“To cut off the confusion and accept an answer just because it’s too scary not to have an answer is a good way to get the wrong answer.”
“The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang the best.”
In A.A. newcomers are often cautioned about the dangers of returning to drinking after a prolonged period of sobriety.
“You may think you can control it. But you will soon find yourself back at the same level of insanity as when you quit”, is the warning administered to every new inductee to sobriety. Cautionary tales of others who thought that they could return as rational drinkers only to fall prey to their inner demons are told in an effort to reinforce the warning. Tales that often go unheeded to the detriment of the forewarned.
Apparently, drunks and politicians have a lot in common. This week the Tennessee State General Assembly reconvened and it didn’t take but a minute to return to the level of pre-pandemic insanity.
While the Senate initially voiced a determination to only take up budget-related items and do so in an expedited manner, the House threw the doors wide open. Bills on concealed carry, transgender participation in high school sports, and abortion all advanced even as the legislators struggled to get a clear picture of the state’s finances. Underneath the conducting of the people’s business simmered the growing dissidence between the governor and the General Assembly.
It’s a poorly kept secret that many Republicans are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Governor Lee’s leadership. Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton, Congressman Mark Green, and former SCORE Executive Director Jamie Woodson are all in various stages of considering a run to challenge Lee in 2022. This comes in spite of Lee maintaining that in house polls show him running with a 64% approval rate.
In response, the Governor is doubling his efforts to get rogue legislators in line. This week he’s been sending a not-so-subtle message that if you oppose his legislation you not only oppose him, but you also oppose the president. Early indications are that this may not be a winning strategy.
On Tuesday morning, once the gavel hit the desk in the House Curriculum, Testing, & Innovation Subcommittee, things got interesting. After the formalities were taken care of, Representative Bill Dunn was first up with HB 1934. As part of his proposed legislation, the commissioner of education would not be allowed to unilaterally change performance goals without the approval of the state board of education. It also includes provisions for stakeholder input before making any such changes. Dunn’s bill passed out of the committee with little discussion and will be taken up by the full education committee next week.
Taken without context, the restrictions placed on the commissioner may appear purely clerical, and an effort to offer protection in the future. But in the broader context, I can’t help but notice the continued transferring of oversight to the state board of education, and thus perhaps a tone being set in regard to education issues for the rest of this brief session.
Next up, Education Chairman Mark White brought an amendment to HB 1008. One that would require the TDOE to provide a detailed plan for the return of schools in the Tennessee Achievement District to their local administrator by 2021. Confusingly, HB 1008 as introduced, requires the department to publish the list of art supplies that are certified non-toxic by the Arts and Creative Materials Institute on the department’s website. Hmmm…what that has to do with the ASD is beyond me, but apparently, this is an example of an ongoing practice that allows for unrelated issues to be attached to a singular bill. Not exactly a transparent way to do business.
Initially White asked that his amendment be rolled to the heel of the agenda because he was still in the process of conferring with the department of education over the proposed legislation. When the bill was taken back up later in the proceedings, White confirmed that after talking with the TDOE, they were fine with his proposal to hold them accountable. In justifying the need for a concise plan from the department, White offers that there are some “high-performing ASD’s and we just need to give them some answers”. By “high-performing ASD’s”, I’m assuming he means schools.
This is interesting argument on two levels. First, I’d be interested in hearing who he considers a “high-performing ASD”. The ASD, as pointed out by math teacher and education writer Gary Rubenstein, was not successful at any level.
They completely failed at this mission. Chris Barbic resigned, Kevin Huffman resigned, Barbic’s replacement resigned, Barbic’s replacement’s replacement resigned. Of the 30 schools they nearly all stayed in the bottom 5% except a few that catapulted into the bottom 10%.
Ironically Representative White’s words highlight the primary issue with the ASD since inception – lack of communication with impacted families. Once again the focus is on the schools as opposed to the students and their families. Even in shutting down this failed experiment legislators apparently feel more responsibility to the disruptors and are willfully ignoring those whose lives are once again being disrupted. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
This amendment also passed on to the full education committee.
