THANKSGIVING WEEK KICKOFF

This being Thanksgiving week and all, I thought I would start the week off by saying thank you to all the wonderful public school educators that have really helped me over the past year get a better understanding of how policy translates from the boardroom into the classroom. Than I remembered, nobody wants it to be public knowledge that they talk to me, so I best make that a general thank you. Y’all know who you are and please know how appreciated you are.

I do want to publicly acknowledge all of the hardworking professional reporters that deliver daily coverage of education issues. Writing this blog has taught me a whole lot about what a difficult job reporters have, especially since I started writing with a self-imposed deadline of Mondays and Fridays. Writing with on deadline means often writing when you don’t feel like you’ve fully grasped all of the elements of a story but know that it needs to be told. It can mean that some things get missed and some things get over covered. It’s a delicate balance and better executed by those that make their living delivering the news.

We, as readers, often feel that our passions don’t get enough coverage or that the coverage afforded is biased. Writing this blog over the last four years has taught me that covering issues in a timely manner that captures all of the nuances and complexity is a difficult task. I’m extremely grateful for the men and woman who take up the challenge daily and would like to offer a heartfelt thank you to them for their efforts.

CHARTER SCHOOL REPORT

The Network for Public Education released an in depth study last week on the subject of charter schools and their impact on the educational landscape of America. It is 50 pages long, well written, and provides as complete an argument as any you’ll read on the down side of charter school growth. If you’ve been even marginally involved in the charter school debate over the last several years, most of what’s included will be familiar to you. The depth of the research presented here should be evidence enough to warrant preceeding  with caution when considering charter schools as a method for improving educational outcomes. That said, I don’t find this report without fault.

As is so common in the fight over charter schools, with guilt attached to both sides, parents are for the most part under emphasized. Sure, evidence is sited about how parents are mislead, ignored, duped, taken advantage of, etc, but where is the study on why parents initially made the choice to explore a charter school option? We have lots of anecdotal stories about charter school’s marketing plans and deceptive practices, but little insight into why parents were open to these strategies?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep reiterating it, nobody ever was satisfied with their school options, even marginally, and upon receiving some marketing material thought, “Hmmm…thing are good at our kid’s school but this unknown entity sure sounds good. Let’s give it a try.” People don’t like change. As much as we talk about the allure of the new, people are creatures of habit and unless there is real impetus to change, they are perfectly content to continue with the same patterns. So in order for the charter school movement to have taken  root and grown, that impetus has to exist and I don’t we’ve ever had a real conversation about what it is and how it influences demand.

I don’t know the answer. I used to believe it was about nefarious forces setting out to destroy our democratic institutions. But then I actually started talking to parents that have made the choice to send their children to charter schools, something that the MNPS School Board can’t seem to bring itself to do, and a different picture emerged. In talking to parents I discover few of them have malicious intent. Most tell stories of their children not getting what they need at a traditional school and therefore creating a need to find an alternative solution. Few have the means to move housing, or arrange transportation to an out of zone school, so they act based on their options. Options that wealthier families explore every day.

All you have to do is look where school board members and other district officials send their kids. Sure they are in zoned schools but that’s a lot easier when you can buy a home in a wealthier neighborhood. Furthermore, nobody likes to hear this, but if you chose a district traditional school over your zoned school, the impact on the zoned school is the same as if you had chosen to send your child to a charter school. MNPS’s current “choice” system allows wealthier families to be champions of public education while still fleeing our high needs schools. So even if charter schools were eradicated tomorrow, the system would still be tilted to the benefit of the wealthier families over poorer families. The only real solution I see is to fight to ensure that all schools are offering the same opportunities to all kids.

Yesterday I came across this letter from parents at an Los Angeles Elementary school. In it parents respond to a proposed survey by calling attention to the aspect of LAUSD that rankles them the most,

The format of this survey epitomizes the aspect of LAUSD education that we are LEAST satisfied with: an apparent obsession with numerical, rather than qualitative, data. Willingness to sacrifice expression and genuine engagement in the name of standardization and check-box “accountability.” In short: standards = standardization = standardized “tests” = LAUSD/Ed Department hears only what it wants to hear (positive or negative, depending on the hearer’s love of charter schools).

I encourage you to read the whole letter. It should serve as call for our public education leaders too actually engage in a real conversation not just toss around words like “parent engagement” and “parent voice” which in reality translate into nothing more than another tool to push personal agendas. We are so quick to look for boogey men in the charter school wars that we neglect to examine how the state of public schools and leadership plays into parental decisions. The Overton Cluster Parent Advisory Committee recently asked a charter school parent to come talk to us about why they made a choice other than their zoned school. It was very eye opening. Which high school their elementary school kid would attend, safety, and course of study all played a roll in their decision. Destruction of the public school system did not.  Maybe if we sat down and actually talked with parents who have explored the charter school option, we would find that they are overly swayed by misinformation. But that would be a conclusion based on conversation and not assumption.

This past weekend I listened to an interview about race and patriotism with Ta-Nehisi Coates on NPR. In the interview he talked about patriotism a la’ carte – picking a choosing the parts of history you want to celebrate. In his eyes this form of patriotism did a dis-service to our country and we needed to adopt a patriotism that resembled our personal relationships. We needed to love our country like we loved our spouses and our spouses loved us. Our spouses love us in spite of our faults but they never ignore them. They don’t pretend that we are infallable. They don’t blow smoke up our ass when we are not living up to our potential. Being critical does not translate to being un-supportative. I was struck by just how much this held true for our schools as well. We need to love our public schools and push them like we are loved and pushed by our significant others.

QUICK HITS

Tomorrow, November 21st at 9AM, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry will be sitting down with the MNPS School board to “report out” on forward progress the board has made over the past 18 months since hiring Dr. Shawn Joseph as the director of Metro Nashville Public Schools. Board members will brief the Mayor on their “Building a Better Board” initiative, including the development of a new strategic framework to guide MNPS into the future, intensive professional-development efforts between the board and senior management, identification of key performance indicators that will allow the board and the public to better monitor organizational performance, design of new board and superintendent accountability systems, and an overhaul of the board’s governing policies in partnership with the Tennessee School Boards Association. Got all of that?

(Jared Amato/Jason Reynolds)

The event is open to the public and I’m weighing attendance based on whether it’ll be an actual conversation or just another love fest that ignores some of our very real issues. Most likely a game time decision.

Maplewood HS teacher Jared Amato continues to reap accolades for his work with Project Lit. Congratulations to him for being named Penguin Random House Teacher of the Year.

Congratulation to the Pearl Cohn and Cane Ridge High School Football teams. Both won their games this past week end and will advance to the next round of state playoffs.

At McKissack Middle School the football champs spent some time learning about the science of football. That’s right, I said science. It’s all connected.

Please don’t assume that because I’m not talking about the rumors that I am not aware of the rumors. Timing is everything.

(Dupont-Tyler’s Young Men of Distinction)

Over at Dupont-Tyler Middle School, last Tuesday was tie day for the young men of distinction. Looking good guys!Over at Dupont-Tyler Middle School, last Tuesday was tie day for the young men of distinction. Looking good guys! Young men of distinction is a mentoring group for high risk young men. This is an opportunity for young men to learn life skills, including how to treat woman. 

Croft Middle Design Center folks spent the weekend planting trees and working in the community garden. The commitment to community at Croft is part of their core philosophy and is just one of their admirable qualities.

Last Friday I was invited to watch a Reading Recovery session. Afterwards I was asked my opinion. My answer was that it looks like good teaching to me. I know there is some question of Reading Recovery’s  value to students diagnosed with dyslexia, but the session I observed utilized several different elements and was extremely keyed in to what a child needs were. I was very impressed by what I saw and look forward to seeing more sessions.

(Croft Middle Design Center)

Hundreds of books were delivered on bicycles to Dodson Elementary thanks to the nonprofit group Ride for Reading. The program was started by a Metro School teacher back in 2008 and has grown into a nationwide campaign that’s delivered more than 300,000 books to students across the country. The program was started by a Metro School teacher back in 2008 and has grown into a nationwide campaign that’s delivered more than 300,000 books to students across the country.

 

(Read and Ride)

 

POLL RESULTS

Let’s turn now to this weeks’s poll results.

Our first question asked for your thoughts on the recently sent home MAPP results. I shouldn’t be surprised that the number one answer was “Don’t we have enough tests already” with 42% of the answers. I understand that many district educators feel that MAP is a valuable tool  but parents have been sending a message for the last several years that there is too much testing not that we need another tool. Only 5% percent of respondents answered in a positive manner.

Here are the write-ins and there are quite a few,

Should have been sent with the explanation you suggested, or not sent at all. 1
They sent home color copies -costly due to color ink!!! 1
Only 6 pts growth expected over whiole year. 1
What’s the point of sending them home? Do they tell parents anything? 1
It’s actually the most helpful data I’ve received since joining MNPS 1
Good to know national comparisons 1
It doesn’t match State Standards so what’s the poi 1
The test is crap. 1
MAP is a great and very valid test; however, from the info — implementation?? 1
Uh, I’m a teacher and my school didn’t send them out 1
We didn’t get any results! I have kids in 2 MNPS schools and nada. 1
Advanced academic kids don’t take them. No scores here.

 

Question two was about AP’s becoming the “Acting Principal” for the first 6 weeks of the first quarter after winter break. The logic of this program appears to be lost on DGW readers with 32% of you responding that it was the dumbest thing you ever heard of and 25% of you asking if this was a “Prince George thing”. Only 3% off you thought it was a fantastic idea.

Lots of you had write in thoughts though. A couple cringe worthy ones but I always print them all.

The AP pool and pipeline system is total crap. 1
Who will teachers really be accountable to for those 6 weeks??? 1
Wonder how my inept AP got in the program. 1
Great in theory but who’s ap and principal are actually a great team? 1
Who gets paid what? How about someone does my hard job while I sit around 1
Ours isn’t ready, so why give her the chance to fail? 1
Should have had someone “acting” instead of Ron Woodard

The last question asked for your thoughts on NOAH’s recently held forums on restorative practices. Most of you, 29%, indicated that you would have liked to attend but we’re unable to. The second leading answer, 23%, wrote the forums off as more liberal bs. When coupled with the 23% of respondents who indicated that they had no desire to attend, I would say there is a need for an informational campaign on restorative practices.

Once again we got quite a few write in entries, many of which back up the above assertion.

I don’t even know what this is 1
What is it? 1
I didn’t even know about it. 1
Good info, but Elementary schools were not discussed. 1
Is this org blaming schools for poverty trauma? 1
The practice doesn’t work–period. 1
I was unaware 1
It CAN be an effective program 1
Didn’t know about them

That does it for the week. 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. Have a great Thanksgiving and we’ll see you on the flip side.

Advertisements

TESTING…1…2…3…TESTING

I remember when I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to be a grown-up. Adults got to do cool things and go to cool places. They got to hold these really interesting conversations. Adults seemed so worldly and so wise. I couldn’t wait to be just like them.

These days, I can’t imagine a kid looking outward and watching adult interactions and thinking they want to be a part of that world. It seems like over the last several years, a mist of meanness has settled over our society. Instead of focusing on being kinder people, we focus on being so-called tougher people. Being “right” has superseded being moral and being compassionate. We point to other people’s ill behavior as justification for our own unjustifiable behavior. Here’s a news flash that should be on the wall of every building in every community: lowering your opponent does not elevate you. If I am a kid looking for an adult who behaves in a manner that I’d like to emulate, I better be ready to cast a wide net.

Oh sure, there are people in communities doing selfless, great work, but more and more they are pushed to the background. Last year, then First Lady Michelle Obama laid out a challenge for us all to go high when others go low. I can find fault with that advice, yet very few of us have heeded that call and several have mocked it. Instead we attack, attack, attack.

Women who step forward and identify those who have sexually harassed them in the past watch their credibility and personal lives become fodder to discredit. Minorities who come forward and demand to be treated equally are accused of wanting specialty status. We demonize people on social media and in the press whose only crime is daring to have different opinions than ours. We use the most despicable terms to describe each other and never pause to think about who’s listening and the effect our words are having. It’s like we’ve all adopted former NBA player Charles Barkley’s words “I am not a role model” as our personal mantra.

If adulthood used to be the nightclub we were all dying to get into, I don’t blame the kids of today one bit for choosing to park it at the coffeehouse down the street. This being an adult thing, it ain’t nearly as enticing as it once was.

This morning I read an article about Silver Silverman ruminating over the actions of her friend of 25 years, Louis CK. Now I got to admit, Silverman isn’t normally someone I would look to for life guidance. But when she says, “It’s a real mind [expletive] you know because I love Louis but Louis did these things. Both of those statements are true, so I just keep asking myself, ‘Can you love someone who did bad things? Can you still love them?'” I think that’s what is at the root of all of it. Can we hold people accountable without vilifying them? Can we love someone and disapprove of their behavior simultaneously?

