WTF is Learning Loss?

Nashville education blogger TC Weber calls bullshit on the latest term meant to provide full employment for the edu-elite. In a post examining legislation Gov. Bill Lee wants in the upcoming special session on education, Weber lays bare the truth behind the bogus term and further exposes the dark side of the bills being considered.

Here’s how TC explains the issue:

The term “Learning Loss” is a made-up term, created primarily to retain and obtain funding.

We have no assessment that measures this hypothetical phenomenon. It is a tool utilized to prey upon the fears of parents as their children navigate unprecedented times and to make sure that companies who provide so-called student supports don’t lose money.

Kids may be learning at a slower pace, or they may be learning things differently than what current assessments measure, but they are still acquiring important knowledge and previously acquired skills are not fleeing their brains.

First of all, there is no data, historical or current, that can accurately support the supposition of a learning loss percentage. NWEA markets the MAP test, which does a fantastic job of measuring growth and proficiency. Both are very different than “learning loss”. 

Research supports the idea that as we regularly use a skill it stays at the forefront of our brain, readily called upon. If we don’t regularly engage the skill it recedes to a storage shelf in the back in order to clear space for new skills. After a couple of months or longer, of sitting on the shelf, the ability to instantly recall fades. But the skill is not lost, and depending on the length of time between usages, can be readily recalled with some refreshers. However long it takes, is shorter than the initial learning period.

Think of it this way. Back in high school you probably read the Great Gatsby. You probably reflected on it for a bit after completion, but eventually, you put it on the shelf and made room in your brain for other books. If I gave you a test today on the book’s content, you probably would not fair very well. But if I showed you a few passages, and some reviews, before testing, you’d in all likelihood fare much better. Might even say things like, “Not sure how I remember this but…”The information wasn’t lost, it was merely shelved for future recall.

READ MORE from TC about the special session on education.

More on the special session from Nashville’s Amy Frogge>

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Turkey Farmer

Nashville education blogger TC Weber offers some insightful commentary on Gov. Bill Lee’s speech on the state’s ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Here are some highlights:

What you missed remains unclear because the Governor managed to address a crisis without offering any clear direction. There were a lot of suggestions, and a few warnings, but no mandates. In essence, a request was entered, that if Tennesseans planned on any social gathering, perhaps they’d be kind enough to limit them to 10 people unless they were funerals, weddings, church services, or … not social events.

Nearly a third of Executive Order 70 is devoted to sporting events, with nary a mention about schools, bars, restaurants, or constructions sites – all of whom would welcome, and arguably require clearer guidance. Mind you, I’m not favoring one set of mandates over another, but if you are going to promise something of substance, offer something of substance. Hell, he quoted Churchill, that alone raises the bar. Per usual with Lee and his team, we are left to debate the quality of action as opposed to the actual policy. Something that has come to define the Lee administration.

The thing that I’m more fascinated with is, what happens behind the scenes. I’m assuming that there were several meetings held prior, to devise the strategy and wording of Lee’s speech. Wasn’t anybody struck by the inadequacies of this response? Or did everybody sign-on?

Did Blake Harris his Chief of Staff, read the speech and say, “Perfect. Way to thread the needle on Government and free will. People will love this.”

Did his Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn take a look at it and say, “Nicely done. Don’t offer any guidance on schools, nobody’s interested in that. We already put those rumors about closing schools to bed. This here speech is a shining example of leadership.”

It has long been my belief that the quality of leadership is revealed by the people a leader surrounds themselves with. Between several high profile resignations and current moves by Governor Lee, I don’t think anybody can put forth the argument that he’s surrounding himself with a high-quality team focused on the citizens of Tennessee. My father used to have a plaque on the wall that read, “You can’t fly with the  eagles if you surround yourself with turkeys.” Governor Lee seems to fancy himself as some kind of turkey farmer.

