WHEN IS COMMON CORE NOT EXACTLY COMMON CORE?

“This country’s drifting into serious trouble because of the clamor for simple and immediate solutions to complex problems that will take years to solve—even with total effort on both sides.”
John Jakes, North and South

“What would men be without women? Scarce, sir…mighty scarce.”
Mark Twain

 

Looking at my social media feed this AM makes for a strange juxtaposition. Across the country, and in surrounding communities, children are heading back to school while my children, and all the children of MNPS, prepare for week 5 of virtual schooling.

I think it’s the correct decision. COVID numbers may be dropping and the effects on children who contract the virus may be mild, but we still don’t know the extent of long term effects for children who contract the virus. Adults have reported long term heart and respiratory issues even after having recovered from COVID. That could hold true for children as well. In light of this, it’s important to err on the side of caution.

As critical as I can be of board member Gini-Pupo-Walker, her newest blog post makes a strong argument for the strategy that MNPS is presently employing. I concur when she states,

I am grateful that Dr. Battle has been clear and decisive, and that our board has supported her. For the first time in my memory, the MNPS family is unified, and rowing in the same direction. We are also collaborating with our charter schools, who support remaining in a virtual setting until October. Mayor Cooper has helped us get laptops and hotspots into the hands of every student who needs one. I recognize that remote learning is not a substitute for in-person learning, and never will be

Still, I feel for the student-athletes, musicians, actors, and such across the district that are facing cancelation of after school athletics. We need to find a way in which they can continue their passions, yet remain safe. For some, it potentially determines their pursuit of post-secondary education. Band scholarships, hang on the wire as well as athletic scholarships. That can not be overlooked.

The decisions we now face are certainly not easy ones. Over the weekend I spoke with a k-5 music teacher who works for a school district where children are attending in person. The challenges were different but no less difficult. One of the rules she must adhere to is that children cannot sing, out of fear of spreading the virus. Imagine, teaching music with no singing. Ruefully, she told me, she’d now seized upon a full proof strategy to get children to sing, even those normally reluctant to participate, “Tell them they can’t.”

Before we dive into the ongoing sitcom that has become the Tennessee Department of Education, I just wanted to take a moment to express the inexpressible. Teachers, administrators, and support staff have been working so hard as of late that saying thank you for your hard work feels almost insulting. They always work hard, what they are doing now is…well you know…supply your own adjective. All I can offer is a little prayer that things get a little easier, and you are able to find a moment to recognize that you are changing lives. If anybody tells you that learning and change aren’t transpiring than they are just not being honest.

Parents are being equally challenged and are also rising to a difficult challenge. just re-opening schools would not sufficiently ease that burden as some would still remain virtual and a new set of protocols would need developing for those returning.

I would like to share with you a personal tale. My son is nine and eaten up by all things athletic. When school started 5 weeks ago, he had no time for drama class. It was the only class he recoiled at. Somehow over the last 4 weeks, that has changed. Despite having never met in person, his drama teacher has managed to build a relationship with him and inspire him to want to do more. That’s impressive.

This may be an extremely difficult time. Computers may be crashing semi-regularly and kids may not be doing all that is expected of them. Parents may be highly stressed and patience at its limit. But never lose sight that all across Nashville educators are doing what they always do, forging relationships and changing lives.

I’m a firm believer that out of discomfort comes growth. Pain forces us to find new solutions. There is an old punk rock saying that always rings in my head during difficult times, it’s probably inappropriate, but fitting,

Pain is temporary

Chicks dig scars

Glory is forever

And if that fails to work…there is always the old AA adage…This too shall pass.

My wish for you is that this week is better than last.

A CURE FOR THE COMMON CORE

A few people have actually taken a look at the lessons that the TNDOE has posted on their Better For All Website. Those posted back on August 7th bore an interesting copyright marking – 2014 Common Core Inc. Last week a peek at the same lesson would have revealed a different notation. It appears that “Common Core Inc” has been scrubbed and typed in its place is “Sourced from Engage NY/Eureka”.