Silverman goes on to say, “I hope it’s okay if I am at once very angry for the women he wronged and the culture that enabled it, and also sad because he’s my friend, but I believe with all my heart that this moment in time is essential. It’s vital that people are held accountable for their actions no matter who they are. We need to be better. We will be better. I can’t [expletive] wait to be better.” That’s what’s at the core of my thoughts today. How can we be better?

TNREADY FUN AND GAMES

TNReady seems to be a never ending source of amusement, and I mean that sarcastically. This week, ChalkbeatTN published an article about the $25.3 million dollars we potentially owe the last testing vendor, Measurement Inc. If you’ll remember, their administration of TNReady state testing was such a fiasco, it gave fiascoes a bad name. The testing was stopped and started numerous times, and then the state suddenly switched to paper exams. The end result was no reliable results and the state of Tennessee canceling their contract.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. The TNDOE decided that since they deemed Measurement Inc.’s performance unacceptable, they shouldn’t have to pay them. Measurement Inc. says, “Whoa, not so fast. You had a hand in this being a dumpster fire so you shouldn’t get to walk out on the tab.” Andy Spears over at the TN Ed Report makes a pretty good argument on why the state shouldn’t pay Measurement Inc. It’s a compelling argument – they didn’t deliver a test, their past record indicates that they weren’t qualified, and they never accepted blame. But I would make the same argument against the state of Tennessee.

An IT guy told me a couple of years ago that we take technology for granted and are always upset – and shocked – when things go wrong. The reality is that there are so many pieces involved in the process and so many ways technology can fail that we should flip our perspective and celebrate when things actually work.

So let’s look at the role of the TNDOE in the testing fiasco. The first issue is that they made the stakes associated with the test so high, they created an all-or-nothing environment. They never tried to make the transition a scalable process. They never allowed Measurement Inc. to work through their failings, i.e., adding servers as demand mandated them. Instead they imposed their own crisis management and subverted the process. I’ve always been taught there are three major components to every undertaking – planning, execution, and review. Please point to the area that the TNDOE exercised a high level of competence in relation to standardized testing.

What if they would have identified a handful of districts that standardized testing had the least potential impact on and allowed them to transition first while fully allowing the vendor to work through issues as they occurred in real-time? Then the next year they used the same formula but doubled the amount of schools. And so on, until the entire state was transitioned to the new platform? And then AFTER the transition was completed, they attached accountability. This approach would have potentially required granting certain districts exemptions during the transition period, but when complete would have produced greater confidence in the process. Would those waivers have led to teaching and learning coming to an abrupt halt? Not likely. I know many don’t believe that any accountability components should be attached to TNReady, and I’m not saying I disagree, but at least transitioning in this manner would have made the accountability features more justifiable. As it is, we now have a process that nobody, save for the TNDOE, has a lot of confidence in.

If I go out and buy my 5-year-old a 10-speed bike before he’s ever ridden a bike, and he wrecks it several times while trying to learn to ride, do I get to go back to the store with the damaged bike and demand a refund? Couldn’t a case be made that I should have started with a more basic bike, with training wheels, and then worked my way up? That’s the problem with creating goals like “fastest improving” and “greatest growth.” Those are terms that benefit adults and do not always have children’s best interest at heart. We race to finish the penthouse while neglecting the foundation, and without that foundation, that penthouse ain’t worth a damn. In other words, pay the man and try to learn from your mistakes.

MAP TESTING

This week, MNPS parents received copies of their children’s results from this fall’s administration of MAP testing. MAP testing is something that MNPS leadership introduced last winter. It’s given three times a year, and unlike TNReady, it is a nationally normed test. What that means is that kids get a score and that score is compared against kids from across the country. That means parents are looking at a score based not on an arbitrary standard, but rather on how kids of the same age performed on the same test.

MAP is also an intuitive test. So when a student answers a question they are given a harder or easier question based on the previous answer. Testing is done via computer and takes upwards of an hour depending on the number of right answers the student gets. Like any standardized test, it’s meant to be a snapshot of where a child is at that day. It’s not intended to be used as an accurate reading of a child’s level of learning. Nor is it meant to be used as an evaluation of schools or teachers.

Now with that said, while it can’t be officially used in the evaluation process of a teacher or school, I think there is a real danger that it could be misused in that manner. I don’t believe for one second that the district has invested millions of dollars in an undertaking of this magnitude for it not to have an indirect impact on teachers and schools. One of the benefits of MAP testing is that it allows a teacher to get a feel for where they are being ineffective or effective in their instruction and to adjust it accordingly. While that’s certainly a benefit, it also opens a door for a teacher whose students don’t show growth to be criticized for not fully using the tool.

I can easily envision a situation where Dr. Joseph is speaking to the Chamber of Commerce in several months and wants to use MAP results as evidence of effectiveness of his policies. But alas, several schools show low growth rates. “Sito! Get in here!”

Sito then summons the Community Superintendents and explains the situation. The Supes, who have demonstrated that they are not afraid to micromanage, bring the edict to the EDSSI’s, who in turn, lean on the principals. What do you anticipate the next step will be? I would also argue that if you didn’t intend for MAP testing to be used as an evaluation tool, why are you sending the results to the parents? I promise you that if I’m a parent already on the fence about a teacher, and I get a MAP test showing a lack of growth by my child… I’m evaluating. Is that right? No. Will it happen? Yes.

Which leads to my second complaint, the manner in which the reports are delivered. Most importantly, reports were not even delivered in a consistent format to every school. Some schools got the actual MAP report, while other schools received a school-tailored report. Remember that equity thing?

Secondly, schools sending home the actual reports sent them with little explanation and a key. At my kids’ school, some of our immigrant families struggle with the concept of compulsory attendance. How are they expected to fully understand this report? The instruction is that they go talk to their child’s teacher. That’s not quite as easy as one would think when a parent is working two jobs, at odd hours, and they have limited access to transportation. Why were FAQ’s not created that anticipated questions parents might have? For example, if your kid’s score is here and their report card grade is this, how do they correlate? I could list examples all day long, but no FAQ’s were provided and I think that’s inexcusable.

Once again, we have a policy that seems centered in justifying what adults value over benefiting kids. Adults are able to stand up and point at the tremendous amount of growth that they’ve supposedly facilitated, while families and their children are left to decipher what it all means as best they can. It should be noted as well that MAP is not without controversy. Several years ago Seattle teachers staged a walkout to protest opposition to the test.

ANOTHER FANTASTIC IDEA

This year, MNPS created a Principal Residency Pipeline program. The goal of the program was to begin the development of a principal pipeline by using assistant principals that are already employed by MNPS and have shown an aptitude for leadership. It’s intended to be a rigorous three-year program that will increase the number of highly qualified principals employed my MNPS. A noble idea, right?

Well, this week the head of that program sent out notice that after winter break, AP’s in the residency program would assume the role of “acting principal” while the current principal would cover their duties. Mind you, this comes prior to the administration of TNReady and those scores would still impact a principal’s evaluation.

I have to ask, what kind of leeway are these AP’s being given during their stint as “acting principal”? For example, one of the AP’s is at Antioch HS. If that culture gets altered during the AP’s reign, does it revert back after the 6 weeks? What if the AP is aware of policies that run directly counter to their training and belief system; can they change policy? What about when it comes to students and their relationship with a principal; who becomes the final arbitrator? A lot of questions here.

To me, this idea is crazy. It’s like Nick Saban saying, “I want to make sure you get a quality football coach after me, so I’m letting my offensive coordinator coach games 8 and 9 of the year. Hopefully they’ll do well, and we still win the national championship.” I don’t see principals embracing this practice anymore than Nick Saban would. And once again, I would ask how it’s benefitting kids.

POLL QUESTIONS

Looks like I’ve written too much already, so let’s get to this week’s poll questions.

My first question is about the MAP test results. Great? Terrible? Confusing? You tell me.

My second question is surrounding the idea of an AP serving as an “acting principal” for 6 weeks while the principal assumes their duties.

Recently, the Nashville Organization for Action and Hope (NOAH) held a series of quadrant meetings focused on restorative practices. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, I wasn’t able to attend. But I think NOAH does some extremely important work, and I’d like to know if you attended. If so, what was your takeaway?

That does it for the week. 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.

 

 

SURVEYING THE EDUCATIONAL LANDSCAPE

Sorry about the delay in getting this one out. I just felt that focusing on the well written comment from over the weekend by an educator was more important than getting a typical beginning of the week post out. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so. It nails it in the way only someone who’s in the trenches can.

The countdown to Thanksgiving is picking up steam. It’s hard to believe we are under 10 days and counting until feasting commences. Meanwhile, more testing has already commenced as winter MAP testing is now under way. You know what they say, you can’t lose weight if you don’t use a scale. Yea… I know… but let’s take a look at what else is going on in education news across the state.

GUESS WHO IS COMING TO DINNER

The Foundation for Excellence in Education announced this week that Betsy DeVos will address its summit on Nov. 30 after Jeb Bush opens the gathering of education leaders from across the nation. In response to the announcement, education activists from across the state began forming plans to protest her arrival. DeVos, rightly so, has been a lightening rod for controversy since her appointment as the nation’s education chief back in the spring of this year. Apparently it was Jeb Bush who is responsible for unleashing DeVos upon the nation’s educational system, so her appearance at his shindig is a bit of payback.

According to Chalkbeat TN, “DeVos will face a friendly audience of mostly like-minded reformers at the Nashville summit, but the reception she will receive outside is less certain; the city last year voted mostly for Democrat Hillary Clinton, even as the state gave Trump a solid win.” Ignoring the fact that neither party is particularly good at education policy, this statement raises a number of questions for me, the first being who in Nashville would be considered a “like-minded reformer”?

The vast majority of school choice supporters I interact with detest DeVos as much as I do, making me a little baffled by where Chalkbeat assumes this support would come from. I suspect there is a little false equivocation going on here. Just because you are a charter school supporter does not instantly translate into you being a supporter of Betsy DeVos. That’s an important distinction to make.

The second question that arises from the aforementioned paragraph is in response to the line, “but the reception she will receive outside is less certain.” Really? Chalkbeat is really uncertain about what kind of response she’ll receive outside the venue? Let me clarify then. It will be large and loud and it won’t be in support of her. And herein lies the conundrum for me.

There is nothing I like about Betsy DeVos. I worked hard against her confirmation, and I continue to work to oppose her policy propositions, but I do question the value of large organized protests against her. What’s the end game here? What are we hoping to accomplish? And why are we protesting against a national leader who has marginal impact on our educational system when we have local leaders that I would argue are doing more harm to our school system than DeVos, while we allow them to continue unencumbered?

Before you get really mad at me, hear me out. If DeVos quits or gets fired tomorrow, what will be the outcome? Will Trump suddenly appoint someone more qualified and palpable? Will he suddenly make Linda Darling Hammond or Diane Ravitch the Secretary of Education? What about all those Trump supporters? Are they going to see the DeVos protests and consider changing their positions? Or are they going to say, “Look at her piss off them liberals. Hell yea!” and double down on their support of Trump and, by default, DeVos?

I would argue that time standing outside a meaningless education summit protesting an incompetent and malicious Secretary of Education could be better spent campaigning for Craig Fitzhugh for Governor and James Mackler for Senator. These are people who will ensure that people like DeVos never cross the threshold to power. Getting them elected will accomplish more than getting DeVos removed.

We also need to make sure that we are holding our local leaders to the same level of accountability that we demand from Betsy DeVos. I ask you, what is doing more to drive charter school growth, Betsy Devos’s support of charter schools or a literacy program so bad that it is contributing to teachers being driven from the district? I’d argue that very few families are exploring charter school options because they read that the Secretary of Education said they are cool. It’s a lot more likely that families are opening themselves to the charter school option in response to the deficiency in the quality of the programs at their local school, and if you don’t think that MNPS’s literacy policy, and the IFL units associated with it, are deficient, then you need to take a closer look.

As yesterday’s blog post showed, there are real issues in MNPS right now. God bless MNEA, they have been working hard to address teacher issues through the use of collaborative conferencing. And from what I’ve heard, they’ve gotten some big concessions, but their work barely scratches the surface. I brought this lack of questioning at the local level up several weeks ago and was told parents just don’t know what a good Scope and Sequence is and what not. I counter that most parents didn’t recognize the failings of Teach for America initially either, but they educated themselves. I challenge local activists to bring the same kind of focus forth and talk to teachers. Educate yourself on local issues in the same manner that led to becoming an expert on national issues. Nashville’s children need your voice and passion.

After the Trump election, I thought the protests were extremely powerful in uniting people and letting people know they were not alone. But at this point, the battle lines are drawn and everybody knows where they stand. There is only a limited amount of time in a day and energies really need to be focused on where there can be the biggest payoff. We have to be diligent in that we don’t allow ourselves to focus so intensely on winning battles that we lose the war.

WHEELS OF THE BUS

Thump… Thump… Thump… do you know what that sound is? That’s the sound of former Maplewood Principal Ron Woodard being the latest principal to get thrown under the bus. In today’s Tennessean, MNPS School Board Chair Anna Shepherd is quoted in response to recent sexual misconduct allegations: “I can’t speak for Mr. Woodard, what he knew and didn’t know, but being a longtime educator, I would be surprised if he didn’t know what the right courses of action,” Shepherd said. “I have no idea why anybody has a difficult time doing what they know is legally or morally right.”

