“The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters”
― Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

“But when you begin with bullshit the conclusion you reach is still bullshit.”
Elmore Leonard


Today officially marks the end of Spring Break for MNPS. It also brings to an end Tennessee’s first unofficial week of social distancing.

The week started with the closing of bars and restaurants but soon expanded out to include retail outlets, gyms, churches, and other areas of mass congregation, as people took calls for social distancing more and more serious.

With the increased adherence to social distancing norms came increased negative economic impact.

Nashville’s tourism and hospitality industry took the largest initial hits. Bartenders, servers, musicians and others quickly found themselves unemployed. Hotel room occupancy rates in Davidson county from March 8 – 14 dropped 63% compared with a 74% occupancy rate for the same week in 2019. I suspect the rate will be even lower for this week and that more and more people will find themselves without jobs. Thankfully some of Nashville’s entertainment community have stepped up to offer some assistance to downtown denizens.

People, who have the option, are now working from home in increased numbers. Zoom meetings are quickly becoming the new norm as more and more office buildings succumb to temporary shutdowns.

Grocery stores struggled to keep products on the shelves. It seemed every day brought a different shortage – hamburger one day, potatoes and onions the next, with pasta the following day – while toilet paper and paper towels remained a constant scarcity. Kudos to grocery workers who not only worked tirelessly to keep shelves stocked but also managed to do so while maintaining a congenial manner. Impressive work y’all.

By the end of the week’s supplies were starting to stabilize, with even rolls of toilet paper occasionally being found.

Based on the Governor’s suggestion, Tennessee schools announced an extended closing period. Most closing until at least the end of the month, with others extending it even further – Clarksville schools plan to be closed until the first of May.  Educators and families struggled to figure out how to mitigate the new reality while making sure that the neediest of students and their families still received food and other necessities.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee General Assembly struggled to pass essential legislation in order that they might take a temporary recess while assessing the future. And when I say struggled, I mean struggled. This may seem brutal – and if it offends, I’m sorry – but I don’t believe that I have ever witnessed a group of adult men and women act so willfully ignorant during a time of crisis in my life. I don’t say this lightly, but many should ashamed of themselves.

The buffoonery started in the House where a bill related to state accountability measures was being considered. Representative Cepicky had crafted a bill with the best of intentions, albeit some gaping holes. It was clear that he recognized the anxiety that teachers and their students were feeling about upcoming TNReady tests, 180-day attendance mandates, and other state-imposed accountability factors. The clear intent was to waive all of these unneeded actions.

The bill gave local LEA’s ability to apply for waivers to participate or not, in TNReady, portfolio measurements, or the 180-day attendance requirements. It encouraged them to do so by having the state remove all penalties normally associated with state testing.  It was hyped as doing away with testing this year, but as Chuck D once said, don’t believe the hype. Unfortunately, the bill, while crafted with the best of intentions, fell prey to the agenda of others.

The decision to test or not remains in the hands of local districts, something I normally wouldn’t argue with, but in this case, it does potentially open the door to future misuse of data. Representative DeBerry made a strong argument for removing the option to test from LEAs, rightfully citing the potential for a record to be created that could be misrepresented in the future.

Initially, I didn’t feel as if the ability for local districts to test if desired was a big deal. I based this on the assumption that districts had enough on their plate as it was, and would welcome the opportunity to remove any challenges possible. Others I spoke with were adamant that this might not be the reality. After listening to Representative Dunn argue for the right of local districts to choose, I had to concede to their concerns.

In defending the language of the bill, Dunn raised several questionable defenses. He argued that several superintendents had expressed to him that they liked to have the data for their own usage. So in other words…that “hold unaccountable” thing, is just being removed on the state level and instead shifted to the local. Don’t think for one minute that teachers whose students don’t test well on a locally given TNReady test won’t be supplied with a “suggested” improvement plan. Accountability comes in many forms, not just that deigned by the state.

Dunn went further down the fictional expressway by claiming that many teachers use TNReady as a not just a means to measure their student’s performance but to also self evaluate.

