“One study of twenty years of data in the United States concluded that “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”4”
Geoff Mulgan, Big Mind: How Collective Intelligence Can Change Our World


This weekend, I received a well-deserved rebuke. One that reminded me, of the importance of viewing the world through eyes other than our own.

I was with some educator friends, discussing the doings of the Tennessee Department of Education. As usual, as of late, I was being critical of both the 360Reading initiative and the forced foundational skills training this summer. Earning particular vitriol from me was the accompanying PR campaign.

“Lord”, I said, “All these pictures of teachers gushing about spending a week in the summer studying phonetics. Yeah… that’s a real barn burner.”

“Wait a minute, “One friend responded, “What about training on phonics do you object to?”

“Come on man, it’s phonics. It’s summer. With all the possibilities, after the year we just had, people are excited about phonics? Come on.”

“Well, actually many teachers enjoy an opportunity to really dive into some professional development in the summer. No kids around means a greater focus on subject matter. Phonics is an important component of teaching kids to read, so yes, some people are very excited about a week of study. Maybe not you, but I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it.”

I realized he was right, I’d allowed my lack of trust in the Department of Education leadership to cloud my judgment. To totally dismiss the Read360 program and the teacher training around it, is wrong. I don’t believe that it will have the long-term large-scale impact as advertised, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any benefits reaped. Some teachers, and as a result, some students will definitely benefit. And that shouldn’t be casually dismissed.

While I remain uncomfortable with the intense PR campaign that is almost entirely focused on the Commissioner, I am grateful that the state is populated by teachers that are still willing to dig in and learn even more. It’s just one more testimony to those that populate a profession that is often undervalued.

The proof of the value of the training, and by extension the new curriculum, will come in the next school year. The TNDOE can show all the pictures they like of teachers receiving training, the important ones are those in the future that will show implementation and results.

In project management, there are three distinct phases – planning, execution, review. The first 2 almost always garner adherence, unfortunately, it’s the third phase that often gets short-shifted. That review process is going to be especially important in the coming months, let’s hope that an equal amount of energy is invested.

To all you teachers, continually looking for new ways to improve your practice, thank you. In the future, I’ll try and put my own postulates into practice – policy over personalities.


July is going to be a busy month for the state board of education. On Thursday, July 1, it’s a specially called board meeting. Up for discussion are the emergency rules for educator licensure, student health, and virtual schools.

The first addresses rule changes mandated by legislation enacted this past legislative session that attempts to make it easier for LEA’s to staff schools. This includes,

  • Revisions to out of state licensure pathways for academic and occupational teachers, school services personnel, and instructional leaders;
  • Removing assessment requirements for individuals who hold a professional-level license in a state with which Tennessee has reciprocity; and
  • The addition of flexibility to the pathway by which an educator may waive assessment requirements for advancement due to a lack of overall level of effectiveness data.

The second deals with rules around student quarantines for the upcoming year. There is one line here that might raise some eyebrows,

Each LEA or consortium of LEAs that receives coordinated school health funding pursuant to T.C.A. § 49-1-1002 shall adopt a coordinated school health policy in accordance with the State Board’s Coordinated School Health Program Policy 4.204.

I’m always leary of “we pay, you play” policies. It may be nothing, as policy 4.202 had its original rules filed May 3, 2018; effective August 1, 2018. Repeal and new rule filed January 7, 2021; effective April 7, 2021. Though, in light of recent efforts to expand child wellness checks, I’d say there still remains cause to be wary.

The last rule deals with virtual schools. This one is of interest to me because, of the communication that in order for an individual school to offer a virtual option, a whole new school with a separate number must be created. Provisions in the new rules, seem to offer some wiggle room,

Virtual education programs may be established in accordance with T.C.A. §§ 49-16-101 – 49-16- 105 and this rule. A “virtual education program” means a course or series of courses offered through the use of technology by an LEA or public charter school to provide students a broader range of educational opportunities. Providing students a broader range of educational opportunities includes any of the following:

I would think this would leave the door open, due to a fluid description of a “broader range of educational opportunities.”

The rule does state,

Remote instruction via a virtual education program shall not constitute the majority of a student’s total instructional time per school semester unless the student meets one of the following criteria:

  1. The student is temporarily receiving all of their instruction via a virtual education program pursuant to part (1)(b) or (1)(d) of this section;
  2. The student is taking course coursework virtually so they may participate in a work-based learning program or internship that takes place during regular school hours.
  3. The student is accessing Advanced Placement (AP) courses or similar advanced coursework virtually;
  4. or The student is taking virtual coursework for purposes of credit recovery.

