“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley.
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
(To A Mouse)”
“I am very interested and fascinated how everyone loves each other, but no one really likes each other.”
It’s Tuesday after President’s Day and once again it’s raining. It seems that’s become a permanent state of late, though we did have 3 days of sunshine this past weekend. Feel like I should give a little fair warning here, the weather coupled with other factors has left me feeling a bit of a grump today, so my apologies in advance if some of that seeps through.
Before we can move forward today, we have to step back a minute. On Friday, I chronicled some of the goings-on at the TNDOE. In doing so I painted with a broad brush and might have left the impression that these days nobody competent was employed with the department. Not my intention.
The problem with Tennessee’s Department of Education over the last decade has always resided with leadership. Kevin Huffman was an unmitigated disaster that created policies that underfunded schools, weakened districts, and produced a workforce that largely regrets entering the teaching professions and of which a third would quit given a viable option. SCORE likes to run around Tennessee screaming “LITERACY CRISIS! LITERACY CRISIS!”, like some kind of modern-day Paul Revere. The reality is if Huffman and they had focused on supporting schools and teachers instead of growing charter schools, recruiting educational tourists, and developing added ways for the state to meddle, we might be in a whole different place right now. It’s not like nobody told them the plans were shite.
After Huffman, it was Candice McQueen, a marginal improvement. At least she took us out to dinner first. She does deserve some props for creating the Read to Be Ready camps, which were having a meaningful impact until in his infinite wisdom Governor Lee decided to defund them. But think if she’d actually managed to get testing right? What if she’d recognized the teacher attrition crisis before it had become a crisis? What if she hadn’t embarked on the disastrous Kindergarten teacher portfolio process. What if she’d treated teachers like true partners? The landscape right now might look a whole lot different.
Now we have a new occupant of the leadership chair and indications are that as a result, we are going backward instead of forwards. Manipulation of processes to ensure outcomes desired by leadership seems to be the new rule of the day. In one of my last pieces, I made the assertion that the state’s existing voucher program was not being managed properly. Per Chalkbeat magazine it currently is not, but that wasn’t always the case and the reasons for its current failings are easily identifiable.
Regardless of your philosophical views, prior to Commissioner Schwinn’s arrival, Individualized Education Account(IEA) director Rebecca Wright had the program up and running pretty smoothly sans any 2.5 million dollar no-bid contracts. Shortly after Schwinn’s arrival, Wright felt it best to explore other options. In an effort to make the transition painless, she offered to train up the new director and ensure that they were familiar with all aspects of the process. The offer was ignored. And it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because the Associate Commissioner she reported to quit herself soon after.
That left two administrators responsible for the whole process, a process with a workload untenable by just two people. They raised concerns and those concerns fell on deaf ears. One said, enough is enough and I’m out. That left all the work on the shoulders of the one remaining who had never been trained in all aspects of the program and as a result, was unable to shoulder the burden. When she raised concerns…they fell on deaf ears. Noticing a pattern?
She has since left as well.
Incompetence or intentional? I don’t know. But in light of the facts that surfaced during the two committee meetings held last week, I don’t think its a stretch of the imagination to think that the employment of a strategy that would facilitate the ability to roll up the management of the existing IEA program into the new one would be attractive. Especially if you have a beneficiary already in mind. Not accusing, just saying.
I’ve also had several people reach out to me and vouch for the strong character and competence of Joanna Collins. Unfortunately, her role as the contract liaison puts her in a tough situation. Her job is to make sure the CPO process is followed and she did just that. Whether everything else was handled legitimately falls upon Deputy Commissioner Amity Schuyler and ultimately Schwinn.
The one final thought I would offer here is that if you look back to Texas and the contracts Schwinn was involved with there, you’ll find that the fall guys for the fiasco were the contract liaisons. Gotta know your history or you face the risk of repeating it.
