CHOICES, IT’S ALL ABOUT CHOICES.

“I volunteer because it makes me look helpful, and it gives me first dibs on the refreshments.”
Richard Osman, The Thursday Murder Club

 

For all intents and purposes, the school year all over but the shouting. Grades have been turned in. Graduations scheduled. Library books returned. By mid-week next week, most districts will be closing the books on the 2020/2021 school year. But that doesn’t mean everything is going quietly into the night.

In Nashville, there is considerable unhappiness with MNPS’s decision to limit the number of tickets for graduation to 4. It’s an asinine decision, based on a PR move intended to paint the district as being safety first. One not being replicated anywhere else in the city. Baptisms, weddings, funerals, and other assorted cultural milestones are wide open for attendance. Only graduation participation is being curtailed.

If ever there was a time to celebrate public schools, and a need to bring communities together, it’s now. The year has been extremely difficult for many families, and let’s be honest, there were many questions around whether many of those students walking the stage this week would be provided that opportunity. This should be a time for mass coming together in celebration of reaching a shared goal. Denying all family members the opportunity to share in that accomplishment is simply self-defeating.

Some may fall into the trap of thinking graduation is simply about the student. It’s not. Like marriage, it’s an opportunity to coalesce around shared values. It’s a chance to recognize those that sacrificed in order to make this day possible. It’s a day to inspire younger members to aspire. It’s a day meant to strengthen our institutions. By limiting participation, we are limiting futures and undermining education’s value.

A graduation ceremony isn’t important enough for all 8 of my family members to join in, but catching a tribute to Billy Gibbons at the Ryman is permissible. A younger brother may miss their older sibling transitioning, but hey if they all want to eat at Hardee’s, that’s permissible. Again it’s all about values and looking at the big picture.

What about that younger sibling facing a summer of classwork? The message being drilled into everybody’s head is one of the kids being behind and needing to catch up. The truth of the matter is students, and teachers, are exhausted. They’ve spent over a year adjusting to other’s agendas and priorities. Now they are being asked to work another month, a departure from past years. A little inspiration might be helpful as we head into the summer school semester.

What could provide more inspiration, than watching friends and family gather together with other classmates and fawning over a graduate? A very public viewing reiterating how important all this is would likely be beneficial to all. Instead, we let the day pass without fully realizing all of the potential afforded.

What about teachers? After a year of having to adjust their game, many are beaten down and questioning the value of what they do? What better way to reinspire than allowing them to see the fruits of past efforts, by watching a former student accomplish something that might have once been in doubt? Sorry though, if a student has more than 4 family members, you can watch the video later. Talk about a missed opportunity to increase teacher retention.

But that’s what public education seems to do best – miss opportunities. Maybe it’s too much to expect this case to be different.

What really gets me about all of this is who is most impacted. We pay endless lip service about our level of care for our immigrant and impoverished students, but when the peddle meets the metal, that goes by the wayside.

Who do you think is most likely to be negatively impacted by this misguided policy? Which families are most likely to have more than just a nuclear family living under one roof? Which families have arguably overcome the most challenges in getting their students to this point? Yet there is not a collective voice raised to demand change.

For example, MNPS School board member Gini Pupo-Walker has no issue pointing out on the public stage what she perceives as racial disparities, yet here we are on an issue that directly affects those she purports to protect, and it is crickets. I guarantee you if the issue was about not testing these graduates, Walker would be poised with her pen to craft missives of protest. Admittedly this one might not gather the headlines normally generated, but it would have been an opportunity to quietly do the right thing by those who elected her.

Loving public schools is like having a philandering spouse. Your eyes see all the potential, and when they get it right you are reminded of just how special they are and why you love them like you do. Unfortunately, they seem continually hampered by their decisions. Decisions that rarely allow them to be seen in their best light. Decisions that lead people to think less of them despite all that they are capable of. Like that spouse though, you just keep loving them, hoping beyond hope, that the decisions will get better.

Like that wayward spouse, they never seem to notice that there are other suitors, Suitors that seem to place more value in your affections. Suitors that become more attractive with every bad decision. Until their long-suffering spouse chooses differently. Then it becomes all, Whoa, how could you? What do you mean you are going elsewhere? You know I love you. How can you be disloyal.”

MNPS shares the philandering spouse’s ability to pick the wrong friends. Instead of aligning with those that have their best interests at heart, they choose the flashy and those that share their self-serving nature. In the case of MNPS, this year has seen the district continually become more and more aligned with the TNDOE, and non-profits like TNTP, TFA, and SCORE. Organizations that will take their money and use it to lobby for legislation that makes their job even more difficult. Where do think the roots for all of this year’s special legislation sprung from? From the offices of the State Collaboration on Reforming Education.