I’m assuming that in talking about legal obligations, Shepherd is referencing Tennessee Statute 37-1-605:

(1)  Each report of known or suspected child sexual abuse pursuant to this section shall be made immediately to the local office of the department responsible for the investigation of reports made pursuant to this section or to the judge having juvenile jurisdiction or to the office of the sheriff or the chief law enforcement official of the municipality where the child resides.

Maplewood HS has two Metro police officers on duty and they were immediately made aware of the accusations. But that withstanding, I don’t understand Ms. Shepherd’s desire to speak out on these allegations while legal action is still pending, and she admittedly is not fully informed on the situation. In the article, Ms. Shepherd notes the plethora of lawsuits and admits there may be issues beyond sufficient training, and she pledges to ask Joseph about what can be done during the board’s Tuesday night meeting.

There are 5 lawsuits that have been filed in the last two months, and she’s just now getting around to asking Joseph about them? This is very similar to the case of high levels of lead in MNPS schools’ drinking water. It took multiple reports from Phil Williams at Channel 5 News before Shepherd broached the subject on the board floor. And then, it was only briefly, with no follow-up. I would strongly argue that a school board chair should be well briefed on these incidents as they are developing and not wait until they reach crisis level before asking questions. I also think that when making statements like, “If a seasoned educator didn’t do something he was supposed to do, can you imagine what a new or newer educator might or might not do?” they should be well versed in the case. Our principals are already in a precarious enough position in these types of incidents, and by all indications have followed the rules of the law, there is no justifiable reason to turn them into punching bags just because you haven’t done your due diligence.

Furthermore, I would suggest that when asked to comment about ongoing litigation, school board members heed the words of Ben Franklin: “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” 

QUICK HITS

A teacher at New Vision Academy, has been placed on indefinite suspension after someone removed a student’s hijab in a classroom. A meeting with the teacher is pending.

Are you an MNPS student and 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 p.m. Monday through Thursday until May 2018. You can access the Homework Hotline by calling 615-298-6636 or visiting www.homeworkhotline.info.

Girls from John Overton High School and Hillsboro High School enrolled in Rock The Street, Wall Street (RTSWS), visited First Tennessee Bank and HCA to close out their fall semester of learning how to budget, save and invest. The field trips included tours, panel discussions, and networking. Since August, First Tennessee Bank and HCA female financial professionals have been instructing the high school students on the value of managing their money, as well as exposing them to opportunities in finance across industries. In the spring, these RTSWS students also have the opportunity to be paired with a mentor to help with college preparedness, resume building, interviewing, and more.

One of the many cool things associated with ProjectLit is that they invite Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) to participate in a book club hosted by Maplewood HS students. Despite many of the SIFE kids having challenges with the English language, the rules of engagement remain the same. Last year, I got to attend one of the book clubs and found it to an inspiring experience. Last week was the first one held this year, and unfortunately I had to miss it, but it’s on my calendar for next time.

Three MNPS HS football teams advanced in the state playoffs this past weekend. Pearl Cohn HS in 3A, Maplewood HS in 4A, and Cane Ridge in 6A will face the next round of opponents this week in their quest to become state champions. Good luck to them. We know they have this!

Glenview ES students honored our vets with their voices in celebration of Veteran’s Day.

POLL RESULTS

As we do at the beginning of every week, it’s time to take a look at this weekend’s poll results.

Question one asked, what quadrant are you in? Not surprisingly, 31% of you fall into the Southwest quadrant. That’s the one my children are in and those are the schools I know the best. Second, with 20%, was, very surprisingly, the Northeast quadrant, and I thank you for your support. The Southeast came in at 18%, with the Northwest at 9%. I promise you folks in the Northwest quadrant that I’ll try to give your schools a little more love, and SE, you always have my support.

Here are the write-in responses:

International 1
Teach in NW, live in NE 1
Nashville 1
Magnet

Question number 2 asked about whether or not you plan to attend a ProjectLit book club meeting. I must admit, this is one where the answers made me sad. The number one answer was an even split between “on my calendar” and “just not interested.” I don’t know what is muting the interest, but I beg of you to reconsider. If you attend one, you won’t be sorry. The number two answer at 16% mentioned that none of the meetings were at a nearby school, which I know for a fact is being worked on. Several of you also referenced inconvenient times, which is also an issue being addressed.

Here are the write-ins:

My school has a great program already in place. Kids read 1000+ pages a quarter 1
I went this summer, ya’ll GO! 1
Creating a book club intiative on our own 1
Just not going 1
Want to, but can’t.

The last question asked you to speculate on whether or not MNPS would see an exodus of teachers over winter break. The number one answer, with 25%, was “maybe slightly more than last year.” The number two answer, at 22%, was that most would wait until the end of the year. The number three answer, at 19%, was “in droves.” Two people answered “no, teachers are more committed than ever.” Two. The conversations I’ve had over the last couple weeks have taken a decided change in tone. Where teachers were once angry, they are now more resigned. To quote a teacher who has been with the district for just about 20 years, “TC, I think I’m done after this year. I never thought I’d say this but I don’t want to do this anymore. The last 3 years have been so bad, especially this one, that I’ve just decided I want to do something else.” To be honest with you, the resignation concerns me more than the anger.

Here are the write-ins:

Definitely more than last year. 1
yes I suppose as things seem to become more and more desperate

 

That does it for the week. 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. Thanks to the Cautious Pessimist for kicking things off with a $5 pledge. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

 

FROM THE COMMENTS TO THE FRONT PAGE

4

One of the factors that motivates me to continue this blog is that it has become a voice for Nashville’s professional educators. They say that those who can’t, teach. I say those who can’t, start blogs and hope that teachers and other educators will sometimes share their thoughts. At times, those thoughts get shared through guest blog posts and sometimes via comments on a particular blog post.

This weekend, a comment came in that I felt was too authentic, and too important, to be relegated to just comment status. I don’t know who wrote the comment, and frankly it doesn’t matter, but it obviously comes from someone who knows from whence they speak. Yesterday I read the comment to several local educators, and they all nodded, shrugged, and said, “Pretty spot on.”

At some point, we are going to have to wake up and speak up. Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about the pending visit to Nashville of Betsy DeVos, but if somebody doesn’t make drastic changes to MNPS policy soon, it won’t matter if the public education system in Nashville is privatized or not. We currently have a literacy policy that is neither rooted in best practice nor developmentally appropriate. We have policies that make teacher recruitment and retention an impossible job. We are on a course that threatens to set Nashville’s education system back 10 years. But those are my words, and today I want to focus on a Nashville educator’s words.

So without further adieu, here is the comment:

The situation at Antioch HS seems to be emblematic of the problems throughout MNPS, and it is proof that the continued free pass that Dr. Joseph and Co. are receiving is ruining our school district. They continue to hire and/or put into the “pipeline” people who have absolutely zero business leading a school, and the idea that the community has any real say in the selection of Principals is laughable. School level issues are just the tip of the iceberg, because at the district level, those that are in charge are making decisions that are completely detrimental to student and teacher success.

Let me say this about a large majority of the teachers that I know in Nashville: They genuinely care about the students and families in MNPS, and they work each day to serve their interests. They don’t do things because they are easy or because they garner attention. They don’t want to be involved in political back and forth. They just want to be able to do their jobs.

For a teacher who works at a school with a pretty good representation of our district, from both a demographic and a socioeconomic standpoint, this is the environment that is being created by the current administration:

Teachers are diligently meeting to plan, but they are struggling with the new Scope and Sequence. The texts that they’re told to use as anchor texts are creating several big issues: they don’t all have them, and they aren’t always appropriate or engaging for their students. They also don’t always adequately cover the state standards laid out for that period of time. Teachers at other schools are being told that they aren’t a mandate, but for others they are – this is very confusing. This week, the Anchor and “Suggested” texts for the third quarter were released, and in one grade level where they are learning about seasons, two of the suggested texts are about autumn (and yes, the third quarter begins in January). The IFL (Institute for Learning) units are ridiculously scripted, and they are most definitely not what’s best for students. For 3rd and 4th grade, there are no pictures in the text. For second grade, there is one picture in the text on the first page. I’ve been told that one of the texts for second grade was originally written for students in fourth grade. The activities that are designed around them are not conducive to student engagement, and while focusing on writing in and of itself is a great idea, this particular “program” has little to no value. They are also using a phonics program that is based on whole group teaching, even though their students’ abilities in that area differ wildly. In short, the methods and programming being used by the district go against everything that has ever been taught about teaching reading to children, both from a research and a practical perspective.

Their idea of “rigor” is not only ineffective, but it’s an insult to teachers throughout the district, because it presumes that they all have low expectations for their students. Why would you give a student at a second grade level something at a fourth grade level just to prove a point? Using difficult texts for certain things is great (Read Alouds, etc..), but when the text that is being used for the core instruction (Shared Reading) is not meeting students where they are in any way whatsoever, what point is it proving? To me, it only illustrates what happens when you put people in charge who have made a career out of being consultants. Over the next couple of years, I think that those both inside and outside the school district will begin to see one thing: their current framework is succeeding only in driving effective teachers and leaders away. By the time people in power decide to really speak up, it’s going to be too late.

And when it comes to literacy, everyone is tired of hearing people talk out of both sides of their mouth. You can’t downplay test results when talking about how they didn’t go up during your first year as a district team, but then use those same results as a way to make it sound as though our education system is the only element of society responsible for the welfare of our children. I am tired of hearing about how only 1 in 3 children read on grade level, when that information is based on a single test. It is at least worth asking, once and for all, what these tests are telling us about students’ true abilities? If I have a student in my class who is – by every other measure – either at grade level or approaching grade level, am I still doing him/her a disservice by not ensuring that he/she performs as proficient on the test? I know that’s as much a state issue as anything else, but again, to hear our leadership selectively reference it when it supports their political platitudes is ridiculous.

Teachers are taking the panorama survey, but based on most experiences, the survey results from the spring have never been discussed. And based on my conversations with other teachers, they couldn’t have been very good. The only changes made at my school over the summer have actually made things worse, and the suggestions made by the staff as a whole were completely ignored. Teachers are leaving in droves, either to other counties or to schools that apparently have less drama. Because of the unicorn-like nature of those schools, each opening they have draws hundreds of applicants, which obviously doesn’t bode well for those who would like to remain in MNPS.

Discipline continues to be an issue, and while most teachers I know agree that suspension is not always going to be an appropriate response, they all agree that a response of some sort is necessary. Students act in ways that endanger themselves and other students, and even after every intervention, motivator, and clear show of compassion is implemented, those students are still not given a real consequence for their actions. This can make for awkward conversation with concerned parents, but there don’t seem to be any district pointers for that.

All this comes as people like Mo Carrasco drive to schools in BMWs with the Maryland plates still attached, and our school board members only tacitly admit that there may be some issues with leadership. Is there a tipping point? What happens when they can’t hide behind the idea that there is only a year’s worth of data around their practices? Will they be packing up to go on to the next district by then? As I’ve said before when I’ve commented here, the old guard was not the best, but at least they still gave school leaders and teachers some discretion when it came to instruction. Now teachers are not only being judged based on their results, they’re not even given a real option as to how they will go about getting those results.

To whomever wrote this, thank you. I appreciate all of your hard work and insight. See y’all tomorrow.

THE SOUND OF THE FOREST

5

Today I find myself reflecting on an old Asian parable:

Back in the third century A.D., King Ts’ao sent his son, Prince T’ai, to the temple to study under the great master Pan Ku. Because Prince T’ai was to succeed his father as king, Pan Ku was to teach the boy the basics of being a good ruler. When the prince arrived at the temple, the master sent him alone to the Ming-Li Forest.

After one year, the prince was to return to the temple to describe the sound of the forest. When Prince T’ai returned, Pan Ku asked the boy to describe all that he could hear. “Master,” replied the prince, “I could hear the cuckoos sing, the leaves rustle, the hummingbirds hum, the crickets chirp, the grass blow, the bees buzz, and the wind whisper and holler.” When the prince had finished, the master told him to go back to the forest to listen to what more he could hear. The prince was puzzled by the master’s request. Had he not discerned every sound already?

For days and nights on end, the young prince sat alone in the forest listening. But he heard no sounds other than those he had already heard. Then one morning, as the prince sat silently beneath the trees, he started to discern faint sounds unlike those he had ever heard before. The more acutely he listened, the clearer the sounds became. The feeling of enlightenment enveloped the boy. “These must be the sounds the master wished me to discern,” he reflected.

When Prince T’ai returned to the temple, the master asked him what more he had heard. “Master,” responded the prince reverently, “when I listened most closely, I could hear the unheard—the sound of flowers opening, the sound of the sun warming the earth, and the sound of the grass drinking the morning dew.” The master nodded approvingly. “To hear the unheard,” remarked Pan Ku, “is a necessary discipline to be a good ruler. For only when a ruler has learned to listen closely to the people’s hearts, hearing their feelings uncommunicated, pains unexpressed, and complaints not spoken of, can he hope to inspire confidence in his people, understand when something is wrong, and meet the true needs of his citizens.

