“A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death – the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders we are not going to be judged.”
Czeslaw Milosz


Most people enter into the education world through a desire to work with children and make a meaningful impact on the world’s future. We are greeted upon entry, by slogans like, “All children matter”, and “Children First.” Groups proliferate the scene with benign names like “Tennesseans for Student Success” and “Student’s First” and such. Lately, a newly founded non-profit with the moniker, Parents Defending Education is gobbling up headlines. Sounds great, until you take a peek behind the curtain and see some familiar faces.

Stay in the game long enough and you start to become a little cynical. You start to realize that serving all kids, translates into serving most kids, or some kids. Which kids fall into the bucket, largely seems to be the ones that generate the most income, both from private donors and federal programs. There is no payday in championing gifted children or those from wealthier families, but an executive director can make a great deal of money attaching their mission statement to an underserved population. For evidence, you just need to look at the salaries for ED’s of non-profits active in Tennessee. Salaries that far eclipse those of teachers and principals.

  • 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.

The tragic part of all of this is that the very students that are being used as payroll generators are the ones that can least afford to be taken advantage of. Surely if the attempt was to help students the monies attached to those salaries could be better applied elsewhere. Take two-thirds of the aforementioned salaries and apply it directly to student needs and I guarantee you that you’ll see more improvement than you will through any white paper these entities produce. Yet checks continually appear in their bank accounts while the very students they claim to serve fight for every scrap that falls from the table, and teachers continue to financially struggle.

One of the things I continually wrestle with these days is how a system that purports to serve kids is structured in a manner that rewards people for moving away from direct contact with kids.  It seems that it should be the opposite. In education, you man make 6 figures and go weeks without interacting with any students.

For some clarification here, I’m not lumping all consultants and non-profits in the same boat. There are some individual entities and smaller organizations that are improving student outcomes through direct interaction with teachers and parents – offering valuable training and information. To them, I freely to offer appreciation. But we are all capable of identifying who they are, and who’s producing smoke.

As I’ve mentioned before, when you start generating the kind of cash these organizations generate, it’s required you also spend a substantial amount of time justifying yourself.

Consider this, the Rand Corporation is a think tank that frequently produces “research” that highlights the shortcomings of public schools. They have been quite prolific during the pandemic, producing several papers with assertions like such,

RAND research shows that students are likely not getting all the curriculum content and instruction they would have received in a normal school year, and in a fall survey, more than a quarter of teachers indicated that a majority of their students were significantly less prepared to participate in grade-level work this school year relative to last school year.

Read through Rand Corporation produced papers and you’ll find many similar assertions, what you won’t find are any papers that say things like, “US teachers continually kicking ass”, or “Public schools outcomes continue to grow”. As a result policymakers and the public start thinking they need to do something. If only there was a curriculum that could better serve students, or some organization that we could pay millions of dollars to train teachers, that would supplement those poor teacher’s degrees and provide guidance on teaching. You know, an organization like TNTP.

Hmmm…did you know that according to TNTP’s 990s, they’ve paid the RAND Corporation over two and a quarter-million dollars overthe last 3 years? Yjay’s a lot of lettuce and unlikely to produce reports that say your services are unneccesary.

I would caution against considering this an outlier.

Andrea Gabor is the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College, which is part of the City University of New York. Gabor has written insightful articles about education in the New York Times and at Bloomberg.com. She is the author of After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Education Reform. her forthcoming book, MEDIA CAPTURE: HOW MONEY, DIGITAL PLATFORMS, AND GOVERNMENTS CONTROL THE NEWS, which will be published by Columbia University Press in June. Tennessee earns a mention in the chapter Diane Ravitch offers as an excerpt,

The Associated Press documented the Gates foundation’s soup-to-nuts effort, in 2015, to influence education policy in Tennessee. 

“In Tennessee, a Gates-funded advocacy group had a say in the state’s new education plan, with its leader sitting on an important advising committee. A media outlet given money by Gates to cover the new law then published a story about research funded by Gates. And many Gates-funded groups have become the de facto experts who lead the conversation in local communities. Gates also dedicated millions of dollars to protect Common Core as the new law unfolded.”

I suggest reading the whole excerpt.

On Monday, Governor Lee offered the latest evidence that adult needs trump kids. He sent out an edict and backed it up at a press conference, that an LEA’s remote offerings were considered part of their emergency plan and therefore should only be utilized in the event of an emergency. Since the COVID emergency is now over, those remoter options should cease and desist, all children need to be back in the building. That means no school based remote offerings next year.

