“You cannot observe people through an ideology. Your ideology observes for you.”
Philip Roth


Like everything in our lives these days, there is a concentrated effort to depict education policy through a political lens. As if one party has a superior vision to the other. Don’t fall for that trap. Both sides are terrible when it comes to crafting credible education policies.

Currently, Republicans are the ones making headlines with their questionable initiatives. But the Democrats are right there with them in fostering an environment where meaningful policy never gets developed. let alone implemented.

Look no further, for evidence, then the recent visit to Nashville by current Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. Despite the majority of Tennesseans waking up to the realization that Governor Lee and the Tennessee Department of Education are a walking dumpster fire, the Biden administration, through Cardona couldn’t get out of its way fast enough to give Governor Lee and his Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn a ringing endorsement.

“I see a lot of innovation here in Tennessee,” Cardona said. “I’m very confident in the strategies that they have around education, reading at the lower levels, connections with (career and technical education) programs, and pipeline programs that are pretty innovative.”

An endorsement that ignores the questionable awarding of contracts, the lack of tangible results, and the inability to complete things in.a timely fashion.

The Secretary not only ignored all of that but went even further by promising to continue to advocate for more federal aid to migrate to Tennessee. Words that must have brought even more raised glasses aboard the yachts of friends of Schwinn. Despite evidence of any real progress, the money train keeps right on rolling. Penny may be a complete train wreck as an administrator, but there is no doubt that Ms. Schwinn is a more than competent rainmaker.

Ironically, Cardona’s words of praise come on the eve of a particularly precarious week for Tennesseans in regard to education policy. Later this week the Governor will unveil the long-awaited details of his legislation to revamp the state’s school funding formula. Bills getting heard this week include efforts to expand voucher offerings, ease the creation of more charter schools, and put more scrutiny on the state’s school libraries, None of those, in my opinion, would fall into the innovative category.

Old Bill Lee has been kicked around pretty good this year, especially by members of his own party. Early indications are that he’s had about enough of that. If history is any guide, it’s a good bet that select legislators will receive the summons up the hill to talk about their cooperation. It’ll be a series of one-sided conversations.

Think back to a couple weeks ago when a bill was in committee that would change the way appointments are made to the state board of education. Currently, the governor is empowered to select all 9 members. HB 1838 was introduced to split that power up, with the House, Senate, and Governor each appointing three members. Lee was so incensed about the bill that he sent a dozen proxies to the legislators’ offices in an effort to bend legislators to his will,

His minions would walk into a legislator’s office, upon gaining entry their cell phone would suddenly ring with a gall from the governor. Lee’s man, or woman, would then present the elected official with the phone, “It’s the Governor and he’d like to talk with you.”

Fortunately, the Governor’s actions served to do little more than piss off Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton. Despite Lee’s concerns, the Bill passed out of committee by a comfortable margin and is headed towards the floor.

But this week the stakes are much higher, and the Governor, by all accounts, ain’t in the mood for any independent thinking. Cardona’s words will add another arrow to his quiver in arguing that he is on the right track with education policy and that his Commissioner of Education, despite being a shining star for the Biden administration, really is the envy of every Republican governor in the country.

Once again, at a time when Democrats need to be rallying to beat back the bad ideas of the opposition, they instead make a compelling argument for them. Perhaps not providing the inspiration, but definitely the fuel.

Back to Cardona for a minute. Over the last decade, Democrats have had 3 Secretaries of Education – Duncan, King, and Cardona – and the best thing you can say about any of them is that they weren’t Betsy DeVos. All interchangeable and all forgettable,

The Secretary of Education was in town primarily to talk about teachers and teaching. In that role, Cardona voiced recognition of the challenges facing the teaching profession, giving the appearance of recognizing that retention is every bit as important as recruitment.

“We need to make sure that teachers are not working three jobs to make ends meet,” he said. “We need to make sure that working conditions are conducive to their professional growth and their personal growth, and we need to make sure that our educators have a seat at the table when we talk about how to reimagine schools.”

But the only retention plans offered are ones that take teaching elements off the table so that teachers can devote more time to peripheral obligations, like serving as counselors and agents of social change. Little is offered in order to provide more time engaged with children and greater opportunity to apply a teacher’s training and passion. The ideas  expressed are all echoes of past ideas,

During his Thursday remarks, Cardona hinted that less complicated student loan forgiveness for teachers could be one way the federal government could encourage more people to enter the profession. Beyond that possibility, though, Cardona encouraged school leaders to empower their educators.

