THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

“When you’re out to get the honey you don’t go killing all the bees”
Joe Strummer

“Religion is like baseball,” said Steve. “Great game, bad owners.”
― Jim Bouton, Ball Four

 

When I was a kid, my parents often lectured me about the company I kept. Hang out with the right kids and success was sure to follow. Hang out in the wrong crowd and trouble and heartbreak were equally likely to be the outcome. Chose your friends carefully was their constant warning.

Growing up, I didn’t put a lot of stock in those warnings. What did they know after all? And who were they to be judging people? I knew my friends and sometimes maybe they colored outside the lines, but they were all right and just because they colored outside the lines didn’t mean I did, right?

Life has a funny way of teaching you the lessons that you are the most resistant to. I’ve had to learn the hard way that the company you keep certainly affects the trajectory of life. Hang out with honest hardworking people and you tend to attract better fortunes than if you hang with lazy people looking to game the system. Argue all you like, but it’s pretty much a fact – like attracts like.

A recent example is the early terminated tenure of MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph. It didn’t take a very deep dive into his associates to discover examples of tax fraud, mishandling of city contracts, and misuse of school property. When brought to light, people played it down. Said it didn’t mean anything. In the end, it was born out that it did mean something as Joseph’s run was ended by the mishandling of purchasing contracts and the mishandling of reports of sexual harassment.

Did we learn anything from Joseph’s administration? Cast an eye towards the current leadership at the TNDOE and I think you’ll find that jury is still out.

Start at the top with Penny Schwinn. Schwinn is a graduate of the Broad Academy and a member of the Chiefs for Change. Two organizations that have never kept their agendas quiet. Their history is riddled with charges of mismanagement and unethical behavior.

Equally concerning should be Schwinn’s work history – seven major education roles in four states in the past 10 years: principal, superintendent, school board member, deputy commissioner and now commissioner. Not exactly a record that builds belief in a commitment to long term sustainable plans and policies. In fact, it indicates a commitment to just the opposite – short term plans that produce big noise to attract future employment.

In the past, Schwinn herself has played fast and loose with contracts. In Texas, there was accusations of steering a large contract to a preferred company. That contract was terminated before execution, cleared of inappropriateness and the department member who filed the complaint was quickly terminated. Taken on its own, nothing to see here, just a blip in the road for an ambitious and fast-rising executive. But is it indicative of more in light of current events?

Last April, Schwinn hired a new Human Capital director, David Donaldson. Donaldson, like Schwinn, has roots in TFA and has worked 8 assignments since 2008. One of the most notable being Associate Chancellor for Michigan’s Education Authority. That’s right, Michigans own ASD and just like Tennessee’s ASD it was a failure. The district was shuttered in 2017.

Donaldson next went to work in Puerto Rico for new superintendent Julie Keleher. Keleher is also listed as the second reference behind Broad Academy and vice-president of ETS’s Student and Teacher Assessments Lillian Lowery. In her work leading the departments of education for Maryland and Delaware, Lowery was a member of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium while the testing programs were being developed. Hmm…

Back to Keleher, Donaldson joined the TNDOE after Keleher resigned in April of 2019 after a 2-year run. In July Keleher was busted by the Feds on charges of steering federal money to unqualified, politically connected contractors. This shouldn’t have surprised anyone, as throughout her tenure she courted controversy.

The U.S. Department of Education backed her attempts to expand educational options. In a 2018 speech, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary of Education Frank Brogan said Puerto Rico would be a “beacon” of school choice and a “laboratory” for people to observe.

Not everyone agreed. “The proposal in Puerto Rico to transition to charter schools and the use of private school vouchers is one that mirrors what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, in March 2018 remarks, about three weeks before a bill creating charters and vouchers was signed into law by Governor Rosselló.

Three weeks ago, Keleher was indicted again. This time for her involvement in a land deal using school property. She continues to maintain her innocence and in December asked for a change in venue for her trial due to the polarized atmosphere. She indeed may be innocent, but I’m not sure I would list her as a primary reference on my resume.

Ashleigh McFadden is your Director of Performance Management for the TNDOE. She was hired in June. She’s only had 5 jobs since 2008. An interesting note, an early job was a paralegal for the NRA. She lasted 3 years there.

Crystal Kinser came on board in October as the Deputy Chief of Staff. Her employment history is much more stable having spent 8 years employed by TFA.

Robert Lundin serves as an assistant commissioner since October. He joins the team from the Houston Independent School District but he got his start…wait for it… with TFA.