Huh?!? Whatcha talking about Willis?

So you are telling me teachers use a test where they never see the questions, and whose results are not available till after school is resumed as a means to guide instruction and improve their teaching practice? In what world does that even make sense.

The final plank, in a poorly constructed argument, was presented when discussing kindergarten portfolios. Dunn argued that some kindergarten teachers had already started the process and as a result would desire to complete it. Some of those teachers had done such a fantastic job teaching their students that the quality of their portfolio would result in them being rated a 5, he didn’t want to take that away from teachers.

The logic of this argument completely equally escapes me. Teachers are not arguing for tests being canceled based on how it will make them look in the eyes of the state. The argument is that due to tornadoes and the ongoing pandemic resulting in lost classroom time, the data produced by testing will be unreliable. Since the data produced will be unreliable, subjecting students to the rigors of testing is an exercise in futility and the last thing they need in a time of heightened anxiety. It is that simple. Why is that hard to grasp?

Earlier I referred to willful ignorance, and this instance serves as a prime example. If you can’t put faith in negative outcomes produced by an exam, how can you put faith in positive outcomes?

Unfortunately, the bill carried forth from the education committee with power still residing in the hands of the LEA and as such was later passed as such in the full house. Hopefully, representatives will remember their arguments for local control when the debate over the reading bill resumes.

In a surreal moment, while the bill was being heard in the House, sponsor Mark White felt the need to bring the entire House Education Committee to the front to stand with him during the discussion and passage. It sent a suggestion that what the education committee had done in crafting this bill was something akin to traversing the river Kwai, instead of just an example of doing the right thing. I suspect this was done in order to provide White a prime photo for a forthcoming flyer for his upcoming bid for re-election, but maybe that’s just the cynic in me.

Some would argue that all of this is just semantics and that it doesn’t matter because schools wouldn’t be re-opening this year anyway. I wouldn’t be so quick to make that assumption and would guard against acting as if that is a foregone conclusion. We are in the early stages of a crisis the like of which hasn’t been seen in decades if not centuries. At some point, the economic realities can not be ignored and we’ll be forced to embark on an attempt to return to normal.

Let’s not forget that the TNDOE spent most of this year’s session arguing for the right to control district testing and curriculum. I don’t doubt that when recovery begins, that desire will reassert itself and any records produced could potentially aid them in altering Tennessee education policy. It behooves us to be vigilant, especially in light of the governor refusing to remove voucher money from the state budget. Let’s not forget the mantra of never let a crisis go to waste.

Lest I appear ungrateful, while I am thankful that the General Assembly voted to strip the penalties from the state accountability model, let’s not for one-minute fall prey to the canard put forth by media outlets that they canceled TNReady. There are states that have taken that action, but Tennessee is not one of them.


USA Today published an article today about the reason why many Americans are not altering their lives in response to the pandemic. I would argue that you need not look further than yesterday’s Tennessee General Assembly’s budget hearings for an answer to that inquiry.  Despite the dire circumstances we now find ourselves in, state senators and representatives continued to play partisan games with the budget. Sending a message that the current crisis was large enough to forego political gamesmanship.

Earlier in the week, in response to the pandemic, Governor Lee announced some changes to his proposed budget. Changes that deeply impacted the education department. As outlined by PET Executive Director J.C. Bowman,