READ MORE from TC>

flight bird animal farm
Photo by Mohan Nannapaneni on Pexels.com
Image of a Potential Cabinet Member in the Lee Administration

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Some Very Good Questions

Nashville education blogger TC Weber asks some very good questions for those insisting we just open schools and let all the kids back in. Weber has noted in the past that while school buildings in Nashville aren’t open, schools are open. Teachers are working, instruction is happening, and children are learning.

Here’s some of what he has to say to those aggressively insisting on re-opening the buildings:

Arguments around the re-opening of schools serve to illustrate our penchant to proclaim that “students should come first”, while continually acting in a manner counter to that mantra. We are like shoppers on Black Friday, cordially sharing coffee and stories until the doors open, then it’s suddenly a mad rush, with elbows flying, to fulfill our desires. If we were truly concerned about kids, we’d be developing solutions that addressed their specific needs before shoving forth our primary desires to open school buildings.

rally for the latter was held yesterday at Bransford Avenue by the Parent Group, Let Parents Choose. Two school board members – John Little and Fran Bush – were in attendance, along with roughly 100 community members. A decent, but not overwhelming turnout. While I sympathize with their cause, some of their arguments call for pushback.

In a rush to open schools, children’s social and emotional well-being is often cited as a core reason for re-opening. A legitimate issue, but one that falls into the aforementioned trap of ignoring existing conditions. I don’t doubt that there is ample evidence of increased student depression and anxiety, but how do you isolate the cause of that depression and anxiety? What is school closure related and what is brought forth by dealing with the effects of a pandemic? Is a child depressed because they can’t receive in-person instruction or because a parent has lost income at work and is struggling to meet the bills? Is a child anxiety-ridden because they can’t interact with their peers in-person, or is it because pandemic-related issues are causing the disintegration of their parent’s marriage?

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Another Note on Teacher Evaluations

Nashville education blogger TC Weber added a brief note on teacher evaluations in his latest post. He makes a good point: What the hell is the point of teacher evaluation this year? Is there a design for evaluating teachers who are teaching all online one week and hybrid two weeks later and fully in-person the next? Are we really going to rate and rank teachers this year in the midst of a global pandemic? We’re in a state where teachers are getting sick with COVID at a rate that exceeds the general adult population. We’re also in a state where the Governor canceled a planned teacher pay raise and the legislature followed his lead. Now, we’re going to continue with what is, in the best years, a highly flawed evaluation system that could be jobs on the line.

Absolutely ridiculous.

Here’s what TC has to say:

In a similar vein, let’s talk about teacher evaluations. What is the purpose of conducting teacher evaluations under present circumstances? Are we trying to weed teachers out at a time we need every single one of them? Are we trying to increase the usage of best practices when under present circumstances we don’t even know what those are? Or are we trying to make sure that the chain of command remains firmly established? I continue to see no upside in doing evaluations in the midst of a pandemic, and oh so much downside.

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A Note on Teacher Evaluation

Amid this interesting post by Nashville education blogger TC Weber is a note on the challenges of teacher evaluation in the age of COVID-19. While groups like the TEA have called for halting TNReady and teacher evaluation during this trying time, Gov. Lee and Commissioner Schwinn seem intent on moving forward.

Here’s more from Weber:

Furthermore, at the urging of Commissioner Schwinn, despite her public position, MNPS leadership is continuing to push forward with teacher evaluations. Principals have been given direction that evaluations need to be completed by the beginning of December. I’m really curious since the majority of instruction has been delivered remotely and remote instruction is a new frontier, who is qualified to do these evaluations? Will these evaluations take in the hours of uncompensated time that teachers have put into self-teach themselves on delivery remote instruction? Will the stress from trying to meet student needs while taking care of their families be factored in? Will the challenges associated with students not showing up be included? What about middle school teachers who found themselves suddenly creating new lesson plans for students based on the halting of the district re-entry plan?

