COMMON CORE, LIVE AND THRIVING IN TENNESSEE

“Childhood is a time of curiosity and peril, and nobody comes out of it unscarred.”
Liz Phair, Horror Stories: A Memoir

 

It was time. Twelve years and 177K miles after purchase, my 2005 Saturn Vue gave up the ghost. For the first time in over a decade, we were in the market for a new car.

In looking for a replacement, the first consideration obviously was financial. A true financial analysis couldn’t be done without a thorough evaluation of needs. We needed reliable transportation that would retain its value over a period of time. Something that would require very little maintenance over the next several years. it needed to be roomy, and safe, as well

Since I hadn’t had a car payment for 5 years, I was hoping to avoid taking one on again. But we needed something large enough to haul around kids and gear safely, with a bit of comfort. I work as a special event bartender, so I’m often having to haul supplies for work. The kids have friends that they want to bring with them to the pool or elsewhere – so gotta have that third-row seating.

The first funding question, therefore, became, take a car payment or only meet some of our needs? We decided, like most people do, to do a mixture of both – meet as many needs as possible while keeping as low a payment as possible.

My initial desire was a Toyota 4 Runner. But, cost, gas mileage, and drivability with a family made it an impractical choice. So I started looking at its sister car, the Highlander. It met the majority of our needs, but the price remained just out of reach.

It’s a weird time to be searching for cars. For multiple reasons, inventory is low and demand is high. That means, dealers are not negotiating. I found a Highlander that I really wanted. We were about 4K apart on price, no biggie, right? That should be an easy negotiation. They come down a bit. I go up a bit. At the end of the day, we find a place where we are both happy. A routine repeated all across America. I’d seen my father do it a half dozen times.

But, like I said, these aren’t normal times.

The dealer wasn’t budging. Not even knocking off a $100. Didn’t have to, because if I walked out the door, someone else was walking in the door. So the Highlander faded from the picture.

What I found was a KIA Sorento. Similar look. Similar features. Similar reliability. Lower price.

Now it was time to consider features. Today’s cars are rife with added luxuries. Unfortunately, they come with a cost, so it was essential that we further evaluate what was important and what could be left out. Did I need a Bose sound system over the stock system? Yea, it’d be nice, but was it really necessary?

Leather seats? Sounds like a luxury, but I have two kids and maybe it’s cheaper to pay extra upfront versus risking stains later.

As I started looking at the different interiors, I got further and further from reality. Found myself asking questions like, “This has heated seats, but not a heated steering wheel, right?”

What the hell? I’d been driving cars for 4 decades that barely had heat, and now I needed the steering wheel heated? It was easy to start ascribing luxuries as necessities, the line between “nice to have” and essential blurring. It was only a couple of bucks here, and a couple there, but without vigilance, things suddenly got beyond affordable.

Eventually, we bought the KIA. It doesn’t have a Bose sound system, but it does have a good one. The steering wheel isn’t heated, but the seats are. It’s not a Toyota, but it is comparable. In other words, it’s the vehicle that meets the majority of our needs at a price we can afford.

When I say the price, “we can afford”, that’s the price determined by us as a family. Not the one set by the tire companies, gas companies, or local mechanics. But rather one based on our assessment of what we can afford to spend.

Initially, I was willing to look as high as $35K. The wife said, “hell to the no.”

She didn’t want to spend more than $25k. I argued, then we’d have to settle for a vehicle that met fewer of our needs. After deliberations, we arrived at $30K, The KIA came under our limit by several thousand. Just because we had a limit, didn’t mean we had to reach it.

Right now, you might be wondering, “Why the hell is he telling us about his new car purchase? We bought one last year. It ain’t that big a deal.” But it is.

I’m struck by the similarities between buying a new car and funding a school system. A car, next to a home is the biggest purchase we’ll make as a family and it will equally impact our quality of life.

Schools, next to safety, are likely the biggest investment a community can make, and will equally impact a community’s quality of life.

Both come with some lofty aspirations, that require tempering. In order to successfully do either task, you have to establish the importance of needs and which you are unwilling to negotiate on. Something we don’t do often enough when it comes to funding schools.

Imagine if I said to my wife, “The family must fully fund my new car aspirations. Failure to do anything less should be considered a failure and an affront to me.”

