“One of the hardest things in life to learn are which bridges to cross and which bridges to burn.”
The 2021 version of the Tennessee General Assembly is slowly coming to a close. But whether it will close with a whimper or a bang is yet to be determined. Two bills slated for discussion this week could send it either way.
First up, is a bill that would lay out a pathway for those schools currently in the state’s Achievement School District to exit. Per Chalkbeat TN,
One pathway would allow higher-performing charter schools to transfer out of the Achievement School District and — instead of returning to their local school systems as originally planned — seek a home with Tennessee’s new charter school commission.
We should employ a little clarity here, “high-performing” is a bit of a misnomer. There are no “high-performing” schools in the ASD. There are schools that have made some small gains, but as educator Gary Rubenstein points out, “Of the 30 schools they nearly all stayed in the bottom 5% except a few that catapulted into the bottom 10%.” Maybe you have a different definition of “high-performing” but that doesn’t fit mine.
To be fair, and I always hate these conversations because they cast students, families, and teachers in an unfair light, there has been a great deal of effort invested by stakeholders in trying to make this poorly conceived idea work. Unfortunately, they were unable to overcome the policy’s inherent shortcomings. Taking glee from its failure is just as bad as sitting in your mansion in Bellemeade shrugging and saying, “Well at least we tried something” while continuing to cash the checks. There were real lives involved in this experiment and not enough consideration was given to them when constructing the model. To me that’s unforgivable.
Now comes the always tough prospect of unwinding the process without potentially doing more damage. It’s not clear that local school systems want those schools back as currently constructed. If the schools wish to remain run by charter school operators, they would be subject to approval by the local districts. Not a foregone conclusion.
If the ASD schools were dissolved that would place those students back in the local offerings. Care must be undertaken to ensure that the district has the capacity and resources to absorb those students. Governor Lee’s failure to address funding inadequacies makes that a real challenge.
Let’s also not forget that the charter operators may have a goal of educating kids, but they are also business operators. That means they are going to want to protect their investments and not write off the last decade as a complete loss. They are going to lobby for a measure that protects their interests as well as student interests. Some may perceive that as a criticism, but I present it more as a reality, business owners work to preserve their business. Charter schools are businesses.
For some of these business owners, the best choice may be one of entering into the state-run district overseen by the state charter school commission. During Senate Finance Committee hearings, Chairman Bo Watson sounded the alarm about the slippery slope the state was descending, warning that “The passage of this bill is creating a statewide charter authorizer. Do not be misled.”
If anyone was misled, it was back two years ago when the charter school commission was created. I think it was the vision of those who crafted the plan that it always would lead to the creation of a statewide charter authorizer. Personally, I say, have at it.
For decades legislators, prodded on by SCORE and other education non-profits, have acted as if they were more qualified to run school districts than those actually running school districts. As education writer Andy Spears shares,
In fact, at a recent press event discussing the use of federal stimulus funds by local districts, Lee suggested that the state’s department of education would be watching districts to ensure they spent the money the right way. House Education Committee Chair Mark White went one step further, saying that he would be expecting tremendous jumps in student performance in exchange for this money.
Now’s an opportunity to walk the talk.
As it stands now, the charter commission has nowhere near the resources required to administer a multi-school district. That means legislators would need to break out the checkbook, it would take but a New York minute for them to recognize just how expensive running a school district is in reality. It might lead to a little appreciation of the hard work that LEA leaders are doing. Maybe if legislators had something else to focus on, they would let those currently doing the work, focus on the work and not just constantly trying to prove their worth.
Case in point, this year’s insistence on getting kids back in school and taking TCAP so as not to experience more learning loss. Well here’s a news flash for you. Kids are back in school but they are still losing instructional time. Unfortunately, right now, it’s not COVID that is stealing it but rather testing and the TNDOE.
Over the last 2 weeks, virtually all of my kids’ classes have been asynchronous due to the district conducting TCAP. But don’t worry, this week it’ll be MAP testing, and next week, IReady. And the question becomes, when will we apply all of this insight into students learning gaps? Because the week after testing ends, school ends.
But fear not, the first couple of weeks next year will once again be ate up by testing in order to…wait for it…find out where students are at. Does negating the need for all the current testing.
Maybe if the state had its very own school district to oversee and be accountable for, they would realize some of the unintentional consequences of their legislation. Maybe they’d get a clearer picture of the growing chasm between what Commissioner Schwinn claims is happening, and what is actually transpiring in Tennessee classrooms.