The demise of states comes when leaders listen only to superficial words and do not penetrate deeply into the souls of the people to hear their true opinions, feelings, and desires.”

That parable should be mandatory reading for MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph, his leadership team, and the MNPS school board. Upon his arrival from Prince George’s County in Maryland, Joseph, much like the Prince in the story, went into the forest via districtwide listening tours to listen, and like the young prince, he came out thinking that he had heard everything there was to hear. Unfortunately for us, there was nobody to send him back into forest to listen some more. This lack of deep listening is most recently evidenced by a meeting between district administrators and the staff at Antioch High School held this past week.

In case you are Dr. Joseph, Dr. Narcisse, Dr. Felder, Executive Officer of Organizational Development Mo Carrasco, or one of a handful of other people who haven’t been listening, you are probably aware that for the last 18 months, AHS has been a dumpster fire. I’m sorry if that offends anyone, and I don’t say that flippantly or as a slap in the face against the teachers at AHS, but merely as a stating of the facts.

Last year, AHS lost 67 teachers. By my unofficial count, they’ve probably lost another 10-15 this year. They are still at least 6 math teachers short, and kids are taking classes via computer. There was a student walkout last spring that has been framed as a protest over the release of a popular football coach, but if anybody took the time to read the student’s demands, they would see that it was about so much more. Most of it in relation to academics.

Recently there was a fight on the field between Antioch HS and Overton HS that was so bad, the football game was canceled with 9 minutes remaining. Where were the administrators on duty during that fight? Why were they indoors? Because they were concerned that their hair might get wet?

The current principal of Antioch HS has been absent, again by my unofficial count, 10 – 15 days this year. It’s only November. Two years ago, this school was a Level 5 school. Recently released TNReady results now show them as a Level 1 school. And then there’s Antioch’s AVID demonstration school status. I was corrected when I wrote several weeks ago that AHS had lost their demonstration school status. They have not yet lost that status, but it is hanging by a thread.

AVID is going to give a school every opportunity to correct issues before removing that status. It’s not good for either party when a school loses its demonstration school status. However, a big part of AVID’s success hinges on teacher training, and when you have the turnover that AHS has been generating, that becomes a hard challenge to meet. Losing its demonstration school status would be a huge blow to AHS and would undo years of sweat and tears that went into building a very prestigious program that is a huge benefit to students.

Any one of these problems taken individually would be cause for concern, but taken collectively, they should set off alarm bells. I suppose those bells were the preamble to the aforementioned meeting that took place this week. A meeting, that to the best I can tell, was created to try and quiet the alarms.  Before we go any further, I want to emphatically state that I do believe that Southeast Quadrant Community Superintendent Adrienne Battle had the best intentions when scheduling this meeting. I truly believe that she and Executive Officer of Student Services Tony Majors were looking to use the meeting to address and correct as many issues as possible. Unfortunately, you can only control what you can control, and this situation requires involvement from those higher up on the food chain.

Here’s another free leadership tip: When you don’t have strong relationships with people and you haven’t been really listening, don’t stand in front of them and tell them to “get their shit together and fix the problem.” Now I don’t think that’s the message Executive Officer of Organizational Development Mo Carrasco, who comes with his own baggage, intended to deliver, but communication is as much about what is heard as it is about what is said. And that is what many of those teachers heard. Intentional or unintentional, blame for the current situation was placed squarely on their shoulders, and they were charged with fixing it.

Several teachers walked out after hearing those remarks. Others remained to talk with district administrators and tried to be as forthcoming as possible about the situation, and I have no doubt they appreciated the efforts of Battle and Majors. In the end, nothing was resolved, and the situation was perhaps made even worse. Reports are that Principal Kiva Wiley was not pleased with the outcome herself. There is a limit to the amount of talk sans action that can be tolerated, and I would argue that the end of the rope has been reached in this case. My favorite quote from the meeting is the one where a teacher accused central office of just trying to spray perfume around the house. It’s time to stop spraying perfume and actually clean up the mess.

Things will get really interesting next month when Dr. Battle goes out on maternity leave and Dr. Narcisse takes over her schools. Will he become just one more person who is aware of the crisis and fails to act, or will he actually take action? Right now things just fall into the category of gross negligence but they are fast heading to an immoral state. When as many people know and recognize the problems of a school like Antioch HS and fail to address the problems head on it’s inexcusable. These are years that these kid’s will never get back and those who have failed to take action, or made excuses, should be ashamed of themselves. The students of Antioch High School deserve better and I can’t help but think that if this situation was happening in a Nashville charter school certain MNPS school board members would be more fully engaged.

I believe that effective management is a lot like maintaining a checking account. Everybody comes to the position with a certain balance in their account and your actions increase or decrease that balance. Sometimes circumstances require a leader to make a large withdrawal from their account. When writing one of these checks, it’s important that a) you have enough in your account to cover it, and b) that eventually the check will lead to a growth in your account.

This week, Dr. Battle and Dr. Majors wrote some pretty big checks, metaphorically speaking. They were probably the only ones in this case who had the ability to do so, as everybody else’s accounts are running a little low. How much these checks deplete their accounts remains unclear. Hopefully, at the very least, they bought the attention of those who can solve the problem, and we should commend them for being willing to write those checks.

What is clear, is that someone needs to go back into the forest and spend a little more time listening. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review offers some insights into leadership that MNPS leaders would be wise to listen to. Since their arrival, the primary focus has been focused on strategy, while execution has not received the required focus. Writer Rosabeth Moss Cantor advises leaders to “encourage innovation, begin with execution, and name the strategy later.” MNPS has the formula backwards, and because of that, we are all writing checks.

QUICK HITS

Last week DGW had a poll on whether or not fights were up or down in MNPS schools. In light of that poll, I had conversations with several district leaders about the situation and one of the takeaways is that fighting is more of a societal problem than a school issue. We have a current generation that believes that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflict. We also have a generation that, due to cuts in after school programs, has less opportunities to develop alternative forms of conflict resolution.

Kids need more activities outside of schools. As parents, we recognize that. We sign our kids up for dance, soccer, baseball, music lessons, etc. However, not all families have the resources to do provide these activities to their children. We are failing those children. The argument is made that maintaining after school programs and sports leagues are expensive propositions, yet somehow we as a city find a way to fund a new soccer stadium. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we focused as much on developing after school programs for kids as we did for professional sports teams?

The Overton Cluster Parent Advisory Committee has unofficially reconvened this year and has been meeting every two months. This week was our second meeting. A big thank you to the principals of Overton, Croft, Oliver, Crieve Hall, Tusculum, Granbery, Shayne, and Norman Binkley for making sure that they had representation at these meetings. We look forward to seeing reps from McMurray and Haywood at January’s meeting. Also, a big shout out to Croft and Overton parent Abby Trotter for facilitating this getting off the ground.

One of the interesting things that I learned at this month’s meeting was that students taking advanced academics did not count towards a school’s TNReady score. Which led me to ask, if it’s Dr. Joseph’s intention to increase student participation in advanced academics, how will that translate to a school’s state grade, which is partially based on TNReady scores?

McKissack Middle Prep held a ProjectLit meeting this week that had an amazing turnout. Huge props to them! If you are wanting to attend a ProjectLit Book Club meeting, but aren’t sure when they take place, check out the calendar and make plans.

Students at Hunters Lane High School recently used virtual reality to communicate with students in Africa. The African students had never seen that kind of technology before, so it was an exciting experience for everyone. The experience was filmed for a show “Good All Over” that will air on PBS.

Rumor has it that former MNPS Number 2 man Jay Steele was in town last week.

Please join NOAH next week for a continuation of their conversation centered around restorative practices. I can’t decide if I’m going to make Monday’s or Thursday’s meeting. This is an extremely important conversation and I urge everybody to try to make time for it. The NW and NE meetings were well attended.

MNEA wil be holding a Formal Observation Webinar for New Educators on Monday, Nov. 13 at 6 pm. If you’re a new teacher and would like to learn more about our teacher evaluation system, you should try to attend.

Sponsored by Alignment Nashville, more than 6,000 MNPS high school freshmen will participate in the annual My Future, My Way Career Exploration Fair at the Music City Center. Students from all public and charter schools will attend the event, where they’ll learn first hand about career opportunities from more than 140 area businesses and nonprofits – many of which will setup hands-on demonstrations of the work they do. The Fair will take place on Tuesday November 14th from 8 AM to 1pm at the Music City Center.

There is a MNPS school board meeting coming Tuesday. Looking at the agenda and it appears like there will be a lot of data made available and deciphered.

(Nashville Rise Parents and Nashville Teacher Residency)

This past week, Nashville Rise and Nashville Teacher Residency held a parents night out to discuss how to build a win-win relationship with incoming teachers. Sorry I missed it, but reports were that it was extremely informative.

The Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) is pleased to announce the five new Metro Nashville Public Schools that have been selected to participate in the 2017-18 Disney Musicals in Schools program. The program is an initiative developed by Disney Theatrical Productions to create sustainable theater programs in economically disadvantaged elementary schools.

The newly selected schools are Alex Green Elementary School, Glencliff Elementary School, Shayne Elementary School, Thomas A. Edison Elementary School, and Tusculum Elementary Elementary School. This is the seventh year of the partnership between Disney Theatrical Productions, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and TPAC’s education program. Kudos to my peeps!

At Westmeade ES, teachers across the building are inspiring students to have a growth mindset. Positive outlooks rule.

Tonight, Cane Ridge HS squares off against Brentwood HS in a State 6A football playoff game. Game time is 7 pm at Cane Ridge. Let’s go, Cane Ridge!

I just want to say that the record by former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher is a fantastic slab of vinyl. That’s all.

Also the newest Margo Price ain’t bad either. Consider this a public service announcement.

Don’t forget about the 3rd Annual Colts Care Gift Drive. If you want to sponsor a neighborhood student(s)/family(ies) in need by purchasing a few winter holiday gifts for them, then please fill out the form.

Before I forget, remember the MNPS transition team and former Baltimore Superintendent Dallas Dance? You’ll want to read about the ongoing investigation into Dr. Joseph’s close friend.

POLL QUESTIONS

Is it Friday already? Hmmm… better come up with some questions, huh?

I’m always trying to find out more about DGW readers, so let’s start off by asking which MNPS quadrant you all live in or if you are outside of Nashville. I know I have to do a better job of getting more widespread coverage, so this will give me areas to target.

Second question, are you planning to attend an upcoming ProjectLit Book Club meeting, and if not, why? I make no secret of it, I think ProjectLit is doing a better job of promoting literacy in this district than any other entity, and if I can help drive more people to their book clubs, I’m going to do it.

Last question is about teacher retention. Winter break is just around the corner and I’m curious as to whether or not you think MNPS will lose a significant amount of teachers this year or not. Let me know what your spidey sense tells you.

That does it for the week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent 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. Thanks to the Cautious Pessimist for kicking things off with a $5 pledge. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

TRICKLE DOWN MORALITY

3

Forgive me if some of today’s post comes out a little rough around the edges, but I woke up with a serious case of the grumps this morning. Spent a lot of time this weekend talking about schools with educators, and I can’t escape that feeling I get when I am on a trip and I make a wrong turn. There’s a period of time where I’m pretty sure I’m going the wrong way, but I haven’t made the decision yet to alter direction. That feeling of knowing that I need to change direction, but not sure where I should turn around or if there is an alternate route to get back on course is what I’m feeling today.

Educating children should be a undertaking filled with wonderment and a sense of joy. Sure, there should also be some sweat and occasional disappointment, but you shouldn’t have to put on a suit of armor just to get through the day. Yet more and more, that’s becoming the prerequisite attire for today’s educators, and, indirectly, the children they are responsible for.

Wonderment and joy is sacrificed in pursuit of the almighty test results, despite ample evidence outlining the flaws in the over reliance on data. Teachers are no longer allowed to create their own lesson plans because those plans aren’t proven to impact test scores. We celebrate teachers who sacrifice personal and family time and come in to work for gratis because without that extra work, test scores may only rise a little bit and we need HUGE gains. The fact that these demands take a verifiable toll on our educators’ lives is just passed off as an inconvenience as we further ingrain in stone the meme that intense personal sacrifice is just one of the requirements of the job.

All you need to do is look at MNPS’s vision statement – which is actually a mission statement, but that is argument for another day. It reads, Metro Nashville Public Schools will be the fastest-improving urban school system in America, ensuring that every student becomes a life-long learner prepared for success in college, career and life. The two parts of the statement are at cross purposes. Furthermore, if you declare that we are in a competition, then obviously we have to have a scoring method. How else will we declare the winner? Testing becomes that de facto scoring system.

