd graders who reached their reading goals. They were presented with their Readers/Leaders t-shirts. Every student who reaches their goal receives a shirt. That’s what I’m talking about.

Maplewood High School Teacher and ProjectLit Founder Jarred Amato has started blogging and obviously I think you should read his musings.

Today’s blog has been fueled by the music stylings from Rodney Crowell’s latest.

Last week, a little bit of row erupted over MNEA leadership. I knew that current leadership had been in place for a long time but had no idea that it had been almost a quarter of a century. I have no beef with current leadership, but sometimes some new blood can help. Just saying. Over the last couple of years I’ve watched teachers Amanda Kail and Michele Prater Sheriff demonstrate what good leadership looks like. I don’t know if either is interested in a greater leadership role, but these are the kind of teachers MNEA needs to embrace. Now I’m probably in trouble with both for saying it, but I think it needed to be said.

POLL ANSWERS

This week’s poll questions had a huge response, and I thank all of you who participated. They were fun and enlightening. Let’s take a look at the results.

The first question asked who you thought the MVP of MNPS was. Who is that one person that it would hurt to lose? The number one answer was… “other,” and I loved that. Not only did many of you mention our dedicated and often overlooked classroom teachers, but you also took time to recognize those who often perform in the background, thereby giving them some much deserved recognition.

In 2nd place was Jarred Amato with 18% of the vote. Director of Literacy Tammy Lipsey and data guru, Paul Changas were next with 11 and 10 percent, respectively. EL head Kevin Stacey was next with 8% and West End Middle and TN Teacher of the year Cicely Woodard closely followed at 7%. All the aforementioned are very worthy of the accolades.

I also think it’s worth noting that both Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and Chief Academic Officer Monique Felder each only received one vote a piece. That means if they walked into a room full of 179 people, only one person would think they were the MVP. Might want to work on that. Here are the write-in votes:

Teachers 3
The teachers 2
the teachers who go on in spite of all the names above. 1
Teachers like me who keep our head down and do the daily work of helping kids 1
the Teachers and Paras 1
Chris Henson 1
Carl Carter 1
Gary Hughes 1
Every Teacher that has lasted longer than the last 2 or 3 years in Metro. 1
Phil Williams and TC Weber for letting us know what’s actually going on in mnps 1
Classroom teachers 1
Debbie McAdams 1
No one who works in central office is a MVP. 1
Anyone but Sylvan Park Elementary principal Robin Elder. 3 teachers quit mid year 1
Jesse Register 1
The Teachers 1
Will Pinkston 1
Amato 1
all of the teachers who actually care about the kids 1
Some of the names made me laugh out loud. 1
Shuler Pelham 1
Amy Frogge 1
None. Terrible list 1
Most are UNKNOWNS across the district. MVPs are the teachers who show up. 1
Fred Carr is the MVP. Mistake to fire him. 1
Dr Hughes principal of JTM 1
Molly Stovall 1
School Staff 1
Melissa Bentley 1
Classroom teachers and those who work with students 1
Dottie Critchlow 1
None of them. My co-teachers! 1
None 1
The teachers! 1
Kyla Krengel 1
Monique Felder & David Williams should be removed 1
Nola Jones 1
You have brought me more information that anyone else. 1
no one

The second question asked for your opinion on the two-hour delay. Like myself, most of you were confused as to exactly why we had the delay. 33% of you responded “Not sure what problem was solved.” I think the number two answer gives room for optimism as 22% of you acknowledged that early communication problems were corrected and things worked out overall. Most of the complaints seemed centered around the timing of the announcement, which MNPS corrected the next day by announcing Friday’s delay before school let out. 13% of you said “close or run on regular schedule,” while 6% answered that you loved it. So it doesn’t appear like there is an overwhelming demand for more delays.  Here are the write ins:

Announced too late to have a positive effect 1
Caused more problems than it solved. 1
Horribly executed. Created chaos for some families. Solved nothing. 1
No translation for robocalls meant very confused students 1
2 degrees warmer and 2 instructional hours lost. 1
Schools need to fix their heating systems. 1
Mixed feelings due to low attendance 1
I didn’t like it. There are reasons it hasn’t been done in Metro for years. 1
Impossible for working parents 1
Everyone seemed well rested and pleasant 1
did not take parent’s work schedules or transportation issues into account 1
Dear Central Office: Please get your shit together. 1
My room was just as cold at 10 as it was at 8 1
It was ok except for the problem about when teachers were supposed to report

The last question sought your input on the recently retooled Communications Department in MNPS. The number one answer, with 31%, stated that it was a bit of a dumpster fire. But good news wasn’t far behind as 27% acknowledged that they are hearing more good news stories. Perhaps the missteps of the last month are just anomalies and overall the communications department is on an upward trajectory. Fingers crossed though: 14% of you did say that you missed Joe Bass.

Here are the other responses:

Reflects Joseph’s insecurity and incompetence — will school board wake up?! 1
Push all the “good” news but don’t deal with reality. 1
Messaging is vague and confusing. 1
Both a dumpster fire and about the same as always. 1
ineffective, but I don’t expect much better 1
Churching our positive PR stories without communicating real information. 1
Awful. Why did Tony Majors go to a faith based leadership conference 1
A LOT of a dumpster fire

That’s it for now. Stay warm. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

 

WORKING THE PUNCH LIST

 

Well, that didn’t take long. Three days back from Winter Break and MNPS is already embroiled in a fresh controversy. Interestingly enough, if leadership team members stayed home in Maryland they’d probably be facing equally mad parents. Much like lead in the water, the challenges are not unique to Nashville, yet the district’s response feels like they are building the plane while they are flying it.

For those of you who don’t have children, or just haven’t been paying attention, kids reported back to school on Wednesday, and what they were greeted by in many of our district schools were cold classrooms and in some cases, water issues. When I say cold classrooms, I’m not talking 65 degrees. More like 55 degrees and in some cases even lower.

