ONCE MORE INTO THE ECHO CHAMBER
“I don't like a kind of workshop that is about editing--I don't want to sit there and be an editor. I don't want to tell someone how to "fix" a poem.”
― Natasha Trethewey
It was an interesting weekend for the golf world. A year ago Tiger Woods was in a horrific car accident. The prognosis was that he might never walk again, Yet here he was, striding the greens of Augusta and pulling eyes, that would normally be focused elsewhere, back on the Masters.
All weekend long, where ever you went, you heard people asking,
"How'd Tiger do today?",
""Did Tiger make the cut?"
"Did you see Tiger out there?"
"Think he's got a chance?"
At the end of the weekend, Woods finished far from the lead - 47th place. The winner was Scottie Scheffler, who finished a blistering 10 under. Scheffler was never really challenged throughout the weekend and is currently playing some of the best golf ever witnessed. The budding star has won three of his last five tournaments (after having never taken a PGA Tour event) and as a result, he has ascended in dramatic fashion to the top of the world rankings. If sports is about celebrating athletic progress, Scheffler certainly meets all the criteria to be the focal point of any conversation.
By all accounts, he's an affable fellow, with a charming wife. Both continually say all the right things and conduct themselves in an admirable manner. His is a story worth celebrating, and golf would be blessed to have him as the face of the future. Despite all of this, this week he shared the stage with a resurgent Tiger.
The thing is, Tiger transcends his sport in a way that few athletes do. For decades, he's drawn the casual fan in and drew attention where others failed to garner. If Tiger is playing, everyone's watching. If not, the sport only draws the true aficionados. Golf has been both blessed and cursed by his charisma. Quite simply, there is no other athlete that would draw the level of interest Woods earned, while finishing 47th.
Lots of folks have tried to explain the Tiger phenomenon, but when my 11-year-old son asked this weekend, the only explanation I could offer was, "It's magic, son. Life can't all be reduced to numbers and data, sometimes, it's just magic. Some have it, and some don't."
Tiger competing is certainly good for drawing attention to golf,, but not so much for the younger players that toil under his shadow and who are responsible for the sport's continued success. . As purists will tell you, there is a lot of great golf being played right now, but none of these new phenomes get the attention of the 47-year old Tiger. When he plays, interest in others gets pushed away, even when it's played to the level of greatness exhibited by Scheffler this past weekend. Tiger sucks all the air out of the room with his mere pretense.
Not unlike the way charter schools suck all the air out of the room in relation to education policy discussions.
If you listen to the chatter in the education policy sphere you might think that the primary issue facing schools is the proliferation of charter schools, almost to exclusion of all others. Not so much.
Mention teacher attrition, and the decreased enrollment in teacher prep programs to the public, and you get a sigh, a nod, and maybe a comment, "teaching has always been tough."
Talk about discipline issues, and the difficult adjustments students have had to make as they return to in-person learning and you may get an anecdotal tale pulled from personal memory, but little else.
Mention as a parent that some of the things being taught concern you, and maybe we could discuss them a little more, and instead of a conversation you'll get presented with an 'us" or"them" uniform and a call to choose your team.
But man, if you mention charter schools....the floodgates open wide and everybody is ready to jump in and swing their pitchforks, on both sides.
This week, The NY Times ran a story about Hillside College building a charter school network. The reaction was predictable, and my social media feeds were instantly clogged by folks spreading the gospel.
For Tennesseans, the article included a local angle, as Governor Bill Lee has indicated a desire to partner with Hillside in bringing 50 charter schools to the state. As of today, there are 3 Hillside charter schools currently in the pipeline.in Tennessee.
Much like Tiger drawing in viewers, the Times article led to increased engagement among advocates. Forget that Tennessee is poised to pass a funding bill that will rob local control, increase the financial responsibility of local districts, and limit the future investment in education, all anyone wanted to talk about was charter schools. This is indicative of how it's been for over a decade. And in my opinion, this is why we endlessly run on a continual hamster wheel.
Unfortunately, the conversation around charter schools is another example of choice being limited to two extremes. Either we are purging them all, or putting them everywhere.
