A QUESTIONABLE OFFENSE

“The human being must always be central, not the products and objects of his skill and energy.” 
― Bernard Wolfe, Limbo

It was about 8:30 last night, I was getting ready for the nightly family dog walk. The phone buzzed indicating an incoming text. Curious I picked up the phone to see who was texting.

Gini Walker. Interesting, I hadn’t communicated with her for over a year. What could this be about?

I open the text and read,

TC – you really crossed a line with that image of you and the commissioner. Please take it down.

Typical Gini, no hello. No how you doing. Just a demand. A demand in which I had no idea what she was talking about.

Those who know me, or have been long-term readers have probably gleaned that I don’t respond well to blind demands from people in power. Considering this demand was coming from someone that I’ve become quite disillusioned with. this convo was already off to a bad start.

After a request for clarification, Walker indicated that she was referring to a photo that accompanied a reposting of Friday’s blog post. The post itself referenced the classic season finale of Dallas where Pamala Ewing woke to discover that the entire season was a dream. The episode ended with a shot of Bobby, who’d been declared dead in the season opener, in the shower – very much alive.

In the piece, I attempted to draw parallels with how MNPS seemed to be treating the past school year. Towards the end of the piece, there is further information about the latest Schwinn-anigans, pointing out that Commissioner Schwinn’s husband was looking for a job at the same time as the Schwinn-led TNDOE was writing an application for a federal grant that featured TNTP prominently. Paul Schwinn currently works for TNTP.

The picture in question was not one chosen by me. I am fortunate enough to have some folks out of California – Big Education Ape – take my posts and repackage them with a creative graphic that they design. Their work is always creative, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to reach more eyeballs.

In this instance, the graphic chosen is not one I would have picked, but in context with the piece, not wholly inappropriate. Had Ms. Walker attempted to engage in an actual dialog, I likely would have seen her point, but that’s never been her style. For some reason, she feels that she can demand responses from other adults, often adopting an air of moral superiority. Unfortunately, that superpower doesn’t extend to those most in need of accountability.

Over that last year, I’ve watched us become a nation of the perpetually offended. It seems like at a drop of the hat we are willing to become outraged. While ofttimes the cause is just, at other times our ire could be better directed elsewhere.

While I respect Ms. Walker’s right to take umbrage at the accompanying graphic, I have a few other areas where I find an offense that could probably use her attention.

First and foremost, her role as leader in a “non-profit” that seeks to overly influence education policy. Her advocacy work and her role as an elected official don’t always align. One example would be standardized testing, her organization Education Trust was a driving force behind the insistence of holding TNReady this year.

Partially because of the letter crafted by Walker’s organization, TNReady will be conducted this year with results supposedly not being used for accountability purposes. If you believe that one, I’ve got a bridge in Arizona I’d like to sell you. If you are keeping score, then the winners and losers are readily identified.

Further complicating matters, is that in order for MNPS to be held truly unaccountable, the district must secure 80% participation in TNReady. A difficult bar to reach considering that 45% of metro students are attending remotely. It is not inconceivable that Walkers insistence on testing this year could have negative connotations for MNPS.

Walker pushed for the administrating of the tests despite leading experts pointing out that doing so this year was an exercise in futility. Per Gayle Greene in CounterPunch,

The only thing testing has ever done for the disadvantaged is to communicate a message of failure and lay waste to public schools. What test scores measure is family income; they correlate so closely that there’s a term for it—the zip code effect. When test scores have shown “low performance,” schools have been closed by the hundreds, mainly in low-income, minority neighborhoods, and replaced with privately-run, profit-generating charters.

It has been proven over and over that standardized testing hurts the very people that Ms. Walker purports to be championing. You know who benefits from standardized tests? Non-profits whose leaders need to justify their existence in order to keep the cash-stream flowing. Consider the following,

  • John King, Education Trust, made $531,027 in 2018. Many of you know that Acting-US Secretary of Education Ian Rosenblum previously worked for EDuTrusrt but did you know that in 2018 he cleared a salary of $216,788?
  • Elisa Villanueva Beard, Teach For America, in 2017 drew an annual salary of $493,836
  • Daniel Weisberg, TNTP, in 2018 received $348,779 in compensation.
  • David Mansouri, SCORE CEO, and Sharon Roberts, Chief Impact Officer, pulled in $313,295 and 272,808 respectively.
  • Brent Easly, TNCAN, the year before he went to work for Governor Lee cleared roughly $170K.
  • Candace McQueen, NIET, didn’t take over as Executive Director until last year but in 2018 her predecessor drew a salary of $402K
  • Emily Freitag, Instruction Partners, in 2018 cleared $225K, willing to bet it’s a lot higher these days.