Temperatures on Thursday and today were in the low teens in the morning which raised concerns about kids with inadequate winter clothing having to wait at bus stops in dangerously cold weather. A chorus to close schools began to rise. The district’s response was to institute a two-hour delay in start times for all schools. Something that hadn’t been done in decades.

There were those who applauded the move as a sign that the district was at least trying something different. I don’t fall into that camp because I don’t award accolades merely for being willing to try something new. To me, you earn accolades for planning and execution. It has always frustrated me when people try new things without researching why they weren’t tried in the past and if they were, why they weren’t successful. You know, that critical thinking thing.

In all fairness to the district, things went off without any major catastrophes. But don’t think for one minute that is evidence of a quality plan. Because if you think that there really is a plan… I’ve got an archeological structure out in the desert I’d like to discuss with you. The fact that things went as smoothly as they did is more a testimony to the flexibility and ingenuity of individual schools’ staff members than it is to a well thought out plan of action.

A plan has assigned responsibilities and tasks. Responsibilities and tasks that are clear to everybody impacted. Those of us of a certain age will remember the old telephone trees. Let me explain for those of you who are not familiar with the concept.

A telephone tree is a plan, pyramid-shaped, where in the event of an emergency, everybody on the tree would have people they were dedicated to contact and inform. Everybody had a copy of the tree and with a glance could tell who was responsible for what and who would notify whom. If something didn’t happen, you could pinpoint right where the breakdown was and take immediate action. Technology has made the telephone tree obsolete, but the underlying theory behind it is still sound.

On Wednesday night at 8:40 PM, the district made the decision to institute the 2-hour delay for the following morning. A robocall was put out and the announcement was posted on social media. And then communication stopped. The initial information concerning the time teachers needed to report to work was incorrect. They were told to report an hour early, when they were actually supposed to report at the usual time, just two hours later. Teachers get to school 20 minutes before students. There was a scramble to verify reporting time, with some teachers never receiving confirmation.

I have heard various reports indicating that leadership was unaware that teachers didn’t report normally an hour before students. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me as I’ve written repeatedly about the disconnect between central office and what transpires in the classroom. In the spirit of fairness, the error was corrected for Friday morning’s delay, but there was no acknowledgement of the error nor an apology for possible inconvenience. As I tell my kids, a “my bad” goes a long way.

The timing of the decision created a challenge for parents, leaving many to make work arrangements at a late hour for the following morning. As Metro Council member Freddy O’Connell tweeted out, “Show of hands of parents who can just push a button and have a backup plan that just works when the delayed start announcement comes in at 8:40pm the night before.” I think that’s a pretty fair question.

My big concern was for our immigrant families and poorer families who don’t have working phones or access to social media. How were they notified at 8:40 at night? How many kids showed up underdressed to the bus stop at the normal time? How many parents dropped their kids off and headed to work under the assumption that the bus would be along shortly? How many showed up and when the bus didn’t show up, just went home and spent the day unsupervised?

Now if you have an actual plan, you could get answers to those questions. Take our telephone tree. I could look at who was responsible for notifying and informing a certain group of people, and with a phone call I could follow up and verify that they were informed. I talked to several people throughout the district yesterday and couldn’t confirm with anybody who was responsible for informing our immigrant and poorer families of the delay. I have no doubt that there were teachers out knocking on doors Wednesday night to try to inform families, but the assumption that teachers will act out of a sense of personal responsibility does not make a plan. Fortunately, the district announced Friday’s delay before school was out on Thursday so that kids could be informed before leaving school.

I really don’t believe district leadership deserves harsh criticism or lavish praise for implementing a delay. Truth is, I’m not even sure what problem was addressed by the solution. As has been pointed out by many, the difference in temperature between 8 and 10 AM was 3 degrees. A late start did not make those classrooms without inadequate heat any warmer. All the teachers and students enjoyed a shorter day and an extra two hours to sleep, but in the end, what real difference did the delay make?

It feels like the real purpose was just to check another box off the list. Instituted 2-hour delay… check

ABOUT THAT LIST

Those with any familiarity to construction work know the term “punch list.” A punch list is a document prepared near the end of a construction project listing work not conforming to contract specifications that the contractor must complete prior to final payment. In watching MNPS leadership operate over the past year, it often feels to me like they are working a punch list. Community meetings, check. Talk to teachers, check. And so the list goes. Things get checked off, but there is little follow through or concern about quality.

At next Tuesday’s MNPS board meeting, Dr. Joseph will present his punch list, aka the Transition Team report update, to the board, and there are a lot of things checked off. If you look at the agenda, and scroll to the bottom, you will see the list and that 90 out of 121 items are considered complete or ongoing. That’s a number worthy of praise.

I wonder, though, if anybody on the board will take a look at that punch list and actually question it. For example, the Transition Team recommended that the district have every child read and practice with complex, grade-level text every day to begin strengthening language skills of all students. Under the status update, the district lists the following items:

 English Language Arts (ELA) Scope & Sequence revised
 ELA Scope & Sequence includes Institute for Learning (IFL) Units that focus on complex texts
 Anchor/complex text to support revised ELA Scope and Sequence will be purchased for schools this school year
 New ELA curriculum (Core Knowledge Language Arts [CKLA]) that builds skills and knowledge through the use of complex text is being piloted in five (5) elementary schools this school year

Raise any questions for you? It should, as both the ELA Scope and Sequence and the IFL units have been roundly criticized by district’s teachers. Will any board members address that or will it just remain a check mark?

Here’s another one. The Transition Team recommended that the district seek options to ensure equitable access and diversity when reviewing the academic entrance requirements and lottery process used to place students into relevant programs. This one is not considered a 2017-18 priority (2016-17 TN Ready results need to be reviewed prior to determining the best way to promote diversity in the academic magnets), so it will be reviewed during planning conversations for the 2018-2019 school year. Will anybody ask why? It seems that with all the talk about equity, somebody would have already reviewed the TN Ready results and started to develop a plan, but that’s just my take.