As a palate cleanser, Representative Bob Freeman brought forth his bill that would require the family life curriculum adopted by the state board of education or an LEA include information on the prevention of dating violence. A common-sense bill that seeks to address an ongoing problem in a reasonable thoughtful manner. Thankfully this bill was also easily passed on to committee, and likely will continue to advance.
Democrat Representative Bo Mitchell and Republican Mark Cochrane both brought forth proposed legislation addressing the state’s pending voucher program. The former seeking repeal and the latter delay. Both met the same fate, and are now dead in the water. In all fairness, both failed due to the committee’s unwillingness to take action on an issue that is currently being considered before the Tennessee Supreme Court, a not unreasonable position.
Representative G.A. Hardaway out of Memphis brought forth HB 1971. Fellow Memphis Rep Barbara Cooper is the sponsor on this one. The bill, as introduced, requires a school or LEA to issue required textbooks to all students; requires the director of schools to certify to the commissioner of education by October 15 of each year that all students have been issued all required textbooks. On paper, this sounds like a great idea. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t support getting students textbooks. But let’s go a little deeper.
Over the past year I’ve written extensively about Tennessee’s nearly completed ELA manipulated textbook and curriculum adoption process. A process that has resulted in nearly half of the state’s LEA requesting a waiver to use materials, not on the state’s approved material list. As chief manipulator, Chief of Materials and Standards Lisa Coons deserves accolades for her ability to coerce LEA’s to adopt materials from the states favored vendors. Unfortunately, for Coons and her mentor, Commissioner Schwinn, adopting doesn’t mean purchasing.
Due to multiple reasons, including economic fallout from the current pandemic, districts are choosing to delay purchase. Many are taking a position that they will rely on existing material this year, and re-evaluate come next. HB 1971 could have served to take that option away from local districts, and force them to purchase materials.
Dale Lynch, the executive director of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents was brought forth to testify on the prevalence of districts not supplying students with textbooks. Lynch expressed reticence over the bill and when directly asked if he thought there were many schools in Tennessee that were not offering students textbooks, he answered in the negative.
HB 1971 came with a fiscal note of $74 million, which served to doom it from the offset. While the bill will not proceed, I fear this conversation is far from over. Chiefs for Change, the Gates Foundation, and on the state level, SCORE, have all invested heavily in getting Tennessee districts to adopt materials supplied by Great Minds and Amplify. I can’t see them getting the ball to the 10-yard line and not punching it in for the score. Pun intended. Look for some private funds to suddenly become available.
Thankfully Tuesday’s meeting ended on a positive note, as Representative Coley brought forth HB 2425. This, as introduced, allows 50 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation criteria to be comprised of other measures of student achievement if excluding student growth evaluation composites generated by assessments administered in the 2020-2021 school year or in any school year thereafter results in a higher evaluation score for the teacher. Coley voiced the feelings of teachers across the state when he told the committee that he was tired of seeing high-quality teachers continually punished because of low TVAAS scores. He argued that we need an evaluation tool that fosters a collaborative role as opposed to the current adversarial one fueled by the over-reliance on value-added scores. This one is likely going to summer study.
Things will pick back up again today when the full House Education Committee reconvenes. Front and center will be the latest version of HB 2229, the literacy bill. (20200527101207647) The version up for consideration is the one marked 17557. This amendment is being crafted by Representative Scott Cerpicky and is a vast improvement over the original. Stripped from the previous versions is the language “Science of Reading” which may seem inconsequential but robs private entities of a marketing tool.
When first introduced the legislation would have put an alarming amount of power in the hands of the TDOE. This version dilutes that power.
That said, there are still elements that are concerning. The bill establishes an LEA grant that could potentially be used as a tool to get adherence from LEA’s in implementing state determined curriculum. I’m not overly confident that the grant process won’t be abused.
Included in Cerpicky’s amendment are prescribed actions that must be taken in the event a child demonstrates a need for additional services but fails to identify who will deliver those service. Will it be a classroom teacher? An RTI specialist? A reading specialist? A para-pro? Or my friend Joe down the street who serves as a classroom volunteer. Who will be delivering the required services needs to be spelled out a lot clearer.
