MORE THAN JUST IDLE CHATTER

“History is idle gossip about a happening whose truth is lost the instant it has taken place.”
Gore Vidal, Julian

 

I meant to start today’s piece off with a quote from Martin Luther King, but unfortunately, I failed to submit my request to the Usage and Remberence of MLK Commission in a timely fashion. Thus I started with the Gore Vidal quote, which I find quite appropriate for these times.

Over the week, my social media feed has been clogged with endless debates about the sharing of MLK quotes and his story. The Tennessean printed an editorial suggesting that we are, “tarnishing the legacy” of Dr. King through our callous citing of his words and work.

If we don’t stop this inauthentic and disingenuous use of Dr. King’s legacy, we will tarnish the work of a man who marched in hostile streets, endured immoral arrest and jail time, and ultimately died for fighting for the civil rights of all Americans. 

Apparently, we have entered an age where only certain individuals are worthy of the privilege of citing the words of the great man, and any narrative outside of the prescribed is considered heresy. That is to the disservice of all of us. Though I must admit a shout-out on MLK day from the prison management company CoreCivic is a bit unsettling.

I would offer this, King is not the only great American whose work has been twisted to represent selfish interests. Washington and Lincoln would probably not be thrilled to have their names attached to the hawking of mattresses and stereos, yet that has become the norm.

But unlike most other great Americans, King’s words and works are still being debated and incepted. Conversations are still taking place around what his vision truly entailed, by both his critics and his supporters. He stands virtually alone atop that mountain. And we are all better for it.

The fact that the debate over the true meaning of his work is still raging offers testimony to his greatness, When was the last time people were taken to task for their usage of JFK’s likeness? When was the last time that people fought over the usage of Ronald Reagan’s quotes? Both are great Americans, but King is unique in this arena in that his actions and words are just as relevant today as they were nearly 50 years ago. While others’ influence has cooled, his has only heated.

Long after he departed from this mortal coil, his words are still stoking passions and inspiring conversations. Few historical figures can lay similar claims. It would be a fitting tribute to a life well-lived if today becomes a day of reflection and inquiry.

King would likely be the first to say that he didn’t have all the answers. No man does. But through discourse with various fractions, we continue a progressive journey. That journey is King’s true legacy.

DON”T GET FOOLED

On Friday, the Tennessee Holler’s Holly McCall published a piece in which Governor Lee indicated that he was planning to invest more money in education funding this year.

“The budget’s not finalized yet. But we know that we need to invest more in public education and particularly our public education system,” Lee said.

Lee’s statement got me thinking and realizing that he’s potentially backing opponents of his BEP reform in a corner. One that is going to be hard to backtrack out of if caution isn’t applied.

Throughout the current process, the overwhelming call from public education supporters has been for more investment. During all of the townhalls and solicited input, the central theme has been, Tennessee’s school system is underfunded and needs more financial investment.

There have been a few specifics offered – teacher salaries, dyslexia students, nurses, counselors – but for the most part it’s been a drumbeat of, “more money, more money, more money.”

What happens when Lee steps to the plate and puts more money in?

An infusion of cash could successfully undercut any opponents of his BEP reform and open the backdoor to some troublesome elements – accountability measures, permanent funding of tutoring, permanent funding of 4th-grade retention. After spending months demanding more, a shift to where might be difficult.

Many advocates are suspicious that the Governor plans to fold all existing school funding streams into the reformed BEP formula and then tout an increased financial commitment to public school funding. I think it’s a likely course of action, but believe he’ll also throw a little more cash into the pot to sweeten it, and silence his critics.

By putting more money into the pot, he’ll be able to argue that he has listened and is responding to what was put forth by Tennessee citizens. It’ll be hard to argue specifics once the argument is focused on overall investment. After all, that was the message consistently delivered throughout his historic information gathering process.

This is why I am cautious of the “more money, more money” argument. While the current amount is clearly insufficient, how the new money is applied is equally important. And I would argue that more money that also funds charter schools, private entities, and pet projects is not a solution.

