“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.” – Dwight Eisenhower
Let me give you a little fair warning, I’m writing today’s thoughts from the couch while listening to records with a splitting headache. Three ingredients that’ll likely influence the tenor of today’s article. Proceed at your own risk.
Over the years, I have become increasingly jaded in my thinking about public education. Over the last decade of writing this column, several consistencies have emerged. Classroom teachers and principals will invariably put kids’ needs above their own, while administrators and bureaucrats will routinely do the opposite. Today’s anecdotes will serve to illustrate my point.
HAVE INEPTITUDE< WILL TRAVEL
As of late, I have been keeping a close eye on going ons in Adams 14, a school district in Colorado. Embedded in their tale is a potential blueprint that could be used by Tennessee’s legislators in their growing desire to take over Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools.
Colorado has a law on the books that allows for the appointment of a third party to oversee a district’s day-to-day activities if that district is found to be consistently falling short of prescribed annual measurements. Adams 14 became the first district in Colorado to suffer this fate when in 2019 the state appointed MGT to oversee operations in an effort to improve student learning.
A small district outside of Denver in Commerce City, Adams 14 serves approximately 6600 students, 87% of whom are Hispanic and 77% are eligible for free and reduced lunch. In 2014, a federal investigation found patterns of discrimination against Hispanic students.
Per the Denver Post in 2018 the state action came in response to the 13-school district having received the lowest two ratings — “Priority Improvement” or “Turnaround” — in the state’s accountability systems for eight straight years, requiring the education board to intervene under state law.
This summer, with MGT slated to enter its third year out of a contracted four of oversight, Adams 14 hired a new superintendent – Clark County’s Cheif Academic Officer Karla Loria.
Among Loria’s first actions was to contract a consulting company to design a transition plan for MGT and the district to share responsibilities. The consultant instead took it on their own to write a report evaluating MGT and eventually recommending ending the partnership.
Note here, this is why it is important to have an agreed-upon scope of work – cough, cough, ahem, MNPS.
Based on the report, the Adams County School Board used that report to issue a work-stoppage order and try to sever the relationship with MGT. Both moves put them out of compliance with the state and the district has now lost its accreditation, which could potentially lead to the dissolution of the district.
At this point, you are probably thinking, interesting story but what’s it got to do with me? There are plenty of stories of malfeasance in school management right here in Tennessee, why cross state lines?
Well, as Paul Harvey used to say, here’s the rest of the story.
It took a little digging, but with a little work, I discovered that the consulting company hired by Loria was Burns/Van Fleet Educational Consulting, Ring any bells? It should.
Burns/Van Fleet was where former Tennessee Assistant Commission Robert Lundin landed after he was run out of Tennessee. The self-proclaimed practitioner of extreme candor assumed the role of Vice-President for the company from December 2020 until September 2021.
September 2021 is when he left the education consulting firm to assume the job of…wait for it…Executive Director of Communications and Special Projects for Adam 14.
Here’s some irony for you, this is the man who led a division that oversaw enrollment in disability IEA’s and was only able to secure 150 students out of 40k eligible participants. In a presentation to the State Disability Council, Lundin chalked the low participation numbers up to a lack of information getting out to parents and too many procedural hurdles for parents to leap. In other words, poor communication.
Now he’s in charge of the communication efforts for an entire district?
So of course, I took a closer look at Karla Loria. Let’s see, she was in Clark County for a little over 2 years, before that she was a Human Resources Officer for a small Colorado school district. Ah…here’s the ticket…from 201o-2016 she was a Chief School Officer in Houston. A time that overlaps with Lundin serving as a school support officer.
So let’s lay this all out. An alumnus of HISD becomes Superintendent of a troubled district and hires the consulting firm of a colleague from HISD who writes a report outside of the purview of what was contracted and makes the case for increased power for his old colleague, the superintendent.
A report that leads directly to the new superintendent’s district losing accreditation, and putting their very existence at risk. In the midst of this, the HISD colleague leaves their high-level position at the consultancy group that authored the report to take a job as the district’s communication director – despite being plagued by communication issues throughout his career.