A mission statement is defined as a a formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual. So in their own words, MNPS has declared that winning the race is paramount to creating good schools. The message is that MNPS educators need to focus on creating schools that produce measurable results that demonstrate we are moving faster than other districts. It’s an added bonus if we get some lifelong learners, just as long as we do it fast.

Are we creating schools where children and adults love to walk through the doors? Are we creating schools where there is a boundless wonderment and new discoveries are being made daily? Are we creating schools where students know the value of reading, not just for purpose, but for its intrinsic value? I know it sounds hokey, but shouldn’t education inspire a little hokiness? My marriage to my wife is infused with hokiness and nothing in life brings me more pleasure.

In racing to be the fastest-improving school district, I have to ask, who are we benefiting and how? We give lip service to the value of critical thinking and literacy. What promotes critical thinking more than having kids read aloud during class? It kills two birds with one stone, but reading aloud is not encouraged. Reading aloud in class takes time and we are in a hurry, so it gets sacrificed for a districtwide literacy program that comes complete with a pacing guide filled with tasks to ensure you comply. We have a race to win, though I’m not quite sure where the finish line is located.

A district administrator, in a fit of honesty, confessed to me last week that when you act out of just a sense of urgency, you miss things. That’s very much the case with MNPS. The school board, Dr. Joseph, and his leadership team raced to fix a crisis that didn’t exist, while failing to conduct an inventory of existing resources. They did so at the expense of our educators. There has never been a validation of the quality of any work done in the district by anyone prior to Joseph’s arrival by Joseph or his leadership team. In their eyes, I don’t think even the dog catchers in Nashville could adequately catch dogs.

The hubris that comes with pronouncing MNPS, upon arrival, as a district in crisis is extremely offensive in light of events of Dr. Joseph and his team’s district of origin. On Friday, an audit was released in regards to changing grades in Prince George’s County Public Schools. The audit, performed by D.C. consulting firm Alvarez and Marsal, found PGCPS “does not consistently monitor adherence to grading policies and procedures,” that “grades are regularly submitted and changed after quarterly cut-off dates,” and “a significant number of 2016 and 2017 graduates had unlawful absences in excess of 10 days.” That’s a little sobering.

What is PGCPS Superintendent Kevin Maxwell’s response? “We don’t see a problem with instruction in most cases,” Maxwell told reporters. “Again, we have kids who go to some of the finest colleges and institutions across the country. This is about checking boxes, sloppy record keeping, not teaching and learning.” Hmmmm… remember that quote about being in a hurry and missing things?

That defense isn’t carrying much weight with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. “I think that’s complete nonsense. This was a very thorough and complete investigation and so far, we’re extremely upset and outraged with the results.” I tend to agree. Especially in light of other findings by the auditors. While reviewing student records, investigators found “handwritten marking on transcripts where schools are performing math to determine the grade change required for a student to pass a class.”

Curious about what County Supervisor, current Maryland gubernatorial candidate, and recent attendee at an MNPS principal meeting, Rushern Baker III had to say about the situation? “As we suspected, the audit did not reveal any corruption or top down mandates from Dr. Maxwell’s office or other PGCPS leadership to change or fix grades. No other school district in the State of Maryland has had a comprehensive audit of its graduation records like Prince George’s County,” Baker said in a statement. Well, at least we now have a clue into where Dr. Joseph learned how to take ownership of a situation. First and foremost, you defend your vested interests, and then shift the focus on to someone else.

Couple these recent findings with the 2016 loss of Head Start money by Prince George’s County Public Schools, the high rate of PCGPS district employees out on administrative leave last year, and recent articles in the New York Times and Baltimore Sun about Joseph’s transition team member, and personal friend, former Baltimore Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance, and you start to really get a picture of the things missed when you are in a hurry.

Perusing social media this weekend, I came across a friend’s post: “I believe we are suffering from trickle down morality.” He was referring to the country, but his statement could have been about MNPS. We seem to keep further away from student needs and more invested in adult needs. Whether it be the reconfiguring of schools, the changing of the dates for the school choice festival, or even just the manner in which the daily business of running schools is conducted, there seems to be a transitioning of focus taking place.

The leadership team of Dr. Joseph, Dr. Felder, and Dr. Narcisse heap unreasonable demands with little concern to classroom impact or historical context on our new Community Superintendents. Those Supes turn around and do the same to their Executive Principals, who then put the hammer down on principals who are left with no recourse but to pass it on to teachers. All in the name of winning some hypothetical race created to further the reputation and polish the resumes of ambitious politicians and district leaders.

The impact on our schools has been the creation of a culture, in the words of veteran educators, more toxic than at any time in the recent history of MNPS. Teachers and Principals find themselves constantly at odds with each other in response to curriculum that seems designed to put them at cross purposes. Principals are chafing under increased demands and pressure from Executive Principals that ultimately prevents them from directing their focusing where it should be, on their schools and classrooms. Meanwhile, Executive Principals and Community Superintendents are being ground down by unrealistic demands on their time and lack of clear direction.

Do you really believe that all of this is going unnoticed by students? Do you think they don’t see their overtired and over stressed teachers? Do you think for one minute that they don’t take notice of their perpetually distracted principals? School becomes a drudgery and not what it should be, a laboratory to develop life and academic skills rooted in the joy of learning. Currently there is no joy in Mudville.

I will continually argue that modeling is the best form of instruction. What are we currently modeling for our kids? What is it that we are demonstrating as important? We are investing millions in converting schools to STEAM programming when we don’t even have stability with the district’s STEAM Director position. We are introducing curriculum sans buy-in or trust from teachers. I don’t know how to break this, but you can hire all the consultants and purchase all the rigorous programs you like, but without people who feel fully vested and inspired to implement that guidance and those programs, you are just pissing money away and burning through resources.

I want to share an anecdote from this weekend. It’s about JT Moore Middle Principal Gary Hughes, but I’m willing to bet that there are similar stories out there about virtually all of our principals. I bartended the recent Hillsboro HS PTO fundraiser, which afforded me the opportunity to overhear several different conversations.

One of those conversations was between some parents who were talking about their time at JT Moore and how integral to their children’s development Hughes had been. One of them testified that Hughes had practically raised her boys alongside her and that “Gary had taught my son how to properly shake hands. I love that man.” That’s the kind of stuff that gets lost in the shuffle when you are in a rush and focusing on the wrong things. But that’s also the kind of stuff that changes lives, and last time I checked, schools were supposed to be in the life-changing business.

It is way past time for MNPS to slow down and do some inventory. We need to take time to identify what is working and what is not working. There needs to be an evaluation of whether or not we have the right people in the right positions. We argue that we have to rush to show improvement on test scores, yet show no such compulsion toward capital improvement projects. Last year, Tusculum Elementary School, with 23 portables, had the highest rate of absenteeism in the district. This year, the first in a brand new school, that rate is significantly lower. It needs to be recognized that not all critical dialogue is noise and that, at some point, you need to listen to the chorus.

In case you didn’t recognize that aforementioned quote I snuck in a few paragraphs back, it’s from Casey at the Bat. A poem we used to read when I was in school. It probably won’t be on the test, but some of the words do feel appropriate:

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
but there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s look at the weekend’s poll responses.

The first question asked for your opinion on this year’s parent teacher conferences. Despite my perception of them being better this year, 54% of you rated them about the same as every year. 16% of you thought they were great. Here are the write-in votes:

I saw deeper respectful engagement of parents this yr. Numbers up. 1
Fail class. 1
There weren’t enough translators to go around so most of my conferences were ???? 1
Fine arts teacher. I saw 0 parents. Planning day!! 1
When does MNPS plan to actually partner with parents? 1
Managed to do home visits for all of my students- so worth it! 1
Student-led conferences empower students!

The second question asked your opinion on the reconstructed Parent Advisory Committee. 34% of you had no idea what I was talking about, while 31% of you felt the new structure better served the district instead of parents. Interestingly enough, nobody answered “My principal asked me to participate and I’m excited.” I would think that DGW readers would be among the most active in schools and at least one would receive an invite. Obviously the district needs to do a little bit more work here. On a side note, the Overton Cluster PAC meets at 6:30 tonight at Granbery ES. Here are the write-in votes:

Too many layers in new plan. No real access to adm 1
It is rigged, appointed not elected 1
A way to make parents thing that Bransford cares what they think 1
Smoke & Mirrors 1
If MNPS takes lead it won’t work. Has to be parent planned and led. 1
District chiefs will still do what they want

Last question was about the number of fights taking place in schools. Personally, I’ve heard a number of disturbing stories and am starting to have concerns. 38% of you echoed what I’m hearing and indicated that the number of incidents is up. 19% indicated that it was only a slight increase and 17% said things were about the same. I wouldn’t call those confidence-boosting responses, and I continue to maintain that, at some point, we are going to have to have an honest conversation about restorative practices. Here are the write-ins:

Up. Restorative practices not implemented correctly 1
We need a better procedure for discipline issues.

That’s it for this week. You can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Be sure and check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.

IT WAS A WEEK

3

Every Monday, I write a blog post. Once complete, I almost immediately forget about it, as my mind turns towards what I’m going to write on Friday. Mentally, I start the outline for the end of the week’s piece. Invariably what happens is that events on Wednesday and Thursday push my earlier ideas to the side as I’m forced to look at the most current situations. The outline gets totally rewritten.

I try to evaluate things as they arise. Many of the issues are extremely sensitive. Being that I am neither a trained journalist nor a licensed educator, there are some things that I probably ought to stay away from commenting on. It is not uncommon for educational issues to evoke a great deal of emotion, and it’s virtually impossible to write about them without irritating somebody. Unfortunately these are the topics that I am invariably drawn towards, and I’ve never been really good at discerning what’s best for me. At age 52, I don’t suspect that’ll change anytime soon.

This week we are going to touch on a few stories that fit those descriptions. Please keep in mind the spirit in which the commentary is given. I never pretend that I have all the answers, and my ultimate agenda is to ultimately create deeper, richer conversations.

TITLE IX CONCERNS

This fall, the district has been plagued by multiple allegations of sexual impropriety. Five lawsuits have been filed, with the latest coming just yesterday. Dave Boucher has done several articles over the last 3 months investigating how MNPS handles sexual complaints, with the latest coming this week.

I’ll be honest, based on the frequency and breadth of these lawsuits and articles, it feels like a concentrated effort with a larger agenda than just the individual incidents at the named schools. There seems to be a bit of a battle between a former prosecutor in the district attorney’s office, Chad Butler, and the current DA, Glenn Funk, on the proper protocol that should be adhered to. Their difference of opinion is a common thread in all these stories.

While I recognize that commenting on the details of these incidents is above my pay grade, I do want to make a couple observations. First off, it needs to be recognized that the reporting of these stories puts MNPS at a decided disadvantage. If a charge is in relation to an ongoing investigation, MNPS can’t comment. We need to remember that fact and realize that just because you are not reading a robust defense doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. It’s the proverbial fighting a man with both hands tied behind his back situation.

Secondly, it needs to be recognized that cases of this nature are extremely complex affairs. In regard to the story on Glencliff High School, those teachers might have been disciplined but we don’t know that their disciplinary action was tied directly to the reporting of the incident. We have no way of knowing what else transpired besides just reporting the incident.

No offense to Boucher, but in citing Wilson’s email, he doesn’t quote the whole email nor cite the context. The email referenced was sent not to staff members but to central office members and closes with the phrase, “Thoughts?” Boucher may have a copy of an email that was sent to staff, and if so my argument becomes moot, but one was not included in the emails I was shown. Based on my information, Principal Wilson was considering relaying a message with that content and was seeking feedback from district officials.

There is no evidence that shows what the message delivered to staff eventually consisted of. He may have received a phone call from central office that included revisions in the text. There is also no link between this message and the alleged sexual incident. The district contends that the two are independent of each other.

Furthermore, the district attorney’s office confirms that at present, there are no open cases involving Glencliff HS. Both teachers referenced are back at work in the district. Which leads to the question of why this story and why now?

I have a great deal of respect for Dave Boucher. He is twice the researcher and 10 times the writer I’ll ever be, but I do think it’s important not to form conclusions based solely on his articles. If you have questions, contact the district. Try to keep as open a mind as possible.

The point is that all of these allegations are extremely sensitive and complex. It is extremely difficult to capture the nuance and respect the privacy of those involved while also adhering to the law. Hopefully everyone will not be quick to judge and instead will allow things to play out to their rightful conclusion without prejudice.

In this spirit, Dr. Joseph released a letter to staff clarifying his, and MNPS’s, position, in case there was any doubt. In Dr. Joseph’s own words, “We take the reporting of suspected abuse seriously, and we want you to know that staff will never be discouraged or reprimanded for reporting suspected abuse.” I see no reason to not take Dr. Joseph at his word.

I promise an interview with Nashville Rise Board President Allison Simpson is coming. Still working on the edit. This interview thing is a lot harder than you might think.

THE YIN AND THE YANG

School board member Amy Frogge had an interesting week. Today she received national accolades by education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch for her work in curbing unabated charter school growth in Nashville. Unfortunately it wasn’t accolades she was getting mid-week after a heated exchange with national education advocate and charter supporter Chris Stewart.