ALL NIGHT TUTORING

The TN Department of Education released a new RFP last week. Once again we are talking Tennessee ALL Corp and tutoring, though this time it’s on the high school level.

Here’s what the RFP calls for,

  • Support tailored to the need of the student by tutoring session topic area for grades 9-12,
  • Focused tutoring in math, essay writing, and ACT preparation.
  • Must provide tutoring in multiple languages including Spanish-speaking option
  • Provide monthly usage reports including high-demand content areas, grade levels, student usage, district usage, and other usage trends.
  • Available 24 hours per day and during timeframes that work best for students and families,
  • Provide monthly reports to families and teachers connected with each high school student (e.g. content area teacher, guidance counselor, family representative, and student),
  • Sessions provide multi-modal support and multiple languages for student learning and provide scaffolding reports to teachers, and Integrate into statewide reporting platform.

That’s an ambitious proposition, no? You might be wondering how much such an endeavor costs. In this case, the estimated maximum liability is $15,000,000.00 for the initial 30-month contract term with two renewals. That’s a lot of cabbage.

Here are the two riddles that I would like answered. The first one, why is Commissioner Schwinn and the DOE consistently sending a message that online instruction is inadequate, yet is proposing a $15 million investment in online tutoring? Seems counterintuitive, no?

It is a sin Metro Nashville Public Schools is also guilty of. You might have seen the recent drive to gather volunteers to provide tutoring to 7000 students. Seeing these adverts you might have envisioned an army of adults meeting face to face with students and providing services to supplement classroom learning. You would be remiss.

All of the proposed tutoring sessions are to be delivered remotely, via a model that has been declared inadequate for direct instruction. That’s a bit of a headscratcher for me.

Secondly, who is demanding tutoring at 3 AM? II know that high schoolers keep late hours, but how many are sitting around at that hour thinking, “If I could just get a little help with this essay.”

Which also begs the question of where will you find people to staff 24-hours? The convenience store on my way home from work was forced to start closing at 10 PM due to staffing issues. Why would we believe that a tutoring service wouldn’t face the same complications?

Forgive me for assuming the worst, but why do I get the sense that when this contract is awarded, the recipients will once again be part of Commissioner Schwinn’s friends and family network? But we’ll probably never know because, like the TNDOE told the Tennessean, “a “lengthy process” to pull the information. And by the time it’s awarded, we’ll have moved on to other things.

I’m guessing the Commissioner figures, why mess with a winning formula.

YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE

While we are on the subject of Commissioner Schwinn, it’s worth noting her most recent PR efforts. This time she’s touting the state’s “Grow your Own” teacher residency program.

Per the Tennessean.

To combat ongoing teacher shortages — only made worse by the pandemic — and the cost barriers to pursuing postsecondary education, Tennessee has partnered with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Labor to establish teacher apprenticeship programs across the state.

The first program has already been approved for the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System and Austin Peay State University’s Teacher Residency program. Through the program, “Teacher candidates are often able to work full-time in the classroom while pursuing their degree and teaching credentials. The programs are sometimes even directly geared to non-traditional students like older adults who are already working in schools.”

Schwinn is so excited about the program that she told the Tennessean, “The state already has plans to work with the Council of Chief State School Officers — Schwinn serves on the board — to help other states launch similar programs.” I would argue that before the Commissioner helps other states address their staffing issues, she should first fix the staffing issues at the TNDOE, but I digress.

This is a wonderful feel-good story, that works to paint Schwinn in a competent light. But, like Paul Harvey used to say, here’s the rest of the story.

Residency programs can be effective tools to get more teachers in the classroom. But if you can’t keep them once they get there, you still haven’t addressed the issue. As I’ve repeatedly stated, you can’t fill up a leaky bucket just by turning up the faucet.

One of the benefits of this proposed program being touted is that it could be used to attract diverse candidates to the profession. Here’s the problem, fewer and fewer candidates are pursuing education degrees. That’s not an access and opportunity issue, but rather because the teaching profession has been increasingly marginalized over the last 20 years while compensation continues to lag behind other professions. This program does nothing to address those issues.