That’s some shit. But that’s how it works in the world of education leadership. What I just told you about isn’t a unique situation. Over the last two decades, education leadership jobs have increasingly been dependent on a quid pro quid system – scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.
The Gates Foundation, Chiefs for Change, and Teach for America have all grabbed hold of the opportunity to subvert from within. While most of us focus on billionaires and charter schools, these supposed non-profits continually infest the education world, their influence growing with each new appointment.
Writer Mercedes Schneider’s recent piece on TFA should be considered a must-read on the subject, and, again, contains threads that stretch to Tennessee.
Just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean they are not out to get you.
Throughout all of this, we are continually presented with evidence of teachers giving more and bureaucrats taking more. At some point, you have to believe people are who they show you.
It’s also imperative that you decide into whose hand you want to place the future of your children.
For education advocates, this raises another question, by fighting to preserve an obviously subverted system are you also inadvertently preserving a revenue stream for adults that routinely place their needs ahead of children?
That my friend is the conundrum.
A dear, and respected friend who has always supported my work, often offers the warning to carefully consider who I am serving and who is using for a tool. It’s a question that we all should consider.
MORE INSIGHT BEHIND THE HEADLINES
I touched briefly on Monday on the recently released Tennessee State Educator Survey. But, I think it deserves a little more attention.
The Educator Survey came about around a decade ago as part of Race to the Top. In its initial years, unsurprisingly, participation was abysmal. Nobody who already has little time to spare is rushing off to give their honest opinion to a state department of education that nobody trusts.
Let’s face it, distrust of the TNDOE has plagued Tennessee for more than a minute.
After a couple of years of participation rates running in the low 30% levels, it was decided that steps had to be taken to increase participation rates. Thus was born the idea that districts would be awarded for participation rates. In other words, the quantity was to rule over quality.
It was an idea opposed by those working at Vanderbilt University at the time – the DOE’s partner in the survey. Researchers at the time were adamant that introducing enticement to participate would invalidate the results. A hill they were willing to die on. They lost.
It’s worth noting that the people who fought that fight are no longer with Vanderbilt. Causatrion or correlation is debateable.
So let’s look at the actual survey itself. Go to Metro Nashville Schools. Look at that, only 37% participated, less than the required 45% threshold, and thus the results are unavailable.
What about Shelby County Schools? That would be 29% and unavailable.
Knox County? Nope, they are at 43%. And unavailable.
Of course, Hamilton County Schools, the TNDOE’s lapdog of late, made the cut with a participation rate of 48%. They are available.
The question becomes if three of the state’s four largest urban districts failed to meet the participation threshold, how valid are the results? I would argue not very. But’s lets pretend for a minute and look at the questions.
I would argue that the ones around virtual learning and the impact of COVID don’t paint nearly as dire a position as advertised by the state.
When asked to, “Think about the formal curriculum you would have covered by this point in a typical year (pre-COVID pandemic). Approximately what proportion of that content would you estimate you have covered this school year?” 38% answered nearly all, while 42% said 75%, which means 80% covered three-quarters of the material they would normally cover despite navigating a pandemic. That’s pretty damn good.
Interestingly enough, when asked, “In a typical week, what percentage of instructional time do you spend managing student behavioral and disciplinary issues?” 48% responded less than 5%, yet student behavior continues to dominate 95% of the conversation around schools. To the point where special measurements have been created.
Under “special topics”, the following question is asked, think about the math curriculum/instructional materials that are provided by your school or district. Please rate your level of agreement with each statement. Hmmm…
I don’t think the DOE got the answers they wanted to on this one, as the majority of the responses indicate satisfaction with current materials.
It’ll be interesting to see how the DOE spins these results in connection with the textbook adoption process. You know they are going to, despite warnings from legislators.
Another question asks, Which character education topic would you be most open to/interested in incorporating into your teaching? 42% said decision-making skills. 17% said none, I would not be open to adding character education topics to my teaching. That’s up 3%
In summation, this is another exercise that benefits bureaucrats and state officials’ need above those of students and teachers. Since half the teachers in the state didn’t respond, and it’s hard to quantify the responses of those who did, the survey provides little beyond potential talking points.