The Chief of Staff is Rebecca Shah. Shah came with Schwinn from Texas where she served as the Director of Academics Strategy and Performance.

Katie Houghtlin came over from Texas as well in June. She’s now Chief of Whole Child Supports. Since 2007, she’s held 7 jobs starting with TFA.

Then let’s not forget Dr. Lisa Coons, the Chief of Standards and Materials. She’s held 7 jobs since 2013. While at MNPS she helped TNTP secure numerous contracts in regard to the professional development of teachers. She was brought in by Schwinn to take over leadership on the ELA adoption process after Ms. Schwinn was disappointed in who was making the cut and who wasn’t. We all know how that process has unfolded. (Lawsuit)

It’s important to note that these career nomads have replaced a number of long term TNDOE employees. Employees that served under several state superintendents. Something that concerns Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, who worries about the institutional knowledge in the agency. “We do have concerns because of the amount of turnover, many from the institutional knowledge that we depend on to get answers,” White, the chairman of the House Education Committee, told WPLN News back in December.

While not exactly an official part of the TNDOE, SCORE has long enjoyed a reputation of being a shadow department of education. Since being founded in 2009 by Senator Bill Frist, MD, former US Senate Majority Leader they have been a heavy influencer on Tennessee education policy.

Here’s a fun little side story for you. Retired MNPS board member Will Pinkston was deeply involved in the founding of SCORE. Early on he ran the advocacy arm of the organization until they kicked him to the curb. While this led to the formation of his own company, it’s something he is still sore about to date.

How many of you knew that SCORE was the beneficiary of Bill and Melinda Gates’ generosity? Back in April of 2018, they were awarded nearly 3 million dollars over 3 years by the charitable organization. An organization that has been proven wrong in virtually every initiative they’ve ever undertaken. Being wrong has never been a concern of theirs though.

Back in June, Gates started himself a new lobbying outfit. Per researcher Laura Chapman,

This will be 501(c)(4) initiative led by the current director of the Gates Foundation, Rob Nabors, who was White House director of legislative affairs for President Obama. According to Nabors, “the group” hopes to avoid giving to political groups, but will focus “almost exclusively on legislative outcomes and the lobbying effort.” According to Nabors, they hope to “accelerate outcomes” without getting too “wrapped up into broader political types of issues.” “They are interested in learning what works and what doesn’t work.” Nabors said the lobby shop will be using data the Gates foundation has collected from programs it has funded.

Hmmm…who’s good at lobbying? SCORE has been extremely vocal in its support of TNDOE Superintendent Penny Schwinn’s recently announced initiatives. Initiatives that align with the agenda of the Gates Foundation and others in the so-called reform movement.

I have to say that I do admire the cajones of SCORE in their sounding of the alarm over Tennessee’s Literacy. They present the supposed crisis as being independent of any actions they’ve taken over the past decade. A decade in which they’ve wielded considerable influence.

Some of you may be wondering what the point of all of this is? It may be nothing, but the information here should be considered in evaluating the legislation and policy being pushed by the TNDOE. If nothing else it shows a shared history of subverting the democratic process and of watching out for private interests over the public interest. As such, their actions warrant close scrutiny going forth.

Each of us has to ask ourselves, are these the best people to associate with to get the best results or can we find better friends? I know my answer, what will yours be?

RESPONSE TO A READER

A comment from a reader last week accused me of overreacting to proposed new “science of reading” curriculum and urged me to focus more on the detrimental role standardized testing plays in education policy. Unfortunately, this a “chicken or an egg” situation.

There is no doubt that educational outcomes have suffered over the last decade due to an over-reliance on standardized testing. But this over-reliance is fueled by the adoption of new standards, new teacher accountability policies, and new curriculum. All which lead to even more testing.

Currently, in the “science of reading” adoption legislation, there is a call for more assessments for kids k-2. You can’t tell how transformational the new approach is if you don’t constantly measure it, right?

So the question comes do you fight against overtesting by denying the adoption of new initiatives to measure or do you fight against it by removing the practice of testing itself. I don’t know, but I do know that we need to back off the amount of testing we currently engage in.

I find it very troubling that we continue to craft policy based on test results while never evaluating the tool itself. We depend upon private institutions to calibrate our measurement tool in secret and then take their word that it’s accurately measuring what we are asking it to measure. We never question whether failings are a symptom of performance or failure of the tool itself. That needs to change.