I’d say that narrative is pretty important. It offended me that people out of the classroom who don’t have daily interaction with children are profiting at a high level, while those doing the heavy lifting are getting short-changed. It offends me that administrators try to paint a 1k dollar bonus as being magnanimous when the district is receiving nearly $400 million in federal dollars. So if I take the graphic down will she up the ante?

It offends me that veteran teachers are exiting the profession while the focus remains squarely on recruitment before retention. Despite years of teachers telling us why they are quitting we still scratch our heads and act like it’s a mystery on par with Stonehedge. Instead of listening, administrator and policy experts interject their suppositions that do little but advance their own agenda.

This morning Chalkbeat has an article about how teacher attrition could be reversed if districts supplied more training. This is not the first time I’ve seen this theory put forth.

NEWSFLASH! I talk to a lot of teachers and I can’t cite a single instance where it was voiced that the reason for leaving was a lack of training. In fact, most say they are leaving because no one seems to value the 8 years of training they completed while earning a Masters’s in Education.

In the case of MNPS, and others, they are insisting that after a year spent in extensive training with mixed results, teachers engage in another year of extensive training on curriculum change that will lead to potentially diminishing results this year under the guise of possibly improving results in 2 to 3 years.

In recognition of that potential, it’s being advised that teachers not be rated next year on student results, but rather how well they embrace the new curriculum. So let me see if I get this, I need to be deeply concerned about learning loss due to a pandemic but not worried about that potential in regard to curriculum adoption.

Keeping in mind, that those championing the curriculum stand to make a great profit off of its adoption despite it being years since they’ve been in the classroom.

Keep in mind as well, that state law requires that teachers still be evaluated on student achievement. Teachers are being asked to sacrifice their professional scores for the greater good, yet no such sacrifice is being made by legislators or non-profit leaders. That’s not offensive.

I find it equally offensive that teachers and students have worked their asses off this year but all of that work is going to be quickly discarded because it doesn’t meet the needs of those that profit the most from public education. If they actually talked to kids they might discover a different agenda. One that would require a shifting of priorities.

I find it deeply offensive that the Tennessee Department of Education is led by someone who thinks it is alright to collect a salary larger than the average teacher from a charter school that is taxpayer-funded, and geared towards high needs children, while they hold a 6 figure taxpayer-funded job clear across the country.

I find it offensive that the TNDOE is led by a Commissioner that feels a perk of the job is securing employment for her spouse. If it happens once it’s an outlier, but this has been a repeated occurrence and therefore should be considered a pattern. Yet, legislators and leaders of education non-profits don’t seem to think she’s wrong.

I’m curious if Ms. Walker has responded to any of the aforementioned in a similar manner to which she addressed me. I doubt it because to do so would potentially curtail access. And without access, those six-figure jobs disappear.

The bottom line is you can choose to be offended by a questionable graphic that causes little actual damage. Or we can get offended by the over-influence of non-profits on the creation of education policy, sans accountability, that place adult interests over the needs of children. Not only that but the policies they champion have served to weaken the teaching profession and in the end, hurt those that can ill afford more challenges.

Scroll back over the earlier list, and you’ll see that every one of those mentioned has been involved in Tennessee’s education policy for over a decade, yet here we are in the midst of a supposed crisis as declared by those who’ve gained the most by past practices.

The cycle seems to be, create a crisis, demand a costly solution that you provide access to, pocket the checks, disassociate once results diminish, repeat.

Governor Lee has told anyone who would listen, that the cleaning of house at the department of education was by intention. He felt that all of the previous occupants were failing to adequately serve the state’s children. Perhaps, he looked at the wrong house.

STUPID BILLS FOR A THOUSAND JIM

Rep. Scott Cepicky, as chair of the House Education Subcommittee focused on Instruction has been one of the most frustrating legislators during this years General Assembly.

On one hand, nobody has worked harder to understand education issues, Cepicky regularly talks to teachers in his home community in an effort to gain deeper knowledge. He is among the most assessable of legislators and seems to possess a genuine desire to improve student outcomes.

On the other hand, he has seemingly made a deal with the devil to carry every stupid bill that comes down the pike – the entire special session, transsexual athletes, and now one that allows the commissioner of education the ability to take over a school district. Going as far as removing elected officials from local school boards.

In all likelihood, the bill is going nowhere, but that doesn’t mean those who care about public education should ignore it. The fact that it’s been written, and that legislators have knowingly attached their names to a bill that would override the desires of a community’s voters can not be taken lightly. Especially by those who value the democratic process.