While most of us will dismiss this exercise, recognizing it for what it is, don’t think the survey’s results won’t be incorporated into future pitches by Schwinn and company, in order to drum up support for their failed policies. Just don’t let the smoke get in your eyes.
Expect a flurry of activity from MNPS’s leadership in the days leading up to Fall Break. Rumors abound of activity on several fronts coming in the days before Fall Break. Of course, everything is clouded in secrecy, a hallmark of the Battle administration.
Secrecy serves no one well. it divides people into categories of the informed and uninformed. It foments distrust and leads to resentment. Seldom outside of national security are the secrets kept worthy of the cost of keeping them.
In considering possible announcement subjects, the success of the Navigator program can likely be ruled out.
Nashville Propel points out, MNPS promises “A Navigator will be assigned upon enrollment in a school, and that Navigator will serve as the student’s mentor, advocate, and advisor throughout their career at the school.” Yet, according to their survey, 78% of MNPS parents indicate that their child doesn’t have access to one. A rate that might not satify PROPEL but was sufficient to warrant giving Kerri Randolph a Chief’s position and a 40K raise.
But fear not, all shall be revealed at the designated time to those worthy of receiving the news. The rest of you will just have to rely on hearsay and innuendo.
Though I must say, one person, I would encourage to remain silent, and clouded in secrecy, is MNPS’s Chief Academic Officer Mason Bellamy. As Abraham Lincoln once said, or maybe it was Harper Lee, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”
When last we left our hero he was dangling the carrot of allowing teachers to work this upcoming in-service day from home if principals were able to secure 60% participation rates in the parent portal. Hopefully, everyone has plenty of gas in their car, because the word is that everybody is coming to work on Friday. Since indications are that the participation rate is closer to 35% than it is to 60%.
Speaking of ideas sure to be ill-received and rooted in Bellamy’s office, it’s almost time for PENCIL’s Principal for the Day promotion – a popular event that pairs a community member with a school and allows them to follow a principal for the morning. Things are capped off with a luncheon attended by all.
This year, the event is going to be held exclusively virtual and principals have been disinvited to the luncheon. After spending several hours with their principal-of-the-day, principals will return their assigned duties, while their charges head off to a catered attended by only community members and central office, I mean support office staff. Yeah…that’s not going to chafe any butts. At some point, your talk has to match your walk.
The Tennessean has a report this morning that Williamson County District Attorney Kim Helper’s office has taken over a review of Nashville school board member John Little‘s residency. Something that has been in contention since he and his wife bought a property outside of his district shortly after winning an election. At the time, he said that his family planned to reside in two locations. Williamson County gets the case because Nashville DA Glenn Funk recused himself due to Little’s work on his campaign.
Ah, but we had little chance to know you. Yesterday marked the closing of the Chicago office of the TNDOE. Sophie Mann hired as an accountability officer was let go after just a few months of remote work. Mann worked for the TNDOE while maintaining her home in Chicago. For those keeping score at home, the accountability division now consists of…wait for it…one member. But please, don’t have any doubts about the quality of accountability data being put forth by Ms.Schwinn.
The state Charter Commission is slated to convene its first hearing on October 12th. As part of the lead up to the initial hearing, Executive Director Tess Stovall is indicating support for the operators of Nashville Classical – whose application was denied this spring by Metro Nashville’s school board – while agreeing with a local board’s denial of a proposed arts-focused high school in Fayette County. The Commission was created by Governor Lee as part of 2019 legislation as a means to grease the wheels for so-called quality charter operators. We’ll see.
Do you know if the TNDOE is selling t-shirts, posters, and mugs featuring the likeness of the state’s education commissioner? There are so many pictures on social media featuring her prominently that I just figured…
Has anybody heard anything about MNPS director’s evaluation for Dr.Battle? Just checking to make sure it wasn’t done in secrecy like so many other district actions. Maybe she could make that that her 14th or 15th signature initiative. Because lord knows principals and teachers are starving for more signature iniatives.
SCOOP Nashville with news of an incident that seems to be indicative of those happening with increased frequency of late. Perhaps if the student had been riding a pedal tavern, things would be treated more seriously.
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