I still have misgiving about the language around third-grade retention. Earlier in the year, I had been given reassurance that language in the bill mirrored that of language in the legislation that the General assembly passed in 2012. That legislation allows for 3rd-grade retention but places the choice of adherence in the hands of LEAs. The language in this amendment leads me to believe that these are the opening steps in an effort to requiring statewide adherence.
Teachers should also be concerned about what required certification in Literacy will look like and the additional training they will be required to complete. Colorado, who recently passed similar legislation, requires 25,000 K-3 teachers to have completed 45 hours of training on reading instruction. Tennessee’s requirement will likely be similar.
It must be noted that nobody has worked harder on this bill – and as a result, endured more slings and arrows – than Cerpicky. He has worked tirelessly to ensure that all stakeholders are represented and that local control is preserved while kids are afforded the most benefits possible. I’m sure it’s been a thankless job, but he’s earned a debt of gratitude.
Today may prove anti-climactic, word is traveling the street that the amendment will be rolled until next week in order to give the Senate first crack. Senate committee leadership is decidedly less favorably inclined towards Commissioner Schwinn than House committee leadership, so if that rumor has merit, next week could be a bruising affair for the TDOE.
My druthers would be that this bill gets sent to summer study and a new bill emerges. Anybody who’s ever done any construction will tell you that just adding on to a house without a sturdy foundation ultimately leads to an unstable house. I think it’s pretty clear that despite Cerpicky’s hard work, this bill just doesn’t have a firm foundation.
The Tennessee Department of Education continues to scramble the deck chairs in an effort to find a competent arangement. The latest lineup will have, Sam Pearcy, currently Chief Operating Officer, promoted to Deputy Commissioner of Operations; Chief Eve Carney will oversee Special Populations; Chief Jean Luna will lead the Whole Child initiative with expanded purview; and Chelsea Crawford, currently Assistant Commissioner of Strategic Communications and Engagement, will be promoted to Chief of Staff. This move provokes a number of questions.
The first being the promotion of Sam Percy to the role of Deputy Commissioner over Eve Carney. In talking to people that know both, it’s nearly impossible to find anyone that will argue he is more qualified than she. On the other hand, Carney is widely recognized as a competent professional administrator, who is almost universally respected. The armchair psychologist in me attributes Schwinn choosing Percy over her to a desire to keep comparisons between Carney and her at bay. After all, if legislators were to see an effective administrator in an elevated position on a regular basis, they might entertain thoughts of moving her to the top floor. But what do I know?
Crawford to Chief of Staff is a troubling move due to her recent affiliation with Tennessee Campaign for Achievement Now(TNCAN). TNCAN may be familiar to you under their old moniker Students First Tennessee. Under that moniker, they once named Tennessee State Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge), the author of the state’s infamous “don’t say ‘gay’” bill, as an educational “Reformer of the Year” and fundraised on his behalf. It’s a little troubling that someone with ties to an organization with a history of disrupting public education to the extent that TNCAN has, serves as the commisioner of educations chief of staff. But what do I know?
MNEA continues to provide useful information for educators in relation to a safe return to school in the Fall. MNPS is currently developing plans to address multiple scenarios for that return. Unfortunately, all of those plans will require additional funding. That’s why MNEA has included a call to action in its latest fact sheet. Everybody can, and must, help.
I just want to go on record here, I find the recent addition of the term “Karen” to our shared lexicon offensive. Using it to describe anyone is just one example of the use of language to dehumanize a segment of society in an effort to marginalize them. No different than referring to a woman as a “bitch”, “whore”, or worse. If someone tries to defend its use by saying it’s just a joke, I’ll remind you that it was once considered humerous to tell pollack jokes. We know better now.
MNPS’s Virtual Summer Experience launches June 1, with more than 1,300 sessions covering nearly 120 topics. Enriching & fun, the classes are taught by MNPS teachers for students of all ages and their families. Visit mnps.org/virtual-summer. Look for a listing of the first week’s sessions to be posted soon!
If you are looking for evidence to hold optimism, recent Antioch HS graduate Kim Boih’s story should be just what the doctor ordered. The stuff of movies and dreams. Her parents arrived as immigrants and sacrificed so she could thrive, and she has.
That’s it for today.
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.