ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT GOLD

“We don’t like being out of the loop.”
“You’re always out of the loop. The loop’s miles away. Nearest you’ll get to being in the loop is when they make a documentary about it and show it on the History Channel. I thought you were aware of that.”
Mick Herron, Dead Lions

 

Before we get rolling with the egregious, I want to share some positive vibes. I make every effort to respect my children’s privacy and not share too much of their experiences, no matter how much they illustrate my arguments. They’ve reached an age where they are not sympathetic to my efforts.

That said, some things cry out for sharing.

This year my son began his middle school years as a 6th grader, It’s been a challenging year. Strike that, it’s been a year filled with opportunity.

We use to refer to things as problems, then we moved to challenges, and now everything is an opportunity.

It’s truthfully been a year fraught with difficulty, but there has been an oasis. My son was fortunate enough to make Oliver’s middle school basketball team, and benefit from the guidance of Coach Jones. Tonight the team plays for the city championship.

As a 6th grader, the boy has not gotten a ton of playing time, though Jones has worked all four of the 6th graders in as often as possible.

This may not have been the year for individual achievements, but it has been one filled with important lessons and opportunities. Jones has created a culture where 6th graders are exposed to the work that goes into being a champion, while the older players willingly demonstrate what leadership looks like, and take an active interest in the well-being of their younger teammates. Impressive boys, doing impressive things.

The four young 6th graders, have bonded over basketball and forged a tight relationship among selves. Supporting each other, both on and off the court.

As to the 8th graders, who they hope to someday emulate,, it’s been an absolute joy to watch these student-athletes develop throughout the year, both as athletes, teammates, and young men. I couldn’t imagine a finer group of individuals. Individuals who have molded into a formidable team.

That shouldn’t be surprising, though, because I’ve been equally impressed with the support delivered by the parents of these students. Games are well attended, with teachers, parents, and students all co-mingling. It’s clear that there is a community here and that it is a welcoming one.

I love that throughout the playoffs, family and friends waited in the hall after games for players to emerge, giving them one final cheer and offering encouraging words. Even when they lost, the message was a positive one.

I’ll be cheering loudly tonight for the team to bring home the championship, but no matter what the final scoreboard reads, these young men are winners in my book.

At a time, when bad news has regularly overshadowed the good, Coach Jones has successfully carved out an oasis of joy. When so much focus is on what’s wrong with public education, Jones has produced a shining example of what’s right. In doing so he has sacrificed a great deal of personal time, often opening the gym on weekends and holidays to provide a little more opportunity.

And I just want to say a sincere thank you.

This has been a memorable season, filled with memorable people. Now let’s go get them Bull Dogs!

DON”T BELIEVE THE HYPE

Tomorrow, Governor Lee is poised to deliver the actual legislation in relation to his proposed reformation of the state’s long-standing funding formula for schools – commonly known as the BEP. Afterward, we will all begin a robust discussion on the merits of his proposal. As you read and engage in these debates, it’s important to remember that not all arguments are being made sans a private agenda. Not everybody is speaking with a pure heart. I’ll give you some examples.

On Monday, the Tennessean released an editorial that made the following argument,

During his recent visit to Nashville, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardonasaid Lee, a Republican, is “showing a commitment to education funding the way he is. That to me shows that the work that they’re doing is going to be sustainable.”

That is encouraging from a Cabinet secretary in Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration, which should persuade citizens — and lawmakers — to keep an open mind about the governor’s plan.

They conclude with the following,

We are keeping an open mind and await the details from Lee and Schwinn, hoping that they will be bold, effective, and lead to higher quality. Citizens should demand nothing less.

Let me interject, if you look outside your window at 2AM and see an individual dressed in black, wearing a ski mask, and carrying a sack, creeping around your neighbor’s house…it’s probably not the best time to keep an open mind about their intentions. Bill Lee may not be wearing all black, a ski mask, or carrying a sack, but his intentions are pretty clear if you are paying attention.

He has long maintained that his new plan is different and will be student-centered despite the current code in regard to BEP calculation reading as follows,

“(11) The formula shall be student-based such that each student entering or exiting an LEA shall impact generated funding.”