I wonder if anybody will question why under parent/family engagement only 2 out of 8 tasks are considered complete or ongoing. Will anybody ask the status of the district and school-level Parent Advisory Council (PAC) relaunch and when the last meeting was? Will anybody ask about what improvements have been facilitated by the creation of community superintendents and how they’ve impacted the classroom? Will anybody ask about how the STEAM conversion of schools has been impacted by a lack of district leadership for the majority of the year?

I suspect that Dr. Joseph, or someone on his team, will present this colorful score card and at the end a board member or two will remark, “My, you guys have certainly been busy. This is impressive.” And nobody will look below the surface. I do encourage you to look at the whole report, though, and ask your own questions.

QUICK HITS

I must admit that it was validating to see Amanda Haggard at the Nashville Scene raising many of the same issues DGW has been tackling for the last year. The line that stands out the most to me in her story is in regards to recently departed district administrator Mo Carrasco:

One of them, Mo Carrasco, who was the executive director for priority schools, had faced similar allegations at a previous job, which makes us wonder why he was even hired in the first place. Did the district not check with his previous employer? 

Hmm…. I can’t wait to hear more about that, and kudos to Haggard for the research.

Nashville Rise was an organization previously affiliated with Project Renaissance. Late last year they broke off, in a planned move, to become their own 501(c). In the past, I’ve been critical of Nashville Rise and their perceived agenda. However, over the last year I’ve watched them empower parent after parent to come forth and address the school board on various issues.

The fact that they’ve been able to make heard previously silent voices, to me, is worthy of respect. I understand those that still take exception, but my question to you is, if not them, then who? Who else is working to get parents heard? They are holding their First Annual 2018 Parent Engagement Kick-Off Event on January 20 from 10:30 am12:30 pm. I urge you to check them out. 

In Memphis, an investigation into grade manipulation at individual schools continues to grow as the TNDOE is now involved. We probably all ought to keep an eye on this one. Data manipulation is often a byproduct of overemphasis on data. It doesn’t make it right, but it shouldn’t make it a surprise either.

I recently came across this reprint of a James Baldwin speech in which he addresses the challenges of education to prepare children to grapple with the myths and realities of this country’s history. He’s addressing a group of teachers. He tells them:

The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it—at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.

Words to mull over. I urge you to read the whole speech.

I also came across this blog post from a German teacher in State College, Pennsylvania, titled This I Believe: I Believe in Teaching. He sums things up with words that a majority of teachers can relate to:

I think we’re all familiar with the hypothetical question: “What would you do if you had a million dollars?” For me the answer is easy. I believe in the profession I’ve dedicated my life to. If I had all the money in the world, I could not think of a better thing to do than what I’m doing now: teaching.

Thank you each and every one of you.

SHAMELESS PLUGs

I hope you will all humor me and allow me to also plug my favorite books and music here. I joined Amazon affiliates in order to help bring in a little cash. Plus if I can help promote a few things I think rock, how can that be a bad thing? Today I’m encouraging you to check out the latest by Nashville’s own Margo Price and the soundtrack to the best movie I saw last year, The Great American Showman.

Books wise, if you are going to this month’s ProjectLit book club you are going to need to read Dear Martin. If you want a cool read that will really make you think, check out Chuck Klosterman’s But What If We Are Wrong.

Thanks for your indulgence. Hate to be out shilling for the man but a Dad’s gotta make a living and these are things I really believe in.

POLLS 

Hopefully the poll will work this week. Again I apologize for the failure of last week.

Our first question is a repeat of last week. Who do you perceive as the district MVP in MNPS? Who do you respect the most and think it would be a blow to the district to lose?

The second question is about the two-hour delay in start times. What do you think about the plan and its implementation?

For my last question, I’d like to get your opinion of MNPS’s communication department. Under Dr. Register, they were often criticized. There has been a turnover in the department and some new strategies. I would like to know what your thoughts are on their performance.

That’s it for now. Stay warm. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

 
 

BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE

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I’ve spent a lot of time the last couple of days pondering exactly what I was going write for this first blog post of the new year. The first order of business is to apologize for the technical issues with last weekend’s poll questions. I wish I had an answer on what went wrong, but alas, I have no answer. Just a prayer that it’ll work again. It’s a shame the poll didn’t work because the few answers that I did receive were trending in a very interesting direction. So much so that we may revisit those questions again this weekend.

Today is the first day of school for Metro Nashville Public Schools. Nashville, like much of the country, is under a deep freeze. Yesterday, teachers went back to work, and reports started to filter out about schools lacking heat and water. Parents, rightfully so, began to question whether or not schools were adequately prepared for children returning to class. The district, per usual, tuned out the noise until about 4pm yesterday when they released a press release where the first line was “You don’t need us to tell you – it’s cold outside.”

No… I don’t need you to tell me it’s cold out, but I do need you to convince me that you are prepared to keep my children safe if they show up. One look at the MNPS Facebook page and you get the sense that not many parents are convinced.

A close reading of the district’s press release raises more questions than answers: “Over the break, we remotely monitored indoor temperatures and potential issues. Crews have worked on these issues and will continue to do so until resolved. With this extreme cold, even if functioning properly, the heating units may not keep the buildings as warm as usual and buses may experience mechanical issues tomorrow.” What exactly is remote monitoring? Obviously, based on this statement, problems are not resolved, so how widespread are problems, and what exactly are they? It would be nice to get a clearer picture.

Also missing from the statement is any form of empathy or acknowledgement of parental concern. We talk about social emotional learning for kids ad nauseam, yet the district is incapable of producing a communication piece that utilizes the basic tenets of SEL. I particularly love the closing: “You can help to prepare students for the cold weather by dressing with warm layers and covering any exposed skin with gloves and hats.” News Flash… those students you are referring to… before they are “students,” they are my kids, and I prepare them for weather conditions every day of their lives. You might want to keep that in mind when communicating with me.