To me, this is where I would argue there is a bit of wiggle room in this policy. But we’ll see.

Equally interesting to me is the proposed rule regarding virtual teachers, In the past, many of the state’s virtual schools – including that offered by MNPS – has offered almost exclusively asynchronous instruction. The new rules appear to mandate a teacher of record, who is subject to the same level of evaluation as those providing in-person instruction. I would think that this would require some restructuring on the local level. But let’s see.

On July 8th the real fireworks are scheduled. At this juncture details are limited, but on the agenda are the universal screener, textbook and instructional material waivers, educator licensure- denial, formal reprimand, suspension and Revocation; Permits, and Civil Rights compliance. Any one of those could be considered an area of concern.

On the 22nd it’s an SBE workshop, followed by a meeting on the 23rd. No agenda for either of those occasions yet exists.

Also worth noting, on August 16th the state’s Education Innovation and Recovery Commission reconvenes. This the commission created by Governor Lee in order to study unicorns, I mean learning loss and acceleration. The Commission last met in May, where they discussed issues like, “What should be the goal or outcome of a strong K-workforce system?” and future policy considerations. I await August’s meeting with bated breath.


Andy Smarick is a conservative writer who also served on the Maryland State Board of Education. This past week he took a deep look at our nation’s political rhetoric and came away with reason for concern,

We thus find ourselves in a pickle. We must be able to trust the information presented to us — it would cost us dearly were we to make our decisions about voting, investments, or medication based on false information. But we also know that humans have developed useful ways of transmitting meaning outside of literalism. So what are we to do?

Smarick offers tools for navigating that pickle. A lot of value in this piece.

Speaking of Andys, Tennessee’s Andy Spears has a good piece out examining seahorses and conflicts of Governor Lee. I would say it is an illuminating piece, but I think Commissioner Schwinn and Governor Lee have tied up the state’s education policies beyond illumination. It is a worthy read though.

While we are on the subject of education writers that are smarter than I, hats off to Natalie Wexler for putting into words what all those publishers of HQIM are thinking – give us your money. You might be wondering, “how do I identify?”. Luckily Wexler is here to help,

I know of several elementary curricula that cover different bodies of knowledge in different ways. They all spend at least two or three weeks delving into a meaty topic, and they all expose every student in a class to challenging texts on those topics. A non-exhaustive list would include Core Knowledge Language Arts, Wit & Wisdom, Bookworms, and EL Education. No curriculum is perfect, but any of these will do a better job of equipping students for academic success than the standard approach.

But of course. Like I said…an “A” for honesty.

Over at MNPS’s Cresswell Middle School Arts, Dr. Lane is so proud as her cousin heads to Tokyo to compete in her second Olympics. Kendell Williams will be competing in the Heptathlon. Pretty effing cool.

Vanderbilt University’s baseball team takes the field today in defense of their National Championship. Anchor Down!

More than 100 students from dozens of elementary schools rocked the MNPS Chess Bee in May. The Board of Education honored the first-place winners from each grade last Tuesday. Students played more than 280,000 games of chess via the Chess Kid educational app in 2020-21. Impressive.


Let’s review the answers to this week’s poll questions. This week, y’all were fairly universal in your responses, but let’s get to it.

The first question asked, how concerned you were about the pending school year? Running neck and neck were, “very…considering the lack of information shared” and “I figure what will be will be” at 34 and 37 percent respectfully. Worth noting for MNPS parents, the next board meeting isn’t scheduled until July 13th. School starts about 3 weeks later. Here’s hoping for some clarity.

Here are the write in votes,

  • Nah, not now
  • Not concerned, just annoyed.
  • as unorganized as summer school
  • Why is there a need for major concern?
  • I quit teaching so it’s their problem now
  • Principals and teachers always make it happen
  • What, me worry?

Question 2 asked, what impact do you think Commissioner Schwinn will have on Governor Lee’s re-election campaign. 86% of you thought it would be minimal. Most of you are of the opinion that among the general public she is unknown, and therefore will have minimal impact. A fair argument and a good warning on the dangers of playing inside baseball. Here are the write-ins,

  • Probably no impact. Overwhelmingly red state.
  • They both need to go

The last question asked, why do you think the TNDOE has such problems filling their job vacaencies. No quibbling here, 85% of you said, “incompetent leadership.” That’s pretty clear. But here are the write-ins,

  • Bonnaroo is back and they have jobs too
  • Pay
  • Pay rate

That’s a wrap for today.

f 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

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