Hope springs eternally apply to both baseball and schools. As this year comes to a close, plans are already being developed for next year. The sting of the last nine months will evaporate in the wake of the promise for the coming year. If only…

MONEY MONEY MONEY

The only thing bureaucrats enjoy more than spending money is talking about money. And this week, Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn did some yapping.

Handing out cash like Oprah on steroids, Tennessee’s schools benefitted from the duo’s generosity via grants for innovation, civics, and STEM. Proving once again that the two can be quite generous when it’s not coming out of their wallet, as proven by a press release touting the huge value of the federal stimulus funding.

The release is rife with irony, Filled with quotes from lawmakers and sympathetic superintendents,

“This historic amount of federal funding provides an opportunity to innovate and transform the trajectory of Tennessee schools and students,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “It’s imperative that we keep student achievement at the center of all decision-making to put them on a path for success in our classrooms, postsecondary and workforce.”

And,

“Education must be Priority One for every School District in Tennessee. We owe each student the commitment of a quality education for a bright future,” said House Education Administration Committee Chairman Mark White. “This historic one-time funding will benefit each and every child and we are committed to using the funding wisely and for every student in Tennessee.”

And,

“These historic funds will better equip the state to invest in students,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey. “By using evidence-based practices to improve student outcomes, the funds will ensure Tennessee continues our commitment to provide innovative education programs. I am glad these funds will be made available to our public schools and look forward to the increased learning opportunities for our students that will result from this large investment.”

Furthermore,

‘Every student deserves a top-notch, high-quality education and we remain committed to ensuring they receive one no matter where they live in Tennessee,” said House Education Instruction Subcommittee Chairman Scott Cepicky. “These one-time funds will go a long way in helping us close the digital divide, but also equip our school districts with extra resources to get our students back on track. We look forward to seeing the results of this investment as we work to lead the nation in education.”

Apparently, people are tripping over themselves in an effort to talk about the importance of the increased funding. Freshly minted Chief-of-Change member Millard L. House II, Director of Schools, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, even gets in the act,

“The dollars coming into the state to benefit education are incredible and represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our district to achieve results that are focused on improving the quality of education for our children. By using this money wisely, strategically and transparently, we can improve student readiness for higher education and future careers.”

As does the always amiable Lauderdale Superintendent,

“In Lauderdale County Schools, we recognize this moment in time for the state of Tennessee and our district presented by this historic federal funding for K-12 education,” said Shawn Kimble, Director of Schools, Lauderdale County Schools. “By maximizing these resources to accelerate learning for all students, we will continue innovative strategies to have the greatest impact for our students and communities.”

Riddle me this. If everyone so readily recognizes the importance of the influx of cash, where were they when Tennessee had an opportunity to reach into their own pocket and resolve recognized funding inequities? As Andy Spears has adroitly pointed out, they were conveniently silent. Furthermore, it’s an issue of will over resources,

Tennessee’s general fund revenue collections were nearly $600 million above estimates in April, bringing the state’s surplus to $1.9 billion through the first nine months of the budget year.

The issue of underfunding is one that is not in dispute. As Spears goes on to point out,

This year, groups that typically stay out of the school funding fight like the Nashville Public Education Foundation and the League of Women Votersgot involved and urged Lee and lawmakers to make use of this historic surplus to make significant new investments in public education. Those calls, of course, were ignored.

Joining forces with these entities wouldn’t exactly qualify as hanging with radicals. Yet, none of the legislators and bureaucrats now basking in the glow of federal money were willing to step out on the limb when it mattered. All of them waited for the Federal government showed up before taking action. Well, guess what? It’s all taxpayer money and the federal money, it’s only temporary. Let’s see how many people are struck by financial amnesia two years from now.

The TNDOE press release goes on to list some proposed initiatives for the historical windfall,

  • ACADEMICS: All Tennessee students will have access to a high-quality education by learning to read and reading to learn with high-quality materials.

At least one of those expenditures should raise some eyebrows. $35M to support the “statewide 2022-23 math textbook adoption process”? Keep in mind that the role of the DOE has been drastically curtailed of late. The adopting of materials is not a new process, though the past manipulation by Schwinn and posse certainly is. Tennessee has recently completed this process and not once have I heard anyone raise the question of needing $35M in order to do it more effectively.

Keep in mind though, that in the run-up to the ELA adoption, the TNDOE paired with both TNTP and SCORE in order to create a PR campaign around their preferred materials. $35M would go a long way towards convincing folks of the benefit of adopting Amplify and Great Minds math offerings.

Maybe that $35M could be used for rural school district officials to travel to Baltimore, or some other prime location, to see how the aforementioned curriculum is used in those districts.

Back in the halcyon days of Common Core’s introduction, the Tennessee Department of Education paid Teachers a $750 stipend to say nice things about Common Core. Maybe that’s the plan again.