For those unfamiliar with Stewart, he is the former director of outreach and external affairs at Education Post. Before that, Chris Stewart was executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), a cross-sector network of Black leaders working to develop and implement an urban policy agenda across five northwest states. Stewart is very passionate about his beliefs, and it’s not uncommon for him to be engaged in “Twitter wars” with those who don’t share his views. I think it’s worth noting that I’m blocked on Twitter by both him and Frogge, so an argument can be made that I’m not the best person to comment on their exchange, though I beg to differ.

I deeply believe that we have to find our way past these kinds of exchanges. There is a commonly held belief among Civil War historians that the North won the war but lost the peace. I think we are in danger of repeating that error in regards to the “charter school wars.” The concept of eradicating all charter schools or completely dismantling the public education system is not an exercise in reality. Choice – good, bad, or indifferent – is out of the bag and it’s not going back in the bag.

It’s like the invention of fire. After it was introduced to cavemen, there was no way you could go back and say, “We just realized that fire can be really harmful and so we are going to take it away unless you are of a certain class.” People would have found ways to procure fire no matter how much you tried to deny them access.

Choice is fueled by demand. If you curb demand, the need for choice is lessened. I’ve never seen a desire for choice lessened by taking away options. In my experience, the option that meets the most needs is usually the primary choice. Want people to choose your option? Then make it the best beyond argument.

With all my fiber and being, I believe that a child’s zoned school is the best choice in most situations. Yes, I said most. In talking to charter school parents, and admittedly I don’t talk to as many as I should, rarely do I hear them cite a need to destroy public education as a reason for their choice. Invariably they cite a need that wasn’t getting met. That’s why I believe it’s imperative that we discover those needs and address them. Cut demand and you won’t have to worry about supply.

In talking with charter school parents, I think many of them have realized that charter schools are not the nirvana once promised. That over time, the challenges become very similar to those in traditional schools. It’s because of this that some families have returned to zoned schools and some have decided to stay with their charter school and try to improve it.

I’m am going to say that while parents may have a somewhat pure motive, I don’t believe that all charter operators can lay claim to the same purity. Many are motivated by intentions – prestige, money – other than what’s best for children. Unfortunately though, the same can be said for some district school administrators. So I don’t want to get bogged down in those arguments. You can’t make yourself better by pointing out other’s weaknesses. Being able to point out the shortcomings of your opposition does not result in instant improvement. The better of two bad options shouldn’t be the best option.

My point remains that none of that matters if we focus on what’s important – making all schools the best they can be. My 7-year-old son often asks me why people do certain things. My answer is always the same, “I have no earthly idea. I just try to do things the best that I can and take care of my own actions.”

These vitriolic exchanges serve none of us well. I know Amy Frogge to be a knowledgeable, passionate, and compassionate school board member. MNPS has been positively impacted by her tenure on the board. She is worthy of the accolades heaped on her by supporters and peers. Now, though, it’s time to lead the district to the next level and help elevate the conversation. We know what the war looks like; what is the peace going to look like?

One last thing. I salute any writer who finds a way to get paid for their writing, and I challenge you to find me a way to get paid. These damn things take more than a minute or two to write and baby needs some new shoes.

PARENT TEACHER MEETINGS

Wednesday was MNPS’s district-wide parent teacher conference day. In reading through social media posts and talking to parents, I think this is one that goes in the win column. Participation was up throughout the district and several people commented that it was actually fun this year. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the conferences I had about my children.

One of the things I believe Tusculum’s principal, Alison McMahan, doesn’t get enough credit for is her ability to place students with the right teachers. Every year, for the past 3, my children have been matched with exactly the teacher they needed, and every year that teacher becomes their favorite teacher. That’s an art form that needs more recognition.

I left both parent/teacher conferences this Wednesday with the reaffirmation that my children are right where they need to be. Tusculum Elementary School may not produce the highest test scores, but I’ll tell you what, there is not a school out there that can touch them for teachers and administrators and for helping children to grow into better people. These are years we will treasure. I don’t say thank you enough.

QUICK HITS

Thanks go to Andy Spears. He is never afraid to tackle the hard questions about TNReady and state policy. Make sure you read his latest, where he dives into the answers to ChalkbeatTN readers questions to the TNDOE.

Speaking of ChalkbeatTN, a recent headline proclaims, “A harder English curriculum arrives in Memphis elementary schools next week.” When did the words “harder” and “better” become interchangeable? This excerpt struck a funky chord with me as well:

“This is going to afford our students the opportunity to see the same type of information and questions every day that they’re going to be tested on in the spring,” said Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin. “We feel really good that exposing the kids to this curriculum will not only help them master the content but that we’ll see those results in a couple of years in our data.”

I thought tests were created to measure learning, not to drive curriculum. Silly me.

Despite less than 10% of families choosing to opt out of having their data shared with charter schools, Memphis schools decided this week they they would join Nashville in not following state law. Obviously this doesn’t make State Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen very happy as she allowed Memphis, in good faith, additional time to comply. Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to court we go.

Local blogger and former MNPS employee Vesia Wilson-Hawkins has an op-ed piece in this week’s Tennessean expressing concerns about Nashville’s literacy initiative. I can’t say I disagree. If the Mayor’s Literacy Council is serious about its commitment to increased literacy levels, I have a challenge for them. I challenge each member to attend a meeting of ProjectLit’s Book clubs. ProjectLit is in multiple schools now so you don’t have to trek out to Maplewood HS to hit one. There is no better way to increase literacy than reading books and then talking about them with kids.

Is the new MNPS Director of STEAM out on administrative leave? No official word but that’s the scuttlebutt.

Shout out to Amqui ES principal Latoya Cobb, whose quick actions saved a child from choking this week. MNPS principals really are superheroes!

Remember the story in the Nashville Scene about the assistant principal who got himself in hot water over the use of district email to solicit campaign donations? Riddle me this: what’s the difference between using the email server to solicit support and using a mandatory principal’s meeting to solicit support for your friend who’s running for the governor of Maryland? Just trying to wrestle with that one.

This coming Monday at Granbery ES at 6:30 PM, the Overton PAC will be meeting again. As always, we’ll be discussing how to make the best cluster in Nashville even better. Love to see all parents there.

Is this the week that things start to get fixed at Antioch HS? Big meetings next week. Let’s see what happens.

The Nashville Predators again prove why they are the best franchise in sports. Through their foundation, they recently completed building their 7th playground for a school. The team placed its newest playground at KIPP Nashville College Prep Elementary School.

POLL QUESTIONS

As always, Friday means questions and today is no different than any other Friday.

My first question asks for your thoughts on this year’s parent/teacher conferences. Better than previous years? Same? Who does that kind of nonsense? I want to know.

Years ago, MNPS established the Parent Advisory Committee. Dr. Register used it with varying degrees of effectiveness to promote his policies and garner input. Last year, it was pretty much inactive. This year, the district is attempting to resurrect it. They held a couple informational meetings earlier in the year and they’ve begun to solicit names of parents for the quadrant PAC’s. I wanted to know what you thought.

Last question is about the number of fights occurring in our schools. Anecdotal data says the frequency is up. Does your experience support that, or is it just the opposite? I’d like to know.

That does it for this week. Remember you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Also check out Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.

ALL HALLOWS EVE

1

A weekend that began in a tenuous state ended up in a place of hope. On Friday, I shared how my mother-in-law had broken her back. Surgery was a success, but doctors were unable to take out the breathing tube until Sunday. That made for a very tough Saturday, as it was necessary to lessen sedation in order to prep for the tube removal. Her pain would come in waves along with the anxiety, actually panic, over the inserted tube. My father-in-law, along with my wife and her sisters, never left their mom’s side, but were extremely shaken.

However, on Sunday, once the tube was removed, everything improved dramatically. She is expected to make a full recovery with plans in place for her to try walking in the next day or two. I remember when I was first in recovery 17 years ago and there were those who insisted that they’d never experienced a miracle. I made the argument then that I still hold true today: miracles are all around us. You just have to open yourself up to receive them. My family received one this weekend, and we will be eternally grateful.

TESTING NONSENSE

There continues to be a lot of conversation centered around TNReady. In an effort to try to clear the air, ChalkbeatTN asked for questions from readers and then posed them to the TNDOE. When I read the Department’s answers to the questions, the only thing that became clearer to me is that we have lost our ever-loving mind.

For example, here’s TNDOE’s response to questions about how TVAAS growth scores are calculated since the last bit of data we have is from the 2015 TCAP exams and we are now trying to achieve a growth score by comparing those scores to this year’s TN Ready scores:

“Because TVAAS always looks at relative growth from year to year, not absolute test scores, it can be stable through transitions — and that is what we saw this year. Students can still grow, even if their overall proficiency level is now different. You can think about it like a running race. If you used to finish a 5K at about the same time as 10 other students, and all 10 students made the same shift to a new race at the same time with the same amount of time to prepare, you should finish the new race at about the same time. If you finished ahead of the group’s average time, you grew faster than your peers. If you lagged behind everyone, that would indicate you did not grow as much as was expected.  Because students’ performance will be compared to the performance of their peers and because their peers are making the transition at the same time, drops in statewide proficiency rates resulting from increased rigor of the new assessments had no impact on the ability of teachers, schools, and districts to earn strong TVAAS scores. Transitions to higher standards and expectations do not change the fact that we still want all students in a district to make a full year’s worth of growth, relative to their peers who are all experiencing the same transition.”

Huh? So here’s a question that I haven’t heard anybody raise – Andy Spears over at TN Ed Report did cover the letter that some teachers received in regards to being unable to match them to all of their students. Say I’m a teacher in a high poverty/high mobility school. In 2015, I had 100 kids who took TCAP. Two years later, it’s not inconceivable that 40 of those children are no longer in a Tennessee school.

On the flip side, if I am a teacher in an affluent district, odds are that most of my 100 kids are still not only in the state, but in the district as well. Maybe I lose 5. That means one teacher receives a growth score based on 60 data points, while another receives a score based on 95. Furthermore, to use the State’s 5K analogy, one teacher gets runners who’ve all participated in the same training program, while the other has runners from multiple training programs. I fail to see how this produces an equitable comparison.

Let’s also consider the fact that under TNDOE’s analogy, all 5K’s are the same. Which, as a runner, I can confirm is just not true. Every race on every day is a different beast. I could run the same course in the same week and get a different result. A result that is not always reflective of my abilities as a runner.

Say if, on Monday, I run the course in 25 minutes, and then turn around and run it on Friday with a time of 22 minutes. What can you conclude? Is the time I recorded on Friday really indicative of the training I did during the week? Or could it be attributed to other factors – diet, rest, health, weather?

Now take the same scenario and apply it to two different courses. Is it not possible that the second course is structured in a way that is more palpable to me? This year, Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School scored a 5 on growth. This was a bit of a head scratcher for them because a high growth score, due to their high achievement scores, is a rare occurrence. Perhaps this test, with its focus on critical thinking, was more in the wheel house of their students and therefore they were able to score higher on it than on TCAP, which didn’t focus as much on critical thinking. Does that translate into students actually learning more last year? I’d be suspect and want to wait until next year’s scores arrived to begin to draw conclusions.

We keep trying to paint these test scores as an indicator, or even predictor, of kids’ futures. Which, in my mind, is extremely disingenuous. I’m reading my children these books about famous people who changed the world. They focus a great deal on the childhood of these great people. Amazingly, not a single one of these individuals is cited for their ability to perform on a standardized test. Several, including Gandhi and Einstein, actually… gasp!… struggled at times with school.

The unifying point on those who struggled is that they loved learning and they were independent readers. Perhaps we’d better served if we followed those examples and spent more time focusing on cultivating the love of learning and allowing students more time in school to select books to read. Maybe then the TNDOE wouldn’t have to respond thus when asked about how to keep kids engaged with testing:

“We believe that if districts and schools set the tone that performing your best on TNReady is important, then students will take the test seriously, regardless of whether TNReady factors into their grade. We should be able to expect our students will try and do their best at any academic exercise, whether or not it is graded. This is a value that is established through local communication from educators and leaders, and it will always be key to our test administration. We believe that when we share these messages and values — celebrating the variety of accomplishments our students have made, taking advantage of TNReady’s scheduling flexibility to minimize disruption, focusing on strong standards-based instruction every day, sending positive messages around the importance of the variety of tests that students take, and sharing that students should always do their best — then students will buy-in and TNReady will be successful.” 

I think a more fitting quote for the TNDOE and testing would be this passage from George Orwell’s 1984: 

“You are a slow learner, Winston.”
“How can I help it? How can I help but see what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”
“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

QUICK HITS

I have been looking at demographic numbers for MNPS lately, and while I’m not yet ready to draw any conclusions, I find it very interesting.

As a district, MNPS is 42% black, 29% white, and 25% Hispanic. But if you look at second graders, the percentages are 39% black, 25% Hispanic, 31% white. When you look at 6th graders, it breaks down to 43% black, 26% Hispanic, 27% white. In 9th grade, it is 43% black, 25% Hispanic, and 27% white. In 12th grade, it is 48% black, 21% Hispanic, and 32% white. Total enrollment for 2nd grade is 6,999; 6th grade is 6,571; 9th is 5,859; and 12th is 5,122.

