NOT EVEN GOING TO PRETEND

“Left-wing and right-wing political ideologies have themselves become secular religions, providing people with a community of like-minded brethren, a catechism of sacred beliefs, a well-populated demonology, and a beatific confidence in the righteousness of their cause.”
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

“Too many kings can ruin an army”
Homer

 

Two, sometimes three, times a week I try to survey the education landscape, take in what I see, and break it down. Sometimes it seems like things are going a million different directions. Sometimes it seems as if common sense is just tossed out the window and those whom you’d assume are sane, act in a manner that leads you to question that assumption. Such a week was this past week.

WE DON”T NEED NO STINKING STANDARDS

Tuesday I watched the Tennessee House, Innovation, Testing and Curriculum Subcommittee meeting. Up for discussion was a bill – HB1687 – being proposed by Representative Cepicky that would abolish the state standards in K-2 for science and social studies. As a result, the subjects would be rolled up under literacy instruction.

This is an especially interesting proposal in light of the TNDOE and the Governor’s support of the “science of reading” and by extension CKLA curriculum. A major tenet of CKLA is the incorporation of science and social studies into literacy instruction. Of course, CKLA is not aligned to Tennessee state standards, doing away with the standards would therefore certainly ease adoption.

Cepicky, in typical legislator fashion, described Tennessee as being in a literacy crisis. Citing low test scores as a root cause for an increase in a plethora of social ills, including alcoholism. This makes me feel the need to explain that this drunk is pretty literate.

In listening to the Representative talk, I presumed that he was shilling for CKLA and as such an ally of the Governor, the DOE, and the departments unofficial marketing wing – SCORE. Later I was told that’s not the case at all and that Cepicky stands in opposition to the aforementioned. He’s already found himself in Governor’s crosshairs over educational issues.

To make things even more interesting, two teachers offered compelling testimony to the subcommittee on the value of having state standards. I later found out that both were SCORE Fellows. Huh?!? Hard to keep track without a scorecard, pun half intended.

I gotta say, I come down on the side of the teachers. Getting rid of state standards is a ridiculous idea. While no fan of scripted materials, I do recognize the need to provide guidelines to ensure that all students have a foundational knowledge. It’s been my observation that kids don’t get nearly enough instruction in the early years in science and social studies. Putting less emphasis on those subjects doesn’t strike me as a winning hand.

ABOUT THAT NO BID CONTRACT

Wednesday brought me the week’s highlight. In the House Appropriations subcommittee meeting – one that I probably wouldn’t have paid any attention to had I not gotten a heads up midway through – legislators voiced their frustration with the implementation of the governor’s new voucher plan. Let’s not mince words, legislators delivered a good old fashion Tennessee ass whipping to Commissioner Schwinn and her teen titans.

Chairman Matthew Hill clearly wasn’t pleased to discover back in November through Chalkbeat magazine that the DOE had entered into a no-bid contract with a vendor to manage online accounts and applications for the pending state voucher program. A contract that was for almost triple the amount approved by legislators last year.

Much of the conversation has centered on the start-up amount being 2.5 million for the initial 2 years when only $773K was approved. It’s also worth noting that there is a series of three one year rollovers for $1.25 million per year. The extra money this year came from a defunct program that was established to fund extra teacher pay. Will they take from that fund in the future or has the state essentially been committed to funding an extra $1.25 million a year going forth?

Representative Jeremy Faison was quick to point out that at the very least, the department’s actions had created terrible optics. At a time when the state was in crisis mode over teacher attrition, the TNDOE was robbing money from sources dedicated to teacher pay in order to fund a privatization effort. He also questioned how the DOE arrived at ClassWallet as the only people that could provide the required service.

When Commissioner Schwinn tried to justify her department’s actions, Faison delivered one of my favorite moments. He informed Schwinn that he was going to talk to her like a true Tennessean and ask her to quit pissing on his leg and calling it warm rain.

One area lost in the discussion over ClassWallet was the seeming admission that the state’s current voucher program was not being properly administered. Everybody talked about the pending voucher legislation as if it was being created sans precedent. In actuality, Tennessee implemented a special education voucher plan back in 2015. I think it’s a safe assumption to make, that if everything was being administered correctly with that program, the department could just replicate it.

But as an article in Chalkbeat confirms, things ain’t run smoothly there either. Some of the issues can be traced back to Schwinn’s management style, per Chalkbeat,

Under Schwinn, the IEA office has been in flux. Last spring, the office was moved from the oversight of Assistant Commissioner Elizabeth Fiveash to Assistant Commissioner Katie Poulous. Both have since resigned, as did IEA Director Rebecca Wright, who left last June and wasn’t replaced. 

Wright’s assistant resigned four months later and wasn’t replaced in 2019, and a third employee left Jan. 3 — all part of a staff exodus at the Department of Education under Schwinn. The department has portrayed the turnover, which Chalkbeat found was higher than comparable periods in previous administration, as healthy and normal.

Employee turnover, discontent in education department high under Schwinn 

Departing IEA employees have been replaced with one-full-time worker and a temporary hire, while Lundin said he and several other employees with other responsibilities are helping out too.

