“Mystic ways may not all travel but life’s riddles we can unravel.”
James Tunney, The Mystical Accord: Sutras to Suit our Times, Lines for Spiritual Evolution


For those growing up in NE Pennsylvania in the early Eighties, it was considered a rite of passage to run into NYC and get a fake ID as they approached the legal drinking age. ID’s weren’t hard to procure, as they were readily available in the bodegas that littered the Times Square area. If I remember right, They ran about $12.

I was about 17 when I got mine, and despite clearly saying, “not for ID purposes” on it, it worked like a charm in the pursuit of illegally purchased beer. One moment stands out clearer than most for me.

I must have been 19 and I was in the take-out portion of a small bar in Hazleton attempting to purchase a 6 pack of Moosehead. The woman at the register was having no part of my fake ID,

“I don’t think this is going to work. Do you have any other form of ID”, she declared after a lengthy back and forth over the veracity of my ID.

“That’s all I got”, I plead, “It’s always been enough in the past. Why the problem now?”

She wasn’t budging and I wasn’t backing down. Over to the side an older man, maybe in his early 60’s was listening to our exchange, and moved over to help his co-worker, “Let me take a look at that.”

After turning the ID over several times, he pronounced it acceptable. Saying, “Oh yea, these are good. When I worked on the New York state border, I used to get them all the time.”

I proceeded to pay for my beer and left feeling a bit like a heel.

Either this gentleman was a victim of a lifelong con, with me being the latest to dupe him, or a knowing co-conspirator, I’ll never know. But I do know that the encounter left me feeling duplicitous on several levels.

That memory was evoked yesterday when I watched Tennessee’s Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee extend a contract to $16 million with New York-based TNTP Inc. despite a potential conflict of interest for the state’s education commissioner.

This is the contract that covers the providing of literacy instruction to the state’s k-4 teachers over the summer months. The law was enacted by legislators based on the argument put forth by Commissioner Schwinn that the state’s teachers don’t know how to properly teach reading. Thus all k-4 teachers are now required to participate in a 2-week literacy instruction program focused on foundational literacy skills – one week virtual and one week in-person.

You may not be able to teach literacy virtually, but you can teachers to teach literacy virtually.

TNTP, who is charged with that training, is the employer that hired the Commissioner of Education’s Spouse after his contract was terminated by a Nashville charter school. A job he does almost entirely remotely since he serves Philadelphia School kids and the Schwinn’s reside in Tennessee.

But hey, don’t forget Mrs. Schwinn once drew a 6 figure paycheck from a charter school in California while serving as a cabinet member in Delaware’s Department of Education. This is a family that can adeptly handle multiple revenue streams.

As I reflect back on my youth in the Northeast, I can’t help but recall that the NY Daily News and the Post regularly covered stories about reputed mob figures allegedly only showing up for work on construction sites on days when paychecks were delivered. And then only to collect theirs. I wonder if that kind of thing still happens?

Don’t know why that popped into my head.

But I digress.

Like the employee at the tavern in Hazleton, State Senator Todd Gardenhire, chairman of the Fiscal Review Committee left me with the question of wondering – lifetime dupe or knowing co-conspirator.

Gardenhire told Sam Stockard at the Tennessee Lookout that he “was concerned about the potential conflict at first but said Tuesday he believes Schwinn handled the matter correctly.”

Going on to say,

“I’ve talked to her a number of times about the perception and the problem,” Gardenhire said. “The governor’s aware of the optics. I’m aware of the optics, almost everybody up here is aware of the optics. She’s overly aware. I think there’s been so much light shined on this … I don’t want to say it doesn’t concern me, but it doesn’t raise any red flags for now.”

Let that sit and marinate for a minute.

If you’ll remember, this is the original contract is where the TNDOE released the RFP on the day before Christmas Eve, closing it the day after everybody returned to the office after the holiday break. The contract was awarded to TNTP based on an argument put forth by the DOE, that they were the only ones prepared to quickly provide service.

Only by their own admission they weren’t. From the contract extension application,

In FY21, contract expenditures were lower than initially projected because the startup and planning phase took longer than initially planned; therefore, fewer trainings were delivered prior to the end of the fiscal year than what was initially projected.

They fell so short of delivering what was promised in FY21 that they only delivered $714K in services as opposed to the $4 million budgeted. Now in FY22 which we are currently in, they managed to get some of that lost revenue back, spending $4.5 million, but that still leaves $3.5 million on the table. Ouch…that’s got to hurt.

So if TNTP admittedly failed to deliver as promised, why the extension? That explanation may be my favorite part of the whole application,

Based on year one participant survey data with a 96% satisfaction rating for the course, the department seeks to renew the contract in order to ensure consistency of training given and that quality training continues. High quality training for educators requires a high level of skill, planning, and work with teachers in order to ensure the material is relevant, well-paced, and moves learning forward. In year one of this contract, the department has seen outstanding survey data and qualitative reports that the training is beneficial to educators. In order to ensure that educators have consistency in training from year to year and to ensure that high quality training is delivered to educators, the department seeks an amendment to extend the length of the contract and increase the amount.

What an absolutely wonderful word salad that provides absolutely no concrete argument for renewal. I would think the state’s educators would welcome the opportunity to include student surveys in their evaluations, but unfortunately for them, we demand actual results. When it comes to the state’s bureaucrats, they get rewarded for aspirations over achievements.

Watching Jay Kline and Robin McClellan from the TNDOE present the amended contract to the financial review committee amid chairman Gardhire’s incessant fawning, evoked a strong desire to stick a fork in my eye, as it would be less painful than watching this kabuki theater on the statehouse floor.

