“I don’t think that writing, real writing, has much to do with affirming belief–if anything it causes rifts and gaps in belief which make belief more complex and more textured, more real. Good writing unsettles, destroys both the author and the reader. From my perspective, there always has to be a tension between the writer and the monolithic elements of the culture, such as religion.”
Brian Evenson


Over the last three years, there has been an escalation in the reading wars. It’s not a new fight, though proponents of the “Science of Reading” tried to frame it as such. In reality, the battle between “phonics” and “whole word” has been raging for over a century. With each taking the lead at various points. Currently, SOR is most prevalent, but its lead is receding.

As part of this escalation, there has been a push to create a universal curriculum under the banner of HQIM. Three curricula, or programs if you prefer, that are usually referenced when Talking HQIM are CKLA, EL, and Wit and Wisdom. At this point, everyone should be familiar with the state’s efforts to draw everybody under the same umbrella. Those efforts are still ongoing.

Two weeks ago I told you about three ES teachers in WCS and their principal who was suspended for using supplemental materials. As previously reported, there were completely appropriate materials, just not supported by Wit and Wisdom. Many of you asked if there were reports in the main street press to collaborate on the story. Unfortunately, to date, related information has flown completely under the radar and WCS has done a good job of keeping details under wraps. I suspect that’ll change in the upcoming weeks.

To those who have been paying attention, Wit and Wisdom’s demands of fidelity and exclusivity shouldn’t be a surprise. Their parent company, Great Minds, has never been shy in exerting itself on the superiority of their materials. Prior to COVID I sat at a SCORE gathering and heard representatives brag about how they had gone through school book closets and tossed every piece of instructional not related to Wit and Wisdom – literally cackling at the anecdotes. Where were those defenders of books then?

This was the same gathering where I asked the presenter on the “Mississippi Circle”, “When you codify curriculum for preparing teachers, how do you handle the potential unintended consequences of stifling innovation?” Her response should have been put on a T-shirt and handed out at the state capital.

“We haven’t innovated anything in 15 years, so that shouldn’t be a concern.”

Sometime in early June, the TNDOE should have results available from this year’s TNReady exams, and while I’m confident that the narrative will be that we are on the right track, I’m sure there will be a piece of the story about how much further we’d be if LEAs would truly commit to their newly adopted HQIM. Take it with a grain of salt.

There is no more proven ingredient in successful student learning than an HQ teacher. There can be no such thing as an HQ teacher if they are not allowed to utilize teacher judgment. Be it scripted materials, videotaping classes, or tight pacing guides, it’s all about watering down the use of teacher judgment.  it’s all doomed to fall short of expectation, but not without fattening checkbooks.

I oft talk about our failure to consider unintended consequences when developing policy, In this case, the unintended consequences inflicted are staffing issues. You can call it a “shortage”, or a “lack of people willing to do the job for the current rate of pay”, either way, schools are facing increasing staffing challenges partially due to the micromanaging of teachers. One principal told me that this has been the most difficult year for staffing in their 20-plus years of service. I know that’s an anecdotal tale, but when all anecdotes have the same thread and are credited to long-term professional educators, you might want to listen.

Most of the focus for attrition has been placed on salaries, and while wages have been chronically low for all too long, it ain’t all about money. Look at it this way, if I’m paying you $100 dollars a day to repeatedly beat you with a baseball bat, you are going to tire of it quickly. So then when you are about ready to quit, I raise the rate to $1000. You look at the money and try to convince yourself that for that kind of money you could handle getting beat with a bat all day. But, after a little while, it’ll start to sink in, you don’t want to get hit with a bat for any amount of money. That’s where we live with teachers.

A logical person would listen, and try to figure out how to make the position a little more palpable. Maybe only one whack per hour, or maybe a softer bat. Something that would make people think, “Yea, I can do this.” and then allow them to do it. That would be the logical thing, but unfortunately, when it comes to Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn, we aren’t dealing with logical people. Their plan is to throw millions at getting new people in through the enticingly labeled “Grow Your Own” program. while letting everybody else run out the back door.

