“Now from where I sit this whole thing smells like its downwind from a cow barn on a hot June day!”
2021 is officially in the rearview mirror and we are now staring straight at the year 2022. Unfortunately, the latter is already starting to resemble the former.
Once again COVID is raging and discussions have erupted over whether or not it is safe to open schools, and if we do, what protocols should be in place. You would think that after 3 years, the conversation would look a little more nuanced, maybe we could take the lessons learned and build on them to craft better policy.
Alas, the sad irony is that education is the land of the perpetual hamster wheel where we never seem to learn anything, and instead continually choose to repeat the same mistakes over and over and nuance is continually lost.
Whether it’s charter schools, COVID mitigation, reading, or even something as simple as class size, the accepted course of action is to choose a side and then blindly champion it to the exclusion of all other considerations.
That’d be bad enough, but we choose to make it even worse by attacking personalities instead of policies, leaving little to no room for compromise. But who needs compromise when the primary objective is not to achieve better policy, but rather to obliterate our so-called enemies.
This morning I read a story about Dave Chappelle and Patton Oswalt that seems to be the perfect encapsulation for these times. Chapple and Oswalt have been friends for 34 years. New Year’s Eve found them in the same city and Chappelle extended an invitation to Oswalt to come and visit him at his arena show.
Oswalt was excited and like many of us, he shared his elation via social media. But unfortunately, in today’s world where everything is divided into us/them, Chappelle is them. As a result, he came under attack.
In response, Oswalt lost sight of his initial elation and attempted to appease any that might doubt his virtue. When I was a kid, there were those who would constantly call for evidence of fidelity to “punk rock”. As if this evidence was somehow owed. My response was always a very punk rock, “piss off”.
I hated purity tests at a very early age and have refused to honor them henceforth.
Oswalt chose a different response.
He walked back his original post and ultimately discredited his friendship with Chappelle. I would assume that in the 34 years of friendship the two have shared, there have been many subjects in which they held different positions, yet the relationship endured. Likely because both saw value in the other. A value that Oswalt dismisses in an effort to appear virtuous.
Instead of honoring his friendship, and just allowing those who attacked him to vent, he chose to engage in the proffered purity test. Adults are capable of holding two thoughts in their minds at once. Friendships can be honored without endorsing each other’s beliefs part and parcel. A simple, “I love Dave but don’t share his views” should have sufficed. Nothing else was owed.
On Twitter this weekend I also saw a post asking, “What is a book, written by someone whose views you find abhorrent, that you refuse to read because of the author’s views?”
None. Reading ain’t endorsing and understanding should always be an element of reading. Understanding also doesn’t equate to endorsing. Sometimes a little discomfort is good for the soul.
We got to stop erecting these echo chambers. Growth without discomfort is rarely possible. So if you are never uncomfortable, it’s doubtful you are growing.
If 2022 is going to be an improvement over 2021 it’s essential that we stop painting with such a broad brush. It’s not a betrayal of the principal to actually examine opposing views. It’s also not a betrayal to find common ground with those who hold different views.
If nothing changes, nothing changes. And right now, nothing is changing.
In Tennessee, a new year signifies the start of a new legislative session. This one looks to be even more acrimonious than in previous years – if that’s possible. As the year progresses we’ll take a closer look at many of the policy proposals, but front and center will continue to be the push to change Tennessee’s school funding formula.
While most of us were out celebrating the holiday, Governor Lee and his Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn were laser-focused on getting constituent feedback on how school funding should look in the future. At least, that’s the story they are selling. There was definitely a lot of talking, though the jury remains out on the level of listening that transpired.
This past week saw a number of interesting wrinkles revealed. Wrinkles best described as the good, the bad, and the ugly.
First the good. Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, a member of the Rural and Small District Subcommittee, raised the flag on the potential for increased administrative bloat brought on by Governor Lee’s intent to redo the funding formula,
“Now you’ve just increased your administrative costs too because you’re going to have to prove how many students you have or how many English language learners. So the [Department of Education] is going to need staff to review your application, the local (district) is going to have to hire people to make the application. Here we go again. No teachers are going to get pay raises, and we’re going to have a bunch of administrative bloat within all these districts. So inefficient.”