Unfortunately, such a course of action would have devastating effects on local districts and only rob them of even more necessary resources. But some days…
The second bill had its first hearing this morning in the House Education Committee. It passed, but not without some contentious moments.
Amid growing concerns around the influence on curriculum by Critical Race Theory proponents, legislators have added an amendment to an existing bill in order to prohibit teaching students that racism and sexism were inherent traits. The amendment brought forth by Representative Ragan.
In presenting the bill, Ragan chose to use language that failed to frame the needed conversation in a manner that could lead to a policy beneficial to all. By using terms like “hucksters”, “charlatans”, and “useful idiots” he brought gasoline to a fire that needs to be contained, rather than expanded.
News coverage of the growing debate around the role of race in America is already framed as another plank in America’s culture war. That doe everyone a disservice as it attempts to reduce a complex conversation to a simple one.
It is possible to believe that Black Lives Matter and not support the Black Lives Matter organization. It is possible to believe that a more robust teaching of history needs to take place while also raising questions about what that looks like in practice. It is possible to love your country and question past practices.
Back when Dr. joseph first arrived in Nashville, then Maplewood principal Ron Woodard and I often talked about Dr. Joseph ushering in a much-needed deeper conversation about race. The trick was to begin and conduct that conversation before battle lines got drawn and people locked themselves into defensive mode. I fear that moment may have been lost.
I’ve spent my entire life committed to the pursuit of equity. Our current strategies concern me. Equity can not be achieved by merely finding a new demographic to marginalize. The teaching of history must become more inclusive. As Representative Yusef pointed out on the committee floor, we need to ensure that we don’t teach history in a manner that pits people against each other.
Ragan’s language was lamentable, but that doesn’t delegitimize his concerns. Many people involved in the equity conversation come from a place of good intentions, that doesn’t mean that people on both sides are not using the conversation for their own agenda and as a means to shape America in a way that is not palpable to all Americans. The goal should be to expand, not reduce.
Both Representative’s Parkinson and Love did an admirable job ignoring the opening language and attempting to create a more nuanced conversation. Some of their efforts were successful, and some fell short due to the constraints of a committee meeting.
Parkinson did try to deconstruct the Thanksgiving holiday by painting it as the celebration of a massacre by Massachusett’s militia. He follows up with a speech about “truth”. He’s not wrong, but context matters. There is an old saying, history is written by the victor. An argument can be made that such also can be applied to the truth.
We have to be very careful when evaluating history through the lens of the present. The world 300 years ago was a much harsher time, people operated under different expectations. A wrong move led to death a little quicker than in today’s world. People committed actions based on the information and experience they had, not the knowledge and experience of the 21st century. I would ask Parkinson, how he would envision America be settled and established? We enjoy the fruits of those who committed actions that we find objectionable today. That’s a place of privilege we all enjoy.
If it’s an honest conversation we are looking for, it’s important to remember that no country or culture has remained unstained from massacres or past atrocities. Machiavelli’s “The Prince” is still relevant today as a political handbook, as is Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”. The latter arguably remains the most influential strategy text in East Asian warfare and has influenced both Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, legal strategy, lifestyles, and beyond. Neither preaches a pure reliance on the skill of dialog.
That is in no way an endorsement, or a defense of slavery, just a realization that people are often limited in their choice of action by their circumstances. I believe when we know better we do better. We know better today than yesterday.
I look back on my own youth and practices that were acceptable at the time would cause people to recoil in revulsion today. I spent hours playing a game called “smear the queer”. The rules were basically whoever had the ball was the “queer” and everybody else had to tackle him and get the ball. None of us at the time, as pre-teens, understood the connection between “queer” and homosexuality. In retrospect, I shudder and think, “how was that ever acceptable?” We know better, we hope, we do better.
It also needs to be reiterated that Critical Race Theory is a field of academic inquiry, not a unified belief or concept. As a theory, it is open to alteration as new observations and experiences become available. But that is only possible if approached with a commitment to its importance and a willingness for all of us to allow ourselves some discomfort.
It’s equally important that we shape our conversations in a manner that facilitates unity as opposed to division. Calling people “useful idiots” or “hucksters” is no better than describing people as inherently racist or sexist based on their gender and skin color. I can’t think of a single policy discussion that would be elevated by referencing “useful idiots”. I believe it was Representative Love who precipitated his comments by stating that. “words matter”. I concur.