Little of the conversation is spent on honest communication around the shortcomings of traditional schools, and how we can work to ensure that they are serving more of the needs of families. Little conversation is focused on where charter schools could benefit students, and ways a district could benefit from their existence.
We rarely admit where traditional schools are falling short, in my opinion, a key contributor to continual declines in the number of students attending traditional public schools. Areas like safety, ensuring quality teachers are in front of students, and a belief in what is taught at schools is reflective of what is taught at home. It's been my experience, that when parents choose to pursue a charter school, it's not due to a flyer in the mailbox, an article in an education periodical, or the whims of a governor. But rather because of a personal experience where they felt their child's needs were not being met. And if nobody is openly discussing it, it becomes easy to interpret that silence as an endorsement.
In reverse, I'm betting few parents have decided to overlook a school's shortcomings and not look elsewhere because of an article in the NY Times, or elsewhere. You can write 100 articles about charter school malfeasance and not change a single parent's mind, Because exploring a charter school may be everything you say it is, but we don't know for sure. We do know if the experience at our local school is satisfactory or not, and no parent is going to stand by and remain in an unsatisfactory situation just to preserve an idyllic vision held by others.
That's a losing fight. Don't believe me? Look around and count the number of public education advocates whose children are enrolled in magnet schools, private schools, or in some cases even charter schools. They should know better, shouldn't they?
If parents believe that their children are safe, surrounded by friendly peers, taught by a quality teacher, and thriving, they'd be comfortable sending them to caves for schooling.
My argument is now, and always will be, if you want to slow charter school proliferation, have frank honest conversations about public schools, and then follow up on those conversations with meaningful actions. Calling people racists, ignorant, homophobic, or threatening to call out your husbands and boyfriends, ain't keeping engaged. As long as we fail to meet the needs of students and their families, those with the means will find a way out. leaving behind a system populated by those with no other options.
Like it or not, failure to focus on teacher issues, discipline issues, and failure to include parents in decisions, will translate to a more fractured system. It's inevitable.
Admittedly, part of this challenge is due to the environment created by state officials and the rise of education non-profits that sure don't want to do the work, but rarely shut up about the work. A culture has arisen that being honest in evaluations and introspections is interpreted as failing, and grounds to pounce. We've allowed our accountability features to govern schools instead of trusting those who have dedicated their lives to educating kids. Data and its collection should serve as a support system, not as a primary driver.
It dawned on me last month, that we educate kids, much like I walk my dog.
There are set times for walking, and each walk should take a prescribed amount of time to complete in order for me to make the claim that I walk the dog twice a day. There is no dawdling or excessive sniffing allowed on these walks and if my dog pauses to explore a grass patch, a quick tug of the collar is delivered in order to keep the walk on track. This is a time for walking, not sniffing, exploring, looking, or any other activity that is not directly related to walking.
Sound familiar? Tell me that's not how we often treat kids in schools.
Let's do a little math. Say each Hillside school enrolls 300 kids, a minimum I would think. Multiply that by 50 and you have 15K kids. 15000 students who want out. Do you really believe that there are 15K kids in search of an alternative to their current schools?
A portion of that 15K would come from charter schools, because believe it or not, they don't always meet the needs of their students either.
Personally, I don't believe the demand is there, but if I'm wrong, that should be a serious wake-up call to all of us. I know some of you ain't going to like this metaphor, but hey, it is what it is.
Choosing a charter school is a lot like choosing to experiment with dope. Few people who are mainly satisfied with their life ever read an article on cocaine and decided, "Hell yeah, I need to get into that." Rather it's those that are trying to fill holes and hurting who take the leap. Alleviate the hurt and you reduce the risk.
It ain't no different with schools.
I guarantee you that getting worked up about teacher issues, safety, and over-testing will be every bit as effective in curtailing charter school proliferation as emailing your local legislator an article about fiscal misappropriation from a charter school network. At some point, we have to leave the allure of glamor and focus on the rudimentary.
There may not be another Tiger lurking in the wings, but there are a lot of young stars who are elevating the game every day. We can still celebrate Tiger while cheering on those younger players realizing that the two work in concert to make professional golf the sport it is.