I also took a quick look at Pre-k. For Pre-k, out of 2,917 students, 44% are black, 22% are Hispanic, and 29% are white. Again, I’m not sure what any of those numbers mean. I do think that we should be aware of them in discussing MNPS policy.

Rumor has it that the bargaining portion of collaborative conferencing in MNPS has been concluded and that a contract is ready to be presented to the school board. I don’t know the timeline yet, but I do know those connected with the process seem to be pretty pleased. Let’s continue to keep fingers crossed.

A bit of correction on an earlier post. I had reported that Antioch HS had lost their AVID National Demonstration School status. That was not an accurate statement, and for that I apologize. However, don’t take that to mean that all is well with AHS when it comes to AVID. A key component to AVID is teacher training. It is a costly and timely procedure and AHS has been hemorrhaging teachers, which makes maintaining AVID Demonstration School status challenging at best. But for today, they still retain their status.

Continuing with AHS, this weekend, at their home football game against Overton, a fight broke out between the two teams. Apparently the fight was disruptive enough that Antioch players refused to continue the game once order had been restored. The game was called with 9 minutes left to play. The kicker here is that there seems to be a question of whether or not the required administrator was present. Hopefully someone is looking into exactly what happened and taking appropriate action.

Continuing with the subject of fights. I keep hearing reports of an increase in the number of fights at our district high schools. One parent recently related to me a discussion they had with their children where they were informed that students “pretty much see a fight a day.” While I realize that is anecdotal, it’s more than a little disturbing and is backed up by stories from other parents and teachers. I’d request the district’s discipline reports, but based on stories I’ve been told, I question their accuracy.

I’m a huge fan of Executive Officer of Student Services Tony Majors and his work, but at some point we have to have an honest conversation about the district’s discipline plan. There is a lot to like about Restorative Justice, but I liken its implementation to a recent response from a friend when I asked their opinion about the Mayor’s recently proposed transportation plan.

“If we fund it at the requested 5.2 billion dollars, it’ll probably be a successful plan. If we only fund it at 3.2 billion dollars and cut corners, it probably won’t be very successful,” was his reply. I’d argue that a very similar thing is happening with the Restorative Justice program in MNPS. That needs to be corrected.

Are you interested in becoming a nurse at one of MNPS’s schools? Apply here: http://bit.ly/2i7VYVi.

Great story on Channel 5 about the Hillsboro Players performance of Peter Pan.

Check out these Inglewood ES students modeling at the Girls On The Run Sneaker Soirée. 

MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph took some time to talk with MNEA members last week. Those in attendance reported that a good time was had by all.

On Sunday, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry addressed the Nashville Organization for Action and Hope (NOAH). Education is one of this organization’s primary concerns.

 

POLL RESULTS

Time to look at results for last weekend’s poll questions.

The first question asked what you thought should be next for TNReady. Not surprisingly, 39% of you felt that it shouldn’t be tied to teacher or school evaluations, while 29% of you were in favor of scraping the damn thing. With the next state legislation session just a couple of months away, it’ll be interesting to see where this conversation goes. Several Republican gubernatorial candidates are likely to use it as an example of the ineptitude of big government. Normally that would be cause for a chuckle, but with many predicting that Tennessee is getting ready to move even further to the right, who knows what could happen.

Here are the write-in votes:

All of the above… except stay the course. 1
Get rid of all this standardized testing! 1
Give districts autonomy to develop more authentic and meaningful assessments 1
ACT suite 1
Scrap the whole thing and DON’T replace it!

Question two was in regards to the recently cancelled HS marching band Contest of Champions due to a scheduled White Lives Matter rally that many feared had the potential to erupt into violence. The rally kind of fizzled as the forces for inclusion were able to muster much larger numbers than those of hate. The rally in Murfreesboro was actually canceled after the confrontation in Shelbyville.

As far as the band competition goes, 53% of you felt that the cancellation of the Contest of Champions was the right decision. 25% of you responded that it shouldn’t have been canceled. While it is a shame that the event was canceled, I think the fact that nobody got hurt this weekend is cause for celebration.

Here are the write-in answers:

Should relocate, not cancel. 1
Would have been better to cancel the Nazi rally 1
Find alt. location 1
Why couldn’t they just relocate it? All you need is a football stadium.

The last question was asked tongue-in-cheek after Dr. Joseph invited old friend and Maryland gubernatorial candidate Rushern Baker III to a recent MNPS principal meeting. A move that still baffles me unless he’s still trying to keep his options at home open. Principals weren’t overly thrilled with the detour into Maryland politics since every single second of their time is invaluable. Apparently the administration felt differently and that the needs of the Maryland electorate superseded those of our instructional leaders. The lack of a voter registration table for Maryland voters further hampered the impact.

Dolly Parton, someone with the actual ability to inspire, was the number one vote getter with 21% of the vote. Dr. Ron Woodard, who is doing excellent work in Maury County Schools and is also capable of being inspirational, received several votes as well.

Here are the write-in votes, and there are quite a few:

Marsha Dunn 2
No one. There is enough work to do during the mtgs w/o grandstanding by guests 1
Dallas Dance 1
Dr. Register-maybe he can clean up this damn mess. 1
Jay Steele. A great Halloween scare. 1
How about a veteran MNPS teacher. 1
Whoever chairs his exit team 1
No one 1
dad gone wild 1
T. C. Weber & Dr. Ron Woodard, the biggest mistake he made is letting him walk 1
Teachers and students 1
Donald trump 1
Craig Fitzhugh and/or James Mackler 1
Fire Felder 1
I would rather uninvite some… 1
He should resign

 

That does it. Hope you have a great week. You can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.

THE END OF ANOTHER CRAZY WEEK

1

Today’s post may be a little disjointed and for that, I apologize. It’s been a crazy week. On Tuesday while teaching her class, my wife got an urgent summons from her father. Her mother had fallen out of bed and broken several vertebrae. She was very lucky to still be alive but the threat of paralysis still loomed over her. She lay in traction until yesterday, when doctors performed surgery that will hopefully ensure a full recovery.

Thank God my mother-in-law is in great shape, and fortunately everything looks positive right now. It’s still going to be a long road to recovery. But we as a family feel extremely blessed and ready to face whatever challenges are presented going forth.

It was a grim reminder of just how fragile life is. All the precaution and planning can’t protect us from the randomness that is an integral part of life. We are all at its mercy. As John Lennon sang in “Beautiful Boy,” “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” This week drove that point home and served as a reminder to love a little harder, be a little kinder, and to maybe prioritize a little better.

Despite my personal tragedies, the world did not stand still this week. In fact, quite a bit happened. Let’s get after it.

STATE HEARINGS ON TESTING

As turmoil continues to swirl around the state’s standardized test, TNReady, the state House Education Committee held hearings to try to assess the validity of the process. State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen offered testimony along with testimony from teachers, a superintendent, a school board member, and a researcher. Things got a little testy at times, but I would not expect a major change in policy going forth.

Several teachers, representatives of SCORE, got up and testified that TNReady is an important driver of instruction and without the in-depth data it provides, their ability to teach kids would be seriously hampered. I am always loathe to criticize teachers, but in this case, I’m skeptical. Where are examples of this in-depth reporting that they cited? How does data that doesn’t arrive until well after the school year begins drive instruction with a completely different set of students?

I’m always baffled by teachers who argue they need the data to get an accurate picture of where their students are performing. Really? What teacher has gotten back results from a kid’s test that totally shocked them and changed the perception of what level the child was performing? A high school English teacher told me last week that he could predict within a couple points the ACT score of most of his freshman students from two years ago. I find that to be the rule and not an exception.

Another common refrain echoed former US Secretary of Education John King’s words delivered this week at Cleveland’s City Club. It’s all about equity in education, he said. Though school “accountability” measures like tests are unpopular, he said, they help make sure that students of all incomes and ethnicities have fair resources and learning opportunities.

I’ve got to call a little bullshit on this. The act of measuring in itself is not enough. If we are not making sure that we using an accurate measurement tool, then we might as well be gathering anecdotal information. Would you build a house using a ruler whose foot measurement was actually 12.5 inches? Accountability means nothing without accuracy, and by trying to utilize an inaccurate measurement tool, all you are doing is inflicting accountability on children while letting adults off the hook. We need to bring the same level of accountability to those creating the tools as we expect from those impacted by the tools.

Testing should never be more than a tool and should have no more impact on education than a hammer has on the building of a house. We don’t overemphasize the use of a hammer during construction; rather, we recognize that it is one of many tools we will utilize to finish the project. Education should follow similar practice.

I heard a great analogy from a dear friend this past week. Test results are like school class pictures. They provide a snapshot of what a child looks like on that day. They tell a story about a child’s life at that moment on that day, but should never be considered the whole picture.

For a deeper look into testing issues, I encourage you to check out my dear friend Mary Holden’s recent blog post. Wise words from a long time educator:

You can’t use these tests to measure school success. Or to measure equity. In fact, that is what some pro-testing advocates believe – that we need annual tests to show us the inequities. But hello! We already know where the inequities are (since there is a strong correlation between test scores and poverty levels – see also herehere, and here)! So here’s a novel idea —– let’s actually fix the inequities!!! Let’s take a long, hard look at how to eradicate poverty and reduce the effects of trauma on our kids.

WHITE LIVES MATTER

As Shelbyville and Murfreesboro brace for a White Lives Matter rally this coming weekend, there is already one casualty. Middle Tennessee State University was scheduled this weekend to host the Contest of Champions, which is a huge, end-of-season marching band contest. Spring Hill HS organized the contest for Saturday. Out of safety concerns, the event was cancelled for this weekend.

Late Tuesday night, area band leaders received an email notifying them of the decision to cancel. The prestigious, invitation-only band competition is one of several weekend events cancelled at the college, which will also lock its residence halls, said university President Sidney McPhee in an email. This is a real shame because the amount of work that students had invested in preparation for this event cannot be understated.

On top of the all the on-field preparation, students worked equally hard at raising money to pay for transportation and other associated costs. The event is a rare opportunity for the spotlight to be focused on those dedicated marching band members. “It’s a big honor, and our kids worked so hard,” Halls High band director Eric Baumgardner said, adding that although the band enjoys playing football games, there’s nothing like playing for an attentive crowd at the college football stadium: “The crowd is there to see them. The stadium is quiet. They talk in between the groups, not during the groups.”

A CHIEF MOVES ON

This week saw the first departure of one of the members of MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph’s initial leadership team. Chief of Staff Jana Carlisle will be leaving at the end of November. I must admit that I have mixed emotions about this development. I was often critical of Ms. Carlisle and still believe that while she did good work in other areas, she was never the right person for the Chief of Staff position nor was she ever given the opportunity to become that person. That said, I always found my personal interactions with Ms. Carlisle very pleasant and was impressed with her professionalism.

No official reason is provided, and Ms. Carlisle is certainly too professional to offer her own. I will say that over the past several months, I have received steady reports of her having an open door policy and a willingness to actively listen to those who wished to engage. The rumor mill cites this open door policy as a contributor to her departure. While I try to avoid trafficking in rumor, and I’m sure Ms. Carlisle would discourage me from doing so here, I think she’s earned the right to have that one out there. I cannot confirm nor deny it.

One also has to speculate how much board member Will Pinkston had to do with this change. It was common knowledge that the two of them often were at cross purposes. There is a board policy that is intended to prevent board members from overinfluencing district staffing decisions. However, Pinkston has always treated board policy as more of a suggestion than an edict.

Let’s see who is up next. Rumor had it that initially Dr. Joseph wanted STEM Preparatory Founder and Executive Director Kristin McGraner to fill the role. Overton HS Principal Jill Pittman was also once considered a candidate. Will these names rise to the top again, or will Dr. Joseph go in a different direction?

RANDOM TIDINGS

If you didn’t read all the way through the Tennessean article on the departure of Jana Carlisle, you might

Harold Street walks his daughters to school at Glenn ES

know that at the last board meeting the plan to consolidate Glenn and Caldwell Elementary Schools was introduced. What I find ironic is that we are considering this consolidation at a time when we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the first steps in Nashville schools desegregating. 

On September 9th, 1957, according to an article by John Egerton published by Southern Spaces, Glenn and Caldwell were one of 8 schools that were the primary focus of desegregation actions:

It was principally at these six—Buena Vista, Jones, and Fehr on the north side and Bailey, Caldwell, and Glenn on the east—that public attention was focused, due in part to extensive advance coverage by the city’s newspapers. Two more elementary schools also were desegregated that morning—Clemons, south of downtown, and Hattie Cotton, to the northeast—but they had not been listed in the papers and thus drew no sign-waving protesters.

Of those 8 schools, Buena Vista, Jones, Caldwell, Glenn, and Hattie Cotton are still educating students.

This week I requested demographic information for MNPS based on race. What I got back was a very interesting graphic.