Now there is a small concession to those families that desire remote instruction, they can enroll in the district’s existing virtual school or the district can create a new school by applying for a brand new state school number. Neither option works in the interest of the student. The latter requires a labor-intensive process at a time when local educators are already overburdened. The former attempts to paint current student remote experiences as being similar to past and existing offerings, a disingenuous argument.

In the case of MNPS, the official virtual school is geared towards  high achieving kids who can thrive through self-motivation. The instruction offered is almost exclusively asynchronous and students have few extra-curricular offerings. Entirely different from what the majority of MNPS students experienced this past year.

What Lee and others fail to recognize, is that for a not unsubstantial number of MNPS students remote learning proved to be a better option. They not only adequately navigated the system, but in some cases thrived. Many kids established deeper relationships with teachers remotely than they did in person, an assertion backed up by district data.

Here is something else that escape’s general notice. Many kids 16 and older, are forced to secure employment in order to help support families. During pre-pandemic times, making class while fulfilling work obligations was a difficult proposition. Remote instruction, as provided by their individual schools, eased that burden. What do you think these high school students are going to do when confronted with a choice between work or school?

There are a considerable number of MNPS students who are required to chip in when it comes to a family’s child care for a parent to meet their work obligations. Taking care of younger siblings while making sure they get to school, creates an undue burden. If an older student has a younger sibling susceptible to frequent illness it’s likely that their attendance rate is negatively impacted. What if there was a way for a student to stay home, care for a sick younger sibling, and also attend class remotely?

Fortunately, there is. Unfortunately, it’s in a form that doesn’t adhere to Governor Lee, Commissioner Schwinn, or others’ vision of what learning looks like. In their eyes, much like there is only one way to learn to read, there is the only one way for a child to receive instruction.

If we were truly interested in serving “all” students, we would take the time to truly evaluate the practices of the past year. We would separate the successful from the unsuccessful practices. We would find a way to incorporate the successful options with those offerings that proved successful in the past, in an effort to increase the number of students being adequately served.

But that’s hard work and requires rigorous honesty. Too things easily preached, but more difficult to practice.

What about teachers? Here’s a news flash for you, many of them actually dedicated time, knowledge, and effort to adopt new practices in order to better serve kids. Some of them were incredibly successful and have developed the ability to deliver instruction through a remote platform. What’s the message we are sending them?

I’d argue that it’s similar to the one that we’ve been sending for years – don’t fret, don’t worry, don’t do too much, for this too shall pass. There is no need to learn the newest thing, because well if you just wait a while…the next newest thing will come along.

If I was MNPS’s Chief Academic Officer Mason “Chuck Norris” Bellamy, attempting to implement a new curriculum, that’s a message I’d be paying attention to because it’s likely to impact his best-laid plans for the near future.

It’s easy to look at Governor Lee and his proclamation as evidence of ignorance. What’s a former corporate CEO know about the daily life of impoverished urban youths? But here’s where even more cynicism starts to seep in, is it truly ignorance or is it intent?

As CEO, Lee is well versed in the power of demand in creating markets. There will be private entities that recognize individual LEA’s inability to adequately serve their families and as a result, will create private offerings to meet those needs. What if there was a way to allow families to pay for those offerings through a state subsidy. You know…like say…a voucher plan.

As a long term proponent of a voucher system, Lee has no vested interests in a public school district’s ability to adequetly meet the needs of it’s families. His needs are better met if the opposite holds true.

It’s not difficult to view this week’s statements by Governor Lee through the lens of another attack on public education. After all, it’s been a continuous drumbeat by the Governor and those he aligns with that public school district’s are continuely failing kids. .

Jeanne Kaplan is a veteran civil rights activist who was elected to serve two terms on the Denver school board. Denver is a city that, much like Nashville, has been a frequent target of education “reforms”. She outlined those “reforms” in a blog post for Diane Ravitch, it’s an exhaustive list and further evidence of just who receives preferred service in the education world. I urge you to read it and make note of those that are in play in Tennessee.

I don’t know that we will ever discern whether Lee’s motivations, like many of his peers, are intentional or ignorant, but what is becoming increasingly clear is that whether it’s either/or, the outcome produced is the same – enrichment of adults at the expense of children.


ChalkbeatTN has an article entitled “Five things to know as state testing begins for Tennessee students“. It’s a lightweight piece through no fault of the author. It’s hard to provide substantial coverage of an insubstantial action. A couple things did jump out at me though.

The first comes under the heading of, “State officials say this year’s tests are more important than ever”,

Even though districts have been giving their own tests throughout the school year, the state assessments provide an annual snapshot of most of Tennessee’s 1 million public school students.