The same holds true for charter schools. We can stand in opposition to charter schools, but do it in a manner that makes the system stronger and more resilient. We don't need people or officials to say "no" to charter schools, but rather to say "yes" to local school systems.
Believe it or not, there is a difference.
Last week I reported that my over/under for MNPS principal vacancies was 20. Lately, I keep hearing about a weird one. While admittedly I don't put much stock in teacher and principal of the year awards, one would assume that if one wins such an award, they are competent at their job. Apparently, that's not always true. If reports are to be believed, a very recent winner finds themself under increased scrutiny and under the gun this year, with the possibility of being removed very much on the table. If true, it certainly evokes visions of Icarus.
Many parents have noticed, and publically remarked on, the amount of test prep currently taking place in their kid's classrooms. It's amazing that lost instructional time due to illness results in devastating learning loss, while instructional time lost to test prep fails to produce the same degree of learning loss. Just because they say they don't think you are ignorant, doesn't mean they don't think it.
Tomorrow is the scheduled school board meeting for MNPS. Looking over the agenda, I don't see any forewarning of threats to parents, f-bomb dropping, or threats to elected officials. That's a positive. I do see that the fiscal budget for next year is included on the consent agenda, which indicates all conversation on that the matter is mostly settled. Once again, I would question the items included on the consent agenda, as it is supposed to be limited to just the rudimentary ones that need no further discussion.
There appears that as part of the budget discussion, there will be a discussion around the new proposed state funding formula TISA and local expenditures. The attached graph should be concerning to the locals. I look forward to more explanation.
My favorite item on the consent agenda, and one that I wish someone would pull off just because of the conversation it could evoke, is the proposed contract of $50K for the provision of a software system to lock down student browsers. Middle schoolers across the city have been regularly beating the protections put in place by administrators on their district-issued laptops. The level of sophistication that these students have employed in order to block the efforts of MNPS is impressive. Let's see if they can beat this one. My money is on the students.
Also on the board agenda is the consideration of amending MNPS school board policies. There is one for charter school applications that will now include the following clause,
If the charter school is authorized by the Commission, it shall remain under the oversight of the Commission. The board shall not exercise its legal option to become an authorizer of such a charter.
Makes sense to me. If you are going to go outside of the governing body to get permission, you need to be governed by the body doing the commissioning.
Props were props are due. Earlier in the year, the district rolled out a parent dashboard that allowed parents to keep up with student progress in a timely fashion. At the time, it was half a step away from useless. Seven months later, it's proven to be much better and considerably more useful,, I don't know if that improvement is due to teachers or actual software improvements, but it's been very beneficial over the last couple of months. Though it should come with a warning to temper reactions when accessing. Too often I've jumped on my student before having all the details. But thank you MNPS for supplying this source of information.
One last note on last week's ASU*GVS Summit. It seems that Commissioner Schwinn wasn't alone in presenting at the summit. Former HR Chief David Donaldson joined TNTP's Tequilla Brownie and TFA's Micheel Culver on a panel discussing "Activating the People SIDE of Innovation". The panel was hosted by Chris Rush from the US Department of Education. Yep...tell me again how anything is changing on the federal level.
It's a sad day in Nashville for pizza lovers, Joey's House of Pizza has closed its doors. Far and away from the best pizza in the city, and perhaps even the south, the restaurant didn't just serve great food but brought a little bit of levity as well. One of my favorite stories comes from when Joey was tossing dough at Manny's House of Pizza down in the arcade.
It was a busy lunch hour and the line was stretched out the door. A woman stepped to the register and began to deliberate over the menu, after giving her an appropriate allotment of indecision, Joey asked, "Lady, what'll you have. It's pizza. You got cheese. You got pepperoni. You got mushrooms, What'll it be?"
The lady reacted by bursting into tears and fleeing the pizzeria.
Without missing a beat, Joey turned to the rest of the folks in line and said, "And let that be a warning to the rest of you."
Man, I'll miss the place and the family that ran it, But I look forward to seeing what they have next. It's sure to be great.
And that's a wrap.
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