It shows that the number of black kids vs the number of white kids are very similar during the early elementary years but as kids progress in grade, the gap dramatically grows. It was very disheartening to me and perhaps the conversation should be a lot more specific than it is. I greatly appreciate MNPS for providing this data.

Nashville Rise Board Chair Allison Simpson talks about school choice and what it means to her in a piece recently published in Education Post. Education Post often gets criticized as being nothing but a mouthpiece for the reform movement. Be that as it may, I find that though we may have differences of opinion, Ms. Simpson is a an engaged parent who’s arrived at her personal beliefs through her own life experiences. I believe that everybody’s opinions can, when taken collectively, lead to a deeper understanding. Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming Dad Gone Wild interview with Ms. Simpson. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and hope you will as well.

Nashville Rise also takes a lot of criticism, by myself included, as an organization that indoctrinates more than educates parents. Warranted or not, I will say that over the past year I have seen Nashville Rise get parents to the podium at school board meetings whose voices have never been heard before. Some of those voices don’t even speak English. That needs to be recognized and commended. We should celebrate all parents getting involved not just just those that say what we find palpable.

Congratulations need to go out to Whittsett and Inglewood Elementary Schools. Both made significant gains on the recently released TNReady scores. Scores were high enough that both were named “priority improving” schools by the state, meaning they did well, but not quite well enough, to exit the list.

I can’t help but think that Community Achieves, and their work in establishing a community schools model at these schools, played a huge role in raising those scores. The community schools model was able to increase parental and community involvement and commitment in both schools. Of course both are now slated to become STEAM Schools because nothing is ever done with fidelity.

Wondering what former MNPS Central Office rock star Kris Elliot has been up to? He’s Oregon State University’s new outdoor schools guru. Hat’s off to Kris and his accomplishments!

Nashville Blogger Vesia Hawkins continues her intense focus on literacy. Check out her latest for directions on how you can get involved.

Lastly, in the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up category, at yesterday’s principal meeting Dr. Joseph brought a special guest, Maryland candidate for Governor Rushern Baker III. For the last several years Baker has been the County Executive for Prince George’s County.

I’m guessing that MNPS principals gave him a better reception than teachers at last week’s Maryland State Education Association convention. There, upon his introduction, several dozen Prince George’s County teachers walked out in protest. According to the Washington Post, Theresa Dudley, president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, said the protest on Friday afternoon was in response to an ongoing wage dispute with county leadership. “We weren’t going to listen to his garbage,” Dudley said, adding that the group voted Friday morning to take the action.

It baffles me why Joseph would invite Baker to a principal’s meeting. Was transition team member and personal friend Dallas Dance not available? Perhaps Joseph was unaware that Tennessee is in the midst of a governor’s race.

POLL QUESTIONS

As always, Friday means poll questions. So let’s get them out there.

First question is in regards to TNReady. Hearings were held this week and I’m curious what you think the next step should be.

Question two is in regards to this week’s cancelled marching band competition. Was it the right choice? Several other events are proceeding as scheduled. Should this one have as well?

In light of Dr. Joseph’s inviting Mr. Baker to a principal’s meeting, who should get the next invite? Inquiring minds want to know.

That’s it. If you want, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. also check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.

 

THOUGHTS ON LITERACY, TESTING, AND WEEKEND POLL RESULTS

1

As of late, I find myself reading a lot of Young Adult fiction. In fact, the last three books I have finished would fall under that category. A year ago, I would have scoffed at anybody who predicted that I would be reading what I considered kid’s books. Sure, I’d loved Catcher in the Rye, The Outsiders, Forever, and such as a kid, but I’m a full grown man now and there is no way I’d be interested in kid’s books.

Here’s a news flash, kid’s lives are a lot different than when I was a kid. The issues and challenges they face these days are things that never would have entered my radar as a student. Issues like racism, poverty, police brutality, and social ostracization are all covered in today’s YA books. Not only are the subjects covered, but they written about with a maturity and depth that would belie their proposed target audience. In short, these books can hold their own against any form of literature.

It was through Maplewood High School’s ProjectLit that I became exposed to the latest crop of YA titles. Last year, its co-founder, Maplewood HS teacher Jared Amato, and I sat down to talk literacy. I say co-founder because Jared would be the first to tell you that he is more a facilitator than a founder. It’s his students’ vision that created this group and continues to shapes the project to this day.

At the time of our conversation, I was very dismissive of YA fiction and tried to steer the conversation with Jared back towards the classics, but Amato wasn’t having any of it. He said those books were certainly important, but every student needs material where they can see themselves in the pages. I didn’t really understand what that meant until I started reading these books. I get it now.

Last year I went to a couple of the monthly meetings mainly to support ProjectLit under the misguided illusion that I was helping them out and being supportive. I didn’t read the books, or I read just enough that I could keep up with the discussion. I will admit I underestimated the power of the literature, but I never underestimated the power of the book club meetings. These kids made a deep impression on me right from the beginning.

This year, I decided to try something different. I would read the books before going to book club. The first one was Towers Falling. That book moved me to tears several times while reading. I just finished The Hate U Give, which is better written than the majority of so-called adult fiction I’ve read of late. My son, Peter, and I have been reading Wonder every night at bedtime and he’s fallen deeply in love with the characters and their narrative.

After last week’s book club at Maplewood, I realized that my attending hasn’t been me doing a favor for the students, but rather them doing a favor for me. Through them I have been exposed to some of the best writing I’ve ever experienced. Through them I’ve been exposed to new ways of thinking about old issues. Through them I’ve gotten a tiny peek of what the future is going to look like, and let me tell you, it’s pretty bright.

I am forever grateful to Jared and his students for teaching this old dog some new tricks. If you haven’t attended a ProjectLit Book Club meeting yet, I strongly encourage you to do. There is one Thursday of this week at Croft MS. Additional ProjectLit chapters are starting to spring up at schools across the district, so they are getting easier to attend. There is no better way to increase literacy among young people than reading a book with them and then getting together and talking about it. I look forward to the day when I look across the room and see both Mayor Megan Barry and Superintendent Shawn Joseph engaged with a group of students over a book they’ve all read.

SHILLING FOR TESTING

Last week, the state released TNReady scores for districts and individual schools. The weekend was then spent selling people on the relevance of those scores. Unfortunately not everyone was buying it. Tennessee State House Democrats called for a multi-year moratorium on holding students and teachers accountable on the state’s education test. They made this call based on the multi-year problems that have plagued TNReady.

Speaker of the State House Beth Harwell has long been a staunch supporter of Tennessee’s standardized testing, but I guess even she has reached a breaking point after it was announced that 9,400 tests had been misscored. Harwell called for hearings after receiving the news. I guess late is better than never.

Questar is the company responsible for administrating and scoring the test this year. Tennessee is not the only state reporting problems. The company has agreed to reimburse the state of Missouri after results from two exams were deemed unusable and discarded. According to the Joplin Globe, “Student scores on the tests diverged unnaturally from previous results, leading education officials to conclude that the exams created by Questar Inc. could not be used to measure districts’ academic progress year-to-year.”

The latest problems are just a continuation with the multitude of problems faced by states throughout the country. It just never ceases to amaze me how a process so flawed can have such ramifications. Testing does seem to be working out for testing companies though. Questar was recently sold to Education Testing Services for $127.5 million dollars. Which, if you are keeping score at home, means that in just two years Tennessee has had four companies oversee state testing. We started with Pearson, transitioned to Measurement Inc., than switched to Questar, and now Education Testing Services.

This weekend, Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen went to Knoxville to congratulate Knoxville County Schools on their exceptional performance on TNReady. In celebrating Knoxville’s success, McQueen acknowledged that since students this year had taken the new super duper test, the results couldn’t really be compared to results on the old dodgy test. But fear not, the TNDOE had a top secret decoder ring that would translate those results. According to McQueen, “What we were able to see is that these students, compared to other students who would have been going through the exact same transition (between tests) as they were going through actually did end up improving more than other students.”

You got that, right? Makes perfect sense, right? I would be slow to jump too high and cheer too loud for these results. While Knoxville students and teachers certainly deserve accolades for their hard work, they should be careful in validating faulty data. Too often we temper our criticism of standardized testing when it produces results that are palpable to us. Just because the results are favorable does not make them valid. Schools need more accolades like those delivered in a letter by Vice Chairman of the Knoxville School Board Amber Roundtree.

In an effort to keep things interesting, State Rep. Eddie Smith banned Knoxville school board member Jennifer Owen from a meeting with state and local educators last Thursday. Owen posted the following on Facebook: “Eddie Smith just kicked me out of his meeting at South-Doyle. He says it is ‘a closed meeting, just for educators.’ Ummm … Transparent much?”

In that meeting was former KCS administrator and Broad Academy fellow Nakia Towns, who worked in Knox County for several years and is now the Assistant Commissioner of Data and Research. Owen probably would have had a question or two for Towns, who has never been a fan of being questioned.

Before we finish up with state testing, let’s check in with the Achievement School District. According to ChalkbeatTN, here’s how many of the 5,300 students in grades 3-8 scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

In 2015, the last time statewide testing was administered, the ASD showed faster than average improvement. On the new test, obviously they didn’t fare as well, which led new Chief of Academics Vera Ruffin to make some interesting remarks:

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Hmm… a narrative for everybody, and everybody to their narrative. Long time ASD observer and blogger Gary Rubinstein dives a little deeper into the story, and I encourage you to read what he has to say.

QUICK SHOTS

Parents of elementary school kids enrolled in MNPS can expect a different look when report cards come home today. I’ll let you decipher the grading formula described by MNPS. I’m still confused. Two new categories are social emotional learning, which I’m not a fan of, and homework, which my son scored a “completes frequently” – a grade I don’t see improving anytime soon.

Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, the Tennessee House Education Committee holds joint meetings with some interesting topics. I may have to go on Wednesday to listen in on the one concerned with lead in school drinking water.

Check out Dr. Joseph’s introductory message for Metro Minute, a weekly video update from Metro Schools for our Hispanic families: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZ5fZKop2AU

Observing Sylvan Park ES class

Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and School Board member Amy Frogge spent a part of the morning observing classes at Sylvan Park ES.

The unofficial Overton Cluster Pac will meet again on November 6th at Granbery Elementary School. More details coming soon, but save the date.

POLL RESULTS

Time now to turn our attention to the results from this weekend’s poll.

The first question asked for your feedback on the proposed 2017-2018 calendar. In looking at results, it is clear that you wanted to send a message about teacher planning days. Sixty-six percent of you responded that “We need those damn planning days! So give them to us.” While it is unclear as to where the majority of the fault lies for lost planning days, most agree that is a combination of the state and the district. The state didn’t clearly mandate the law and the districts are using it to their advantage. Legislation to alleviate the issue is being explored.

One of you asked about what “stockpiled days” means. The way I interpret it is that each district is allowed when submitting their calendar for approval to petition the state for a number of bad weather days plus professional development days not to exceed 13 days. Those are referred to as your “stockpiled” days. If someone has a better explanation, I’m all ears.

Here are the write-in votes:

What is a stockpiled PD Day??? 1
Created by people disconnected from our classrooms & community 1
Yes! MANY other issues beyond the 4 questions! 1
Planning days must be restored and a full week the first of school doesn’t work. 1
I wish we could go back to the balanced calendar 1
Haven’t looked at it–assumed it would be a mess 1
Why haven’t they sent the survey to teachers? Taking our planning without asking

 

Question 2 asked, “What is your reaction to 2017 TNReady results?” This was an interesting one, as the two answers, “Not worth the paper they are printed on” and “Indicative of a district on the wrong path” ran neck and neck all weekend before ending up in a dead heat. Therein lies the problem with TNReady. You can’t have a church if nobody believes. Clearly there are a lot of non-believers.

One of you asked if it was possible to make an open records request to see tests since they were paid for by tax dollars. Unfortunately not, since the test is considered proprietary. Yeah, I know, just one more thing that doesn’t add up. Last I heard, though, there were plans to release portions of the test to parents. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Here are the write-ins:

since tax $ paid for tests, can we make an open record request for copies? 1
About what I expected – useless. 1/3 of third graders can pass a 5th grade level 1
Our teachers & kids are working hard, but those scores don’t reflect that. 1
Glad my kid is out and I don’t have to deal with it.

The last question was in response to the IFL math units. Thirty-six percent of you wondered why the district didn’t trust district teachers to write their own. Thirteen percent called them worthless. Kinda says it all, doesn’t it?

Here are write-ins:

ILF is David Wiliams 1
Follow the money. 1
Not applicable 1
IFL unit? 1
The Task Arcs written by IFL are great. Hope the units are as good. 1
Didn’t even know we had these, and I teach elementary. 1
I Had no idea we were even getting IFL units for Marh 1
The literacy IFL units are decent, but the one size fits all demand is disheartening. 1
Until Monique Felder is fired, we won’t see improvement. 1
Scripted lessons are just a way to teach to test and harness test to classroom.

That’s it for today. Feel free to contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com and check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.