  • BEP Growth and Inflationary Cost Increase – Reduce – 15,600,000 – –
  • K-12 BEP Salary Pool – Reduce from 4% to 2% – 58,680,000 – –
  • Charter Schools Facilities Funding – Delete – 12,000,000 12,000,000 –
  • ASD Oversight – Delete – 25,000,000 – –
  • Governor’s Fellowship Initiative (2 FT) – Delete – 8,500,000 – –
  • School Leaders – Professional Development (2 FT) – Delete – 3,000,000 – –
  • Teacher and Leader Institute (1 FT) – Delete – 5,000,000 20,000,000 –
  • EPP & LPP Innovation (2 FT) – Delete – – 3,000,000 –
  • Teacher Articulated Pathways (1 FT) – Delete – 200,000 1,000,000 –
  • AP Course for Teaching – Delete – 150,000 – –
  • Literacy Initiatives (3 FT) – Reduce – 11,250,000 37,500,000 –
  • Grow-Your-Own (3 FT) – Delete – 319,200 5,000,000 –
  • High Quality Materials – Delete – – 20,000,000 –
  • Increase Assessment Support to Districts (7 FT) – Delete – 2,762,000 – –
  • Office of General Counsel – Additional Positions (2 FT) – Delete – 222,000 – –
  • CORE Staffing (16 FT) – Delete – 1,932,800 – –
  • State Board of Education – Educational Licensure – Legal Team Positions (5 FT) – Delete – 413,900 – –
  • Citizenship Education (1 FT) – Delete – 200,000 1,000,000 –
  • State Board of Education – Staff Salary Equity – Delete – 130,000 – –
  • Governor’s Civic Seal Continuation – Delete – – 500,000 –
  • Teach for America – Delete – – 2,250,000 –
  • YouScience – Delete – 543,900 –

I’ll be honest, some where welcome changes. But what was problematic was the Governors unwavering committment to fully funding the pending voucher program over much greater areas of need.

Funding vouchers were deemed more important than freeing funds to purchase needed medical supplies, funding expanded health care options to rural communities, building a stronger economic safety net for workers suddenly unemployed, funding increased polling places and absentee voting, and a litany of other ideas brought forth primarily by Democrats. I had to stop watching the proceedings because it became exhausting watching democrat after democrat step up, and identify, area after area, where monies could be repurposed only to see suggestions quickly tabled in the name of party allegiance.

Adding to the nausea-inducing spectacle was the presence of Governor Lee looming over the proceedings from the upper balcony as if daring anyone to alter his charade of a budget.

Not everything introduced by democrats was worthy of inclusion, nor was everything included by republicans not needed. But to cling to an ideal like vouchers at a time when every dollar is needed not just by our current shuttered schools, but for the very health of Tennessee citizens at an unprecedented time like now, is unacceptable. To even fail to adequately listen and vet the suggestions of members of the opposite party is unconscionable. And the fault lies with both parties.

At some point, Democrats need to stop trying to deliver the knockout blow on vouchers. Instead of stripping all of the money’ s out of the budget, they might have had better luck trying to remove a portion.

Furthermore, at some point, the quality of representation provided by both Representative Clemmons and Senator Yarboro needs to be evaluated. Both are intelligent, hard-working politicians that are always willing to engage in the fight. Unfortunately, it’s a fight that they invariably lose and there is no value in continually putting forth a pugilist that routinely takes a beating and evokes no fear. At some point, representation has to translate into getting legislation passed.

Over the past year Representatives Hodges, Freeman, and Johnson have all demonstrated the ability to take incremental bites in order to get legislation passed. I know that some will take offense but democrats need leadership that provides more of the latter and less of the former. It is not enough to just stand in opposition.

Republicans, for their part, could have recognized that before any of the state’s students and teachers return to school, those schools will need a thorough sanitizing. I would also argue that now more then ever a nurse in every school is not just a luxury but a necessity. Instead of designating money that benefits primarily Davidson and Shelby counties, they could have shifted some of the money designated for vouchers toward helping to pay for those needs. They could have chosen to fight for a strategy that would protect kids versus one that enriches cronies.

Shifting some of the money out of this year’s budget would not have prevented the voucher program from launching next year as designated. The very families who are suffering during this pandemic are the ones that will be forced to navigate their children’s future schooling at a time they are uncertain of how they will navigate their present circumstances. What will take precedent, filling out a job application to replace employment lost, or filling out a form to attend a private school?

At the very least forcing families to consider future school attendance over present needs is insensitive to their current suffering, but inflexible need to start the program immediately also leads me to wonder what promises have been made to the governor’s private partners. Previously the TNDOE has bragged about Governor Lee securing private monies to fund the change in literacy policy, is it a stretch to wonder if those monies are attached to rush to fund private schools? I don’t know but I have long adhered to the policy of following the money when looking for people’s motivation.

