DAMN RIGHT I GOT THE BLUES

In a certain sense this was true, and truth is always true in a certain sense;”
Olga Tokarczuk, Flights

 

People always think that when the classrooms close, things calm down on the education policy front. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that the closing of the school calendar usually serves as a start to the “silly season”. It would all be kind of funny if it wasn’t so damn serious.

This year is no different. I spent June walking around shaking my head, wondering if it was too late to pick up stamp collecting, as ridiculous story after ridiculous story emerged. Let me give you some examples.

This week saw the latest story from respected investigative reporter Phil Williams drop. In this episode, he shares hidden camera footage from a recent private gathering attended by Governor Lee. The tape captures Hillsdale College President Larry Arns. making offensive comments about teachers.  Things like,

  • “The teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.”
  • “They are taught that they are going to go and do something to those kids… Do they ever talk about anything except what they are going to do to these kids?”
  • “In colleges, what you hire now is administrators…. Now, because they are appointing all these diversity officers, what are their degrees? Education. It’s easy. You don’t have to know anything.”
  • “The philosophic understanding at the heart of modern education is enslavement…. They’re messing with people’s children, and they feel entitled to do anything to them.”
  • “You will see how education destroys generations of people. It’s devastating. It’s like the plague.”
  • “Here’s a key thing that we’re going to try to do. We are going to try to demonstrate that you don’t have to be an expert to educate a child because basically anybody can do it.”

Throughout Arms’s speech, the Governor quietly sits, his silence seemingly signifying endorsement. Outrage has erupted over these comments,  rightfully so, but why is anybody surprised? Was there anybody out there who really thought that Governor Lee respected teachers? If so, have they not been paying attention to his policies over the last 4 years?

The much-touted Literacy bill passed during a special session last year basically signifies a lack of belief in teachers’ ability to teach kids to read. It’s Lee, and his Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn, voicing their doubts about the skills of the state’s teachers, and the need for them to step in and provide additional training because y’all ain’t got this.

Tennessee’s much-touted “Grow Your Own ” program essentially says the same thing as Arms when he says, “Here’s a key thing that we’re going to try to do. We are going to try to demonstrate that you don’t have to be an expert to educate a child because basically anybody can do it.”.both are pitching the idea that the training teachers go through to prepare for the classroom can be truncated and really lacks pertinent information. Anybody can do this work with just a little prep right? One is just saying it a little nicer than the other.

While they were out scaring the masses over “learning loss” due to the pandemic, who did Lee and Schwinn turn to  address the supposed crisis? But of course, it was tutors, a clear message basically saying, “Y’all take care of bus duty, lunch duty, and the day-to-day operations, while we get the specialists in to address student needs.” When the ESSER money is gone, and a decision has to be made between funding tutors or teachers, who do you think will reap the rewards for any improvement in student outcomes?

Hell, TISA – the governor’s recently passed education funding formula – is basically a fuck-you to teachers. Tutors are funded separately while teachers are a part of the base funding formula. It’s not like Lee was presenting a program that honored the contributions of professional educators. But people lined up, blinded by a purported billion dollars, in support of a program that virtually does nothing but facilitates the implementation of a statewide voucher program. Which Lee has said he’s in favor of on more than one occasion.

Governor Lee has made no secret throughout his time in office about how he feels about teachers and public education, so if you are just now getting outraged due to William’s report, you are late to the party?

Every one of the aforementioned bills passed with support from both sides of the aisle. Sure TISA brought forth some impassioned attacks from Democrats, and a handful of principled conservatives raised objections, but in the end, the bill passed with little real opposition. Paid operatives, like Education Trust, are still touting TISA as being about students, and  trying to disparage those who would raise concerns based on Lee’s oft-stated intentions,

Debates about how best to support students are important, so we’ll be clear about our position: The Education Trust does not believe that ESAs or school vouchers are an effective way to provide our students access to a top-quality education. But we also believe that the conversation is getting muddied by those drawing a false connection between TISA and the governor’s ESA plan. Weighted student funding is about students — not about school choice.

I hate to keep referencing the same Maya Angelou quote, but when people show you who they are you have to believe them…the first time. We got to stop hearing what we want people to say and listen to what they are actually saying.

All this frustrates me to no end because we become outraged over things like the Hillsdale plan, and Lee’s apparent approval of disparaging comments about teachers, while peripherally real damage gets done on an almost daily basis.

I don’t believe for a minute that the whole Hillsdale plan is anything more than a distraction. The Governor can wish all he wants, but the reality is that the demand for 100, or even 50, Hillsdale schools likely does not exist. Where would you put them?

Some would have you believe that suburban and rural districts are clamoring for these schools in their districts, but I think when you embrace that thinking you are casting aspirations against the folks that actually live in those communities. I’ve seen little evidence to support that demand exists in non-urban sectors anymore than it does in urban centers, and considerable evidence demonstrating a desire to fortify public education over embracing these private efforts.