But that’s what we do with schools. Raise your hand if you can give me any kind of dollar figure that would signify a school system is fully funded. I’ll wait a minute.

One of the reasons that the recent efforts by the Nashville Public Education Foundation to get the city to fund teacher raises were successful, was that they didn’t just demand a blanket amount of money. Through a well-researched study, they made a qualitative argument that demonstrated the link between student outcomes and teacher pay. They included documentation around teacher salaries throughout the country. And they laid out specific numbers that were needed in order to substantially make an impact.

It’s not any different from me explaining to my wife the need for third-row seating and then showing her the cost of cars that offered this feature.

But in order to make such arguments, you have to do something else that is rare in public education policy discussions, you have to define the purpose.

So what is the purpose of public education? In demanding that taxpayers fully fund our aspirations, what is the purpose? Better citizens? Better employees? Better test takers? A combination of all of that?

It’s hard to differentiate between need and luxury if you don’t define purpose. For example, we have friends that only have one child. They don’t really need third-row seating. For them, that would be a luxury. On the other hand, we have two kids involved in a multitude of activities, it’s a necessity. You can’t differentiate without definition.

If we are ever going to actually fully fund our schools, it has to begin with a definition of purpose. What is the benefit we are trying to reap, and how does our investment bring that to fruition.

It’s not enough to just demand that lawmakers fully fund schools. That demand has to be defined, along with how public investment will make it a reality. failure to do so just ensures more years of endless shouting, underfunded mandates, and limited student outcomes.

STAMPING OUT COMMON CORE

During the last legislative session, Governor Lee proudly declared that he was closing Tennessee’s Common Core loopholes. Unfortunately, Commissioner Schwinn and her cohorts at the Tennessee Department of Education don’t read his press releases, and they keep finding new loopholes to exploit. The latest episode comes with the hiring of former Jackson-Madison school district administrator Jared Myracle as the state’s Senior Director of Literacy and Humanities.

One would assume that the person filling this role would have a long history of teaching kids to read. Yeah…that’s not Myracle.

Jared was a teacher for 2 years before becoming an assistant principal for 2 years and then the instructional supervisor for Gibson County Schools. For 7 months in 2015, he was McNairy Counties Assistant Director of Schools, followed by three years as the Chief Academic Officer for Jackson-Madison Schools. it’s worth noting that his father-in-law is a long-term school board member for Jackson-Madison schools, yet was unable to help Myracle secure the job as director of schools 2 years ago.

While we can argue Myracle’s qualifications for the TNDOE job, what is inarguable, is his ability to make money off of education trends. Back in the early parts of the last decade, he saw the value in Common Core and quickly jumped on the money train, penning the book, Common Core for Dummies. No word on whether or not he sent a copy to Bill Lee.

After the bloom faded on Common Core, Myracle, like his peers, shifted to Science of Reading as their new religion. Unfortunately for them, finding converts isn’t as easy as it was in the halcyon days on Common Core. Last year, Schwinn and posse tried to ram through a bill that prescribed Tennennesse to only teaching reading in accordance with the so-called Science of Reading, The legislation was defeated and only passed during Special Session after all references to SOR was stricken.

If you peruse the writings of Myracle, you will find ample reference to Schwinn’s favored curriculums, Wit and Wisdom, EL Education, and CKLA. Those 3 curricula make up the brunt of the 77 waivers approved this year for individual districts, over half of the state’s LEAs. Throughout the process, Myracle could be found on social media proclaiming the value of adopting the commissioner’s favored materials.

In that light, the question that has to be raised is if his hiring is a case of the most qualified candidate, or is it a reward for several years of loyal service?

It’s hard to imagine someone like Myracle, who has invested so much into promoting Common Core, suddenly shifting course and suddenly not being a proponent. But, It’s got to be helpful that the aforementioned publishers will now have a man in the inner circle influencing districts on strategies. This seems like a real win-win for everybody but students, so maybe he’s taking one for the team.

Results in Myracle’s former district are mixed at best. With scores between 2017 – 2019 showing a slight decline in the later years. ELA proficiency scores hanging just above 20%.

The timing of Myracle joining the TNDOE is interesting as well. If you’ll remember, recently, Myracle announced the formation of a company that would help districts with curriculum adoption. Now he’s going to do the same work for a fraction of the price.

