Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.” ― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
In reading through the bill (014195) put forth by Governor Lee to reform the state formula for education funding, one clear takeaway is that this is about stripping local control. Be it via required classes for local elected officials, required documentation from local LEAs. or proposed accountability elements, it all boils down to a future where Tennessee children will receive instruction in a uniform manner, as prescribed by the Commissioner of Education.
That should be problematic to everyone, no matter what side of the political aisle they fall upon. A community should have the ability to educate their children based on community standards, not the whims of the state.
The new formula would leave it up to the commissioner to determine the best way to allocate funds, how to educate local officials on how best to apply resources, and take corrective action towards those who fail to adhere. It represents a dramatic shift in power from the current hierarchy and comes at a time when the general assembly is taking several steps to limit the power of the current commissioner.
Read through Lee’s proposal and count the number of places where the commissioner is awarded power, as opposed to the board of education. This is of further interest in light of the recent battle between the General Assembly and the Governor’s office over the makeup of the board education.
The General Assembly is pushing for a change away from the current rules, where the governor appoints all 9 members. Instead, under the new proposed legislation, the House, the Senate, and the Governor would each get to make three appointments. Despite some heavy arm twisting by Lee, the General Assembly has come out victorious in the early rounds, and the bill is moving towards the floor.
If this spending bill passes, the governor retains his power because of the increased responsibilities vested with the commissioner of education, since he appoints the commissioner. To make it even more interesting, purportedly Schwinn is reaching out to superintendents and encouraging them to reach out to elected officials in an effort to secure their vote for passage of the BEP reform. This solicitation of votes is raising some eyebrows with elected officials, as it could be construed as a violation of the Hatch Act.
In case you need a refresher,
The Hatch Act of 1939, An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities, is a United States federal law. Its main provision prohibits civil service employees in the executive branch of the federal government, except the president and vice president, from engaging in some forms of political activity.
While we are on the subject of the funding bill, let’s flip to section 66. This is the portion of the bill that lists amendments to existing legislation. It reads as follows,
SECTION 66. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-10-1405(a)(1), is amended by deleting the language “the per-pupil state and local funds generated and required through the basic education program (BEP) for the LEA in which the student resides and is zoned to attend” and substituting “the total funding allocation that the student generates under the Tennessee investment in student achievement formula (TISA)”.
Did you get that?
Read it again.
Remember when Governor Lee and commissioner Schwinn told you this wasn’t about vouchers? He just made it about vouchers.
Under current legislation, a student who qualifies for an IEA, or disability voucher receives around 6k to use for qualified expenses. It’s long been argued more students haven’t taken advantage of the education account opportunity, because the number is too low to make an adequate investment in a different educational opportunity.
If the new law passes, that student will receive exactly the amount generated through the funding formula, potentially making a voucher worth $16k. If you think that won’t increase enrollment and eventually bleed into a full-blown voucher plan, think again.
With Governor Lee it’s always about vouchers until it’s about vouchers. This is just his latest attempt to pave the way.
The more we delve into the new funding formula, the more we see that despite the promised increased investment, it serves Bill Lee and Penny Schwinn more than it does the students of Tennessee. Anyone who is followed either’s career, shouldn’t be shocked by that fact.
THE EXPERT CLASS
I may have shared this thought in the past, and if I did forgive my repetitiveness, but I want to explore this a little further. Because I think it’s extremely relevant in today’s education policy conversation.
For nearly 50 years, my Fall Sundays have risen and fallen on the exploits of the gladiators of the gridiron. Over the past few decades, the game has hypothetically become increasingly complex, or has it? The league has certainly become more profitable and ubiquitous. But I really wonder if it has truly become more complex.
When I was a younger man, the football industrial complex would shut down after the Super Bowl until camps opened in July, when interest was again renewed. These days, try turning on a sports channel without hearing about the game, even though not a snap will be taken until July. Free agency, the draft combine, the draft itself, have all risen to the forefront of the conversation, eclipsing sports where games are actually currently being played.
