“The facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger’s slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and what the historian catches will depend, partly on chance, but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use – these two factors being, of course, determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch. By and large, the historian will get the kind of facts he wants.”
Apologies for my lengthy absence. We took a needed visit to the beach this past weekend. A visit that allowed me to pull back and observe without commentary. What I observed was a world gone mad.
Sorry if this hurts anyone’s feelings, but the education world is absolutely cocoa for cocoa puffs right now. We have lost our collective minds. Let me elaborate.
By unpacking the Hillsdale Charter Schools controversy, we’ll start with the biggest elephant in the room first,
If you think back to late January – I know it feels like 20 years ago – you’ll recall Tennessee’s Governor Bill Lee’s State of the State speech. Lee started that speech with the following,
Tennesseans like the members of the National Guard who have met the worst of circumstances with grit, and yet also provided comfort.
Nurses and other health care workers who have cared for the sick.
Teachers and administrators who have taught our children.
Troopers and police officers and sheriffs deputies who patrol the roads and keep our neighborhoods safe.
Small businesses who have kept their doors open and workers who have worked extra hours to keep our economy moving.
You are what makes Tennessee exceptional.
Fair enough right? But later came this,
I’m proud of the “informed patriots” graduating from our Tennessee schools.
But there is still more to do, especially if we want to provide Tennessee parents with more educational choices.
Two years ago, I traveled to Hillsdale College to participate in a Presidents Day celebration and spend time with champions of American exceptionalism.
For decades, Hillsdale College has been the standard bearer in quality curriculum and the responsibility of preserving American liberty.
I believe their efforts are a good fit for Tennessee, and we are formalizing a partnership with Hillsdale to expand their approach to civics education and K-12 education.
Informed patriotism should stretch beyond the K-12 classroom and into higher education.
In many states, colleges and universities have become centers of anti-American thought, leaving our students not only ill-equipped but confused.
But, in Tennessee, there’s no reason why our institutions of higher learning can’t be an exceptional part of America at Its Best.
I’m including in my budget $6 million to establish the Institute of American Civics at the University of Tennessee.
It wouldn’t be an understatement to say those statements raised more than a few eyebrows, but the Governor says so much dumb shit that it is impossible to discern what’s relevant and what’s just more…bull shit.
(I guess there should be a disclaimer with this piece, there may be a little swearing. Consider yourself forewarned.)
After his speech, word leaked out that the Governor had expressed in a previous meeting with Hillsdale a desire to open somewhere between 50 and 100 new schools in Tennessee. He even sent Natasha, I mean Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn north to visit with the Hillsdale where she also reportedly picked up a reward. Wish I could tell you more about that trip, but details of it are guarded like state secrets.
But before we become too panicked, let’s think about this with an eye toward practicality. 50 schools is a tremendous undertaking. Florida which has a longer relationship with Hillsdale only has 7. The intent is one thing, competence another. Do you see anybody who runs in these circles having the competence to pull off 50 schools? Seriously
Meanwhile, the Governor’s Legion of Doom, led by House Education Committee Chair Mark White, launched an offensive effort to change the way the state funds its public schools. At the center of that plan is the ability to identify just how much investment each child is worth. Something that is important to virtually nobody unless they are looking to siphon off some public dollars into private bank accounts.
My favorite anecdote from this time period is Commissioner Schwinn relating the story of how she was at one of her children’s soccer games and as the action was unfolding, she found herself looking at each player on the field and wondering how much the state invests in their education individually. Not if the forward was going to score, or the defensive back was tiring too quickly, or if the goalie would be able to keep the ball out of the net, but rather whether the goalie was getting 10k and the striker 7K, and was the girl on the bench only worth 5K?
In other words, where 99% of the people in the stands were seeing elementary school kids compete on the athletic field while working towards a common goal, she saw dollar figures. Dollar figures that could be claimed by private entities. That should tell you everything you need to know, and Tennessee’s new funding formula, TISA, makes that even easier. It designates a dollar figure that “follows the student” for every child in Tennessee.
Now as a parent, that means absolutely nothing to me. Is $8k enough to educate my child? What about $8300? $16K? Or even $7600? The numbers are absolutely meaningless to me. It’s beyond my capacity to run reliable cost analyses.
But, if my kids show up to school and they don’t feel safe, it’s not enough.
If I don’t feel welcome at that school, it’s not enough.
If there are not enough teachers, para-pros, or other support staff available, it’s not enough.
If my child’s school building is crumbling, and there aren’t enough bus drivers to get them to school in a timely manner, yea…it is not enough.
