“So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?”
― Hunter S. Thompson
“If you wear a short enough skirt, the party will come to you.”
― Dorothy Parker
As anybody who has spent a minute or two as an adult can tell you, life is hard. It seems like half of our precious little time on earth is spent careening from crisis to tragedy and back to crisis. It is easy to get caught up in the swirl and forget that life is capable of providing miracles of all levels on a daily basis as well. We just have to keep our eyes and hearts open.
Last Friday, the Weber family was reeling over the loss of a beloved family member – our dog Huck. The weekend was spent grieving but I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize some of the miracles that also appeared during this time of mourning.
We’d been home from the vet less than an hour when I received a call from them, “We just wanted to let you know how sorry we are for your loss, but also wanted to inform you that a friend of yours has called and paid your bill. Just wanted to let you know, so it could be one less source of stress for you.”
What?!? What the hell. My list of wealthy friends couldn’t fill the back of a postage stamp and the vet bill was certainly not unsubstantial.
Turns out it was a teacher friend. But of course, it was.
Another teacher friend took our family out to dinner on Saturday night.
It was a pleasant reminder of just how blessed we are. It’s easy to focus on how much ugliness and cruelty there is in the world, but sometimes we just need to stop and let ourselves be reminded about the beauty and kindness there is as well.
CHARTER SCHOOL WARS 2.0
After a couple of relatively quiet years, it seems as if the charter school forces are once again amassing to go on the attack. Several incidents over the past two weeks give us a look at what the next year will bring.
Nationally, Elizabeth Warren announced via the education plank of her presidential platform that she as president would not be a supporter of charter school expansion. This did not sit well with the dwindling, but still vocal, charter school supporters. They immediately took to social media to bash Warren for her stance.
Last night a group, including several people from Nashville, under the banner of “Powerful Parent Network”, showed up at a Warren rally in Atlanta and proceeded to drown her out with chants of “we want to be heard” when she started speaking. The idea that people aren’t hearing charter proponents is ludicrous. The charter lobby is very well funded and has been granted easy access to the press. Theirs is not a case of people not hearing but rather one of the messages not resonating.
Btw…has anybody asked how the trip to Atlanta for those parents was financed?
Luckily, the charter proponents have their own candidate to support in the Democratic primary. Former NJ senator Cory Booker has publicly pushed back against Warren and fellow candidate Bernie Sander’s stance on charter schools. In a recent NY Times Op-Ed piece Booker proclaims that Democrats “can’t dismiss good ideas because they don’t fit into neat ideological boxes or don’t personally affect some of the louder, more privileged voices in the party.”
I embrace this taking of the issues to the voters. Let them both make their best arguments and we’ll see who is standing at the end. It should be noted though that charter schools have never played well at the polls.
As evidence, all I need to do is point to the recently concluded Denver School Board race where “dark money” – political spending by nonprofit organizations that are not required to disclose the names of donors – flooded in to support 3 candidates sympathetic to charter schools – close to a million dollars. All three lost to candidates with decidedly less funding and less support for charter schools, thus repeating a trend that has repeatedly played out across the country. Charter school support has never provided a path to victory at the ballot box.
Though it should be noted, in the state of Tennessee, team Charter schools have won a number of victories on the state level of late. In Governor Lee they’ve definitely found an ally. On top of creating voucher legislation, Lee has established an independent board to review LEA’s action on charter applications and actions. In the last month that board has overturned the MNPS boards decision to close one charter school and to deny expansion to another. These moves have served to empower charter proponents and give the impression that the state will give them free rein going forth.
Recently 4 MNPS charter schools came before the board to request expansion of capacity. Due to internal clerical issues, supporting documentation wasn’t available to community members until the day of the board meeting. Even when the documentation was made available, it didn’t fully explain the proposed actions and resulted in a cloud of mistrust hanging over proceedings.