Regardless of the motivations, the bottom line remains how do state leaders expect the state’s citizens to take current events seriously when they fail to do so themselves? How can leaders to expect people to cooperate and sacrifice if they remain unwilling to do so themselves? Hopefully, those are the questions each and every voter will be asking themselves this summer at the polling stations., limited though they may be.


Yesterday, some of MNPS’s principals took it upon themselves to start crafting digital learning strategies for their schools independent of district policy. A few went as far as listing expectations and demands for teachers beginning as early as Monday. It was a case of assuming that they had authority they did not have, and corrections were quick in coming from Dr. Battle.

Per usual, Battle addressed the matter in a way that demeaned no one but communicated a clear intent of how she was choosing to lead. She sent an email that identified the problem without qualification, she asked that such plans cease, and gave reasons for her decision – scalability, and equity. It was a communication from a leader intent on changing the culture of the organization she was tasked with leading.

There was no pontificating or posturing in her email, just a simple edict of “Please do not send out expectations to teachers and staff until you receive additional information from the district office.” Furthermore, it went on to communicate,  “Currently, we do not intend to conduct distance or virtual classes. There are equity and legal issues that prevent us from doing this district-wide. If there are exceptions in the future, those will be communicated out separately.”  and promised further communication of district plans would be coming forth soon. 

She also took the opportunity to alleviate teacher concerns in a manner that the Tennessee General Assembly had failed to do, ”

In related news, we will plan to not administer any TCAP assessments (TNReady, TCAP-Alt, End-of-course) this year. Based on the expected action by the General Assembly, I will pursue a waiver to not conduct the assessments. There are still many uncertainties about how this school year will proceed, and taking this off the plate will reduce added pressure on students, teachers and administrators.

It was a welcome communication and yet another sign that Dr.Battle is intent on ushering in a new MNPS. Take an action one time and it is an occurrence. Repeat the action and it becomes a pattern. That pattern that Dr. Battle is continually adhering to is one that is winning her fans among teachers and families of students. It is a fan club she is going to need in order for MNPS to reach the heights it is capable of. I’m beginning to believe that MNPS finally has leadership that parallels the depth of its talent – talent that has long deserved better and may finally be getting it.

That’s it for today. We’ll be back on Monday.

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Categories: Education

3 replies

  1. Dunn isa dinosaur that should been elected out of office years ago. I put NO FAITH at all in the TNReady results or education in TN. Self reporting should always be held suspect. With hiring of Penny Schwinn it will only get worse.

    • So much innumeracy in our elected officials I don’t know where to start. We can point to the Top of course but yes let’s discuss Rep Dunn a bit more shall we?

      What’s going to tee me off more than “losing out on TNready means teachers are losing out on reflection time on their practices” is a different bit of failed math.

      See the state is going to go back and reset its statistical model to determine student growth in the 20-21 year based on results in 18-19. There is no statistical justification for allowing such a far fetched model to be used for ANYTHING. Not for HR decision making, tenure, reflection, anything. And that would have been true covid notwithstanding.

      Some states somewhere will soon begin to tell the truth in this. I long for the day when the Commissioner and the Governor have the cajones to tell the truth and let the testing industry shrivel up. But it would be easiest to start by dumping Dunn.

  2. Tennessee has to be the only state that feels it is necessary to actually pass laws and other rules governing education in the middle of a crisis as that is the type of distraction one needs right now. I live in the state where it is now ground zero for deaths and I can assure you the only discussion about testing is one for the CORVID virus. There are many kids who are worried about graduation and in turn college which is perfectly normal but you have gotta to be kidding if anyone is worried about placement exams. What the hell is wrong with you people? A major Tornado destroys schools, homes and businesses and the major industry in the city is now gone.. GONE due to a PANDEMIC, and this is is an issue lawmakers feel is important! WTF!! How disgraceful and short sighted. Wow just wow. And again another reason why I am happy I left as I feel saner here. And we are all batshit but then again social isolation does that but we seem to be all in it together here… despite it all.

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