To that goal, today, the Tennessee Department of Education and the University of Tennessee System announced the launch of Tennessee Grow Your Own Center, a $20 million investment to support statewide scale for innovative educator pipeline work through Tennessee’s Teacher Apprenticeship model. Per the press release primary program operations for The Tennessean,  the Grow Your Own Center will include:

  • Lead technical assistance hub for teacher apprenticeship models. The center will support program questions, both for aspiring educators and future programs. Serving current educators, future candidates, new and current district/EPP partnerships, and stakeholders outside of Tennessee, the Grow Your Own Center will operate as the one-stop-shop for programmatic support and technical assistance.
  • Develop and recruit candidates. The University of Tennessee System will operate as an EPP apprenticeship program partner, leveraging multiple campuses and coursework to operate as a statewide EPP apprenticeship administrator for districts to choose to enroll their candidates with.
  • Provide additional endorsements and generate new leadership pathway models. The center will offer numerous options for current educators to pursue a special education (SPED) and English as a second language (ESL) endorsement or credentialed leadership pathway, at no-cost to the candidate or district.

On paper, it may sound great, but it’ll take years to develop and comes with no promises that the people getting hit with bats in the future will like it any more than those currently being struck. I’m guessing they’ll like it even less. Then where will we be?

I know, Mrs. Schwinn touts that these new candidates will be better trained and prepared than the current crop. She’ll provide all kinds of ideas for training, like shielding your eyes, putting on some weight so your body can better absorb the blows, turning your shoulder so the blow doesn’t hit you directly, and that additional training may extend things a little bit longer, but eventually, the new recruits will arrive at the same conclusion as the veterans – getting hit with a bat all day sucks and you couldn’t pay me enough to do it.

As I’ve said about a million times, you can’t fill a leaky bucket up by just turning up the faucet. At some point, you have to patch the holes.

Things are about to get even more interesting because some of the attention is going to shift to math instructional material. In Tennessee, we are in an adoption year for  Math instructional materials,. Despite legislators making moves designed to limit manipulation of the process by the TNDOE, have no doubt that TNDOE’s Lisa Coons has been very active in securing early commitments to preferred materials. In that light, many districts, due to being flush with ESSER money, have taken a position of, “easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” and in violation of state law, adopted materials early.

Complicating things is the new postulate that math is a racist construct and that it must be deconstructed in an effort to find success for minority children. The following comes directly from a publication titled  A Pathway to  Equitable Math Instruction,

A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction is an integrated approach to mathematics that centers Black, Latinx, and Multilingual students in grades 6-8, addresses barriers to math equity, and aligns instruction to grade-level priority standards. The Pathway offers guidance and resources for educators to use now as they plan their curriculum, while also offering opportunities for ongoing self-reflection as they seek to develop an anti-racist math practice. The toolkit “strides” serve as multiple on-ramps for educators as they navigate the individual and collective journey from equity to anti-racism.

Out west, California has already embarked on this journey, incorporating the aforementioned into a new State Framework for Mathematics Instruction. It’s worth noting that current TNDOE  Chief of Preparation and Performance Rachael Maves had a hand in crafting this framework when she served as California’s Deputy Superintendent. To be fair, where her support falls remains unclear at this juncture, but at the very least she’s familiar with the argument.

At this point, I am just observing and not advocating, but I am confident that extremists on both sides will hijack the conversation while describing the other side as radicals.

it is my feeling that all of this is one long initiative to standardized education across the country. Common Core was the first step because you have to have common standards. And then you need standardized materials in which to teach those standards, which of course means…standardized teachers. Eventually, you get to a place where schools across the country are all operated and delivered in the same manner. Ambitious yes, but not out of the question.

I can’t predict whether these initiatives will be successful or not, but I feel pretty confident when I say that it’s going to get a whole lot tougher to teach in Tennessee. The cynic in me says that is by design, because how else are you going to establish tutors in Tennessee. But we’ll leave that for another day.


I’ve been closely following the happenings in Adams, Colorado. Adams is a school district outside of Denver made up of predominately Hispanic and economically disadvantaged kids. Not surprisingly, it has struggled with student achievement over the last decade. Three years ago the state of Colorado took it over and appointed an outside manager to run the operations. Shockingly that action has proven unsuccessful and now the state and the district are in a full-blown war, with the threat of disaccredidation and legal action very much in the mix.