There is a tendency by northern transplants to write off weather complaints in Nashville as soft. “Up north,” they proudly declare, “We go to school in 8 foot drifts.” Well, not so much in Baltimore, where the teacher’s union called for schools to close due to low temperatures and inadequate heating.

I’m not going to comment on whether staying open or closing is the right decision. That’s a conversation that could go back and forth for eternity. But I do have what I feel are some pertinent observations that I’d like to share.

My biggest concern with all of this is the apparent inability of the district to learn and improve on past situations. Schools are supposed to be learning labs. Modeling is one of the most effective forms of education. Higher level critical thinking is a highly desirable educational outcome. So how are we, as adults, modeling critical thinking for students?

This is not the first time the district has faced bad weather challenges. The road to today is littered with bad weather-related decisions. Hell, we were just here last year. Last year’s decision lingered over the remainder of the school year and led to Dr. Joseph being corrected at a principal’s meeting by a local weatherman when he once again tried to defend the district’s actions.

If it was me, I would have looked at the situation, realized the amount of ill will it generated, and developed a plan to ensure things went better the next time. It needs to be recognized that it is as important to win the conversation as it is to make the right decision. How do you win the conversation? By owning the situation. By acknowledging people’s concerns. By being transparent. By having a plan and repeatedly communicating that plan. If the plan goes awry, acknowledge the shortcomings and promise to do better.

Winning the conversation generates goodwill. Goodwill generates support. Support means that all of those consultants and programs that have been purchased have a chance at success. The mission statement of “Being the fastest improving district in the country” is inane in its own right, but without support, it’s impossible.

If you need an example of how to effectively communicate a plan of action, look at Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and Nashville’s strategy for assisting the city’s homeless population during this run of exceptionally low temperatures. The plan is everywhere. You can’t hop on social media for five minutes without receiving a message on what steps the city is taking. The message is clear, concise, and repeated often.

There is a reason why Mayor Barry has an approval rate over 70% despite some very serious challenges. Perhaps instead of talking about new funding during their many talks, Dr. Joseph could ask for a few communication tips. Maybe the Mayor would let Joseph borrow Sean Braisted for a bit, as he seems to have this communication thing figured out and probably wouldn’t misremember nor block teachers.

Twitter is tailor made for delivering real time information. Former Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, wrote the book on the effective usage of Twitter during times of crisis, by repeatedly tweeting out information relaying instructions and how the city was responding. He not only communicated what the city was doing, but also that he was an engaged leader actively addressing citizens’ concerns. I realize not everybody utilizes Twitter, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t utilize the tool, and those who don’t use Twitter are often informed by those who do.

I do have to ask, where is Dr. Joseph in any of this conversation? I haven’t read or seen a single statement from him. People are quick to attribute nefarious motivations to those who dare question him, but I don’t feel that it’s an unfair expectation for him to be visible and actively leading in these circumstances. He can write an email asking me to donate money to the Nashville Public Education Foundation, yet he doesn’t have time to address parental concerns about the effects of adverse weather on our schools? To me, that feels like misplaced priorities.

I see folks making the defense that it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” decision and that no matter what you do, you won’t make everybody happy. First of all, it’s not about making everybody happy; it is about ultimately doing what’s best for kids. Secondly, that’s not an excuse for doing nothing. I realize that it is an extremely difficult situation, but that’s why the rate of pay for the Director of Schools is 300K. If this stuff was easy, we could pay him a whole lot less.

Remember that critical thinking thing I mentioned earlier? Here’s a chance to model it. Either decision could be the right decision provided you’ve looked at the possible objections and created contingency plans to address them. Parents worried about childcare? Get together with community centers and work on possible plans to utilize those centers. Worried about kids not eating if they are not in school? Get together with local charitable organizations and develop a plan of action in the event of schools needing to be closed. The decision is not simply an open or closed situation.

On a side note, I do take issue with social issues playing such a large role in the decision involving school closures. I am extremely sympathetic to the challenges our kids in poverty face, but this is one more instance where schools are expected to address issues that should be addressed by society. Schools are designed to educate kids, not solve issues related to poverty. Unfortunately, as a society, we’ve become all too comfortable dropping the need for affordable child care, feeding and clothing of children, and to some extent, children’s health on the already strapped shoulders of our schools. It would be like me hiring you to sell widgets and evaluating your performance based on the number of widgets you sell and then expecting you to spend 4 hours a day cleaning the offices. I doubt you’d sell as many widgets as the guy who does nothing but sell widgets all day, and therefore you wouldn’t be seen as a very effective widget salesman.

At some point we as a society have to recognize our responsibility to our most needy citizens. We have to realize that poor doesn’t equal lazy. Poor doesn’t equal unintelligent. We have to recognize the inherent inequities in our society and work together to level the field. If education is a primary means to that, then how about we allow schools to focus on education and not on providing affordable childcare and the feeding and clothing of children?

We love to talk about inequity, yet we continually fail to provide a working definition. In perusing the social media comments on potential school closings, one of the primary suggestions was that if you didn’t feel a school’s facilities were safe for your child, you should just keep them at home. How does this solution not foster and add to the existing inherent inequities? Which parents will keep their kids home? Which kids will be forced to attend? Will those kids forced to attend take note of those not at school? What message will this communicate to those children? We have to think deeper about what inequity means and the potentially unintentional consequences of our actions.

My last observation is if you read all the comments on social media, you get a deeper appreciation for how diverse an urban school district really is. There are comments that reflect my beliefs and then there are some that express views that are completely foreign to me. I am always amazed that despite these completely disparate views, schools are able to carve out a lane that serves the majority of our kids. The trick is to widen that lane and perhaps recognize when it’s not best serving kids. That can only happen through open engagement and communication, neither in abundant supply. It should be noted that school board member Christiane Buggs has put the question to her Facebook readers and received a wide spectrum of replies, and she deserves commendations for doing so. More of this is needed.