He’s not wrong. We’ve already seen an increase in hiring at the department of education in relation to ESSER money. Somebody has to ensure that resources are being equitably, transparently, and accurately distributed. I think I’d be safe in saying that nobody wants to see more money go to administrators as opposed to students and schools. Yet that’s the path we are treading on.
This case happens to be one where the messenger is every bit as interesting as the message. If you’ll remember, Stevens was in political trouble back in the summer. His re-election campaign was on the ropes.
In response to the threat, Lee loaded up the circus, including Ms. Schwinn, and headed north to drum up votes for Mr. Stevens. Stevens won his race, but apparently, his debt of gratitude is limited, because less than 6 months later he’s publically offering opposition to the governor’s plan.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. If the past is any indication, Stevens will be getting an invitation to make the trek up to the Governor’s mansion where he will be given a tutorial on the finer points of being a team player. Maybe he’ll fall in line like those prior to him who fell out of favor with the man, or maybe he’ll continue to fully represent his constituents, who clearly have concerns.
Now on to the bad. Governor-in-waiting Cameron Sexton continues to fail to heed the words of Harper Lee, “Better to remain silent and thought a fool, then open your mouth and confirm suspicions.”
In speaking about the pending changes to the state school funding formula he offered the following,
“Everybody should get the same pot of money and then you should have another pot of money that rewards people in high-performing areas,” he said, creating an incentive for educators to do more. “If you reward everybody the same, regardless if they’re low, mid or high, what’s the incentive for people to perform well and do more and try to get more?”
He goes on to add,
“The current system now, gives them both the same amount of money based on the average number of kids that walk into that school on a daily basis. There’s no incentive other than them wanting to do better,” he said. “There’s no incentive for (a low performing school) to do better because they’re both going to get the same amount of money as long as they have x number of kids.”
Remember what I was warning you about last week? Sexton’s ideas of holding people accountable through funding are not new ones. There were elements of it embedded throughout Race to the Top. Once again when confronted with an opportunity to jump off the hamster wheel, we just give it an extra kick and an extra lap. Bad policy never seems to go away, it just gets clothed in new language.
Now for the ugly. Yesterday I received an email from the Education Trust, the “Profoundly Gates-funded, Test-driven-reform Machine” headed up by Nashville School Board member Gini Pupo-Walker. Enclosed in the email was an invitation to participate in the latest session in a series of sessions that EDTrust has been holding on school funding.
Somehow Education Trust has positioned itself as being an authority on the subject while disguising its own self-interest. It’s a fascinating sleight of hand, but not an entirely unique one. Per the email,
Attendees will learn from national and state experts about 1) the basics of school funding 2) Tennessee’s State Budget and the BEP formula 3) Equity-centered funding solutions and 4) How to advocate successfully on what is needed for Tennessee’s students. We will close with a discussion about the upcoming legislative session with Rep. Mark White, Chair of the Education Committee in the Tennessee House of Representatives.
Fairly innocuous, but the new email comes with some new additions. First off, there is an attendance requirement, Again, per the email.
We expect attendees to attend for the duration of the session.
But don’t worry, if you stick around, you’ll be awarded “a Tennessee School Funding Certificate and will be poised as funding advocacy leaders during the Tennessee General Assembly.”
What the fuck? Pardon the French.
To be poised as a “funding advocacy leader” you don’t have to spend a single minute in Walker’s Gate’s funded classroom. You are afforded that right as a citizen of Tennessee. As such, a Tennessee School Funding Certificate” is worth less than the paper it’s printed on. “.
The idea that a morning spent listening to the Education Trust’s drivel somehow puts you on equal footing with teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders is just another example of the disrespect repeatedly hoisted on the educators of the state who have invested years and small fortunes in obtaining their expertise.
Maybe Walker could send them Tennessee School Funding Certificates as well. Oh wait, they have actual degrees. I don’t know why that keeps slipping everybody’s mind.