Keep in mind, that prior to the pandemic few LEA’s had the funds from which to draw in order to undertake large-scale curriculum adoptions. That problem was solved with the influx of federal dollars, and who do you think Great Minds and Amplify would have recommended to the districts that have to succumb to pressure from the TNDOE and chose their materials? It’s almost like somebody said, “Hey, you gotta get yourself some of this too.”

It’s a little odd that the prospector would walk away from the gold mine when it’s about to start producing.

Over the past decade, Myracle has worked with both Instructional Partners and NEIT, two organizations headed up by the former department of education leaders Emily Freitag and Candace McQueen respectively. Former State Superintendent Kevin Huffman is a frequent public supporter. None of these folks exactly rocked the world on student outcomes and did more for their personal brand than they ever did for kids.

Put it this way, it’s like you were advertising for a bank teller position and a candidate listed Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie, and Clyde as references. You might be a little slow to hire them. That may be a little unfair comparison, but all three administrators have managed to enrich themselves while student reading scores have remained flat.

On Wednesday, the Senate Government Ops committee is slated to convene and the Department Of Education is on the agenda. Let’s see how probing the questions get.

QUICK HITS

MNPS’s contract with Meharry looks worse and worse as time marches on. Vivian Jones has a closer look over at Main Street Nashville. In it she reveals that,

So far, MNPS has paid MMCV Inc. more than $10 million to serve fewer than 6,700 students and staff who have opted in to testing, according to invoices provided to Main Street Nashville.

Not a great rate of return. $5.16 million of that is in startup costs. With an additional monthly bill of about $1.8 million. Good work if you can get it.

In this week’s U.S. CambridgeSchools shout-out, we’re highlighting John Overton High School.

If Senators on Government Ops are looking for questions to ask, I suggest looking closer at what the TNDOE is specifically spending federal dollars. In looking at my social media feed I get the feeling it’s private interests and PR firms. This is looking strangely familiar to the RTTT years.

POLL RESULTS

Let’ take a quick look at the results from the weekend poll questions. The first question asked for your opinion on the Commissioner’s bus tour. 61% saw it as a self-serving PR stunt, with 13% wondering if she couldn’t tour Yosemite instead. One one of you felt it was good to see her out supporting school. Thanks go out to Paul Schwinn for contributing. Here are the write-ins,

  • Seems more like a politician than DOE…I don’t trust either one
  • She needs to tour right out of Tennessee
  • embarrassing herself again.
  • Bet she travels via Sprinter or a late model RV with all the bells and whistles
  • Just another pony show
  • REALLY? What’s the point?
  • Who cares if she visits?

Question 2 asked, who do you think is the worst of the current MNPS board members? The top three in this one were Fran Bush, John Little, and Gini Pupo-Walker at 32, 19, and 14% respectfully. Here are the write-in votes,

  • Tie between Buggs and Pupo
  • John Little is a snake. He needs to resign. Follow the residency rules!
  • Buggs and Fran tie, it’s like they are auditioning for RHOA
  • All of them
  • Tied between Gentry and Little
  • John Little needs to step down. No longer in D4

Three board members received no votes, Player-Peters, Traylor, and Masters.

The last question asked if you were traveling this summer. 32% of you said that you were hitting the road as soon as possible. 27% of you said you were taking smaller trips, while 24% of you answered that you were waiting until July. Here are the write-ins,

  • MNPS employees should be required to COVID test before returning to work
  • Nothing major planned
  • Fulton Co, not Cobb Co, TC! (In reference to Mike Looney’s home district)

That’s it.

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. Not begging, just saying.

 



Categories: Education

2 replies

  1. Disagree with, “t’s not enough to just demand that lawmakers fully fund schools. That demand has to be defined, along with how public investment will make it a reality. failure to do so just ensures more years of endless shouting, underfunded mandates, and limited student outcomes.”

    We’ve never defined this, anywhere in the country. I rather think that is OK. Sometimes, “knowing it when we see it” is all we have:

    https://corporate.findlaw.com/litigation-disputes/movie-day-at-the-supreme-court-or-i-know-it-when-i-see-it-a.html

    Public education should not be 30 kids per classroom, fast teacher turnover, and funding at 1/3 the level of private schools in the community.

    Student outcomes will always be limited. We are humans. We are super-limited. But, community outcomes could be a LOT better if we all treated our public schools like the private schools we tend to flee to.

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