QUICK HITS

Here’s another quick leadership tip: know your troops. On December 27, MNPS leadership sent out a Save the Date email to teachers about the next round of Educator Voice Sessions. The first one will take place… wait for it… Monday! The ones in other quadrants will be held on the 10th, 11th, and 13th. Apparently, district leadership is laboring under a few misconceptions. They assume all teachers actually look at email during break and that teachers only plan a week out at a time and therefore don’t need much advance notice. The other misconception is that these first three days of school will be so smooth that teachers will be ripe for another photo op.

Times were not included in the initial email. I think you have to go out to the cemetery, turn around three times while chanting, “All is well,” and then an owl will deliver a note that will self destruct in 30 seconds after revealing the scheduled time. In all seriousness, teachers, if you can, please attend, and while in attendance, please share your thoughts on the literacy plan and discipline policy. In talking to you, those are the two biggest issues I hear about and others need to hear what I hear.

Did you know that it’s now illegal to use your cell phone in a school zone? Starting January 1, talking on a cell phone while driving in an active school zone is no longer allowed. Let the countdown to my first ticket begin. No way am I sitting in a 30-minute car line without checking Twitter.

The MNPS School Choice Festival is coming up on January 10th. Personally, I am no fan of the school choice process, but I do recognize that many parents find the festival extremely informational.

Tennessee State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen feels positive about how education in Tennessee went last year. Do you agree?

If you’re looking for something to feel positive about, I encourage you to follow IT Creswell Middle Arts on Twitter. No shortage of positive things coming out of that school.

I have a great deal of respect for Waverly-Belmont Principal Susan Blankenship. I suspect you will too after reading the latest edition of #MNPSVoices.

If you haven’t started reading the Hillsboro Globe yet… I’d make it your New Year’s Resolution.

There is a growing awareness of the correlation between attendance and academic performance. Communities in Schools is at the forefront of offering solutions. That’s former MNPS communication specialist Hank Clay leading the charge.

Blogger and educator Nancy Bailey has 101 wishes for children in 5 words or less… here is to hoping most come true.

When it comes to literacy, it seems that Nashville Classical is doing some solid work. Kudos to them. I wonder if they could get a ProjectLit book club going. I’d come.

The Metro Office of English Learners is partnering with Nashville Community Ed in offering MNPS educators a 6-week courses covering basic Spanish.

Nashville Rise will be holding its First Annual 2018 Parent Engagement Kick-Off Event on January 20 from 10:30 am12:30 pm. Mark your calendar. 

That’s it for now. Stay warm. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

 

THE END OF AN INSANE YEAR

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I must admit that I contemplated taking the weekend off. But then I remembered that I am now a professional blogger. Last week, I finally reached the threshold on WordAds where the ads generated enough to warrant them cutting me a check. It’s only 100 bucks, but it does signify a monetary reward for my words, and for that I thank all of you. Your support is always appreciated.

In light of having been elevated to the status of professional, I decided to use today’s blog post as a catch up and clear out. Here are a few thoughts and stories rattling around at the end of the year. Do with them what you will.

BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME?

It is the end of the year, and if you are like me, you are a getting a flood of emails from non-profits looking for end-of-year donations. One of the more interesting ones I received came from MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph on behalf of the Nashville Public Education Foundation. If you’ll remember, NPEF played a large role in Dr. Joseph securing the position as head of MNPS.

In his fundraising email, Joseph makes the following pitch for NPEF:

We wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for the leadership of the Nashville Public Education Foundation. They are the spark that ignites all of us to work harder, think bigger, do better and rally together.  

While we have made a lot of progress together in the last year, we still have a long way to go. But with this community — the friends of the NPEF — I am more convinced than ever that we will get there.

When you donate to support the NPEF, you are committing to public school excellence and showing how Nashville rallies together for our kids and our school system. 

That is quite the ask. But it also raises a few questions for me. Where exactly are we and what exactly has NPEF’s role been in us getting there? Is it the creation of a Literacy Council that doesn’t have a teacher on it? Is it the creation of the largest retail discount program in the Southeast? Is it the hosting of the annual Hall of Fame Dinner that this year took place at the Omni hotel? All are worthy of accolades, but do they rise to the level of being worthy of enticing a pitch from the Director of Schools?

Off of the top of my head, I can think of a number of non-profits doing equally essential work. ProjectLit is doing actual hands-on work to improve literacy rates throughout the city. Metropolitan Nashville Education Foundation has a scholarship program for MNPS graduating seniors who are interested in studying to pursue a degree in education. The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition continues to fight for MNPS students.  Music Makes Us takes advantage of the unique resources afforded by Nashville to improve educational outcomes for our students. I cannot begin to even mention all the churches that regularly go into our immigrant communities when school is not in session to ensure children have safe activities to participate in while getting food and clothing if needed.

My point is, not to disparage NPEF, but there are a lot of worthy charities who toil in the shadows but have a larger impact on our children’s lives than NPEF does. A message of support for those organizations as a whole, instead of pointing out one politically connected organization, to me would have had a larger impact. It’s not like Dr. Joseph has any problems asking for money either. The Mayor herself has noted on several recent occasions that every time she sees him, he brings up funding needs. And to hear the two of them talk, she sees him a lot.

It should be noted that Dr. Joseph has never been shy about asking for money in his role as Director of Schools, whether it’s the Seaford School District or here in Nashville. Increased funding has to come from somewhere, and with a much needed and well thought out transportation plan already on the table, as well as funding for a soccer stadium, some financial fatigue may be setting in for Nashville residents. I’m not quite sure that a large increase of funding by the city would go over well at this juncture. Perhaps that’s why Joseph is out pitching for NPEF.