ITS A ELA CURRICULUM ADOPTION YEAR
This year in Tennessee is an ELA curriculum and materials adoption year. That means everybody is looking to potentially adopt new materials. That also means that political rhetoric is out in force. In other words, if you don’t own a pair of hip boots, you might be in trouble.
Two words currently being tossed around freely – pun intended – are “non-profit” and “open source”. Both are being utilized to create an image in the mind of the public of self-sacrificing martyrs creating school curriculum in church basements solely for the benefit of kids, sans the pursuit of any financial reward for themselves. It is intentional and it’s inaccurate.
Non-profit does not mean that you are not generating revenue. Nor does it mean that people aren’t making money. Per education writer Mercedes Schneider, here is a list of salaries in 2015 for the non-profit Great Minds which produces, the ELA curriculum Wit and Wisdom.
In 2015, Nell McAnelly replaced Barbara Byrd-Bennett as board chair ($89K for 10hrs/wk). William Kelly became treasurer ($100K for 5hrs/wk); “trustee” Lorraine Griffith took a cut in pay: only $93K for 2hrs/wk. And president/CEO Lynne Munson earned $317K for 40hrs/wk.
A number of others were also handsomely compensated, including “deputy director” Barbara Davidson ($191K for 40hrs/wk) and “lead writer” Robin Ramos ($157K for 40hrs/wk).
Somebody is generating some revenue.
So much so that in 2016, the nonprofit established Great Minds LLC (Schedule R). According to Nonprofit Law Blog, there are a number of reasons that a nonprofit might create an associated LLC, including protecting the nonprofit from risks associated with assets or activities of the LLC or operating a business not substantially related to its tax-exempt purpose without risking revocation of the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status. A look at Great Minds 2017 tax records shows the following,
On January 1, 2017, Great Minds entered into a bill of sale, assignment and assumption agreement with Great Minds LLC, which is a disregarded entity (not separate from its owner) of Great Minds. The agreement transferred certain operating activities, including the marketing, selling and implementation of all the current and future products of Great Minds, to Great Minds LLC. Additionally, Great Minds transferred inventory, tangible property and transferable contract rights as outlined in the agreement to Great Minds LLC. The transfer did not include some intellectual property, nontransferable insurance plans or the line of credit.
So where is the money coming from?
That brings me to our second term, “open resource”. Open resource gives the impression that the curriculum is “free”. But “free” is a relative term. Yes, a district can adopt the materials at no charge but there is more to the story.
Roughly 15 years ago some visionary business leaders started thinking about shifting their business paradigm from a “product” model to a “service” model. In the new model, you’d give away, or sell at a reduced price, the product and make your cash off of selling services — “learning services,” to be specific. They define learning services as those offerings that fill gaps required to make free products and platforms into solutions that educators need.
Think about this like men’s razors. Your initial handle and a blade or two are priced pretty inexpensively. But when you go to buy a replacement blade, that’s where the money is made as they are priced considerably higher. Computer printers work off of a similar model. Replacement ink costs nearly as much as the printer itself. They are willing to give away the gateway product at a low price point knowing that they’ll make up cost by you repeatedly needing service.
So yes, districts can adopt the initials materials at no cost. But coaching is available if you need it. Additional materials are available if you need it. Professional development? Available. In other words, to truly take advantage of the product, you have to buy the service.
Let’s look at our friends, Wit and Wisdom again. In 2011 under its former name Common Core INC the company was struggling, reporting an income of only $427K nearly all from grants and donations. In 2012 revenue jumped to $3.3M (including $3M in contributions and grants; $130K in program service revenue, and $150K in “other revenue”). In 2014 per Schneider, “Revenue rose to $16.5M, $4.7M of which was in “government grants”, Common Core, Inc., reported $1M in “license income” and $7M in “royalties.” The professional workshops were now drawing a profit; the $1.4M cost being less than the $2.2M revenue.”