Lee himself acknowledges that fact. From the Williams report,

As for Lee, he said in that session that he may not be able to accomplish all of his goals for overhauling education during his time in office. So instead of “building a bridge” to his goal, he thinks of it as “building a pier” that someone else may be able to turn into a bridge in the future.

Which in itself is a stupid quote. Last I checked there weren’t a whole lot of piers that have been turned into bridges. There is little reason to believe that Lee’s pier will be any different unless we continue to feed into a culture of outrage over action. If we allow ourselves to be distracted by objects designed to divide focus, Lee may continue enacting his detrimental policies.

It’s amazing that when you talk to General Assembly members, there is a decided lack of support for Lee, and most personally can’t stand the man. They view his education chief with similar contempt. But because he purports to be a Republican, they keep their feeling behind closed doors. To their own detriment.

While Lee’s stance should be widely recognized, I would argue that it’s past time to make local representatives accountable for their support of a man who actively works against the public interest. Cameron Sexton and William Lambretrh have shown ambition to seek higher office while supporting policies that echo words embraced by Governor Lee. Do we really need a future Governor who undervalues teachers to this degree? That’s for Tennesseans to decide.

The most comical part of the story to me is that Arms introduces Lee as a potential presidential candidate. That shows a complete and utter disconnect from reality. The irony is that while questioning the intelligence of teachers, he is touting for president a man that most recognize as being intellectually inferior. Lee has about as much chance of being president,  as Schwinn’s husband does of remaining gainfully employed for an extended period.

Ok…that was a cheap shot…but that’s what we were talking about, right? Cheap shots.

TISA BLUES

Commissioner Schwinn and TNDOE continue the charade of looking for citizen input on proposed TISA rules. In a press release last Monday,

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education invites all Tennesseans to a public rulemaking hearing to respond to the proposed rules for the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) Act. The hearing will take place on Thursday, July 28th from 9 a.m. CT – 12 noon CT in Nashville, TN, and a Livestream option will be available for attendees statewide to participate virtually.

July 28th, something is happening around that date, but I just can’t put my finger on it. Oh wait, that’s around the time school starts back up. So the expectation is that at 9am on a workday while parents are preparing kids to return to school, and soaking up the last few days of summer, they will show up en masse to weigh in on a funding formula few understand. Yea, it’s not only teachers that Lee and Schwinn perceive as stupid, it’s all of us.

My favorite paragraph from the press release is this one,

The TISA Act specifically requires rulemaking in certain areas to further flesh out the law, define terms, and establish processes and procedures for funding disbursements. In alignment with the funding review engagement process, which generated over 1,000 comments, the department will collect public feedback and input that will strengthen the proposed rules that will accompany the statute and ensure its alignment as the state transitions to a student-centered K-12 public education funding formula.

Tennessee’s public school system serves roughly 1 million students, but somehow feedback from 1% of stakeholders constitutes a win. Yea…that bar is awful low.

PHILLY BLUES

Earlier in the week, I reported that Nashville’s former superintendent Shawn Joseph had secured a contract to support Philadelphia’s newly named superintendent. Well here’s another wrinkle to that tale, why is the guy who heads the program that reportedly trained Dr. Watlington to be a superintendent, getting paid an exhorbarnt amount to tutor him in being a superintendent?

Joseph served as co-director of the AASA/Howard University Urban Superintendent Academy. When he was a co-director, Joseph introduced the academy’s 2021 cohort including Watlington. Watlington defends the contract against appearances of impropriety.

Per Chalkbeat,

In a Wednesday call with reporters, Watlington said hiring Joseph and Associates, which is led by former Nashville district superintendent Shawn Joseph, will ensure he can focus on making Philadelphia “the fastest improving urban school district in the nation.” But some have raised concerns about Joseph’s $450,000 price tag, which will cover roughly a year’s work but exceeds Watlington’s own annual salary of $340,000.

Now that sounds familiar. For his part, Joseph continues to stand by his work history,

“It’s been three years since I’ve been in Nashville and I’ve been working to train and prepare urban superintendents like Dr. Watlington,” he said. “Sometimes wisdom comes with pain. As you learn things, you’re able to impart that knowledge onto people.”

I tell you, Penny Schwinn needs to start the Academy of Education Grifters, and Joseph needs to enroll in her first class. Her game is so much more developed than his, and her guidance would certainly help him fulfill his aspirations while keeping negative stories out of the press.

BEST FOR ALL BLUES

Speaking of grifts, few rise to the level of Commissioner Schwinn’s Best For All canard, where districts can earn membership simply by forking over a share of their federal money to the TNDOE. The barrier to entry is about as low as it gets, as evidenced by recent social media posts touting the state’s Achievement School District as a member.

