“Just got back into the country. For the record: teachers rock!!!!” – Penny Schwinn
The above are words posted on the Facebook page of Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education. Mrs. Schwinn goes on to inform folks that she’s been out of the country and unplugged for the last couple of weeks and therefore is just now catching up to the controversy over comments critical of teachers made by Hillsdale’s President Larry Arnn. Comments seemingly endorsed by Governor Lee.
Despite a defense put forth by Arnn and Hillsdale College that he wasn’t talking about teachers per se, but rather about left-wing agitators, the controversy continues to grow.
The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents added their voices of dissent by releasing a tersely worded statement on Friday rebuking the sentiments expressed by Arm.
Rest assured, the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents will work diligently to resist the efforts of misguided critics who are not “in the arena” and whose supercilious opinions are worthy only of collective disdain.
Yikes! That leaves little wiggle room.
Since February, Governor Lee has often repeated his commitment to bringing at minimum 50 Hillsdale schools to Tennessee over the coming years. After this dust-up, probably ought to make it 51. A charter school in Chattanooga this past week dissociated itself with the Hillsdale curriculum in the wake of Arm’s speech. While Arnn beats the drum over activist teachers, they very succinctly point out,
“We do not wish to participate in media frenzies, because the job of educating students is too important for us to give attention to anything else,” Markum said in the news release. “We support our teachers and recognize that excellent teachers are ultimately the reason that any school succeeds.”
Ouch. That’s going to leave a mark.
Despite the increasing chorus of dissent, Hillsdale’s PR flack Emily Stack Davis continues to hold fast to the farcical idea that Arm’s statements were about the “educational bureaucracy”,
Dr. Arnn was clearly criticizing the educational bureaucracy that has done a great disservice to both teachers and students by depriving them of the high-quality, content-rich education that makes for excellent teaching,” Stack Davis said in an email.
“Dr. Arnn continues to hold the utmost respect and admiration for all those who choose to devote their lives to teaching. It is disappointing — though unsurprising — that entrenched elements of the education establishment would take criticism of their abysmal and damaging track record and deflect it towards the very teachers they’ve undermined for decades,” she said.
Clearly, Hillsdale doesn’t value critical thinking skills, because it doesn’t take more than a cursory read of Arm’s comments to recognize bullshit when you see it. Maybe somebody should break it to her that Tennessean’s bullshit meters are a little more sophisticated than what she’s used to.
The Johnson City Press read Arm’s comments and concluded,
After Bill Lee’s education adviser’s thoughts about teachers were revealed, we think he should stay on the campus of his private Michigan college and keep his nose out of Tennessee’s business.
Hell, even the head of the Tennessee House Education committee, Mark White, could see the problems with the words spoken by Arnn. He felt compelled to break with the Governor and issue a statement refuting the words spoken by Hillsdale’s CEO. There goes that Bill Dunn retirement plan.
For the record, White’s rebuke of the Governor is like your Shih Tzu holding up a sign in the front yard declaring that you are mean to cats. White has always been a panderer, with his record clearly showing a history of being the waterboy from many of Lee’s most divisive policies.
He’ll say he respects and loves teachers out of one side of his mouth and then demand that they take remedial courses to teach reading because there is only one prescribed way to do that and teachers are lacking in that skill. Despite his proclivities, he does hold influence when it comes to Tennessee’s state education policy.
Ona side note, doesn’t it feels these days like “Science of Reading” and “Rigor” are hanging out at the local bar, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer, talking about the days when they were the high school quarterback? But I digress.
Even one of Commissioner Schwinn’s Deputy Superintendents has weighed in. Over the weekend, she liked a tweet from TOSS criticizing the governor, only to quickly delete it. To echo the questions of the Tennesse Hollar, why delete?
I suspect that she saw it was Dyer’s tweet, who is rarely critical of Lee and Schwinn, and retweeted it without reading. Ooops. maybe a little more close reading in the future?
At this point, the only person left to comment is Mrs. Schwinn herself. But don’t hold your breath. Because the commish faces a bit of a conundrum here.
Obviously, she has to be a good soldier, but there is a little something else at play here. Schwinn’s entire professional career is rooted in words spoken by Hillsdale’s Larry Arnn.
“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.”
In case you forgot, Schwinn is a graduate of Teach For America, an organization that was founded based on that very assumption. With a mere 6 weeks of training, virtually anybody is prepared to take over a classroom.
She also has very close ties to TNTP, another organization founded on that premise.
After just a couple of years of teaching, she started her own charter school.
Noticing a pattern here?
So how much can she actually disagree with the premise that everybody can teach when she is out promoting a brand that actively endorses that idea? Fortunately for her, she’s become accustomed to playing fast and loose with facts.
Does the controversy die this week? Does the Governor finally walk back some of the statements made by his Michigan friend? Inquiring minds want to know.
For the life of me, I don’t understand why the Governor hasn’t defused this by now. A simply public apology, coupled with some behind-the-scenes reassurances certainly dampens, if not defuses the crisis.