That feels pretty clear to me. But Commissioner Schwinn is on record saying that the new formula will be specific student-centered and allow parents to know the exact amount of money dedicated to their child. Something, nobody is asking for, because no parent is aware of what’s an adequate and inadequate amount beyond the fact that the level of state funding has been inadequate for nearly a decade. Something the Tennessean fails to mention.

No parent is gazing across the dinner table at their children and thinking, “I wonder what the state is spending to educate those two?” They are worried that their teacher is earning an adequate salary that ensures they stay in the classroom all year. They worry that the school has enough nurses, or when someone is going to fix the AC that doesn’t work. But they are not focused on the individual dollar figure dedicated to their children.

Are we to believe that after this legislation passes, elected officials will be stopped at the Home Depot by citizens telling them that they are so excited to find out that their child is getting $13k, and that George is getting $14K because they recognize that their child only needs $13K for their education?

Watch the recordings of sub-committee meetings. Read the comments submitted by the state’s citizens. You’ll find an overwhelming call for increased funding, not deeper knowledge about individual funding. The only people concerned about that number are those who wish to siphon the money to charter schools and private religious schools.

In fact, that’s the only reason, to put a dollar figure on individual students. In order, to facilitate the implementation of a voucher program. Protest as much as they like, Schwinn and the Governor’s arguments remain empty vessels.

But there is always more to the story.  Immediately after presenting the new legislation with the Governor, Schwinn will be speaking to the Education Writers of America. The Tennessean is a Gannett paper, and I’m sure Gannett is well represented among the ranks of the EWA.

I’m equally positive that Schwinn will use the moment to promote the bold and innovative leadership of Governor Lee. A narrative that will be repeated by a grateful press corp.

Tomorrow you’ll probably be shocked by how quickly journalists turn around articles on the new BEP formula. Don’t be, they got an embargoed copy today. The Governor’s office provides this service to ensure they get the story right.

So here’s the timeline, the Tennessean prints a “keep an open mind” editorial” on Monday. Thursday the Governor unveils his plans, and immediately following the Commissioner is available to speak to journalist conference. probably all just coincidence, or maybe Cardona and the Biden administration is right – Lee and Schwinn are kicking ass on education,

But the EWA and Governor Lee aren’t the only ones playing a rigged game right now. Earlier in the week, Education Trust sent out a letter that included the following,

As you know, the Education Trust in Tennessee prioritized school funding reform from our inception in 2020. We spent much of 2021 equipping advocates with information on how the BEP worked, what a student weighted formula could mean for Tennessee’s students, and what it would take to get us there. As you know we are in the middle of a comprehensive review of the BEP, and a bill is imminent in the TN General Assembly to reform the way we fund K-12 education. 

We believe that our advocacy may be more effective if brought together partners who are deeply engaged on this issue in order to share information, advocate on the strengths and weaknesses of any legislation, and work together to make sure that the final version is student-centered and that our shared goals of getting more resources to the students who need them the most. This work may require quick pivots or actions, and we hope that working together we can do that more effectively.”

To that end, we would like to invite you to join our School Funding Rapid Response Committee that will work together for the remainder of the legislative session. 

So what do I get if I join? Per the email,

The Education Trust in Tennessee will:

  • offer each organization in the Rapid Response Committee a subgrant of  $10,000 for their participation and time
  • Provide training and capacity on school funding policy, weekly updates on the progress of the funding formula bill, or any other bills that pertain to school funding
  • Provide access to funding experts to answer questions
  • Provide opportunities to advocate on funding reform, including media interviews, the writing and publication of op-eds, and support for calls and meetings with legislators

Members of the Rapid Response Committee will:

  • Support the group’s shared principles on funding reform
  • Participate in weekly calls/check-ins on funding legislation and advocacy opportunities
  • Share information and advocacy opportunities with their networks and membership
  • Speak with media as necessary
  • Promote and attend our Alliance Day on the Hill; or agree to engage with policymakers on our goals for a new funding formula or agree to engage with policymakers on our goals for a new funding formula in Tennessee

Far out! 10K for my organization, and best of all, the subgrant does not require a proposal or a budget template. It is a general operating grant for your organization. 

Read the descriptions provided and then explain to me, how is any of this different then hiring a lobbyist firm? But not only is the Education Trust seeking to hire lobbyists, they are also doing it for legislation that they purportedly haven’t even seen. So how can they even begin to identify what organizations align on this legislation?