That’s the thumbnail sketch of a very complex situation. Recently Adams was ordered by the state to hire a new external manager. The state wants them under full control, as they were previously, but has agreed to allow them to control their finances. Here’s where it gets real relevant real quick. Per Chalkbeat,

However, Adams 14 leaders are proceeding with negotiations to hire the nonprofit TNTP, not as full managers, but under the existing plan to make them partial managers. The district’s attorney and other district leaders now believe the state’s order from 2018forcing the superintendent to give up authority is illegal. In the partial management plan, they would give TNTP full authority over the human resources department, but not the authority to hire or fire employees.

What do you know? Who knew that TNTTP was in the human resource business? I tell you, they may not be good at producing actual results, but they have the uncanny ability to smell out a government contract from 1000 miles away. I wonder if Commissioner Schwinn knows that her preferred vendor has HR capacities.


I have gotta say, I love how those who are vehemently opposed to the banning of books have no problem banning voices they disagree with. The Nashville Scene is pretty upset and offended over a recent editorial printed by the Tennessean from, in their words, “long-time evil-doer Laurie Cordoza-Moore”. It seems this is the passage that got the Scene’s goat,

f Kent Oliver would like to promote the “freedom to read” pornographic, racist, antisemitic and anti-American content within the walls of the Nashville Public Library, he has the freedom to do so.

To build a library promotional campaign around Tennessee parents opposing their children being freely offered pornography and racist content in our school libraries, suggests that Mr. Oliver needs perhaps to be replaced with someone who understands the value of strengthening our communities through classic and traditional literature that reflects our Tennessee values.

In being generous, I’d call it a questionable accusation, but there is nothing slanderous or threatening in it, To me, it is a dumb piece, in a sea of dumb pieces that get published in The Tennessean. But that’s kinda how public opinion works

In response though, the Nashville Scene argues,

Here’s an idea: If you’re the editor of a section of the newspaper and a piece comes in that attempts to assassinate the character of the head of one of the city’s treasures with untruths, why don’t you edit out the untruths? It’s right there in your job title. You’re the editor. You edit things. This running in The Tennessean is ultimately on opinion editor David Plazas. He owes Kent Oliver a huge apology.

Here’s the thing, in my world, there are no sacred cows. especially ones that are paid out of taxpayer dollars. I got no beef with Oliver. Seems like a fine fellow to me, but to insinuate that he’s somehow beyond reproach…that’s where I have to draw the line.

Here’s the other thing. I’m pretty sure most discerning adults have the capacity to read Cardoza – Moore’s words and evaluate them on their own. It’s unlikely that anybody reads them and suddenly leaps to the belief that Oliver is a pornographer unless they already hold those views, and then that’s a different discussion.

If we were to suddenly start editing all writing I find inane and assine, there wouldn’t be a lot to read. Let me describe how I handle the aforementioned material. Read, evaluate, dismiss, turn the page, wash, rinse repeat. It ain’t hard.

If Tennessean Editor David Plaza went around apologizing for every dumb or misleading item he publishes, he’d never have time to do anything but.

For me, it is more concerning that the Nashville Scene doesn’t feel that the average person is capable of evaluating and dismissing. They conclude with the following,

Which brings us back to The Tennessean. By platforming this grifter and treating her outlandish, untrue statements as opinions worthy of consideration, you are signaling that she is a contributing member of society with worthwhile goals and opinions and not someone who leeches off of dumbasses. You then make it easier for her to target more dumbasses to part from their money because you’ve given her legitimacy.

Cardoza-Moore ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’m not sure she qualifies as the dumbass in this story.


Congratulations to MNPS’s director of Schools Adrienne Battle. The Professional Educators of Tennessee, a nonpartisan statewide teacher association, announced Monday that it selected Battle as the organization’s 2022 Superintendent of the Year. Battle will be recognized during the group’s 2022 Leader U conference at Middle Tennessee State University on Tuesday, June 7.

Nice story on NPR about Maplewood’s automotive program. Sure it’s been told before, but never grows old.

Was that Dixon Director of Schools Danny Week’s feet I saw sticking out of Commissioner Schwinn’s butt this morning? Sorry, asking for a friend.