That’s a little concerning.

Midway through the meeting, Rep – Andy Holt who represents Dresden, rose to the defense of the DOE and the governor’s plan. He argued that we need to accept that some people are just going to be against the voucher plan regardless and therefore we need to ignore their concerns. It’s an argument later echoed by Governor Lee himself.

Great. Let’s follow that logic through. Some people are going to be so enamored with the plan that they are going to ignore all issues, legitimate or not. We probably ought to ignore their arguments as well, right? Please sit down Mr. Holt.

As for Lee, the voucher issues are not helping his governorship. I keep hearing rumblings of dissatisfaction with his leadership, with some politicos openly referring to him as “Governor One Term”. Is there any meat behind the rumblings? Time will tell, but remember there are quite a few legislators, who were until recently viewed as Teflon, now fighting for there political careers as a result of voucher legislation.

I have to add one thing here – though this argument has been raised several times, but never answered satisfactory – if Holt and others are so convinced of the value of vouchers, why are they fighting for other kids’ inclusion and not their own.

I tell you what, in my house, there would be open warfare if I was signing up neighborhood kids for Little League and dance classes while my kids were being excluded.

It’s not like the kids back in Weakly County couldn’t use a little help, all 4000 of them. Less than 40% are performing at grade level in literacy. This isn’t a district that faces the challenges of an urban district either. Less than 40% are economically disadvantaged, only 14% are SWD, and less than 1% are classified EL. Clearly, Weakly’s students could benefit from the additional options vouchers could provide. Why is Holt trying to keep them down on the farm? But I digress.

Chairman Hill and others repeatedly stressed that questions were not being raised in relation to the perceived merit of the voucher program, but rather in an effort to address the questionable actions of the TNDOE. In my estimation, enough evidence was raised to warrant further explanation at next Wednesday’s meeting, and that’s what’s going to happen. Let’s see if the sequel lives up to the events of the first.

One last side note, I can’t even imagine the level of frustration the events surrounding the creation of the voucher program are causing Ms. Schwinn. To take this much of a beating on an issue that you don’t fundamentally support has to be maddening. Throw in the level of inexperience and incompetence of her staff, and it’s amazing that she isn’t calling retired school board member Pinkston for recommendations.

The one person I do have sympathy for is the Departments General Council Christy Ballard. Ballard has served admirably through several administrations but has to be finding this one uniquely challenging. To date, she risen to those challenges by adeptly assuming the role of the adult in the room. Thank you, Ms. Ballard.

BUT I GRADUATED

I might have told you this story in the past, and if so I apologize but I think it’s highly relevant in today’s climate. A long time friend of mine who has won several Grammy awards and I were ruminating one time and he brought up the expectations of recent graduates of recording schools.

“They all think that since they graduated, they are capable of the same level of work as me. They all expect that they should be working on the same level of projects as me. They neglect to note the number of months I spent sweeping floors, tape copying, working on small projects at odd hours in order to hone my skills. They just think automatically since they have a degree we are equals and it’s just not so.”

As of late, there has been a lot of talk about teacher prep programs and how they need to be modified in order to better prepare teachers. The expectations are voiced that students will graduate and immediately step into the classroom as level 4 and 5 teachers. Commissioner Schwinn recently made that assertion while promoting the Governor’s proposed budget.

Intense scrutiny is paid to the wants, needs, and desires, of beginning teachers at the expense of those who have been plying their trade for years, even decades. At some point it needs to be said, there is no teacher preparation program that will completely prepare a teacher for what they are going to face in the classroom. The only way to truly become a teacher is by plying your craft.

In fact, I’d argue that how a first-year teacher navigates those challenges, successes, and contradictions will determine their future success more than any teacher prep program.

Teacher prep programs can provide you with basic outlines but once you step in the classroom you are interacting with disparate individuals who are going to react to you in an unpredictable manner. I’ve seen teachers that I thought would be naturals, fail to connect and likewise I’ve seen those who I thought students would recoil from, transform lives.

We need to stop acting like we can create an assembly line that can uniformly create great teachers. We need to recognize the value of our veteran educators and capture the lessons their experience can impart.

There is no other profession where you are assumed to have equal status upon graduation. Medical students have to complete a residency. Murder cases aren’t immediately turned over to first-year lawyers. Plumbers and other mechanical workers serve an apprenticeship. Experience matters.

One of the most impressive aspects of my son’s budding sports career is that when he is not the best athlete on the team, he identifies the player that is, and befriends them. He emulates their skills and approach to the game. As a result, he continues to improve dramatically and every year he becomes a better ballplayer.

It is a lesson that could aptly be applied to teaching. We need to honor the talented veteran teachers we have and devote as much energy to retention as recruitment.

SUPERINTENDENT FINALISTS

It is with great pleasure that I announce two former MNPS administrators as finalists for superintendent positions in Tennessee school districts.