AN INTERESTING DEFENSE

Perusing social media postings the other day, I came across an interesting public post questioning whether or not the criticism of Shawn Joseph was personally or racially motivated or not. It’s a valid question, and I think one that needs to be repeatedly asked in order to keep everyone honest. I will say a reply by school board chairman Anna Shepherd bothered me quite a bit though. Shepherd wrote in response:

I completely agree with you regarding the criticisms of Dr. J. As a community and “It” city, we pat ourselves on the back but, truth be told, we are not that “It” when we can’t accept the fact that we have a person of color at the helm of our school system.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written over the last few years, I’ll think you’ll recognize that I try to be very sensitive to racial issues. Race, on some level, influences everything. I agree that the city of Nashville needs to have a deeper conversation on race and that we haven’t done enough in the past to address racial inequalities in staffing MNPS. The fact that we are unclear of what is a racially motivated criticism and what is a legitimate criticism would indicate to me a need for a deeper conversation. I am also willing to accept that in order to balance things out, the pendulum probably needs to swing further in the other direction. What I do take exception to is an administrator’s race trumping what’s good for kids.

Demanding that kids attend schools that don’t put them at risk for lead poisoning has nothing to do with accepting the fact that we have a person of color at the helm of our school system. Is Shepherd inferring that parents would be more willing to have kids poisoned if the Director of Schools was not a person of color? Yes, by testing the water, Dr. Joseph did more than the previous administration did, but that doesn’t change the fact that kids were knowingly put at risk for over a year before MNPS acknowledged that yes, they could do more.

Questioning a literacy program that is near universally rejected by teachers shouldn’t be blunted because the Director of Schools and his Chiefs are African-Americans. Calling attention to the fact that there are 182 open positions for certified instructors at the mid-point of the school year is not an unfair criticism. Nor is questioning a response to a holiday party that included extravagant gifts. There is a disconnect when you continually ask for more money but are able to secure a slew of high dollar prizes to give away. People have a right to question this and any other of a Director of School’s actions. It’s one of the reasons why a Director is paid $300k a year.

I understand that in the past, the community might have been slow to question the moves of the Director of Schools. That’s part of the learning curve. Look at how the last several Directors’ tenures ended. Pedro Garcia was only removed upon the State’s takeover of the district and was a mess for a long time afterwards. Dr. Register’s reign ended with open warfare between large portions of Nashville’s community and mixed reviews. Do we really want to repeat those situations? Perhaps by being more vigilant we could avoid those mistakes of the past and work towards better outcomes.

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is repeating the same old actions over and over and expecting different outcomes. By that definition, this past year has been riddled with evidence of insanity. I can’t speak to the motivations of other critics, but all I’m asking for is an honest and transparent conversation. One we seem incapable of having. Are we really benefitting anybody by failing to openly address legitimate concerns? I’m hoping that in 2018 we get a little more sane.

It appears that vouchers will take a back seat during this year’s state legislative session. The lawmakers who have driven proposed legislation in the past are indicating that this year they will focus on boosting resources for the state’s public schools. Rep. Harry Brooks, who was a sponsor of this past legislative session’s school voucher bill, said he wants more money for teacher pay, school technology, and for staff to help guide Tennessee’s Response to Instruction and Intervention program. This all bears watching, but on the surface is very welcome news.

QUICK HITS

After the holidays, I believe the campaign for Governor will really start to heat up. Democratic candidate Karl Dean has been out in Memphis drumming up support. He recently did an interview with the Tri-State Defender and talked about education. It’s worth reading.

I recently came across an article in the Harvard Business Review from April called “What To Do About Mediocrity on Your Team.” I found a whole lot of the article to be relevant, but for me the following was the money quote:

When you ask a group to step up to high performance, you are inviting them to a place of stress — one where they must stretch, where failure is possible, where interpersonal conflicts must be addressed. Rather than step into this uncomfortable place, some will watch for hypocrisy in you in order to excuse their retreat to safety. How you handle these crucial moments will either amplify or eliminate your influence.

I encourage you to read the whole thing and if you know anybody that could benefit from it, please share.

Nashville education blogger and Ebony-published writer Vesia Hawkins has a new post out with her plans for next year, Four Things That Must Stay in 2017 and the Boss Behavior Required for 2018.

The Tennessean has been doing excellent features on the changing makeup of Nashville neighborhoods. Nothing impacts public schools like housing.

Things are jumping in Chattanooga. New Superintendent Brian Johnson has proposed a name change to of Hamilton County Schools to The Public Schools of Hamilton County, installing Future Ready Institutes in High Schools, and has hired Dr. T. Nakia Towns Edwards as the Chief of Staff. The Towns hire is the most interesting, as she doesn’t show up at your door baggage free. Stops in both Knoxville and at the TNDOE did not go without controversy. Some may view her exit from the TNDOE as a case of either she goes or TNReady goes.

POLL QUESTIONS

Time now for a couple of questions. The first one I want to ask is what you plan to focus on in the new year. Eating better? Reading more? Reducing stress? I’m curious to find out.

Here at DGW, I often focus on the negative but try to look at the positive. I’d like to know who you think the district’s MVP is. Who is the one person you don’t think the district could afford to lose? This one should be interesting.

What elected official do you consider the most knowledgable when it comes to education issues? Let’s see how this one turns out.

That’s it for now. I hope everybody has a safe and festive New Year. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

 

 

 

 

 

WINTER BREAK REFLECTIONS

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Yesterday was supposed to be a day for an update, but instead I decided it was a day for family. We took the dog to the dog park, ran some family errands, went to the movies, and had dinner together. It was a marvelous day and much needed.

The movie we saw yesterday was The Greatest Showman, and I can’t praise it enough. My daughter stared in amazement through most of the show and my son was equally mesmerized. Imbedded within the movie was a very important lesson: don’t lose sight of what’s important while chasing perceived glory.