The Valor Academy situation was only explained to me this week by a Valor parent. Valor has 2 schools. One is approved for 5 – 12, the other 5 – 8. All they are asking for is additional seats in order to house the students in the later school moving to high school. A fair enough request, as those families have already chosen Valor as their vehicle to educate their children. The likelihood of them returning to a traditional school is low.
But, I still have some caveats. The Valor High School was only approved with the stipulation that Valor opens an elementary school, something they didn’t do. I’m hesitant to reward that failure by giving them further seats in the grades that benefit them as opposed to the district. Not a deal-breaker, but a source of discomfort.
The second caveat, why 355 seats? I’m told that its to accommodate those students moving through the middle school, but the number of students in both 7th and 8th grade is at bout 130 a class. Valor’s high school is currently enrolling up to 10th grade, which means in 2 years they will have a graduating class. By my count, they legitimately need an additional 260 seats. So why the extra hundred seats?
There may be a very good explanation, but let’s be honest, an extra hundred seats would give the school the opportunity to expand the lower grades as well. Will all 355 seats be designated expressly for high school or can they also be used for lower grades in the K -12 school? If so, how will that compliance be monitored and enforced? I think these are questions that need asking.
I would tepidly grant approval for 255 seats, but would need further justification for the additional 95 seats. Equal diligence needs to be applied to other applications as well.
The STEM Prep request bothers me more than the Valor application. They are asking for this increase in seats in order to retain students enrolled in their newcomer academy. An academy that they should never have been granted due to the district’s exceptional work in this area. Again though, I would probably vote to approve those seats because students shouldn’t be punished unduly for the bad decisions of adults.
Next year’s Nashville school board race will once again provide an opportunity for charter school advocates to make their argument for increased charter school proliferation and I’m sure they will. National and state actions have once again brought us back to the place where charter school debates will suck all the air out of the room.
Data collected over the last several years confirms that charter schools are not the panacea for low performing districts. Some charter schools are very good, others fall very short. We need to avoid solutions that produce results for a limited amount of students. We need to focus on serving all students, not just those who have parents that can take advantage of options other than traditional schools.
There are a couple of things we could do if we really wanted to improve educational outcomes for all students.
First, we’d stop getting distracted by shiny objects and start focusing on the real culprit in educational disparity, poverty. That’s a hard conversation though and would force us to confront inconvenient truths and embedded biases. That would mean everybody, not just on one side or the other.
On top of that confrontation of poverty, we’d also have to embrace a willingness to have a lot more, “yes, and…” conversations. As in, “Yes, I want charters to be reined in with accountability measure, elected local control, and no form of profit attached to them at all, and I want to see every student in this country in a good school.”
“yes, and…” conversations would serve to free us from the continual militant conversations that have so plagued us in the past. Per education writer Peter Greene,
The other important part of “yes and” is that it allows us to focus on real issues and real solutions instead of getting caught up in arguments about whether or not someone should cut off our legs with a chainsaw. Granted, the chainsaw-wielding pretend doctor is a real threat, but somehow we can’t let him drain all our attention and energy. And we certainly need to reject and work past the notion that his solution is the only one that serious people can consider.
The real choice in education is how we are going to pursue improvement and that’s a choice for all of us.
GIVING TRAINWRECKS A BAD NAME
November is proving to be a particularly difficult month for Tennessee’s State Superintendent of Schools. Earlier in the school year, state legislators cautioned her about making changes that weren’t fully thought out. After NAEP results were released, past state superintendents weren’t overly pleased with some of her less than thought out remarks on those results. Mid-month saw ChalkbeatTN publish an article that painted the TNDOE as understaffed, directionless and demoralized under her leadership. There was even concern voiced that the department’s troubles could impact this year’s testing.
Schwinn seems determined to end the month much as she started it, under negative scrutiny. Earlier in the week at a legislative meeting where state representatives were once again floating the idea of arming teachers, Schwinn was afforded the opportunity to add a voice of reason, instead, she chose to punt. “I’m not in a place to comment on that at this time,” Schwinn said after a House budget hearing when asked whether she supported the notion of arming public school teachers. “We’re focusing on the budget hearing.”