I’m sure jeans day is right around the proposal corner.  The ideas put forth continue to demonstrate a disconnect between policymakers and practitioners. . As offered by ChalkbeatTN

While schools can’t offer fully remote work or similar benefits many workers seek, Meenoo Rami, a former Philadelphia educator and author of “Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching,” suggested schools build in as much flexibility as possible. Rami said allowing staff to work four 10-hour days during summer prep or professional development weeks, adding a monthly mental health day, or late starts on Fridays could make a world of difference for overwhelmed staff.

These would all be great ideas if all teachers did was instruct classrooms. But who’s going to cover car duty? Lunchroom? Or any of the other of the multitude of responsibilities that extend past the classroom?

Throughout Cardona’s visit, the prevailing theme was that we have to listen to teachers, but when was the last time any of the participating administrators did such a thing. I’m not talking about looking at a teacher, smiling, nodding, and saying, “Thank you for your input. That was really valuable.” I’m talking about actually listening.

Here’s a simple way to communicate a desire to actually listen to teachers,  stop scheduling policy-related events at a time when teachers are prevented from attending. We all know the subtle ways that scheduling works to prevent parental participation, the same holds true for teachers.

Until that simple step gets taken, I hold little hope for bold ideas to follow.


Think about this for a second. Throughout Governor Le’s campaign to change the BEP formula, there has been an overlying sense that his efforts are all about implementing vouchers. Both Lee and Schwinn have clutched their pearls, and feigned shock when confronted with this feasibility. Both doubling down on their commitment to funding every child as needed, and pretending to barely understand vouchers, let alone where such an idea could come from.

As stated repeatedly, by Schwinn, families are going to be ecstatic to find an actual dollar figure guaranteeing funding tied to their child’s individual needs. An idea I find preposterous. Why would I be pleased to find out that one child is worth 12K, the other 14k, and the third falls somewhere in the middle? Seems to me that if I thought one was shorted, I’d have a desire to take from another sibling and add to the underfunded child. I mean wouldn’t that be my right as a parent?

If I know what’s best for my child to read, shouldn’t I by natural extension, also be an authority on their educational needs and the costs associated? Unless, of course, I don’t really know best. But Governor Lee has repeatedly stressed that parents know best when it comes to educating their children.

In this case, I suspect that this is what lee is banking on. He’ll swear up and down that his plans have nothing to do with vouchers. Like that former lover that broke his heart, I used to love them but now I’m over them…well at least until they invite me to lunch.

That lunch invite will come in the form of a family dissatisfied with their educational opportunities. Now that it’s been established how much it costs to educate their kid, why shouldn’t they be able to decide how and where that money gets spent. They’ll bring a lawsuit, and low and behold, we’ll discover a loophole in the legislation that will allow a judge to agree with them.

Lee will slap his head and say, who could have foreseen that.

It should be non-sequitur, that any bill passed includes language that strictly forbids the usage of any established costs per student to be withdrawn and used as a voucher.

But what do you think the odds are of that happening?


The petitions are in and the ballots have been finalized for Nashville’s first partisan school board race. Not only were qualifying petitions due earlier this year, but the whole promises to be more of a sprint than in past years. Primaries for both parties are scheduled for May and the general election to quickly follow, culminating in the first week in August. This is going to be a sprint. Here’s a quick look at who qualified in each of the districts up for grabs.

District 2, is my district and a seat I intended to run for until work commitments got in the way. The incumbent here is Rachael Elrod. It’s hard to gauge community satisfaction with Mrs. Elrod, but drawing 6 challengers would seem to indicate a desire for change.

  • Edward Arnold
  • Christi Baeuerle(R)
  • Joel Herber(D)
  • Janeen Kingma((R)
  • Todd Pembroke(R)
  • Mark Woodward(R)

Admittedly, I know little about the candidates other than Arnold, who is a bit of a serial candidate, having run in the last several cycles. It’ll be interesting to see if Herber pushes Elrod in the primary, or if he ends up deferring to party loyalty. A real possibility based off of Elrod’s preferred status with the party. This is one district where being a Republican could be viewed as favorable.

District 4 looks to be a repeat of the last election cycle.

  • Steve Chauncy(R)
  • John Little(D
  • )Berthena Nana-McKinney(D)
  • Kelli Phillips(R)

Little won the last go around, defeating then-incumbent McKinney. Little is a likable official but has been embroiled in controversy since taking his seat. Chauncey is a popular former principal who failed in the last election to garner as many votes as anticipated. The dark horse in the race is Phillips, a mother with a child in the system. How she performs is anyone’s guess.