In his constant pursuit of elevated status, P.T. Barnum lost track of his family and the very things that made him successful in the first place. It is important as the year closes for us all to reflect on our own pursuit of greatness and ensure that we are not falling into a similar trap. As stated by Mrs. Barnum to her husband, “It’s not important that everyone love you, just a small group of important people.”

DGW RUMINATIONS

It seems that this season lends itself to reflection, and lately I’ve been doing a little more reflecting than usual on the state of public education. I used to spend a great deal of time railing against the forces of privatization and their machinations. But I’ve come to believe that in some ways, those of us who claim a love for public education are in fact enablers of its destruction. I know that’s going to upset some of you, but hear me out.

Everyday social media feeds are filled with tales of corruption committed by those who appear bent on destroying our beloved public schools. Yet nary a word is said about the injustices that are committed in traditional schools just as frequently.

Consider, for example, if KIPP Charter School had replaced its elementary school principal with one whose only experience was at the high school level. At the same time, they also ended a multiple-classroom leadership program that allowed for their very best teachers to earn extra money. A program that had contributed to the much needed stabilizing of their staff. Furthermore, back in August when registration was low, KIPP decreased their staffing levels, thus failing to take into account the influx of homeless students who would show up when the weather turned cold, just like those students did every year.

I believe school board members and community members would be outraged and would, rightly so, demand action. But this didn’t happen at KIPP. It happened at Buena Vista Elementary School. One of our most challenging schools. These are actions that have a direct impact on students and their learning, yet I haven’t heard any outcry. Have you?

Two years ago, there was a huge controversy about a book assigned to students at Nashville Prep, a charter school. There was outrage that such an inappropriate book was assigned to students. This year, the district has implemented a literacy plan that is almost universally rejected by teachers, yet not a question is raised on the board floor. In all fairness, board member Jill Speering did try to raise questions during a presentation at a board meeting earlier in the year, but received little support from fellow board members. One was so disinterested that they decided to go ahead and leave the meeting.

These are just a couple of examples that, in my opinion, have contributed to an overall acceptance of the shortcomings of public education. Just this year alone, on top of the literacy issues, we’ve seen a multi-million dollar initiative, STEAM, devoid of leadership for the majority of the year while implementation was ongoing. At a time when there is a heightened awareness of workplace sexual harassment, we’ve seen one investigation take almost two months before reaching a conclusion and another that is still unresolved, despite complaints being filed on November 17th. Imagine if Rocketship Academy had similar issues.

I’ve come to the belief that public education, like many of our democratic institutions, sufferers from a public perception of being inherently inept. Some of this is the result of prolonged attacks by those who devalue the role of government, but much of it stems from our unwillingness to demand more. Instead of expressing outrage over these failings, we shrug and consider them just a factor of a large organization.

If you look at polls over the last several decades, you’ll see that faith in the system has suffered while satisfaction with our individual schools remains consistently high. I believe that’s because we expect the large bureaucracy that is public education to be filled with inadequacies, while we are not as willing to accept that in our individual schools and so we demand more from them. In essence, that’s what parents who choose charter schools are doing.

By choosing a charter school, they are reducing the size of the bureaucracy to a much more manageable level. And in a choice system, like Nashville has, I would argue that parents who choose non-zoned schools are doing the same. They are choosing to fight for their piece of the pie and to leave the whole to basically fend for itself.

This weekend’s post received a comment that illustrates that very tenet:

I wonder on some level, when has MNPS been a stellar place to work, where teachers felt supported, students were wonderfully behaved in every cluster, and diversity was championed? IMO the frustrations and problems are systemic and indicative of a larger issue that goes far beyond a figure head or board. I’ve definitely desired more planning time, but when colleagues use planning time to go to bank, run errands, and not actually “plan” it hurts the argument. Ive needed more resources, but when I went to another school with abundance I lacked nothing, I’ve disliked curricular choices BUT that didn’t stop me from making it work with what I have and Ss succeeding. There’s no quick fix, magic bullet, one person to change it all…it isn’t me vs my principal vs my school vs my area sup vs my district vs Dr J vs the school board vs the state vs the feds.

The argument put forth here is that it’s a flawed system by nature, and therefore, the only way to navigate is to focus on just the immediate area. The flawed literacy plan is rendered moot because individual teachers are able to modify and ignore it in order to make it effective. Sexual harassment is not taking place in my building, so I leave that to someone else. In essence, ignore the whole and focus only on what you can impact.

Parents recognize that not all schools are created equal. They recognize that not all schools have the resources to fend for themselves. They don’t have PTO’s that can provide technology when the district fails to provide. They don’t have parents who can supplement a budget to ensure that the best teachers remain employed. They recognize they don’t have the political clout to demand that the district respond to their inadequacies.

In response, parents search for schools that are set up in a manner that they feel will be more responsive to them and meet their needs. Some have the ability to do so within the district, while others choose to leave the district or choose charter schools. I believe if you strip it all down, most parents want the same thing, and the major discrepancy is access.

Listen to charter parents talk and they will often site a sense of community and responsiveness as a reason for their choice. Public school advocates will quickly cite incidents as a counterargument and speak to their own sense of communities. But are these advocates putting forth their arguments based on the schools charter parents are leaving or the ones their own children attend? It’s important to acknowledge when discussing choice that not all schools are created equal.

There is a scene in The Greatest Showman where one of the performers is introduced to the wealthy parents of the ringmaster and they dismiss her as being a lesser person. He tries to reassure her that their reaction has no value, whereas she responds to him, “You’ll never know what it’s like to have someone look at you like that.”

I think too often we try to make proclamations based on our own experiences and by dismissing the experiences of others. I try to instill in my children the value that just because it didn’t happen to you does not make it an invalid experience. Our experience at our school may be exceptional, but that doesn’t make it a universal experience. If we don’t acknowledge that as a truism, how will we ever achieve equity?