In Tullahoma, Dr. Aimee Wyatt is among the 4 named finalists to lead their school district. Joining Wyatt as finalists are candidates Dr. Edwin Nichols Jr., the president of ENspire Consulting, LLC; Dr. Kimberly Osborne, the current coordinator of data and assessment of Murfreesboro City Schools; Dr. Catherine Stephens, the associate director of schools for teaching and learning in the Franklin Special School District. Wyatt is currently the director of state and district partnerships for Southern Regional Education Board and an adjunct professor of educational leadership master and doctoral programs at Lipscomb University.

While at MNPS Wyatt worked extensively with the district’s High Schools and served as a mentor to several of the district’s current principals. She is deeply knowledgeable and approachable. Few have shown her level of commitment to the students and families of MNPS. It is rare that a candidate of this caliber becomes available. In my opinion, she would be an exceptional leader for Tullahoma schools.

Out in Jackson – Madison County, former Maplewood principal, and current Maury County assistant superintendent, Ron Woodard has been named as a finalist to lead that district’s school system. The other finalists are Versie Hamlett, Marlon King, Jared Myracle, Roderick Richmond, and Sharon Williams.

Woodard, long one of my favorite educators, is an innovative and hands one administrator who benefits from having served in both a rural and an urban district. An experience that provides a very unique skill set. Few have the knowledge, temperament, and understanding to balance restorative practices with the need to hold students responsible.

Woodard recognizes teachers as the cornerstone of high student achievement. Rare is the administrator who is more passionate about student outcomes than he, with ample evidence from throughout his career that he walks his talk.

Woodard brings the added benefit of his wife. Cicely Woodard is a former Tennessee State Teacher of the Year and recognized nationally as an exceptional educator specializing in math. As a team, the Woodards are especially formidable and landing them would be a win for Jackson – Madison students, teachers, and families.

Educators of Woodard and Wyatt’s caliber are rarely available, as they are quickly snapped up and secured. The fact that they are even available to districts outside of MNPS is just one more testimony to the failings of Dr. Joseph. We should be disappointed that they got away. Here’s hoping that Nashville’s loss is a win for Tullahoma and Jackson – Madison families.

QUICK HITS

Riddle me this. How does a man with a background in health care law get to sit on the board for the new Tennessee Charter Commission, chair the Florida Higher Education Coordinating Council, and serve on the board for SCORE? If you see Alan Levine, maybe you could ask him.

My love of Momma Bears shouldn’t be a secret to anyone. But man they are starting 2020 off strong. Check them out if you’d like even more info on ClassWallet and some info on a crazy little thing called YouScience. It seems these days we don’t even pretend.

On January 21st Puttnam Superintendent Jerry Boyd resigned as Superintendent of Puttman County Schools citing personal reasons. Luckily those personal issues cleared up a couple weeks later and he was able to join the TNDOE as Special Advisor to the Chief of Standards and Materials. This is interesting because Jerry is a big supporter of CKLA as is the Chief of Standards and Materials, Lisa Coons. Maybe now Jerry could get a position on SCORE’s board of Directors. Let me say it again, we’re not even going to pretend anymore.

Families looking for fun free activities need to make sure they check out Plaza Mariachi. They’ve got some incredible events planned.

Sometimes we have to deliver news that breaks our heart. I’ve never met in person AP Jeff Davis or his wife Cara Baker Davis nor their 2 young children, but few have had the impact on my life that they have had. Jeff has been battling health issues for the last 2 years and the family has been right by his side for all of it.

They seem to draw strength from circumstances that would break lesser people, continually refusing to be defined by their circumstances. Seldom is it that I read a post of theirs and it fails to draw at least a small smile. They have set the bar at an unimaginable high for grace and class at a time when grace and class are the least of their concerns, they just are who they are.

Today brought news that Jeff is transitioning to hospice. It was with a simple announcement that the news was delivered.

Home health wasn’t able to provide the level of care we need, so we switched to hospice. 💚 We are committed to quality of life.

I’m going to try and not be sad today, instead, I’m going to focus on the incredible light that they’ve been and instead be grateful that they’ve shared some of their intrinsic goodness with me. Some people make it look like it’s easy, but you know it’s not. With some people, just knowing them makes you a better person. The Davis’s are those people.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we work 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. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago.

If you so desire to join their ranks, 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, especially this time of year when my contracted work is a little slow.

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.

Don’t forget to weigh in on the poll questions.

 



Categories: Education

3 replies

  1. Standards are great in manufacturing, health care etc. But you cannot standardize kids or education. Prior to the Clinton era 1992 we did not have standards in American education. If the government mandated a standard that all 50 year old men had to weigh 150 lbs. and have an blood pressur of 100/70 ya’ll would think that nuts and it is but we have no problem accepting that ALL kids are expected to learn at the same rate and when they don’t they are classified as failures. We should roll back the clock to pre 1965. Repeal ESEA, repeal all education policy out of DC then shut down the Dept. Of Ed. Use good old fashioned phonics, math, history, science, literature. Get rid of the computers. GET rid of SEL. Get rid of sex ed. Get rid of private enterprises (Ie Bill Gates) buying their way into the classroom in order to collect data and make a fortune from the products and programs created from that data and also developing ways to change our children’s values, beliefs and behaviors. This is just for starters. Geez give me a week with no restrictions and education will get back on track.

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