The bar for takeover in this bill is so low that it would only serve to empower the whims of whoever serves as commissioner. In the case of the current occupant who has already shown a propensity to ignore the desires of local communities, that could be disastrous.

Last year, Cepicky was one of the few who recognized the commissioner’s manipulation of the textbook adoption process and in response helped champion legislation that stripped her of power to grant curriculum waivers to LEAs. This year, he’s carrying a bill to give her increased powers. Excuse me while I put on a neck brace brought on by this extreme whiplash.

Yes, some will point to the provision that the state board of education must approve any action. But let’s face reality, the board of education is understaffed and underresourced, as such they don’t have the capacity to conduct needed evaluations and as a result, would likely defer to the Commissioner.

Equally scary here is the ability Cepicky has demonstrated this year to pass legislation. He’s been extremely effective, and I would hate that this bill benefits from his skill and suddenly achieve passage.

Legislators, like education non-profits, seem to think that they have the ability to make a meaningful impact when it comes to student achievement. Many feel that despite any lack of evidence, they are better qualified to teach kids than those who actually teach. This is just one more example of that canard.

SHORT CUTS

Freshman State Senator Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, along with Rep. Harold Love, D-Nashville, (SB 0371/HB 1001), is proposing important legislation that would require the state’s Basic Education Program funding formula to pay one full-time school counselor position per every 250 students. This is important legislation during the best of times but is even more important in the wake of the pandemic. Hats off to Campbell and Love for engaging in crafting legislation that meets the needs of students.

Working equally hard this year to increase student mental supports are J.C. Bowman and the organization he leads – Professional Educators of Tennessee. Much appreciated.

Both Hunter’s Lane and Overton High Schools have new head coaches. At Overton, former Maplewood coach Arcentae Broome was named head coach on Friday, replacing Cole Peeples. Hunters Lane has promoted William Thomas as its next football coach, replacing Preston Scott. Hopefully, both will be successful.

Alora Young is a senior at Hillsboro High School who could be the next U.S. Youth Poet Laureate, which means you just might see her performing at a presidential inauguration one day. For now, she’s impressing local audiences on a regular basis, including the statewide group of school superintendents who heard Alora at their conference here in Nashville this morning. Check out the video of Alora’s performance of a poem that explores race, gun violence, teacher compensation, educational inequity, and other issues. Props.

It’s with a heavy heart that I convey that Tamara Price has shuffled off this mortal coil. Tamara and I came of age together as young punk rockers on Elliston Place.

We both grew into community organizers. One of her biggest accomplishments was getting a stop sign placed on the corner of Peachtree and Foster. It may seem inconsequential, but it’s prevented countless accidents and required a fierce fight.

Her last couple of years were affected by a long-running battle with cancer. Despite the health challenges, she continued to be a tireless advocate for both her family and MNPS. Her love of both was inspirational. Sad to see another shining light extinguished, but her legacy will live on.

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. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m now sharing posts via email through Substack. This is a new foray for me and an effort to increase coverage. ‘ll be offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. We’ll see how it goes.

If you wish 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.



Categories: Education

12 replies

  1. TC – Hello. How are you? You really crossed a line with that image of you and the commissioner. Please take it down.

  2. Keep up the good work! I don’t always agree, but I alway appreciate your insight. And the questioning of those in power.
    MANY folks in Gini’s district would be glad to have a replacement.

  3. If you think teachers get a bad deal you should look into practices for support staff. We are the backbone that allows teachers to do their job, but yet we get treated as lower class citizens. One example is teachers will make $40 an hour for summer school, but support should be grateful that we get our regular pay for working summer school. I love helping the students and families and I know that I make a positive difference in their lives, Even though my particular position is extremely necessary and takes a special skill set it is not compensated at a level anywhere near what it would be in the private sector. I make half of what I could elsewhere doing the same work. It is a sad state of affairs when you work a full time job with MNPS, but still qualify as living under the poverty level.

  4. What’s TSS and what’s Team Kid PAC?

  5. This is your best in a long time, TC.

    Constant change aka “reform” sets students as well as teachers back. Test scores tend to drop every time a student changes schools. It stands to reason that an instructor who is required to change curriculum every year at the whim of a new leader would also be set back.

    And the fact that overpaid outside organization “change leaders” who direct the course of learning and earn as much as 8 times more than an average teacher is paid has to be be totally disheartening to a classroom professional. It is no wonder there is a teacher shortage.

    Beth O’Shea

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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