Another question might be, where is the money coming from? Considering that the organization received just under $4 million last year from the Gates Foundation, I think they got some money to burn. Once again, this provides an opportunity to ask Bill Lee, is education policy creation locally driven, or nationally?

This email get’s even better when you look at who signed it. That would be Metro School Board member Gini Pupo-Walker. Just so we are clear, we’ve got a sitting board member recruiting a paid lobbying group and giving them “subgrants” with no restrictions on the use of that money. Hypothetically, an organization could sign up for the rapid response team, and then take their !)k and utilize it to promote policy detrimental to MNPS. How is that looking out for the best interests of Nashville’s families?

I’m not sure what ethics violation this falls under, maybe all of them.

At last night’s board meeting, Pupo-Walker put forth the proposition that she serves no agenda other than what’s good for kids. This letter certainly brings that into question. That assertion wasn’t even the highlight of last night’s meeting, that came later when she chose to drop the f-bomb on the board floor.

I’m not so much bothered by the language – lord knows I’m quite liberal in my usage of the f-bomb – but rather the hypocrisy. Walker regularly preaches to fellow board members the need to watch their behavior because children are watching. Had it been, say fellow board member Fran Bush, who dropped the f-bomb, Walker would have been the first one in front of a channel 17 microphone clutching her pearls over the lack of professionalism.

At least the Boy Scout Troop that was in attendance last night got their money’s worth. The only thing I pray is that we are not forced to endure a long-winded apology soliloquy at the next board meeting.

But I digress.

The point is, that as discussions around the reformation of the state BEP go forward, it’s important to remember that all kinds of people and organizations have hidden agendas. In that light, it’s essential to ensure that those agendas align with what’s actually in the best interest of students, teachers, and families.

BOARD TAKEAWAYS

We’ll have more later in the week about last night’s MNPS school board meeting, but I do want to draw your attention to a couple things. Last night a lot of time and energy was focused on MAP scores. The news was good and worthy of note, but with the caveat that MAP scores are irrelevant in the scope presented.

To begin with, MAP is a formative assessment designed to guide instruction. Not to justify the policy and practice of adults.

Secondly, in evaluating schools and districts, the state does not look at MAP scores. Last year legislation was passed requiring all Tennessee districts to administer a universal screener, in math and literacy, three times a year and deliver those results to the TNDOE. MNPS is utilizing FastBridge as its screener. Not MAP. Those results were due last week, and those are the results we should be discussing.

My second observation from last night relates to the district’s mask policy. A motion was passed to make masks recommended but not mandatory the week after students return from spring break, pending a review on March 8th. Why then, instead of now.

Purportedly Battle was committed to making change at a natural break. i would argue that there is enough confusion upon return, that adding ingredients is never helpful.

Forgive the cynic in me for suspecting that kids will be required to wear masks until the end of the year. Typically after a break, there is an increase in COVID cases, I don’t see the reason why the review on March 8 wouldn’t raise that concern. Thus making an argument for pushing back the change in policy for a week or so. Ultimately, the end-of-year clock will run out.

Personally, I think it is time to lift the policy. At some point, we have to recognize the mental cost involved with masks and that those costs no longer outweigh the threat posed by the virus. But either way, it’s more important that Dr. Battle and the board provide clear leadership and not play games with policy.

Like I previously mentioned, we’ll have more on yesterday’s meeting on Friday.

SHORT CUTS

Last night Knox County Schools chose Dr. Jon Rysewyk as the next superintendent of Knox County Schools. Rysewyk was a current member of the KCS administrative staff. He was competing for the position with Bradford County Superintendent Linda Cash.  The search was run by TSBA and per usual the victory went to the internal candidate. This happened previously in both Hamilton and Davidson counties. That said, congratulations to Rysewyk, and may he be everything that the KCS board hopes for.

The drumbeat continues to sing a song of Commissioner Schwinn holding up ESSER funds to those districts who fail to heed her advice. Interestingly enough, it’s coming from Republicans and not the opposition. No way to reveal if that’s true or not, but it’s been my experience that where there is smoke, there is fire.

.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. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m sharing posts via email through Substack. This has proven to be an effective way to increase coverage. I am offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

If you wish to join the rank of donors but are not interested in Substack, 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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