It’s clearly an effort to assuage people that remember Bill Lee’s words in his inaugural State of State Speech in 2019 when he said,

Another important issue in education is curriculum. We should continue to root out the influence of Common Core in our state.

Whether you agree with his assessment of Common Core, or not, surely we can agree that the DOE posting lesson plans trademarked with Common Core on their official web site does not translate into “rooting out its influence.” So at the very least, I think it’s a fair assessment to say that the Governor is being a little hypocritical. Now from a “politician” that would not be unexpected, but Bill Lee is fond of frequently reminding us that he is not a “politician.”

The real story here lies even deeper and once again requires up to re-examine Educator Mercedes Schneiders’s essential piece on Great Minds. You see Great Minds was called Common Core Inc when it was founded as a non-profit in 2008. This was before CC was a curriculum.

Meanwhile, David Coleman and Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, had a dream. In order to bring that dream to fruition, they needed cash. So they went to see Bill Gates. Gates was in and immediately started using his cash to peddle influence and install the Common Core State Standards.

Before we get started, I should point out that Great Minds does its best to distance itself from Common Core the sate standards. There is plenty of intermingling between the two founding camps but, per their website,

Great Minds and the Common Core State Standards are not affiliated. Great Minds was established in 2007, prior to the start of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which was led by the National Governors Association and the Council for Chief State School Officers.

Great Minds just happened to have the great fortune to name their curriculum company with the same moniker as the soon to be released proposed national curriculum. Unfortunately for CommonCore inc, sharing a name with the CCSS was initially not very financially rewarding.

Revenues for the company in 2010 and 2011 were running at a little under 500K. But when 2012 arrived with three contracts from New York state, “to create a PreK–12 mathematics curriculum to be hosted on the state’s EngageNY website” things began an upswing. A quick glance at a screenshot from that time might produce a feeling of deja vu.

The graphic to the side bears a remarkable resemblance to what now currently resides on the TNDOE website. To me, this clearly looks like they took an old pig and put new lipstick on it while trying to pass it off as a new initiative.

In 2012, Common Core Inc hired Louisiana math teacher Nell McAnelly to a $132,300 job as a “project leader” to develop EngageNY/Eureka math. it’s important to remember that Eureka Math was written for DC-based Common Core, Inc. and that Common Core, Inc., was under contract with the NY DOE to produce EngageNY/Eureka Math. Things were progressing

Chicago Schools Director Barbara Boyd-Bennett had been on the Common Core inc board almost from inception. In 2015 she was its chair when she pled guilty to helping steer $23 million in no-bid contracts to education firms for $2.3 million in kickbacks and bribes while working for Chicago Public Schools. Worth noting, it was Boyd-Bennet’s affiliation with SUPES Academy that led to her downfall. The same group that ensnared former Baltimore Sup and Shawn Joseph associate Dallas Dance. Such a small world.

2015 rolls around and the words “Common Core” are not viewed as favorably. Time for a name change. Common Core Inc becomes Great Minds Inc. Their two main products are Wit and Wisdom ELA curriculum and Eureka Math curriculum. Revenue jumps to $18 million even as it is advertised as “available free of charge for use by any educator on our website, greatminds.org.” It may be free on the web site, but that still leaves lucrative state contracts available.

In 2017, Great Minds the non-profit established Great Minds the LLC.

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.

Per Mercedes Schneider,

According to Nonprofit Law Blog, there are a number of reasons that a nonproft 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.

Please do not confuse non-profit with not making money. That little non-profit, Great Minds, that only earned $18 million in 2015, now earns over $80 million a year per it’s latest available 2018 tax records. Cha-ching! It may be advertised as free but somebody’s paying.