DISCIPLINE

Under Dr. Joseph MNPS modified its discipline policy. The new policy introduced more restorative practices and limited the number of students out of school suspensions. Unfortunately, resources were not provided to support the change. The results have been disastrous and student behavior has been repeatedly cited as a contributor to an increased rate of teacher attrition.

Defenders of the policy have claimed that the policy doesn’t prevent the suspension of students for just cause. However, behind the scenes teachers that have been victims of poor student behavior have been repeatedly counseled to temper their demands of punishment. As a result student behavior has worsened with both teachers and students voicing concerns around safety.

In an attempt to quell criticism and assuage fears, this morning Dr. Battle sent out a district-wide communication that included her thoughts on the district’s discipline issues. Unfortunately, those thoughts come off as another attempt to continually straddle the fence. In one sentence she voices her trust in teachers’ judgment while giving cover for students’ misbehavior in the next.

Equally troubling is that Battle attributes the current perception as being a new one. Far from it, teachers have been screaming about the discipline policy and the lack of support it affords for 2 years. As a former community superintendent, this shouldn’t be news to her. Yet apparently it is and change is still being promised…soon.

In 6 years of covering MNPS, I have never seen as many schools in open rebellion against their principals as I’ve seen this year. It’s deeply concerning and I attribute it to a lack of change despite years of voiced concerns. It seems we’ve reached a tipping point.

A tipping point that places principals in a particularly precarious position. Teachers don’t always understand the role of the central office in principal performance and so they take it out on who they know. Sometimes deservedly, but sometimes not so much.

I certainly don’t fault teachers for their anger. They’ve been patient way too long with way to little reward. It’s long past time for the discipline policy to be revamped. The district needs a policy that protects the safety of teachers and students and focuses on getting students needed services as opposed to where they get those services. A policy that protects the rights of those who follow the rules, as well as those who struggle with authority, is long overdue.

The longer the administration tries to give the impression of prudence by straddling the fence, the worse things are going to get. This is an area, much like with the circumstances around Dr. Majors, that call for decisive action. Action that will set expectations for Battle’s leadership.

POLL RESULTS

Time now to look at the results from the weekend poll.

First question asked for your opinion on Metro Nashville suing the state over voucher legislation. Not surprisingly, this was a popular move. Sixty-five percent of you voiced strong approval, while 3% thought it a foolish move. Here are the write-in votes,

The state is pretty ignorant about education and the governor sold us out. 1
Where did they find the money. 1
all of the above 1
Sue about charters, too…same concept 1
Meh 1
Can we sue over tony majors stealing from taxpayers? 1
Sure will close failing schools 1
yes

Question 2 asked how convinced you were that MNPS teachers would actually see the 4% raise Governor Lee included in his proposed budget. Altogether, over 80% of you voiced skepticism. None of you expressed any confidence in the governor. That should say something. Here are the write-ins,

If we get it, Metro payroll will screw it up 1
No faith in this governor when it comes to education. 1
What 4% raise, shell game, increase benefit cost and more property tax: 1
Hope to see it but NEED retroactive step raises 1
The last raise from the state MNPS boe used mostly for central office positions. 1
4% doesn’t even get me a freaking tank of gas.

The last question asked you to name your trusted news source. I must admit surprised by this one, as I thought answers would be more evenly divided between the local TV news. Not the case. Channel 5 ran away with this one. 61% of you named them your main source. The second was Channel 4 with 12%. The Tennessean was named by only 1 person. That’s concerning. Here are the write-ins.

My secret text group no one knows about 1
mnps 1
Dad Gone Wild 1
Tc Weber 1
BBC News. Tennessean and local channels all have agendas. 1
none 1
Mixture of the sources listed 1
Tony Majors hasn’t been fired yet?

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we try to accentuate the positive.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support in the past. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do. Getting this blog together requires a considerable amount of time and I’m not going to lie, this time of year finances are particularly tight.

You can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated.

Don’t forget, if you have student-written blog posts you’d like to see reach a wider audience…send them on. I’d love the opportunity to share them.

In closing, remember how I started off this post telling you how you can tell about a man by the company he keeps? Yesterday MNPS’s Jeff Davis celebrated his 53rd birthday. The picture of the event tells you everything you need to know about Jeff. Keep it up, Jeff. One of the good guys.