In fact, I would argue that it does the opposite. I can’t think of a single instance where making something free increased its inherent value. But to attach the appropriate value to a service or good, you have to value it yourself. And it’s been made perfectly clear over the last two decades that teaching is not a profession we truly value, but rather a temporary thing that anybody can do on the way to their real profession.

Instead of helping teachers by removing things from their plates, we encourage them to read sweet notes from students when the times get tough. Try handing some of those notes over when your own children need braces. Or maybe send a few to the electric company. Let me know how that works.

Here’s the other thing, this meme implies that current times are, just a little tough. Newsflash, we are way past tough and firmly entrenched in untenable. So throwing money at a program that does little but turns up the faucet is arguably not a prudent use of resources. It’s like continually adding oil to drive a car whose got a faulty oil pan.

But let’s leave that aside for a minute. Despite the Commissioner being quick to take credit, the “grow your own” initiative started before she even arrived in Tennessee. Clarksville Schools recognized the potential for recruiting teachers and had already partnered with Austin Peay before Schwinn became Commissioner. Schwinn was quick to jump on the opportunity and had the DOE become involved.

In typical Schwinn fashion, she is now out touting the success of a program in which all the architects at the state level are gone. From David Donaldson, then head of HR, on down, they all decided they’d had enough of Schwinn’s leadership and left for other jobs. Even worse, their positions remain open at the DOE. So there is no one ready to assist if an LEA decides to take advantage of the opportunity. But that’s how the Schwinn rolls.

Furthermore, if you read the Tennessean article, you’ll see that Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn told the paper that the state has been about 2,000 teachers short on average for the past several years. Nowhere in said article is it revealed how many teachers that Schwinn propose will be produced through this program. I promise you it won’t be 2k a year, or likely even 500. What’s the plan to make up for the rest of the shortages?

This isn’t to take away from the great work of Clarksville-Montgomery County schools, or Austin Peay and David Lipscomb Universities, but rather to caution that without addressing retention, recruitment efforts will continually fall short.

It’s also a reminder that when listening to Commissioner Schwinn, one should always peek behind the proverbial curtain because it almost always revealing.

SHORTCUTS

Have I mentioned lately that former MNPS School Board member Jill Speering wrote a book and that it’s garnering accolades? She recently sat down with author Brent Kimbro to discuss Rubies in the Rubble, It’s an enjoyable listen.

Teacher Tom has long ranked as one of my favorite education bloggers. Primarily geared towards the youngest learners, he still manages to embed salient points for all. His latest is particularly thoughtful – The Vested Interest in Childre’s Incompetence. He concludes with the following.

We are born into the shock of light, cold, and sound, we must spend our first days learning to live with it. From the moment we come into this world, we are fully aware that there is pain, fear, and that life is often unfair. We are never innocent in this life: the idea of childhood innocence is really just adults romanticizing ignorance. Our children do not need to be protected from the hard lessons of life, even if that were possible. They do not benefit from our theories about what children are and are not. They are here on this earth, like all of us, to learn what it means to be alive and our responsibility as important adults in their lives is to be fellow travelers, consoling them when the lessons are hard, helping them when the tasks are difficult, but most of all loving them as the capable, competent humans they are.

Food for thought.

That’s a wrap.

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. This time of year 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

1 reply

  1. I was shaking my head at the Grow Your Own article in the Tennessean. While I acknowledge I don’t fully understand the program, it appears that ‘you too can become a teacher.’ With the lowered requirements for applicants, it could put kids right out of high school in the classroom. And, while we are short of teachers, it is a slap in the face to every teacher who has spent years and $$$ investing in their career. Teachers often rely on peers to ‘mentor’ them their first few years. Who, as a teachers, wants to or has time to teach (literally) a new teacher without any educational background/schooling? Not me.
    It also does not address the work commitment required of these new ‘grow your own’ candidates. My guess is they will soon find, like many before them, that there are easier ways to make a dollar and be out the door. This same thought is crossing the mind of every certified seasoned teacher I work with, and we are in education for the kids. It should be quality not quantity in education. A warm body adult (or adult teen) in class does not make a teacher.

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