So while Common Core Inc may not exactly translate into the advancement of CCSS, there is still plenty of room for concern. In just 5 years Great Minds has found a means in which to quadruple their earnings while portraying a benevolent image. They also seem to be replicating past actions by making their product and videos available to state education agencies.

Let’s now take a look at Commissioner Schwinn’s ties to Great Minds. As I mentioned last week, the Charter School in Sacramento that she founded, and where she served as Executive Director until last year, uses both Great Minds products – Wit and Wisdom and Eureka Math. Schwinn herself extensively promoted Wit and Wisdom throughout the ELA material adoption process last year. This year the state granted 36 individual exemptions for local districts to use Wit and Wisdom – a curriculum that was not approved to be included on the state’s list of recommended materials by the state’s textbook review commission. How many different ways can you say, Friends and Family?

Let me be clear here, I am saying nothing disparaging about Great Mind’s business practices. Just merely pointing out that they’ve made a significant financial gain in recent years and enjoy the apparent favor of Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education, Penny Schwinn.

Interesting side note, the aforementioned state textbook revenue commission is now down to 2 members. Seven resigned at the end of this year’s ELA adoption process. Could mean something, could mean nothing.

Fortunately, some of the business practices at the TNDOE are starting to catch the eye of Tennessee legislators. In a recent ChalkbeatTN article that was considerably milder then advertised, writer Marta Aldrich covered the many challenges that the commissioner has faced her in her brief tenure. From trying to revamp how schools are evaluated to moving money from a teacher compensation account in order to fund a contract with a company to oversee voucher implementation to a completely mishandled textbook adoption process to the current blow-up over child wellness-checks, not to mention the heavy exodus of long term employees from the DOE, to paraphrase Nashville Scene writer Steven Hale, it’s been like watching Schwinn wander through David Briley’s back yard stepping on a series of mislaid rakes.

If Schwinns tenure was subject to TNReady it would achieve a score of “needs improvement.”

The Chalkbeat article portrays the staffing situation at TNDOE as being a “revolving door”, an inaccurate portrayal. If true it would indicate that employees are coming in at a similar rate as they are departing. As of August 18th, 2020, the department has 33 fewer employees than it did upon Penny’s arrival. That’s a door spinning in one direction, outward.

Through it all, Governor Lee has been a staunch defender. Frequently referring to her as a “disruptor”. Just what the doctor ordered for 2020, more disruption.

“Commissioner Schwinn is leading the department through an unprecedented crisis and the most challenging school year in the history of our state,” said Gillum Ferguson, Lee’s press secretary, adding that Schwinn is equipped for the challenge.

Chair of the House Education Committee Mark White has done everything but give her his class ring in rushing to her defense,

“I sincerely believe that the commissioner’s intention was good because kids have not been in school and there are issues with hunger and mental illness and domestic abuse. But when things get out without much vetting, we in the General Assembly are the ones getting calls from parents, teachers, and superintendents.”

And what about those Superintendents? The Chalkbeat article credits Schwinn for frequent communication with them since COVID-19 arrived. Three times a week, Schwinn reportedly holds statewide conference calls in order to discuss everything from federal relief funding to waiver requests to questions about staffing and data sharing during the public health emergency. Yet the article fails to quote a single Superintendent voicing their support. The only person apparently willing to go on record commending the Commissioner is Sara Bunch, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents. Wait, isn’t that Dale Lynch’s organization? He must have been at lunch when Marta called or he’s already used up his limit of accolades for the month and has to wait until September to supply his next quote.

In what should be a bipartisan effort, Democrat State Legislators have been inexplicitly forgiving of Mrs. Schwinn. Per Rep. Vincent Dixie, a Nashville Democrat,

“I think Commissioner Schwinn is stuck in a hard place. Gov. Lee has not provided clear direction and leadership during the pandemic, and the commissioner has had to make decisions that she’s not communicated clearly with the legislature. I think that’s caused a lot of confusion, miscommunication, and mistrust, but ultimately it all starts at the top.”