I’m not convinced that any of this impacts his re-election bid, but it will certainly speed up the distancing between the party and the Governor after November. There are some that would argue that by failing to mitigate the current circumstances, Lee has conceded the next four years to Cameron Sexton. We’ll see.
I do think that Arnn and Lee have effectively poisoned the water for Hillsdale going forth. Creating 50 schools was already going to be a logistic nightmare, one whose accomplishment was likely beyond the resources of these two dunces has now become nearly impossible.
Representative White expresses similar sentiments via Twitter. Vowing that, “When the General Assembly convenes again next January, any hope that Hillsdale will operate in Tennessee has been shattered.” Hopefully, Tennesseans will remind him of his words come January.
Crisis management is a key skill for a presidential candidate. The road is littered with the aspirations of men who failed to demonstrate their ability to calm the waters when needed. Lee has indicated that he has aspirations to seek higher office, well if that is true, he needs to get a whole lot better at this game.
But that again, the idea of him as presidential timber was a bit laughable to everybody but those who viewed him as anything but a vehicle for their own personal gain.
LAWSUIT TIME AGAIN
Upon her return to America’s shore, Commissioner Schwinn was greeted with yet another lawsuit (2022-07-08 Parents Choice (filed) Verified Complaint). Not unusual for someone who considers themselves a change agent, and whose actions have already garnered more than a few legal responses. This action names her along with the Williamson County School District and its director Jason Golden.
Not surprisingly, it is brought forth in response to the EL textbook adoption process and, the curriculum Wit and Wisdom specifically. The plaintiffs, Patricia and James Lucente, contend that the adoption process was manipulated and that the curriculum implemented, as a result, is inappropriate, The former is well documented and the latter is certainly debatable.
Opponents have been quick to attack the character of the couple while ignoring the merits of the case. They may be as crazy as portrayed, I would argue that you have to be crazy to take on the education industrial machine, but even if they are that doesn’t make them wrong. Change in this contrary has often been facilitated by those perceived as being mere trouble makers.
While I don’t share many of Lucente’s concerns around much of Wit and Wisdom’s content, there are definitely questions around the graphic images used in elementary school materials and included in the lawsuit.
As laid out in the filing, on all 177 pages of it, there are numerous instances cited that raise questions about the fidelity off the adoption process and raise questions whether statutes were broken. Questions that deserve to be heard.
It’s undebatable that Wit and Wisdom are rooted in Common Core, another of the claims put forth in the suit, and that as such would appear to be illegal under state law. While I have no real deep argument with Common Core, I do believe in adhering to state law. Just because certain individuals “like the materials” is not grounds for the adoption of materials that fall outside state statute.
The Lucentes have painstakingly recreated the adoption process timeline both at the state and local, levels. While I can’t speak to the veracity of what transpired in WCS, I can attest to what happened on a state level. They are spot on. Now it’ll be up to a judge to separate personal opinions from fact and decide if their complaints have merit.
As the start of school fast approaches, so do thoughts on teacher and staff pay. This year’s MNPS budget includes the following,
- Raises, paid family leave and 4% cost-of-living increases for Metro Schools employees with additional raises for support staff
- A 4.5% cost-of-living adjustment (shy of the Civil Service Commission’s recommended 5%) and an average 3% merit increase for Metro city employees
- A commitment to an $18 per hour minimum wage for full-time Metro city positions
Also included in this year’s budget is “step-raises” representative of teacher experience. This is a big deal, as in the past these raises were frozen, leaving less incentive for teachers to continue with the district.
One thing that rarely gets discussed in regard to teacher salaries is the increase in the cost of benefits. The benefits plan for MNPS staff is a robust one, but it’s not free. This year will see a 12% increase in cost.
While money doesn’t solve all the issues associated with teacher retention, a debt of gratitude is owed to Metro Council, NPEF, Dr. Battle, the MNPS School Board, and mayor Cooper for addressing an issue that lay dormant for too long.
Recently it was announced that Oliver Middle School Dean of Students Dr. Hayes would be taking an AP job at Cresswell MS. To many of you that means little, but to my family, it means a lot. Without Dr. Hayes, my son’s 6th-grade year would have likely looked a whole lot different. I can not sufficiently express my appreciation, and gratitude, for the love and care he showed us this past year. While I’m sad to see him go, Creswell is getting a caring and competent leader – the two don’t always go hand in hand – who is destined for great things.
Tuesday is an MNPS board meeting. As part of the agenda, four charter school applications will be reviewed. None of the three are considered as meeting the district requirements. Not hard to predict how this one will go. Based on a chart included in the agenda packet, it appears there will be a discussion on predicted district enrollment and building utilization. I look forward to that. as some of the included predictions are…interesting.
Just in case you haven’t seen Ian Round’s expose on how billionaires are influencing Tennessee’s education policy, you can read it here.
In case you missed it, Nashville’s Screaming Cheetah Wheelies reunited for the first time in decades this past weekend. By all accounts a great time was had by all. Sad that I missed it, as I can remember booking them when they were still in their infant stages as a band. One memorable night included a jersey, fire, and flying fists. We’re all a little older, and a lot less bolder now.
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