These are just my thoughts today. More than ever, I have become convinced that in order for public education to be preserved, we need to raise our expectations for the entire system. We must not dismiss inadequacies as long as our own experience is relatively good. I don’t believe the solution lies in reducing our focus, but rather in recommitting to making all schools a place where we would feel comfortable sending our children.

Maybe MNPS was never a good place to work; does that mean it can’t be today? Maybe discipline and segregation have always been problems; does that mean they must always remain so? Why is it that we have no problem continually raising expectations for students and teachers, but remain unwilling to do the same for the district? Why is it considered beneficial for students to point out that 1 in 3 are reading at less than grade level, but pointing out the failings of the districtwide literacy plan is considered as undermining our schools?

Those are questions I am sure some are uncomfortable with me asking because they don’t afford easy answers. Some will write my questions off as giving a pass to charter schools when nothing could be further from the truth. There are certainly elements in the charter school movement that have greatly contributed to the undermining of our public education system. But we can’t allow those elements to distract us from making all our schools the best that they can be, and I believe that begins with raising the expectations for the whole system.

QUICK HITS

One of my favorite education bloggers, Peter Greene, has a child facing a huge medical challenge. Per usual, he uses the crisis to remind us of some universal truths that we may have forgotten. Peter is one of the really good guys, and I know he wouldn’t mind a few additional prayers for his child. I can’t even imagine facing such a challenge.

I think this is a really interesting look at the effects of school choice on racial segregation in EducationNext, New Evidence on School Choice and Racially Segregated Schools. The author does a very good job of not just focusing on charter schools, but also on other elements that are connected. I encourage you to read it.

Have questions about the school choice process? MNPS can help! They are hosting a School Choice Festival on Tuesday, January 23, to help you with all your school choice needs. More info here: .

MNPS folks, I hope you enjoy the rest of the week. Remember, teachers report back on Tuesday and kids on Wednesday.

I realize that this post is probably full of contradictions, but then again so is life. We just try to work our way through them.

POLL RESULTS

The response to last week’s questions was overwhelming. Apparently they resonated with more than a few of you. Let’s break down the results.

The first question asked for your impression of this year’s Chamber Report Card. The overwhelming reaction was negative, with 47% of you dismissing the leading recommendation for more data coaches. 22% of you felt they once again missed the mark, and 18% of you said that you weren’t even going to read the report. Only 5% of you had a positive reaction.

I’m sure that the Chamber is of the mind that readers of Dad Gone Wild are predisposed to dismiss their report, but I would argue that those who take the time to read my musings are among the most dedicated to public education in whatever form it takes and it would be a mistake to ignore them. I would suggest that maybe it’s time for a little self-reflection on the report card committee’s part and perhaps discussions on how to make the report card more relevant are long overdue. I do believe that the report card can play a vital role in improving our education system.

Here are the write-ins:

Haven’t read it. Enjoying vacation. 1
Should have said that Dr. Felder is the problem 1
Haven’t read it yet 1
???????????? the report card and their love affair with Joseph

The second question asked for your reaction to last week’s Central Office holiday party. It must be noted that this question received nearly twice the response of a typical poll question. That’s noteworthy in its own right.

The majority of you, 42%, found fault more with the district’s response than the actual party. For 18% of you, it wasn’t a big deal, but you found it indicative of MNPS’s culture. Only 3% of you indicated that it was of no concern to you. I’d say that MNPS has some work to do on its culture, but then again that’s nothing new.

It is my opinion that the district continues to suffer from a dearth of leadership. Nobody, whether it’s district leadership or the school board, seems predisposed to filling that void. The party is another example of where leadership could have easily preempted any perceived crisis. A simple addressing of the issue and acknowledgement of concerns would have diffused everything. Instead, actions were allowed to become fodder for yet another negative news story. Sooner or later somebody is going to have to step up and be a leader instead of a reactor.

Here are the write-ins. They’ll make you think.

Who cares? My Title 1 school has no supplies 1
Typical whacked priorities of MNPS. 1
How much longer will Dr. Joseph & Team be able to waste taxpayer $ going tof 1
Party fine, gifts too extravagant, lies and blocks by PIO unacceptable 1
It bothered me that they lied about inviting teachers 1
HELP US! The culture is so bad. 1
many hard working hourly paid employees at board 1
Badly handled, par for the course for central office, sadly. 1
indicative of the culture and Joseph’s refusal to acknowledge any issues 1
We got leftover bagged popcorn and powdered hot chocolate…not one thank you

The last question was on what you plan to read over break. I was glad to see that many ProjectLit selections made the list, though I was dismayed to see that over 25% of you indicated a lack of time to read. That must be addressed if we are ever truly going to have a culture rooted in literacy.

Thank you for sharing what you are reading. Here are your write-ins:

The Hate U Give 2
Brian’s Winter (with my daughter) 1
Huge stack. 1
My Eyelids 1
Counting by Sevens 1
The warmth of other suns 1
New books for Project Lit this upcoming semester 1
The Conquerors 1
The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F%$k 1
No time-grades and lesson plans 1
The new tax reform bill 🙂 1
Journey of Souls 1
This year’s Project Lit selections 1
Joan Didion 1
Past issues of Dad Gone Wild 1
My next IFL unit, of course! How else will I be ready for January 3rd??? 1
Mani: Travels in S. Peloponnesus by Patrick Fervor 1
Reading about jobs outside of MNPS 1
Mom Set Free by Jeannie Cunnion 1
Anchor texts for IFL required unit 1
Subtitles on my Netflix binging 1
how to get rid of a corrupt school administration 1
Do Not Be Alarmed by Maile Melloy 1
Tribe of Mentors 1
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 1
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi 1
Infinite Jest 1
Christmas Classics 1
Pursuit of Power: Europse 1815-1914 1
Piecing Me Together, Enrique’s Jout 1
Some selections from Project Lit 1
Talk Like Ted 1
freakonomics 1
Simon Sinek – Start With Why 1
A long walk to water
That’s it for now. I hope everybody continues to have a great holiday. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.