Her statement was met with universal derision. The fact that the head of the state’s DOE had no opinion to offer in regard to such an important proposed policy proposition, borders on the ludicrous. If not now, when?
She followed up that performance by publically declaring that TN state vouchers would be considered taxable income. A statement that the governor’s office quickly walked back and declared false. Vouchers would not be considered taxable income, an assertion not verified by the IRS.
In the case of vouchers, one has to wonder if Schwinn’s actions are the result of not fully considering all ramifications, or are a well thought out intent to throw a wrench into the voucher implementation plan. By all accounts, Schwinn is not a voucher proponent. Perhaps she realizes that her department already has enough on its plate, and would be better served by the start of the voucher program being delayed.
Whatever the case, November has not been good for the TNDOE and if Penny Schwinn hopes to remain in her position, the coming months need to be a whole lot better.
I need to give a quick congratulations to the TNDOE’s Lisa Coons. The state list of approved ELA material is out and, to no one’s surprise, CKLA has been included. If you’ll remember, at the beginning of the summer that wasn’t the case. Penny Schwinn wasn’t happy with that possibility and as a result, Coons was brought in to rework the process and to perhaps rectify the outcome. She succeeded and now CKLA is in a position to benefit from that proposed $15 million dedicated to early grade literacy.
In the immortal words of the A-Team’s John “Hannibal” Smith, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
The case of MNPS’s teachers’ proposed 3% raise becomes more intriguing by the day. This week the Tennessean revealed that MDHA had already rerouted the funds back in September in order to finance the promised raises. Still, Mayor Cooper has not signaled whether or not he plans to honor the promise of his predecessor. I suspect that eventually, he will, but not before whatever goodwill that could have been potentially been reaped from the extra money is spoiled. Just a dumb move.
State Representative Bo Mitchell has pending legislation that would repeal voucher legislation. His proposal has all but one democrat on board and now he has a republican in the fold. Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, said he became a co-sponsor on Wednesday of a bill filed by Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, that would put a stop to the state’s education savings account program. Things are getting very interesting.
The front page of the MNPS has an invitation to “Work with us and make a difference.” But when potential applicants go to the district’s application center they are greeted with a different message. Furthermore, if you applied to Applitrack your application will not migrate over into the new system. A new application will have to be completed.
Not quite sure how the district can afford to be on a hiring freeze at this juncture, but there you have it. Hopefully, the transition to the new system will be completed by December 2.
The hiring freeze has me thinking. What about the position of Chief Academic Officer? The position is currently held in an acting capacity by David Williams but the permanent position was posted earlier in the month. As far as I know, interviews have not begun. So since applications will not migrate over, will candidates have to re-apply? Will interviews take place over Christmas break? Or will the listing just be tabled until after the conclusion of the district’s superintendent search? Those are my, “I wonders.”
And now a message from MNEA…Last month MNEA leadership submitted a request and membership signatures calling for collaborative conferencing with the district, board of education, and certificated employees. Employees who are eligible to vote for Collaborative Conferencing will receive an email tomorrow explaining the process. They will receive another email on Monday with a link to vote. The voting period is November 25th – December 6th. PLEASE go to all certificated, non-supervisory personnel in your building and ask them to vote YES for Collaborative Conferencing and YES for MNEA!
This is for ALL teachers and not just MNEA members.
Congratulations to the following athletes who have been added to the 2020 Metro Nashville Public Schools Sports Hall of Fame:
Mose Phillips, Hillsboro High School quarterback; Dan Eskew, McGavock High School pitcher; James “Doc” Shelton, Hume-Fogg basketball player; Walter Fisher, Pearl High School football and basketball player; Larry Howse, Glencliff football and basketball player; Butch Stinson, Cohn football, basketball and baseball; Sean Waller, Hunters Lane football and track; and Sandra McMurtry, a DuPont basketball player.
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