Central to this is the development of an expert class. These are the people who seem to have a greater inside knowledge of the sport than the rest of us. Despite the game being a relatively simple one not far removed from our childhood exploits in the street and on neighborhood fields, as the sport has grown we’ve seen an emergence of the “expert class”. In order to recognize the expert class, you’ve got to have specialized language. A language that supposedly separates the genius from the casual observer. All professions engage in this practice to varying degrees, but few with the acumen of the NFL.
The strategy of “Hey, Johnny, Mary, Sam, and Ben are rushing me awfully quick. When I hike the ball, I need you to take three steps off the line and turn around. I’ll try and pass you the ball, if not I’m taking off running”, has now become, “The rush is heavy. So we need to set up some RPO options.” One sounds like you are playing a game, the other sounds like you are engaged in a highly developed act reserved for an elite bunch of individuals.
“Cover three” and “pack the box” are littered throughout football conversations as if they are some complex strategies. In reality, they mean three defenders split into zones behind the scrimmage line and put a bunch of people on the line to stop the run. In the latter form, they are easily grasped. In the former, the appearance of a need for greater understanding is created, and everybody knows that experts don’t come cheap. Experts are at the root of the revenue growth of the NFL.
Education engages in the same practice almost as effectively. Study education policy over the last decade and you’ll discover that buzzwords are at the center of almost every discussion.
“Rigor” and “Grit” are two of the most discussed in the past decade. The two literally mean, “a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable” and firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger”. neither particularly appealing when applied to people, but in the hands of “expert” they become essential.
It’s on that new meaning that organizations like TNTP, Students First, Education Trust, SCORE, and countless others have planted their financial roots. But you can’t allow the language to become static. It has to be constantly evolving. Let people become familiar with the language, and you run the risk of diluting the value of the expert class. Luckily, the words don’t actually have to be applicable, they just have to paint a pretty picture and give the impression of doing something.
Look at MNPS for example, Middle Schools become Middle Preps and then back to Middle Schools, with nothing changing but the signage outside. “Central Office” is christened the “Support Hub”, but acts no different than in the past. Offering tutoring during the school day becomes “High Dosage Tutoring”. I guess in the past we were using low dosage tutoring. The same holds true for curriculum because after years, even decades, of using low-quality curricula we’ve suddenly graduated to High-Quality Instructional materials.
Which, god, that’s a beautiful con. The average person would work under the assumption that HQIM would be classified as such based on a rubric or some other scientific model of evaluation, but not according to the Council of State School Officers, Whom for the record, runs the High-Quality Instructional Materials and Professional Development (IMPD) Network that currently supports eight states (Delaware, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Wisconsin) to significantly increase the number of districts selecting high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials and to increase the number of pre-service and in-service teachers receiving professional development grounded in the use of those materials.
By their recommendation, HQIMs are materials evaluated and nationally recognized as high quality, based on EdReports or the Louisiana Department of Education reviews. EdReports has received nearly 7 million dollars from the Gates Foundation. That money was awarded in 2016, coinciding with the start of the HQIM marketing campaign, Career educator and Writer Mercedes Schneider has covered the Gates Education efforts for years, and says it best when she says, “Bill Gates’s efforts do not improve education, and he has the record to prove it.“
Unfortunately, Governor Bill iLee s providing the vehicle for Gates to expand that resume. Mr. Gates is apparently a regular visitor to the Governor’s House, and his fingerprints are all over Lee’s proposed school funding reform bill.
As for the Louisiana Department of Education…let’s just say…I wouldn’t trust them to feed my dog if I was out of town for the weekend. They were led by Paul Pastorek, a founding member of Chiefs for Change, for the better part of a decade. An individual that gives dumpster fires a bad name and an individual who current Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn seems determined to emulate.
Speaking of Ms. Schwinn, her recently created Best For All district designation is another prime example of using language in an effort to create the illusion of an “expert class”. The average person sees that award as being connected to accomplishment, an assumption that is incorrect.