In 2015 after they changed their name, program service revenue (the money generated by Great Minds products and services) ballooned from $3.2M in 2014 to $20M in 2015. At the same time, contributions and grants dropped, from $6.2M to $1.5M. Hmmm…in 2016 revenue hit $42 million. In 2017 it was $66.8 million with no money derived from grants or donations.
Now the large majority of that revenue has been generated through their Eureka Math program, which in 2017 generated revenue of $64.6M, for a profit of $39M. To date, Wit and Wisdom has not proven as successful.
As of 2017 it was still failing to generate a profit for Great Minds and in fact, was operating at a deficit of $1 million. I can’t help but think that a couple state adoptions wouldn’t help rectify that situation a bit, nor would the state of Tennessee adopting legislation that would require all schools to follow the “science of reading’ hurt, since their program closely aligns with Wit and Wisdom. So it’s unlikely just coincidence that we are seeing the heightened promotion of both Wit and Wisdom via social media. CKLA presents a similar situation.
Speaking of social media posts and Wit and Wisdom, of late I have seen a proliferation of posts similar to the one shown here. For me, it begs the question of whom this is directed to and why?
First of all, I read it as an admission to providing a sub-par education in the past and I would ask, why? And if you admit to using inferior materials in the past you either did it knowingly or unknowingly – neither of which inspires confidence going forth.
Who are we trying to impress with this testimony? Parents? They can go on the state website and read the reviews of Wit and Wisdom for themselves. Ironically they’ll find that the curriculum failed review twice and is only on the approved list with the caveat that those adopting the curriculum invest in the supplemental material.
Is this supposed to influence politicians? Well, that’s a gray area. Because as a non-profit Great Minds is not supposed to attempt to influence any pending legislation and I’d argue that testimony for Wit and Wisdom is a testimony for the “science of reading” which is a part of pending legislation.
Is this an attempt to influence other school districts? Surely they have the resources to evaluate individual program merits on their own. That’s the reason the review process was actually created, right? So if this is the case, who’s actually benefitting?
Or, is this an attempt to curry favor with Great Minds? And at what benefit?
I don’t mean to be picking on Scott here – though it is worth noting that in 2014 he was part of the TNDOE common core leadership council. He’s not alone in pushing the adoption of certain materials over others. And its perfectly within his rights to do so. I just think that when you see people make claims that money is not an issue and that all intent is pure, your bullshit meter probably needs to go off. In the end, it always seems to come down to the benjamins.
Well if Schwinn was hoping for a better week than last, it doesn’t appear likely that is going to happen. Ahead of committee meetings this week, an email has been sent to legislators detailing a few of the Education Commissioners’ proclivities, including an interesting story involving Questar – Tennessee’s testing provider. As the tale goes,
Randy Langton, Vice President, TN Assessment Programs for Questar sends an email on Sunday, March 31st at 5:09PM to Schwinn staffers. He informs them that he will meet them, Monday morning at the Questar office around 9AM. He told them what documents he would have ready based on Penny’s request. Furthermore, that Brad may join them. Langton then tells them the following, “Please know that we do have a number of things going on tomorrow, so we may need to adjust the timing or sequencing of the items listed. we can make a quick visit to the call center”. Keep in mind, Questar was re-arranging their schedules when they received the call only 2 days earlier, that Schwinn was going to be in MN, and wanted to sit down with them, plus tour their operations.
Members of Schwinn’s staff arrive in Minnesota on Sunday, March 31, for the Monday, April 1st meeting. One of Schwinn’s top staffers was notified on Saturday ( see text conversation below) that Schwinn herself was not flying into Minnesota, till Monday morning, with a flight departure time of 5:55AM from Nashville BNA.
On Saturday, March 30th, at 12:11PM, Schwinn sends a text message to a staffer that was also flying to MN. It read:
Hey XXXXXX, Thanks for doing that extra work last minute! I arrive at MSP at 8AM . I’ll plan to arrive at Questar anytime between 9AM and 10AM, to allow for some early phone calls. I will be there however long it makes sense, but want to leave by 1:30 at the very latest (12L30 preferred) I’m guessing that 2.5 – 3.5 hours is the right block? Thanks again, Penny
Monday morning April 1st rolls around. Penny Schwinn alerts a lead staffer, who is already in Minnesota prepping for this last minute meeting, that she has been bumped from her flight in Nashville, and is trying to get on the next one out. She was flying Delta Airlines. Schwinn’s text message read:
Hi XXXXXX, The flight is oversold and I was the first to be booted. Then they put me on the wrong outbound (MSP to BNA??) Now they are trying to get me on another flight. Worst case, can we skype meeting? I’m just setting at airport…
Thus, via the text message Schwinn tells her staffer that in worst case scenario, she would skype in for the meeting via phone. This was the last the Schwinn’s staff heard from her. They called and texted her multiple times; the staffer said she simply disappeared off the grid, and went black. She never called in, and let her staff their hanging to answer to Questar, when remember, Schwinn’s story was that she was going to me in MN, and wanted to sit down with them. Reports are that Questar was not happy at all with how Monday, April 1st went down. I spoke with Mr. Langton and he verified that Schwinn never showed and did not call in to skype for a meeting. What happened?! Why would our Education Commissioner request a last minute meeting on a Friday, for the following Monday, and not have the courtesy to at least call in? WHY?
In contacting Delta Airlines for this flight leaving Nashville BNA, on Monday, April 1st, they stated the flight actually left only 7 minutes late from Nashville, was not oversold, and actually arrived in Minnesota earlier than scheduled. Now possibly, I was given the incorrect information from Delta Airlines. This still doesn’t change the question of why Penny Schwinn went off the grid, and did not call back into her staff; who she left hanging at a meeting she so desperately had to have, so that she didn’t have to meet with DeVos and Lee. WHY? I would further ask, if she were allegedly bumped, and for whatever reason chose to leave her staff hanging in MN, why not show back up at the Capitol and meet with DeVos and Lee?
When it was learned that Schwinn was a no show in MN, the next obvious thought would be, did she get reimbursed from Delta for her air line ticket? Did she submit a reimbursement to the state for this ticket? Ironically, soon after this failed trip, the young lady in Schwinn’s office who handled her travel
was fired. Thus, how would we know?
Also, when the former TN Communications Director learned of the DeVos April 1st story, surrounding Schwinn, she resigned that morning as well.
That’s just one of several stories shared and whether they have merit or not is up to you. It should prove for an interesting week.
Per usual at the beginning of the week, let’s take a look at poll results.
The first question asked, How is your presidential candidate of choice. I got to admit that I was a little taken back by the responses to this one. 24% of you named Trump as your choice, while 21% said you were still deciding. Warren was the leading vote-getter among democrat candidates with 17% of the vote. Here are the write-ins,
|Never put politics on a social media page.||1|
|Whomever gets the orange orangutan out of our lives.||1|
|ask me again in August when this list of clowns has been reduced.||1|
The second question asked for your opinion of how long it takes for a teacher to truly become a teacher. 41% of you answered that it varies while 29% of you indicated that it takes 5 years. Only one person answered, “upon entering the classroom”. Here are the write-ins,
|5+some never do||1|
|How long does it take to Fire Tony Majors for stealing?||1|
|Depends on the teacher||1|
|Minimum 5-7 years.||1|
|After masters degree||1|
|Varies. Some never do.|
Last question, what is your opinion of SCORE? 43% of you recognized them as a shill for private interests. While 23% of you indicated that you had no opinion. Only 2 of you saw them as a noble organization that produces results. Here are write-ins,
|Still can’t figure out their purpose||1|
|Good organizers across state||1|
|Waste of time. MNPS will take anyone with a license. Bad salary =no competition|
If you’ve got time and are looking for a smile, 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. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy.
If you so desire to join the rank of donors, 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. Not begging, just saying.
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.