The whole idea of evaluations at this time is inappropriate and should be suspended until a sense of stability is achieved. Unfortunately, Schwinn and the Governor need those evaluations to generate data in order to support their dastardly deeds. One long term DOE employee recently responded to an inquiry of mine by saying, “I have no idea. My sole job these days seems to be focused on forwarding the career of Penny Schwinn.” Teacher evaluations at this time reek of the same odor.

Read the entire post for more on COVID-19 and MNPS>

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Where Did This Data Come From?

Haywood County’s Director of Schools (Joey Hassell) always asks the important questions. He’s a former Assistant Commissioner for Special Education at the Tennessee Department of Education, so he’s familiar with how the education policy game is played in Nashville. Fellow blogger TC Weber reports on the questions surrounding Schwinn’s manipulation of data to fit her narrative:

What I’m referring to, of course, is the Governor’s press conference where Lee and Schwinn handed out information that indicated Tennessee’s students were suffering a decrease in learning proficiency of 50% in literacy and 65%. The information was alarming but should have raised questions about how it was arrived at. As quoted by Chalkbeat,

“My biggest question is, where did this data come from? What districts provided it?” asked Joey Hassell, superintendent of schools in Haywood County, near Memphis. “We have not provided any data and, as far as I know, the state has not asked for it.”

According to the online magazine Center Square – who is currently providing some of the best coverage available on Tennessee Education issues – projections were developed from a study by the department conducted with national researchers in June of how students were projected to perform this year. Chalkbeat went a little further, pointing out that she also cited early diagnostic testing data voluntarily provided by some school districts, as well as the results of an optional state assessment that more than 30,000 students statewide reportedly took at the beginning of the academic year. None of which was provided to district leaders or members of the media.

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TC Talks Nashville Mayor’s Race

Nashville education blogger TC Weber focuses on the Mayor’s race in his latest post. Here are some of his observations:

How did you spend your weekend? If you were one of roughly 300 teachers and parents in Nashville you met downtown at Third and Lindsey and then marched to the Howard School Building to cast your early vote for State Representative John Ray Clemmons to become the next Mayor of Nashville.

Regarding momentum building for state representative John Ray Clemmons:


The news out of last week’s forum held by the Panhellenic Society, Urban League of Middle Tennessee, NAACP Nashville, and Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship indicates that it is a distinct possibility.
Per the Tennessee Tribune,
At the end of the forum, all of the attendees were asked to vote in a straw poll for no more than two candidates vying for Mayor in the August 1 election. Clemmons decisively won the crowd of nearly 300, gaining 46% of the vote. John Cooper came in second with 26%, with David Briley close behind at 25%. Carol Swain suffered a decisive fourth place with 3% of the attendee’s vote. 

READ MORE from TC Weber about education in Nashville.

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The Nashville School Board is Exciting Again

And for all the wrong reasons.

TC Weber breaks down what’s going on at MNPS in his most recent post that follows last night’s highly contentious School Board meeting.

Here’s some of what he has to say:

Last night’s Metro Nashville Public School’s board meeting was an abhorrent display that should embarrass all of us. I try and instill in my children that making a mistake is not the defining moment, but rather what you do with the mistake. Last night, the MNPS board decided that when others go low, it will go even lower.

 

Some took to social media to further attempt to discredit Speering because she was not in attendance at last night’s board meeting. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and assume that all aren’t aware that Speering recently had open heart surgery. She attended all committee meetings during the day. My supposition is that she chose to protect her health and decide to go home instead of facing a hostile crowd. That’s not cowardice, that is just good sense.

Leadership is a lot like MAP testing, it’s an intuitive assessment. What that means is that you start off with a challenge that is perceived to be at your level. How you answer that challenge determines whether you move on to harder challenges or not. Get the question right and the assessment continues. Get too many challenges wrong and the assessment ends. Last night was a leadership challenge for Dr. Joseph. One that will not lead to the next level.