What?!? Was there a pandemic last summer? How about last Fall? For years Democrats have been telling campfire tales about the dangers of Gates-funded, self-enriching, charter school promoting privateers and now that the very personification of their boogieman has moved into the neighborhood they bring welcoming baskets and pies. I don’t get it. We have someone who made more money than the average Tennessean, 90K, serving as an Executive Director for a self-funded out of state charter school while serving as a deputy superintendent for two separate states, and nary a question is raised.

You have a commissioner that has been repeatedly caught moving monies to pay for personal initiatives without informing legislators and Democrats chalk it up to a lack direction by the Governor. As far as leadership goes, I think Lee is supplying the leadership required in order to empower an Education Commissioner to ignore the elected body of the Tennessee General Assembly and accomplish his desires. Rep. Scott Cepicky, a Republican from Maury County and a member of the House Education Committee, sums it up succinctly,

“I think there’s a general sense that this commissioner does what this commissioner wants and is not consulting those who have been elected by the people of Tennessee to be their voice on education policy.”

Legislators will get another potential shot at Schwinn on September 22-23, when hearings with the House Education Committee are set. We’ll see if the Governor can once again tamper legislators’ questions. But one well-respected voice has given her blessing for the search for answers. Delores Gresham has gone on record saying,

“I support the House Education Committee and other legislators’ efforts to get further details or to investigate some of these concerns,”

POLL QUESTIONS

Interesting results in this week’s polls. Let’s get to them.

Question 1 asked who you thought should be the next MNPS School Board Chair. Fran Bush racked up 26% of the vote, followed by Christiane Buggs with 17%. Rachael Elrod was third with 11%. The presumptive next chair Gini Pupo-Walker received only 5% of the vote. Hmmm…here are the write-ins,

  • Numerous board members with conflicts, &/or actively working against MNPS
  • Right now I can’t see that any of them should hold that office.
  • Penny Schwinn
  • Not Pupo-Walker, Buggs, or Gentry.
  • Steve Chauncy
  • Anyone but Gini
  • Is there a requirement to have a chair? Rotate a chair every meeting.
  • No idea—really missing the wisdom of Anna Shepherd
  • shawn joseph

Question 2 asked if you thought school sports should be played this year. It was a dead heat at 31% between, “Not while schools remain virtual’ and “I’d like to say yes but conditions still aren’t safe”. Only 13% said absolutely. Here are the write-ins,

  • Just let it go. Work on getting schools opened safely first!
  • Just don’t care
  • yes, with really tight precautions and no spectators
  • absolutely not
  • Why no mention of staff safety at board meeting?

The last question asked, “Do you think Governor Lee should let legislators publically question Penny Schwinn next month?” This was apparently an easy one, 71% said it was long overdue. 25% said forget the questioning, just terminate. Only two people indicated that it all a witch hunt. That you Paul and Penny for participating. There weren’t many, but here are the write ins,

  • She’s a disgrace. She should be terminated.
  • They both should go

That’s it for now. See you again by the end of the week.

Till then, if you’re 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 deliver 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.

August first marks the beginning of an annual funding drive for the blog, as hosting fees are due. So I’m rattling the virtual cup. Any bit you can do to help would be greatly appreciated. Now more than ever your support is essential.

If you so desire to join the rank of donors, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. I also have a paypal account, thomaswebber1. 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.  Not begging, just saying.

 

 



Categories: Education

1 reply

  1. If we are going to have a test every year to assess our kids, then it is stupid for it to not be directly comparable with every other state in the country.

    So infuriating that Bill Lee’s kids at private school weren’t tested in this manner. After all, unless we administer these tests to every kid, how will we ever be able to surmise the income bracket of their parents?

    It is right that MNPS is erring on the side of caution. Virtual school continues to improve. And yes, for very young children and special needs kids, for dual income households, it must be ultra stressful.

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