Kline and McClellan brought no data to support the extension of the contract, but lots of feel-good anecdotes and platitudes. They could not divulge the number of teachers who’ve participated, the number left requiring training, the demographics of those attending training, but they could relate how beautiful it was to see all these teachers shoulder to shoulder studying the curriculum as if one curriculum could reach all students.

This aligns nicely with TNTP’s history. They have a history of producing think pieces long on supposition and short on support.

State Senator Brenda Gilmore had the audacity to ask for actual data to support the renewal of the contract. She was told in response, “the Education Department hopes to have student reading scores by late December to show whether children improved their reading skills.” maybe they’ll drop that data by her house on Christmas morning.

McCallum offered that data would be available through the required universal screener by the end of next month, and TNReady data in the late Spring. What was glossed over is what data the new data would be benchmarked against.

Some have argued that these new results should be considered benchmarks, while others want to use the problematic data gathered in the midst of the pandemic. Not hard to figure out the method that Ms. Schwinn prefers.

At one point in the proceedings, McClellan made the argument that it was important to renew this contract because calls were coming in daily for teachers desperately wanting to take this training. This supposed desire of teachers demanding more professional development has also been raised at the townhalls associated with the Governor’s drive to revamp the BEP formula.

I must be talking to the wrong teachers because none of the ones I talk to are looking for more training. In fact, what I more commonly hear is complaints of their time being eaten up by signature initiatives that prevent them from utilizing training already completed. In other words, how about a little space in order to incorporate acquired skills and experience?

Here’s the problem with that, if you allow teachers to practice their craft unencumbered by bureaucrats and legislators, it becomes hard for the latter to claim credit for success. And that’s what this always comes down to – money and justifying the salaries of those outsides of school buildings.

But again I digress. Back to the TNTP contract.

Here’s another wrinkle, that I would like to say is an anomaly, but is in actuality indicative of how Commissioner Schwinn conducts business.

Earlier in the year, Tennessee passed legislation designed to guide the instruction of sex and race in Tennessee schools. Opponents refer to it as “critical race theory” laws, though CRT is not mentioned in the legislation.

The law attempts to define what teachers can and cannot teach in schools. If a teacher violates the law, they put themselves and their district at significant financial risk.

Earlier in the year, TNTP  partnered with several other organizations to create a website dedicated to guiding teachers on how to address race and the teaching of history in schools. Without making a qualitative judgment, after perusing the website, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t align with current legislation in Tennessee.

Line two of the site’s opening page reads as follows,

Unfortunately, rampant misinformation about what is taught in schools is forcing teachers to omit difficult parts of our history and not teach students that racism is wrong and is adding yet another stressor for teachers at the worst possible time.

Again, not saying I agree or disagree with the message, but the website appears to be a direct reaction to the Tennessee legislation.

Daniel Weisberg, Chief Executive Director for TNTP, penned an op-ed for the Daily News that included the following two paragraphs,

Do schools consistently disadvantage students of color? If so, what should we do about it? The angry speeches in state legislatures and school board meetings raise these fundamental questions as much as any about history textbooks or a few wrongheaded diversity trainings. We now face a referendum on the principles that should guide public education in the wake of a pandemic that upended it. The result will have profound consequences for students — and especially students of color — for years to come.

The truth is that structural inequality exists in our education system — as a matter of facts, not ideology. In America, you’re much more likely to read, write and do math on grade level — and, ultimately, graduate from high school and attend college—if you’re white than if you’re Black or Hispanic. And research from my organization and others shows this gap is a direct result of unequal access to the building blocks of a strong school experience.

I’m pretty sure that if a teacher were to make these statements in their classroom they would be subject to fine and their district would be at risk of losing millions.

In Schwinn’s world, Weisberg, whose name is affixed to the TNTP contract,  stands to make millions.

Millions of which at least part will go towards fighting the state on its recently enacted legislation.

Yep…Tennessee…you have cow problems.

One last final touch of the ironic. The $8 million dollars for the TNTP contract extension is slated to be drawn from ESSER funds. The easy passage of access to those funds comes at a time when many districts across Tennessee are desperately waiting to be granted access to their ESSER funds and are being slow-walked through the process by the TNDOE.

Just another reminder that what is good for the gander does not always apply to the goose.


The Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education likes to position itself as a staunch supporter of public education, but every once in a while they sheepskin slips to reveal the wolf below. This week Executive Director David Mansouri penned an op-ed that left little doubt where his loyalties lie.

This has led to the state’s creation of a public charter schools commission in 2019 and the investment of $24 million in the 2021-22 state budget for charter school facilities that will make a big difference.

erhaps most importantly are the thousands of hard-working and inspiring charter school educators working to serve our students every day. In many cases with the help and support of committed, place-based philanthropic partners who have championed and invested in the growth and success of great schools.

When people show you who they are….

Remember when Governor Lee created his voucher legislation and he attached a pot of gold to it? Has anyone seen that pot of gold lately? Asking for a friend.

Nashville School Board members could be in for a raise if a new bill gets passed next legislative session. Per Main Street Nashville, “Chattanooga Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire has announced plans to file a bill to require that pay and benefits for school board members be set at the same rate offered to those serving on the local governing body.”

Nashville board members currently get paid around 13K a year, while Metro Council Members make about $10k a year more.

Speaking of MNPS, they just hired a brand spanking new Executive Director. Charles T Kelly was formerly a principal in North Carolina at Monroe High School where he served for the last three years. Prior to that, he was the Principal at Central Middle School Whiteville City Schools, NC. Kelley will replace Karen DeSouza Gallman who left to lead Trevecca University’s educational leadership program.

.If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to 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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