Congratulations to The Basement East for its first-ever American Country Music Award! It has won 2022 ACM Club of the Year just two years after its destruction by a tornado in March of 2020.Well done Grimey.

That’s it for today, see you at the end of the week.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it to Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

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Categories: Education

4 replies

  1. So Many Comments …

    Re Reading Wars: I spent my career teaching Comprehensive Development Classes with students who had significant learning challenges. Many of my students were unable to be tested using the standard IQ tests. Many of my students also learned to read because I taught them both sight words and phonics; sight words to read faster and phonics for words they didn’t know. Some of my non-verbal students learned to read that way. I’ve never understood the argument for one or the other when you could benefit from using both.

    Common Core and standardization in education: I grew up in the military so we moved around a lot. Standardization of concepts & skills to be learned in each grade would benefit all students in the country. I was fortunate to have moved from Maryland, with a very advanced dept. of education at the time, to Tennessee, which, even then, did not have even an average dept. of education, If I had moved the opposite direction, I would have had to go an extra year to graduate from high school. Students should not have to pay the price for adult political stupidity, although they often do.

    Standardization in teaching: I achieved National Board certification in teaching. One of their biggest emphases was being able to articulate why you made teaching decisions that were best for THIS group of students at THIS time. One of my higher scores resulted from writing that although standard practice for students with autism was to set up enclosed areas for them to work without distractions, I had observed that my students stayed calmer, performed better, and increased appropriate social skills when they could see me and other students, so I had set up my classroom with nothing above desk height. Experienced teachers know that each ‘class group’ has a distinct personality in addition to the individual student personalities. Programmed teaching does not account for that.

    Grow Your Own Center: Middle Tennessee State University was started as a teacher college. The University of Tennessee was started as a land-grant college and has long been known for its agriculture program. So, of course, it makes perfect sense for the Grow Your Own program to be with UT! Maybe the plan is to try to keep Randy Boyd at UT (where he is doing an excellent job); if Boyd had not fallen into the trap of negative campaigning against Diane Black, Bill Lee would not be our governor today. I once heard a political operative say that his hardest job was convincing a winning candidate that not all of the votes were cast for them, that many were simply against the other candidates or the other party. Bill Lee is a classic example of that; he won because many people voted against negative campaigning. It takes a huge amount of hubris to not recognize that and to instead think that you are ready for national office after being only halfway through your first political job.

    How about editing grammar???: The Tennessean obviously doesn’t feel the need for good grammar in their articles because they constantly make these two mistakes – 1. if someone has 2 children, the child born first is the OLDER not the OLDEST; that person would have to have 3 or more children to have an oldest child; 2. “and” is used to connect words, phrases, or simple sentences; it is not used to START sentences, although the TN court system also frequently makes this grammatical mistake in their written appellate decisions.

    • Let’s see…agreed, disagree, somewhat agree, totally agree, and grammar has never been my friend, nor do I ever suspect it will be. And, it’s partially because my eyes are fading.

  2. Yes, TC, we’ve had to agree to disagree on Common Core before :).

    I’m just sharing what I experienced that CC was targeting. Friends of ours who worked for a national corporation were transferred from TN to Connecticut. In Nashville their children attended Brentwood schools and private schools. When tested in CT, the children were so far behind the CT schools, the school system recommended putting the children back a grade – yes, even though they went to BRENTWOOD SCHOOLS!!!

    What I experienced in 1968 and friends experienced in 1998 is unlikely to be any different now. I always thought it was ironic that so many residents of Williamson Co., many of whom were likely to have corporate transfers to other parts of the country in their future, were so against something that would benefit their children most of all.

    If you have lived the same place all of your life, it is understandable to only be concerned about doing things the local way. If you have lived elsewhere, you learn that some misguided Americans think tea should only be served hot and with lemon!

    Again, as with reading wars, it doesn’t have to be either-or and it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. It is okay to have standards consistent at the national level, curriculum consistent at the state level, materials consistent at the local level, assessment (NOT testing) consistent at the school level, and teaching decisions determined in the classroom. This, however, requires effort and intelligence from politicians and their political appointees …

    • Oh…I forgot to mention, I was a military brat myself and my experience was very different from yours. My school experienced varied widely from assignment to assignment.

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