Qualification in Best for All is pretty easy. To qualify for the Best for All recognition program, a district must have planned to spend an amount equal to or more than 50% of its ESSER 3.0 award amount on strategies to raise student academic achievement, as well as opted to participate in the state’s high-dosage, low-ratio tutoring program, TN All Corps, The latter being the secret sauce.
You’d think with a bar that low, you’d be able to get at least 90% of the districts on board, right? Nope, just 68, Which if you do the math, is less than half of the state’s LEAs. The list of designees includes LEAs like the Achievement School District, the Tennessee Public School Charter School Commission, Tennessee School for the Blind,
Missing from the list are names like Collierville, Greeneville Schools, Alcoa Schools, Johnson City Schools, Arlington Schools, Germantown SchoolsBest For All, and Kingsport Schools, arguably all in the top 10 school districts in the state.
So I’m supposed to labor under the assumption that the ASD is doing more for their students than any of the aforementioned? That the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission is making better investments than say…Kingsport Schools? There is absolutely no data that backs that up, and I’m sure – due to options being limited – all of those schools not included in the Best For All designation are investing in the same things as those recognized, just using different vendors. Ones not preferred by Commissioner Schwinn.
The Best for All designation comes with some financial rewards – the morality of this is questionable at best – but look at the list of recipients and the amounts. Keep that list handy and refer to it when perusing social media. I’ll think you’ll find an alignment between the commissioner’s most ardent supporters and the amount of money received. Is it causation or correlation? That’s the golden question.
About now, you might be asking, “What’s your point TC?”
My point is, don’t be fooled by language whose sole purpose is to limit conversation based on the establishment of an “expert class”. Demand that legislation and policy are framed in language that is assessable and understandable to all.
Don’t be afraid to ask, “What are you talking about?”
Don’t be intimidated by a failure to recognize the terms being tossed about.
Remember, we are already not listening to the true experts. Nobody knows the impacts and effectiveness of policy and practice like those who actually work in school buildings, as opposed to those who work in buildings centrally located and removed from children, or out of their bedrooms.
I would certainly welcome more input from the former and less from the latter.
But until then, don’t let them intimidate you.
Legislative QUICK HITS
A couple other bills of interest are up this week, First, HB2861,
This Bill would expand eligibility for school vouchers which Tennessee calls, “Education Savings Accounts” (ESA) by including any student from any public school district in the state if the district provides less than 180 days of in-school instruction annually for a three-year period beginning in 2021-22 due to covid-19 restrictions, or any student that is in a school with low average student performance.
This bill will be heard by the House K-12 Education Subcommittee on Tuesday, March 1.
Mark White continues his pursuit of the Bill Dunn retirement plan by pushing HB2833. It has two prongs. First, it effectively removes local control over the approval of charter schools. The bill would turn over approval and supervision of charter schools to the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission, a body that the governor packed with charter school proponents. This provision effectively ends local control over when and where charter schools are built in a school district.
The second prong is several measures to make charter schools more lucrative for operators. The worst of these is a provision that would force local districts to sell “underutilized” facilities to charter operators for $1, leaving local taxpayers on the hook for any outstanding bonds and facility updates costing more than $50,000.
This bill will be heard by the House K-12 Education Subcommittee on Tuesday, March 1.
If you get the urge, let the subcommittee members know your thoughts.
House k-12 Education subcommittee,
firstname.lastname@example.org (represents Knox County, 615-741-1721)
House K-12 Instruction Subcommittee,
Rep. Kirk Haston, email@example.com
Rep. Tim Hicks, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. Todd Warner, email@example.com
Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. Sam McKenzie, email@example.com (represents Knox County, 615-741-0768)
Rep. Vincent Dixie, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. John Ragan, email@example.com
Rep. Debra Moody, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. Scott Cepicky, Chair, email@example.com
Rep. Bruce Griffey, firstname.lastname@example.org
That should do it,
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.
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