District 6 elections are never boring and this one looks to be no exception.

  • Fran Bush(I)
  • Natalie Martin(D)
  • Cheryl Mayes(D)
  • Joyce Neal(D)
  • James Turner III(D)

This one was wild last go around with then-Superintendent Shawn Joseph attempting to influence the election in the favor of board member Tyese Hunter. Despite Joseph’s best efforts, Bush soundly defeated the incumbent. A victory that shocked many, and created an almost immediate failed recall effort. At the time a political novice, Bush has grown into quite the savy board member.

Mayes is a former MNPS school board chair who lost her seat after refusing the campaign help of her fellow board members. The only thing I can say about Mayes’s tenure as board chair is that she was better than Sharon Gentry. During her time as leader, the board was fraught with dissension and despite her best efforts, she was never able to bring the board together.

It’s worth noting here, that in a district where many argue that equity has remained elusive, 3 of the last 4 school board chairs have been black women. Dr. Battle may be the first black woman superintendent of MNPS, but there is precedent when it comes to district leadership.

District 8 is the only race without an incumbent running for re-election. Current member Gini Pupo-Walker has prudently decided to focus her efforts on running the education advocacy non-profit that she has led for the last 3 years. Had she run, a prevailing theme would have been around her conflict of interest. In her absences, the following are taking up the gauntlet.

  • Erin O’Hara-Block(D)
  • Amy Pate(I)
  • Chris Moth(D)
  • Pegi Levin(R)

If there is a favorite in this one, I would have to say it’s O’Hara, the former TNDOE employee who was scapegoated over testing issues a number of years ago. But don’t underestimate Pate, who has built a sizeable following through her leadership with the organization Let Parents Chose. LPC has fought for schools to be reopened, and a lifting of the mask mandate.

Moth is a tireless public education advocate and an opponent of magnet schools. He previously ran for state representative, where he did surprisingly well against Beth Harwell. the incumbent Levin is an unknown entity to me.

The last time these seats were up for grabs it was a civil affair, and there is no reason to believe it won’t be this year. Still, it’s worth noting that the district has shrunk by about %k students since then, and perceptions are colored by the ongoing pandemic and the rise in social justice issues. Nationally, these issues have had a large impact on school board politics, it’ll be interesting to see if Nashville follows suit.

The real question here is if elected will any of these candidates have the stomach to claw back some power from the director of schools. As it stands, the board exercises little to no power over the director. as evidenced by the lack of public discussion over lifting mask mandates, reassignment of 5th grade, discipline policies, or the governance structure of the district. The expectation is that the board is obliged to rubber-stamp whatever the superintendent proposes. At this juncture, board meetings are little more than bi-weekly gossip sessions.

When watching these bi-weekly meetings, I am forever reminded of former President Bush’s comments on the gratitude his successor Obama will feel due to his expansion of executive powers, In that light, Battle owes Joseph a debt of gratitude.

With that, let the games begin, and may the best people win.


Last September, Cambiar Education successfully filed a trademark application for “Run the Future” in Nashville, Tennessee. The company’s tagline is,

“Cambiar partners with Change Agents to bring game-changing ideas to fruition, compressing the timeline from concept to impact.

They had previously done work in Chattanooga. Cambiar is ed by a quartet of Broad alumni, including founder Christina Heitz. It was through Broad that Commissioner Schwinn and Heitz became friends, It was Heitz who, according to internal documents at the Texas Department of Education, introduced Penny to Mr. NyanKori, the founder of SPEDx.

If you’ll remember, Schwinn, awarded a no-bid contract to SPEDx that resulted in a number of issues, including a wrongful termination lawsuit that cost the state of Texas millions.

All of this is a bit curious. Is it merely a coincidence, or are Schwinn and Heitz trying to get the band back together. The two have a history of being employed simultaneously in the same state. There are a number of RFPs associated with Best For All that would be well suited for Cambiar’s expertise, But maybe this is just a case of two people moving in the same professional world.

Time will tell.

Before we part company today, I need to leave you with Peter Greene’s expose of Hillsdale College. It’s a piece that’ll help you understand why the potential for 50 new Barney Schools should be a concern for all of us. Greene concludes with the following fodder for thought,

For Hillsdale, the Tennessee partnership is a great deal because, if Lee gets his education savings accounts (neo-vouchers) up and running, Hillsdale can expect to hoover up truckloads of taxpayer dollars. Will the taxpayers get their money’s worth?

And that, my friend, maybe the 1 billion dollar question.

.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.

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Categories: Education

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