Word is that the legislation will sail through by the end of the week and come Wednesday state legislators will be shutting it down for the year. None too soon in my estimation.
I finally got around to watching last week’s MNPS board meeting. Ok…I’m lying…I didn’t watch it, I fast-forwarded through it. The vast majority of it was spent debating charter schools, and as a veteran of the charter school wars, there is not a lot I need to hear anymore. There is one moment that bears commenting on though.
In the middle of debating philosophy around charter schools, board member Gini Pupo-Walker went as far as to call out an individual school for not meeting the needs of Hispanic students. Ms. Walker is always quick to argue against board members criticizing members of the Directors team on the board floor, but failed to extend the same courtesy to an individual school and its leaders. That was troubling.
As the board representative of that school’s community, if the school is not, as described by Ms. Walker, meeting the needs of the Hispanic community, does she not bear some of the responsibility? I’m compelled to ask, if you recognize it as a failing, what have you done to address it?
Furthermore, to just make a blanket accusation like that with no further explanation, does everyone a disservice.
But Walker went even further by backhandedly trying to shame families of another school for being satisfied with their school. As if that satisfaction stemmed from some kind of perceived privilege.
It was all very awkward, to say the least.
It doesn’t matter who is leading Nashville’s public schools, we love a rebranding program. If you think back to a few years ago we tried to convince everybody that the district’s middle schools were actually middle preps. The perception being that preparatory schools were much more academically rigorous. Then there was the attempt to rebrand “priority schools” as “innovation schools”. As if being innovated was what landed those schools on the state-generated list of concern. Neither changed anything.
Let’s not forget the forever popular term “human capital” that was pitched to refer to teachers. A rebranding that was almost universally hated.
Now, we’ve got “literacy reimagined”! Despite the fact that nothing included in the new curriculum is a reimagining of anything.
Close on its heels is the rebranding of “central office” as the “support hub”. Perhaps before giving his presentation to the board, HR Director Chris Barnes should have practiced the new term a little more saw he didn’t misspeak on several instances during his spiel.
Hanging a few signs, painting the walls, putting up some student art doesn’t change the culture. People are smarter than that. Just like repeatedly saying, “transparent”, doesn’t make you so.
You know what changes the culture? Changing the culture.
Calling yourself a support hub, and then telling me that your prescribed curriculum is not the “new thing” or the “next thing”, but rather “the only thing” is not emitting support. Holding an XYX council meeting and talking more than those you propose to support, is not assuming a supporting role. having individuals take weekly field trips to schools only communicates that the job the administrator is doing is expendable. Name a teacher who could weekly go to central office and perform a job.
News flash! They couldn’t. Because they are too busy doing their job. Want to support in a meaningful way? Look for responsibilities that are heaped on teachers and building administrators that could be alleviated. And I’m not talking about using a canned curriculum so teachers don’t have control of how they teach.
Support means listening and taking direction from those to who you are offering support. It means releasing control top others and letting them guide. The real trick here will be how do you justify both a support role and a 6 figure salary. That’ll be the trick.
Rebranding alone is never a solution but merely serves as an indicator that real ideas are scarce.
Let’s take a quick look at the results of this week’s poll questions. The first asked, “What odds do you give the current curriculum of lasting 5 years?” 37% of you give it two years. The second leading answer was, “about the same as me becoming governors” at 28%. Only 5% of you believe the curriculum will last 5 years, though 8% expressed optimism that this time would be different. Here are the write-ins,
- Can the possibly commit to that if leadership chsn
- Nothing last 5 years in education.
It is worth noting that the contract with Great Minds is only for three years.
Question two asked, “Will you be participating in district-run summer school this summer?” The write-ins won this one with 37% and here they are,
- Hell to the no
- nope – need a big break
- Absolutely 100% NO
- Need time to recover and prepare fir next year
- Couldn’t pay me enough to not have a break
- Hell no!
- Nah, not now
- If they ever let me know if I’m hired.
- A Hard NO on that one.
- Not a chance
- Not sure since they still haven’t told teachers who is teaching.
- Nope. I value my mental health.
Hmmm…do I detect a job for the support hub?
The last question asked, “Which MNPS school board member is best suited for higher office?” Abigail Tylor ran a way with this one. Securing 36% of the vote. Next came the write-ins at 23%. Here they are,
- None although Walker is desperate for it!
- none of the above
- Amy Frogge
- Maybe Abigail or Emily
- None of the above (mentioned several times)
Maybe another job for the support hub?
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.