What does that mean? Why would TNReady be any more beneficial than those assessments delivered locally? Most local offerings are nationally normed, so they offer a semi-meaningful comparison. They are likely to provide a more detailed snapshot since TNReady must cover all standards, making the results broader. Not to mention results are more rapidly available from local assessments, thus allowing for actual impact on instruction.

Let’s also not forget that local results have been the fodder for the “learning loss” fire alarm that the Governor and the TNDOE have been banging ad nauseam. If the upcoming results were truly more accurate, and therefore important, calmer heads might have been prescribing a wait-and-see approach. Instead, they have been utilizing local results to instill panic.

Does anybody believe for a second that results from state testing will serve to counter the established narrative? If you do, call me, I’ve some swampland I’d like to sell you.

The 4th of the 5 things we supposedly know is that this year’s results won’t count. Per Chalkbeat,

Because of learning disruptions, Gov. Bill Lee and state lawmakers want to use this year’s test results for diagnostic purposes only.

You ready to talk about that swampland yet?

If you believe for one minute that these results won’t have consequences, you haven’t been paying attention. Put this on your radar. There is an state Math curriculum adoption update coming in the near future. Luckily for us, all of those companies that benefited from the manipulation efforts by Commissioner Penny Schwinn and her Assistant Superintendent Lisa Coons during the recently concluded ELA adoption, also have math offerings. Keep your ears open for promotions involving EngageNY and Eureka math. Word on the street is that Coons has already taken to the phone to bend Superintendent’s ears.

I don’t doubt for a minute that results from this year’s TCAP will be included in future earbendings.

This i promise you, results from this year’s TNReady may not officially be counted, but they will be used to drive investments with preferred vendors and create policies that will further enrich adults. New ELA curriculum has already been purchased by districts to address perceived needs, do you really think that the diagnoses will come back for something different? Not likely. Nothing revealed by this year’s TCAP testing is going to change already written purchase orders and narratives.

The last thing we know, per Chalkbeat, is that more families than usual are expected to skip testing. Tru dat.

Schwinn is trying to push the narrative that parents do not have an opt-out option. Don’t believe the hype. Just don’t show up. No need to call or write, just don’t show. It’s pretty simple.

For you, MNPS parents who choose to not show, don’t think that’s the end of assessment for the year. Oh no, you still have MAP and IReady testing to go, and please fill out that Panorama survey as well.

I’d be remiss if I closed without mention of the passing of a dear friend who was an integral part of Nashville’s musical history, Tommy McRae. Tommy was the former lead singer of Nashville rock legends Guilt and one of the most decent people you’ll ever meet. Besides being imensley talented, he brought an infectious joy every time he entered a room.

To me, his passing blows a bigger hole in Nashville’s soul than the closing of a 100 Exit/Ins. The list of the recently parted who made Nashville something special continues to grow and to quote George Jones, I find myself repeatedly asking, “Who’s going to fill their shoes?” Without, the Exit/In and others like it, no one. It’s not about preserving history, but rather protecting the future.

Here’s what I would ask in honor of his memory. This weekend, go to Basement East or some other live music venue. Support those on stage and those behind the bar. That and hug your loved ones a little tighter. The only love that rivaled music for McRae was that for his famil

His passing is a reminder that tomorrowbrings no guarentees. Per his wife,

“I know that Tommy’s loved ones want to know how this happened. Tommy was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma earlier this year. He had a surgery to repair his leg that was damaged due to this disease. It went smoothly and he was able to come home on Saturday. Sunday night he could not breathe very suddenly and I called 911. He had passed by the time he reached the hospital. It is believed that he suffered a pulmonary embolism (blood clot) related to the surgery.”

It can all happen so suddenly. RIP my friend. I miss you already.

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

3 replies

  1. “One of the things I continually wrestle with these days is how a system that purports to serve kids is structured in a manner that rewards people for moving away from direct contact with kids”

    Years ago I noticed this. It is perhaps the most damning thing we have done to the structure of education.

  2. Thanks for sharing this information! You mentioned your friend who passed. Last week, Bellevue Middle School lost a dedicated teacher. Jenny Tygard, daughter of Charlie Tygard, died unexpectedly on April 9. This was a devastating loss for the school and community. Jenny taught at Bellevue Middle for 18 years. In addition to teaching, she coached, and worked at athletic events when she wasn’t coaching. Would you mention her in a column? Gov. Lee is as clueless about teacher dedication as he is many other topics.

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