 



Categories: Education

5 replies

  1. It is a shame you didn’t spend more time on Penny Schwinn. There is much more to her story. The TX contract was canceled but not before it was executed. They paid SpedX $2.5 million before they ended the contract. The woman that blew the whistle on the deal was fired and she filed a lawsuit with the US Dept. of Education which she just recently won. Choice is a great thing but when it is funded with public money it is not choice. Those pushing Charters and vouchers (like Schwinn and all Broad graduates) understand they are schemes to make BIG money and to get ALL students into the same education system and the data pipeline. All while making promises of better achievement. Many research projects have proven they do not deliver on the promises made and it is my contention they do not deliver as promised because the promises were based on lies much like Obamacare and Common Core…if the public knew the truth they would never support the agenda. So they lie. Years from now when it is a done deal (with the help of useful idiots like Governor Lee) parents will look back and what they will see is all they got was choice of location but no choice in what their children will be taught or worse yet what they will not be taught. They will also find they have no absolutely no authority and no voice over their children’s education because part of the plan is to eliminate elected school boards or to at best reduce them to nothing more than rubber stamp organizations. The lack of oversight and mismanagement that takes place in Charters is astounding yet it is being expanded. Neither Charters or vouchers have delivered as promised but yet we continue to push them. WHY? The answer is simple if anyone cares to open their mind and use some good old common sense and reasoning or just reread the beginning of my post about the promises. Just look at the research from other states that have had vouchers for a very long time. Talk to parents in New Orleans, they will tell you they now have NO CHOICE and NO VOICE. The ASD is another vehicle to turn more and more schools over to charters and now we have a charter commission staffed with charter zealots. If you are interested in seeing the final audit report on the TEMBO and SPEDX contracts from Texas just let me know. Oh and isn’t it funny we just gave out a NO BID contract to Classwallet for $2.53 million. Now we find the first year is not even in the budget. Is Ms. Schwinn up to her old tricks again? Schwinn hired, from Florida (I guess we haven’t any talent here in TN?), Amity Schuyler to head up the TN ESA program as the Deputy Ed Commissioner. She is a strong proponent of ESAs and was the Chief of Staff for the Superintendent of Palm Beach County Schools who just happen to have a contract with ClassWallet Coincidence??

  2. The new (ish) restorative justice discipline policies and “PASSAGE” program from Tony Majors, Tom Ward, and so many other community inputs were loudly supported by NOAH and MNEA’s Erick Huth, after so many community meetings. I myself attended 3 or more.

    It seemed logical that we could reduce the endless penalties to a smaller book, and by clearer prescription of intervention, likely remove race-bias from teacher interventions.

    Most personally troubling at all the meetings was the statement that because African American boys were suspended at 3.5x the rate of white boys, then _obviously_ there is a racial bias. Never was the possibility considered that poorer children, (disproportionately African American given our societal disease), might act out with greater frequency due to stresses at home. (And, in the many African America student tellings of their over punishment by white teachers, the anger of the African American parents who felt so wronged, I was struck by how the message was so frequently “My child was _not_ acting _that_ bad” I was also struck by all the assembled liberal white parents, mostly parents of private school or segregated-magnet children… nodded with the stories… “tsk tsk MNPS clearly has a race problem…. We must take _ACTION_!” I so longed for one of these students to say “I know I should not have been talking back, I should not have pushed the other student…” Instead we heard “the other student started it” “the teacher over-reacted” These were very difficult narratives to listen to. Buried in the data was the fascinating observation that African American boys in our more integrated schools had lower suspension rate – like 2.8x instead of 3.5x… and no one gave 5 seconds when I raised that point.).

    After the gathering of data, when PASSAGE was near-final, the School Board public comment microphone was jammed solid with advocates for PASSAGE – every month. We heard suspensions, suspensions, suspensions, suspensions. I’ve never seen so many folks mobilized so eloquently and energetically.

    Sadly, funding never came through to place the needed adults in our school buildings to follow through with full implementation.

    I suppose the point of my comment is to remind us that the thing we are attacking as a failure likely was never fully implemented in the first place, like so many initiatives in public education.

    I hope our leaders will see the wisdom in funding the discipline initiative fully so that we can truly answer whether it is the solution to the poverty-amplified discipline problems that drive so many affluent families from public education.

    Until then, what again, exactly are teachers supposed to do when a child is disrespectful for the 3rd time?

    I am so thankful Dr. Battle is giving them answers to that question.

    • I do wonder about Battle’s vague email on discipline. Are we about to see schools required to have a certain number of deans? Will their job descriptions be clear? Who is paying? District budget or school-based budget?

      If LTDS are no longer mandated to be at all schools but deans ARE….. we making be getting somewhere…. on one front.

      Survey question: if you have to pick between a dean and an LTDS, what do you pick?

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