 

READ MORE about what’s happening in MNPS from TC’s perspective.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

TC Goes to Kindergarten

I’ve written some about the challenges of the new Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolios and the frustration that is creating for our teachers.

Nashville blogger TC Weber has also picked up on this issue and writes about how the process is demoralizing to our teachers. Here’s some of what he has to say:

I am not going to pretend to have a full grasp of any of this process. While I understand that I am not a professional educator, I believe that education policy needs to be written in a manner that can be grasped by parents and this policy, and subsequently DOE communication,  fails that test. I also believe that this process is entirely too labor intensive. Even though the window to file grievances has been extended to October, is this really where a teacher’s attention needs to be focused at the start of school?

Some have pointed out that this is a trial year and that scores won’t actually count against teachers. That may be true officially, but do you know anybody that would be comfortable under any circumstances with a 1 on their record? Secondly, unofficially those scores are out there and there is nothing to protect teachers from opinions being formed based on those scores.

Business long ago realized that there are only a limited number of hours in the day. That’s why when you go to buy a car, the salesman is focused solely on the sale. He’s not completing your credit check, or your loan application, nor is he completing the final sale paperwork. The most effective salesman are focused on only one thing, selling the product. Everything else distracts from the primary objective. Why can’t we provide that same consideration to teachers. Instead ion just being allowed to teach, they are continually forced to devote as much time to proving they are teaching as they are actually teaching.

READ MORE from TC on this issue.

As TC points out, the DOE’s response to all the frustration over the portfolios has been to blame the teachers. This teacher blaming happened just as school was getting ready to start. So, if your child’s Kindergarten teacher seems a little extra stressed this year, it’s likely because the state is pushing down a narrative that blames that teacher for what was, at best, a very flawed evaluation process.

One other item worth noting is the issue of compensation for those teachers who reviewed the Pre-K/K portfolios. While my initial reporting on this topic indicated teachers were paid $500 for reviewing (for 45 or more hours of work), I’ve now heard from teachers in multiple districts who were reviewers and who have yet to receive promised compensation.

First, let me say that $500 is not enough compensation for what ended up being incredibly demanding work. At best, we’re talking about $11 an hour. Next, let me say that withholding payment for whatever reason is unacceptable.

It seems that some districts went ahead and paid teachers based on the promise of state funds while others are still waiting for those funds to arrive before stipends are paid. But let’s be clear: The responsibility for this failure lies with the Tennessee Department of Education.

Let me make this comparison because I like football and because football season coincides with the start of school. As teams get ready for that first official game, they want their players absolutely focused on getting the job done. Whatever their role, coaches and programs want the team members ready to do the job. No distractions. Ohio State, a perennial top 5 team, is facing a distraction right now because of their coach. No matter how it ends up, this type of distraction, just as a season is about to start, throws off the rhythm of preparation. It takes away from being the best.

Now, think about that in comparison to being a Tennessee teacher. You’ve gotten questionable TNReady results and if you’re teacher under the portfolio system, you’ve been told mistakes were made and they’re all your fault.

This is not the playbook of a leader focused on winning.

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

 


 

CLC Announces MNPS Endorsements

Nashville’s Central Labor Council has announced endorsements in the upcoming School Board races in Nashville. Here’s their announcement:

We are proud to announce that the delegates at last week’s Central Labor Council meeting voted to endorse Metro Nashville and Davidson County School Board candidates Thomas “TC” Weber of District 2, Tyese Hunter of District 6, and Gini Pupo Walker of District 8. Candidates submitted questionnaires pertaining to their commitment to students, workers, and support staff as well as met with local union delegates to discuss the candidate’s awareness and concern regarding our affiliates’ pressing issues. CLC is confident these school board candidates, once elected, will fulfill their commitment to prioritize the needs and well-being of Nashville students, workers, and the greater community.

Election day is August 2nd. Early voting runs July 13 – 28.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport