“Go Home. Cut your losses. Stay. Go for it. You are a republic of voices tonight. Unfortunately, that republic is Italy. All these voices waving their arms and screaming at one another.”
Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City

“We are all of us born with a letter inside us, and that only if we are true to ourselves, may we be allowed to read it before we die.”
Douglas Coupland



Before we get started, I need to offer a hearty congratulations to Tennessee State Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn. Much has been written, and discussed, about the disarray of the apartment and her many shortcomings. Step back though and you’ll see that she has actually been quite efficient over the past year.

She was initially unhappy about the list of ELA curriculum approved for adoption by the state’s review process, so she halts the process, installs a new head mid-stream, changes the rubric, and bang her preferences – CKLA and Wit and Wisdom – suddenly make the list. Though improprieties with the process are well documented, nobody says a word and the conversation is all but over.

Charged with seeing through the implementation of a voucher program she doesn’t support, she puts together a no-bid grant contract to manage applications and awards it to friends. Legislators get angry, start bloviating and then shut up. Governor says hush, and they hush. Yea, sure, they are going to put together some legislation that ensures this doesn’t happen again, but essentially they are just closing the barn door while the horses run free. Well played.

The true test begins Tuesday when what’s being referred to as the “reading bill” makes its first appearance in committee. HB2229 is scheduled to be discussed during the House subcommittee meeting at noon on Tuesday. This is the one that will establish one way to teach reading for all districts, increase testing for students in grades k – 2, mandate additional training for all teachers, and dictate to deans of education at the state’s colleges and universities exactly what their institutions should teach. This one is going to be a fun ride and it’s all Penny through and through. Well, with a little help from the state of Texas which recently passed a very similar bill.

If passed, it will touch portions of every segment of education in Tennessee and the legislation will expressly dictate to districts what and how they are to teach,

The department shall approve the instructional programming and services that must be used to provide evidence-based and scientifically-based systematic phonics instruction, and that are implemented with a focus on phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, fluency, oral reading, and reading comprehension.

It will call for, despite parents repeated demands for less testing, an increase in standardized tests while completely removing local control,

 c) Notwithstanding § 49-6-6002(a), an LEA that enrolls students in any of the grades kindergarten through two (K-2) shall administer to students in each grade kindergarten through two (K-2) a common reading diagnostic selected by the department to benchmark literacy skills and growth. An LEA shall administer the diagnostic to any student in the third-grade who is reading below grade level, as measured by the results of the last diagnostic administered to the student in second grade. The department shall establish three (3) administration windows each school year for the administration of the diagnostics. Except for the dyslexia screening required by the RTI2 framework, as provided in § 49-1-229, the diagnostics replace all literacy assessments administered at the LEA level. An LEA that seeks to implement additional literacy assessments to students must submit a written request to the department for approval. An LEA shall not administer literacy assessments that are not approved by the department.
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? But if the state telling you what to teach and when to test isn’t enough, the legislation also sets a strict timetable for when results from the tests must be delivered to the department – 2 weeks after completion.
The bill goes on to design the curriculum for all teacher prep programs in Tennessee. It tells them what to teach, what materials to focus on, and makes sure that Tennessee’s institutions of higher education know they’ve got a new boss in town.
The bill mandates that teachers are trained in teaching literacy through the usage of items on the state’s list of the approved curriculum. I’m not sure how this doesn’t by de facto make universities and colleges an extension of the curriculum company, but what happens when in 6 years the state undertakes another curriculum update and half the materials on today’s list are not included in future lists? It seems that it would produce a bit of a conundrum.
This bill is a true manifestation of the old trope. “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” In the midst of a statewide teacher crisis, Ms Schwinn is proposing that,

(4) A candidate for an elementary school teaching position in any of the grades kindergarten through three (K-3), or any grade for which the teaching credential covers any of the grades kindergarten through three (K-3), must pass a test developed or identified by the department that tests the candidate’s knowledge of evidence-based and scientifically-based reading instruction in order to receive a teacher license. The department shall determine the score that constitutes passage of the test required under this subdivision (b)(4)

Wow! Furthermore, prior to taking the test, all K – 3 teachers must take 2 courses on the “science of reading”. After you do that and pass the test you get a certificate and you are cleared to teach. If you fail the test, then the district must supply a mentor – who are paid a stipend – in order for you to teach.
The last section brings us full circle and illuminates why it was so important to get the commissioners preferred venders on the state-approved list. I was thinking too small when I made accusations that it was about getting districts to buy their products, the reality is that it is all about the services as stated in the proposed legislation,

An LEA may apply for and receive literacy-related implementation and coaching support from service providers approved by the department.

Sure, the TNDOE would love if you adopted some of their preferred vendors’ materials, but what they really want is for individual districts to buy some of that additional coaching, professional development, data management software, and test prep. That’s where the money gets made.

I can’t even imagine what the fiscal note is going to be on this monstrosity. There is $70 million set aside in the budget for literacy, but remember, only 11 million is reoccurring. In other words, if districts aren’t careful, they are going to find themselves on the look for a lot of extra money. The old unfunded mandate is back in town.
Here’s another question I would ask around the money. Every state has early childhood assessments already in place, in order to meet RTI mandates. How are those current assessments being funded? Is it through federal money? Grant money? State money? If it’s currently being paid by federal funds, it probably wouldn’t be a great idea to start using state taxpayer funds instead, now would it?
But of course, no bill would be complete without the Williamson County exemption, and this one is no exception,

(f) The requirements of subsection (a) are mandatory for each LEA, except LEAs in which the percentage of third-grade students who are enrolled in the LEA and proficient in reading:

(1) Is at least fifteen (15) percentage points above the state average;

(2) Is more than fifty-five percent (55%) at each school, as measured by the Tennessee comprehensive assessment program (TCAP) tests; and

(3) For each student group, as defined pursuant to the accountability model established pursuant to § 49-1-602, is at least fifteen (15) percentage

(g) For each school year, the department shall publish a list of the LEAs that are

eligible for the exemption described in subsection (f). The department may adjust the third-grade reading proficiency percentages required for an exemption under subsection (f) to reflect changes in statewide reading proficiency.

It needs to be said, that the real argument here isn’t about whether you believe in “phonics” or “whole word”, nor if you support the “science of reading” or “balanced literacy”. This is about if you believe that the state department can dictate to local LEAs what and how to teach. Whether you believe that the curriculum at Tennessee colleges and universities where many of our state’s teachers are prepared should be determined by legislators instead of deans of education. Whether you believe large amounts of taxpayer money should be transferred to private entities. This bill represents a major overreach by the Governor and the TNDOE.
If I was a legislator, knowing the history of Schwinn and her posse at the department, I’d be scared to death about placing this much power and money in their hands. If I was a Republican, I wouldn’t take for granted that my party would always be in power. There are elements of this proposed legislation, that if implemented, could really come back to bite some people in the ass. And don’t make the mistake that this just about literacy either. Like all big government overreaches, the tools to grab even more power are embedded in this bill.

a) By June 30, 2020, the department shall convene an advisory group of stakeholders to advise the department on the meaningful integration of third-grade reading proficiency into the performance goals and measures established pursuant to § 49-1-602 for schools and LEAs.

(b) In consultation with the advisory group convened under subsection (a), the department shall review changes to the accountability performance designations required by § 49-1-602 for schools and LEAs serving students in any of the grades kindergarten through three (K-3) regarding the weight attributed to the third-grade reading proficiency levels demonstrated by student performance on TCAP tests. Upon completing the review, if the department, after consultation with the advisory group, believes that revisions to the accountability performance designations under § 49-1-602 are warranted, then the department shall submit the revisions to the state board of education for approval and to the United States department of education, if required.

That’s three months away and could potentially have even greater ramifications to the state’s educational system.  That to me is always the crux of the argument – what are the potential unintended consequences? There are so many doors being opened that could result in a more expensive department of education with a much larger footprint. This confuses me because Tennessee is controlled by Republicans and I was under the impression that Republicans weren’t 100% convinced a department of education was even necessary, but now they are talking about growing one with unprecedented powers.
The final, but certainly not least consideration should be the capacity of the TNDOE in its current state. I can’t imagine for a minute that they have the resources and ability at this juncture to enact such sweeping policy. Hell, they have to sign an outside consultant to 6-month contract just to get a state charter school oversite board up and running. With just a glance through the bill I can see the need to hire consultants in the following areas:
  • Coordination of teacher training and the development of materials for teacher training.
  • Data management and coordinated response for new assessments.
  • Assurance of compliment by LEA’s
  • Data management for K-3 teachers as it relates to the completion of training and licensure
  • Assurance of compliance by institutions of higher education.

That’s just 6 areas off of the top of my head. A head not trained in policy implementation. Imagine the areas someone with greater knowledge and experience would identify.

There is a continual flapping of the arms over the threat of the state taking over a part, or all of individual districts. This bill tells districts what to teach, how to teach, what to access, when to assess and how to report results. What else is involved in managing a district?

This bill may not be as sexy and flashy as vouchers or charter school proliferation, but trust me, it has the potential to be even more damaging. Here’s hoping some clearer heads prevail before it’s too late. If Schwinn is allowed to continue her winning streak…we all lose.


By now most of you have seen the list of 19 candidates for the job of director of schools for MNPS. Just in case you haven’t:

  • Adrienne Battle — Metro Nashville Public Schools interim director of schools
  • Christopher Bonn — Fort Sage Unified School District superintendent (Herlong, California)
  • Ann Bueche — King George County Schools supervisor of special services (Virginia)
  • Bernard Chandler — Birmingham City Schools instructional superintendent (Alabama)
  • Benjamin Edmondson — GEM Advocacy Group CEO (Canton, Michigan)
  • Brenda Elliott — District of Columbia Public Schools chief of school improvement and supports and chief of equity (Washington, DC)
  • Versie Hamlett — Humboldt City Schools superintendent
  • Brian Kingsley — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools chief academic officer (North Carolina)
  • Chris Marczak —Maury County Schools superintendent
  • Richard Miller — Santa Ana Unified School District former superintendent (California)
  • Thomas Parker — Allentown School District superintendent (Pennsylvania)
  • Shelley Redinger —  Spokane Public Schools superintendent (Washington)
  • Roderick Richmond — Shelby County Schools executive director of student support services
  • Willis Smith — Utica Elementary Middle School principal, Hinds County Schools (Mississippi)
  • Daniel Snowberger — Durango School District superintendent (Colorado)
  • Joe Toomey —  Murphy High School principal, Mobile County Public School System  (Alabama)
  • Stephen Williams — W.A. Bass Learning Center assistant principal, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Alexis Wilson—  Balsz School District assistant superintendent of administrative services (Scottsdale, Arizona)
  • Janet Womack — Education consultant and former superintendent

It’s a fine list. I don’t want to risk giving anyone an advantage or put them at a disadvantage, by mentioning individual names. It is worth noting that many have recognized Brenda Elliot as the former Strattford principal. Next week TSBA will reveal the 5 finalists and after they do we’ll take a closer look.

This week, MNPS lost another talented young principal. Megan Galloway has resigned from her position of leadership at Haywood ES. My experiences with Ms. Galloway were always exemplary and I hate to see her go. Like many schools in MNPS, this has been a very difficult year and losing a principal in the midst of it doesn’t help. My prayers are with both principal Galloway and the staff at Haywood ES.

Over at the TNEd Report, Andy Spears highlights a recent Commissioner Schwinn admission that $10 million out of $24 million in the state budget for Charter Facilities is actually earmarked to bring charter schools to rural districts. Hmmm…this is an interesting twist because public schools in rural districts tend to enjoy favorable opinions by locals. Further complicating things, is that in smaller districts they are often the community’s biggest employer. It seems to me that this would be a plan for legislators to get plenty of earfuls while standing in line at their hometown Wal-Mart and just one more recipe for disaster.

Overton High School is doing a little bragging this morning. They have the most State Wrestling qualifiers of any Metro school and the most female wrestlers of any school. Props.

On Monday, at 5pm, MNEA will be bringing teachers and parents together in an effort to explore ways the two can align their advocacy. Childcare will be provided.

Mayor Cooper is standing by his commitment to increasing funding for Metro Public Schools. Today he submitted his first Capital Spending budget. This year’s CSP is $154 million, equally split between General Government and Metro Nashville Public Schools. The $72 million of Metro Schools projects (not including $10 million for contingencies) is a $12 million increase or 20% over what MNPS received in last fiscal year’s Capital Spending Plan. MNPS funding highlights include the following:

  • $22.9 million for Goodlettsville Elementary School replacement
  • $4.8 million for bus and fleet vehicle replacements to meet state replacement schedules
  • $1.0 million in roof repair
  • $9.4 million in technology needs, comprised of student and staff computers and software
  • $11.4 million in electrical upgrades across the district
  • $20.7 million in HVAC upgrades across the district

Thank you, Mayor Cooper.

That’s it for today. Thank you, teachers and administrators, for everything you do.

Don’t forget to answer the poll questions at the end. Your voice matters.

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 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.



Categories: Education

8 replies

  1. Was the new Bellevue HS included in the budget?

  2. I am interested to find out when the study of teacher pay is supposed to be released. Will we do anything about it or just throw out the ‘long-term’ plan mantra again?

  3. I feel like the state is hellbent to concentrate efforts on things that won’t help the vast majority of students. Who speaks for them? I know this isn’t popular. I know I’m supposed to worry about the margins. But we’ve lost focus of EVERYTHING, including the things that are/were going well. How do we relocate success, even a little? How do we comfort and support the vast middle? Right now we are stretched too thin to do it.

  4. I have posted so much information about Penny Schwinn and her real agenda I just don’t have the strength to do it AGAIN and AGAIN. The woman is out to benefit her agenda and the agenda of her buddies. Believe me her agenda is not your kids or education. It is about control and profit.

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