We know that the federal stimulus has already been beneficial to the Schwinn family. Last Spring, Penny’s spouse Paul found himself out of work as STEM Academy decided his services were no longer needed. Faced with pending unemployment, Mr. Schwinn did what he has done so many times in the past, looked for a friend of the wife’s. Luckily, TNTP, despite being in the midst of a pandemic, had a position readily available. It was in Philadelphia, but since everybody was working remotely, so could he. What luck.

Fast forward 6 months and TNTP is awarded an $8M contract in response to an RFP released on Christmas Eve. Shockingly they were one of only two respondents. Timing is everything.

Schwinn has gone on record saying that the hubby won’t be involved in any aspect of the contract going forth, but nobody has openly discussed the timing of Paul’s hiring or promised that the contract wasn’t a hiring bonus for TNTP. I guess we should extend the benefit of the doubt. It’s not like Ms. Schwinn has ever been accused of anything similar in the past.

I mean Paul did get hired by the charter school chain in California his wife was working at…and there was the thing in Delaware with him working for a non-profit funded by his wife’s employer…and that time in Texas when he was hired by the charter school in California while working for a charter in Texas…but other than those few instances, everything has always been above board. Right?

Maybe instead of rushing out to spend the Fed’s cash like a teenager planning a kegger while mom and dad are out of town, legislators and Commissioner Schwinn could crack Tennessee’s safe and make some sustainable investments. Unfortunately, like the aforementioned spouse, I suspect that legislators will squander the money on the proverbial wine, women, and song, leaving the household to try and make up the difference once the money is all gone. And it will be gone.

NOW THAT THEY”VE GOTTEN A LOOK AT IT

Speaking of our friends at Great Minds, parents in Sumner County and Franklin County have gotten a closer look at the recently adopted Wit and Wisdom curriculum, and to put it bluntly, “BBBBBIIIIILLLLYYYY….you got some explaining to do.”

There is a great deal of questioning about the appropriateness of the new materials. Questions around sex, race, and religion all arise from the texts included. Admittedly, little of it rise to my level of concern – though I do think 4th grade is a little early to utilize Hatchet. And I do enjoy the parallels drawn between Bill Lee’s tenets on education and the Soviet Union. Still…

The thing is, it’s called “Public Education”, not “TC Education”. So where my bar lays, is kinda irrelevant. It’s not an unreasonable expectation to have the curriculum used, reflect the majority of the public’s values. As that’s what happens with a representative government.

Bill Lee is purportedly a conservative in a state with a conservative supermajority, yet here we are with a curriculum pushed by his commissioner of education that arguably fails to adequately reflect conservative values. It’s a head-scratcher. One perhaps suitable for a conversation with his peer Republican governors who are in town next week for a convention. Maybe they do things differently in their conservative statehouses.

One last thing on this issue, some Tennessee Democrats are upset with the groups that are upset about the curriculum and other issues. There seems to be a little cognitive dissonance at play here. The people that were elected to lead the state were elected by the citizens of Tennessee. Not some radical outside group. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Lee didn’t get elected by being strong on liberal issues, or even for having much patience for them. Hence these are the views that get supported. I’ve heard the aforementioned MNPS board member refer to legislation being pushed by “fringe groups”. That’s not an accurate depiction.

I know we all like to make qualitative judgments about our beliefs, i.e all good people believe XYZ. But, that’s not how it works. Governing policy is supposed to be set by the views of the majority. It’s nice if minority voices are included, but the level of input is determined by the size of the minority collective. which means one side has to collect more fence-sitters than the other side.

If anybody is a fringe group in Tennessee, it’s the Democrats. I heard it mentioned today that any candidate running with a D behind their name in a rural county in Tennessee, starts 20 points in the hole. That’s not a sign of shared values or splitting hairs. In order to change that, you are going to need to pull some people over to the other side of the aisle.

Here’s another news flash – calling the opposition racist, homophobic, evil, cruel, etc, ain’t bringing anybody across the way. You can’t shame people into change. Repeatedly explaining and demonstrating how your policies are more beneficial is the only way to do it. Treating people like people instead of caricatures is the only reasonable path forth. On this, you can believe me, or, feel free to continue shouting into the silo in a vain effort that only serves to impress the already sold.

Nobody ever has thought to themselves, “that stranger over there that I’m not really sure I like just called be a racist homophobe, I better change my ways even though I don’t agree with them.” All you do is piss people off and make them double down on their positions. It’s only through educating and relationship building is the real change brought forth.

The future presents a unique challenge, try to cancel each other out or find more common ground. The latter offers some hope for the future, the former only ensures a future filled with more of the same.

That’s enough 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. 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.

Don’t forget to answer the poll questions.

 



Categories: Education

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