Really, the ASD is a “Best For All” school? Really? Is that why the district is being dismantled? Is that why everybody in the district’s administration was required to reapply? Is this why schools are exiting the district? Is that why after nearly two years the ASD still does not have a permanent director?

Like I said, it’s not just teachers who Lee and Schwinn perceive as stupid.

MNPS BLUES

Last week, with 2 years remaining on her current contract, MNPS’s Director of Schools Adrienne Battle was given an extension and a raise by the school board. This happen despite nobody being able to present a clear argument for why this was necessary.

It was put forth that the extension had to be done now because of state law prohibiting contracts for district leaders from being signed 45 days before an election. Shockingly the day after the board meeting marked the beginning of the 45-day period. What a coincidence.

Arguably the board could have waited until after the election thus giving voice to members who would be working with Dr. Battle over the coming 4 years. But if they waited, she wouldn’t have been eligible for the cost of living raise that went into effect on July 1.

As a side note, that 4% raise comes at the same time as a 12% increase in insurance costs. So while teachers should be appreciative of Metro Council and Mayor Cooper’s efforts, it’s not exactly a financial windfall. But I digress.

Usually, when a coach gets an extension on a contract before necessary, it’s in recognition of exemplary work, or in response to the coach being poached by another party. The latter doesn’t apply here, and if it’s the former, shouldn’t that be reflected in the team that’s been built around the director. Nobody can do the work alone, so preserving the team around a leader is essential to future success. But this does not apply to Dr. Battle either.

Two-thirds of her immediate cabinet departed at the end of the year, with only Chief of Staff Hank Clay and CFO Chris Henson having over a year of experience. Thes week brought an announcement of a further shake-up among executive directors. A partial announcement includes the following,

  • Lisa Spencer, interim Chief of Human Resources
  • Dr. James Witty, interim Executive Officer of Human Resources
  • Dr. Tina Stenson, Executive Director of Research, Assessment, and Evaluation
  • Dr. Damaris Luna, Executive Director Schools of Innovation
  • • K. C. Winfrey, Executive Director, School Support
  • Justin Uppinghouse, interim Executive Director, Schools of Innovation
  • Dr. Ricki Gibbs and Dr. Brian Mells, expanded roles as Innovation Leads for the Schools of Innovation
  • Jon Mahaffey, interim Executive Principal for Cora Howe School
  • Dr. Michael Pratt, interim Executive Principal at Stratford STEM Magnet High School
  • Molly Rucker, interim Executive Principal of Whitsitt Elementary

The list is a decided and largely unproven bag. While the principal announcement have largely been greeted with cheers, I’m not sure the executive director announcemnets serve as inspiration for anyone. Furthermore, I’m not sure how removing a proven leader – one who has provided much needed stabilty – away from a school that ihas continually been under threat of state takeover serves the needs of students, but what do I know.

Reprtedly there is also a shake up among the existing executive directors, though that information remains under lock and key, save for a few chosen individuals. If only MNPS spent as much time working on student outcomes as they do keeping secrets.

No matter how you slice it, Battle’s team is suffering from a high degree of turnover, and how the new members perform has yet to be determined. Despite this, the MNPS board has gone ahead and rewarded Battle with an extension.

I wish someone at one of these MNPS School Board candidate forums would ask how that provides an example of fiscal prudence.

QUICK HITS

Chalkbeat has a story covering the rapid growth in remote tutoring. It’s a fed by the influx of federal dollars targeted for COVID relief. While the jury is still out on it’s effectivemness, tutoring does provide a means to spend that federal money, something districts are struggling with. Riddle me this though, why is virtual instruction generally viewed as inferior while remote tutoring is considered a bold new frontier? Follow the money. Per Chalkbeat,

There’s a big incentive to get this right. Mississippi, for example, signed a nearly $10.8 million contract with Paper to provide on-demand tutoring to more than 100 districts across the state over the next two and a half years. Boston Public Schools will spend $5 million on Paper’s services over three years.

Prince George’s County schools in Maryland is spending $1.5 million for 10 months of TutorMe, while Wichita schools in Kansas is spending $2.5 million for a year of elementary school math tutoring from Varsity Tutors.

If only that kind of cabbage was invested in teachers.

The University School of Nashville, home to many of Nashville’s prominent families, has a new director today. Amani Reed joins USN as its 11th director and the first person of color to lead the K-12 educational institution founded as Peabody Demonstration School in 1915.Congratulations go out to all involved.

That’s it for today, Have a fun, but safe, Fourth of July.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

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Categories: Education

1 reply

  1. what record of success as a supe qualifies joseph to do this ‘training’?

    where was he a success?

    certainly not mnps

    all he succeeded in was making a lot of money and getting paid to not work there anymore.

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