The hubris is appalling, but the apple never falls far from the tree, and Education Trust is merely a by-product of the Gates tree. A tree planted by one of the most arrogant people in history.
A glance at next week’s agenda adds fuel to the suspicion that this is an effort to create an army of lobbyists without the burden of officially sanctioning them. Again, not an original idea but one that should raise eyebrows since it’s being led by an elected official.
I’m sure that things will only get more interesting as the plan to reform education funding in Tennessee comes more into focus. But for now, the early signs point to more questions than answers.
At last month’s MNPS School Board meeting, self-avowed public school evangelical and Metro Councilmen David Rosenberg took his complaints with Bellvue Middle School public by addressing school board members and demanding action.
It’s interesting that many of those applauding Rosenberg are the same people that would condemn Moms For Liberty for their actions. But hey, it’s always been about how we feel about people instead of the merits of the argument.
In reviewing Rosenberg’s complaints, I find it hard to find evidence that what is going on in Bellevue Middles School is any different than what is going on across the district. News Flash: The district discipline plan has created more problems than it has solved.
Executive Principal Swihart certainly has his critics, but he also has those that firmly support him. A former teacher of the year and a successful AP at JT Moore, he is in his first year at Bellvue Middle and thus prone to make some missteps.
While acknowledging that he has likely made mistakes, I would also put forth that Rosenberg’s criticism is misdirected. Neither Swihart nor Executive Director Craig Hammond would be in place if they were not following the directives of Chief of Academics Mason Bellemy and ultimately Dr. Battle herself.
There is a myth that is continually perpetrated that Principals in Nashville are out acting independently of the heavy hand of the central office. That’s just not true. MNPS is not plagued by rouge principals serving their own interests, but rather a terminal case of “yes sir”, or in this case, “yes mam.”
If Rosenberg truly wanted to do what’s best for students, he would use his bully pulpit to demand that board members do their job and conduct an annual evaluation of the Director of Schools. Something which hasn’t been done since she took the position. Instead, he’s using his influence to put one school’s principal between a bigger rock, and a fortified hard place.
Further ost in the swirl, due to Rosenberg’s action, is that once again MNPS has climbed on the hamster wheel and recycled bad policy. In order to provide guidance for Bellvue’s principal, they’ve reached back and brought former MNPS principal Tom Ward into mentor Swihart. Someone who hasn’t been in the classroom regularly for nearly a decade.
Is this really the best solution available.
WHAT’S A LITTLE MONEY BETWEEN FRIENDS
Another day, another report on the misuse of federal funds by MNPS in regards to a $14.3 million contract with a subsidiary of Meharry Medical College for COVID-19 testing and mitigation services. And once again MNPS is placing intent above delivery.
Per the Tennessean, school board member Gini Pupo-Walker offers the following defense,
Obviously, we didn’t get all that we anticipated from [the contract] and it ended early, but also want to salute the district for being ambitious about getting us back in schools,” Pupo-Walker said.
If I go to a car dealer and purchase a $40k car with the expectation that it’ll have certain features, do I just shrug when those features don’t function and say, “Hey, I know you intended to provide me a luxury vehicle at that price, I applaud you for being ambitious in getting me what I paid for so I’m good with you falling short”?
If it’s clear that MNPS did not get what it paid for, then is it wrong to expect that some of those funds dedicated to the contract be returned?
Not if you ask board member Rachel Elrod,
“There was discussion of it on the board floor previously and there was some unhappiness with how we went through [the contract process],” Elrod said. “I doubt that it comes back up.”
But don’t worry, Elrod has talked to Battle about the procurement process. Will that conversation surface if the board ever gets around to doing a performance review of Dr. Battle? Don’t hold your breath.
As long as intentions were good, no need to further evaluate.
To be clear, no matter what the intent, the delivery fell far short,
For $14 million, the district received 130 thermal temperature kiosks that were barely used, a clunky website, hiring and training of roughly 400 employees (about half of whom quit), and administration of fewer than 11,000 COVID-19 tests, according to records obtained by Main Street Nashville.
But we are all good, right?
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