Do you know who does care about the dollar figure attached to each child? Those who look to pry students away from the system. It’s those who build a system that allows people to take taxpayer dollars and invest them in private institutions. That’s what this is about now, and what it has always been about, despite what so-called non-profit entities like SCORE, EduTrust, and others would have you believe.
There is some argument over whether vouchers in the future will reflect the calculated value of a student. Per The Tennessee Lookout,
Senate Education Committee Chairman Jon Lundberg acknowledges he believes the price tag for the Education Savings Account program will shift, though he’s not certain how as the state moves away from a 30-year-old funding formula in fiscal 2023-24.
Do ya think?
There is absolutely no scenario in the world where moving to the voucher program translates to less money for the individual student. Any argument put forth that indicates such a scenario is bullshit,
Lundberg, a Bristol Republican, notes it is important to remember the Education Savings Account Act is a three-year pilot program, which will give the Legislature an opportunity to evaluate it and make alterations. Lundberg wasn’t certain how many of the schools committed to the voucher program have religious affiliations, though almost all of those in Davidson, Shelby, and Sumner are Christian schools.
Come on, we might have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. Despite some estimations, we are not fucking dumb.
All you have to do is look at the breakneck speed at which Lee is trying to implement his voucher program. In doing so he’s relying on a Department of Education that is so understaffed they can’t even be expected to change the lightbulbs in the building on a regular basis. it’s not hard to predict how this is going to end. In the Chalkbeat article covering the ongoing process, the money line comes at the end,
Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn has said her department will manage the program internally this school year, then plan to use an outside vendor in the 2023-24 school year.
There is gold in them dar hills. I’m sure whoever is selected will have close ties with the Schwinn clan.
We’ll revisit this in the near future, but for now, back to Hillsdale.
About a month ago, News 5 Investigative reporter Phil Williams filed a story that revealed comments disparaging Tennessee educators made by Hillsdale’s CEO Larry Arms at a private event. They are ugly and offensive, but if everybody was honest, they’d admit that what Arnn is saying is not much different than how most district HR departments have been treating teachers for at least a decade.
What you’ve forgotten about “Human Capital”? Canned curriculum? Recruitment over retention? Heavy investment in tutors? Mandatory summer PD to reteach literacy instruction because schools of education didn’t properly teach reading instruction? Yea…Arnn was dumb enough to say it aloud and unfortunate enough to lead an organization that makes for a convenient political scapegoat.
Being as it was the summertime, the general election is months away, and further fueled by Lee’s lack of popularity with his own party, the controversy erupted. An opportunity was provided to future candidates for the governor’s office to take some shots at a governor often described as being a few bricks short of a full load while exposing themselves to little political risk,
Cameron Sexton told the Tennessean that Arnn “insulted generations of teachers who have made a difference for countless students.” Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally issued a statement that called the comments “ill-conceived, unfortunate, and untrue.”
Continuing in his role as a toothless tiger, Mark White chimed in,
“When the General Assembly convenes again next January, any hope that Hillsdale will operate in Tennessee has been shattered.
Restating his position in a later interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press. he states,
“I will continue to work to find solutions to improve Tennessee’s public education system and protect our students, but Hillsdale, by Dr. Arnn’s comments, will not be a part of that solution.”
Sounds great. Probably looks great on a t-shirt or a fundraising flier, but the reality is that neither White nor the General Assembly can do much to slow the spread of Hillsdale Charter Schools. That’s a local decision, followed by, if rejected, a possibility of appeal to a separate charter school commission created by the General Assembly whose members are appointed by the Governor. This process was codified through legislation supported by White at the behest of Sexton.
This last session, several Republicans were concerned about the amount of power Lee welded in the education arena, so they brought forth legislation that changed who appoints the state board of education members. Despite heavy opposition from Lee and White, the bill passed and appointments are now evenly divided between the House, the Senate, and the governor’s office. Unfortunately, that is not the case for the state’s charter school commission.
The public posturing in the wake of this controversy has been loud and universal, with several school boards and institutes of higher learning issuing statements rebuking the Governor and Larry Arnn. Seems like everybody loves a teacher, well, until it comes time to pay them, or let them do their job.
Prior to the outrage, Hillsdale had 3 schools loosely affiliated, that had filed an application with local authorizers. Clarksville, Rutherford County, and Williamson County school boards considered their intent, and subsequently rejected their entry into their districts. A not uncommon occurrence given the current environment. All will likely appeal to the state charter school commission.
Now some will have you believe that by doing so they are up to something nefarious, They are not, they are mainly following the process as laid out by the state’s General Assembly. If you want to be mad at somebody, don’t be mad at Hillsdale, be mad at the elected officials who provided a pathway to bypass local control and force LEAs to bow to the will of the state. That’s where your ire should lie.
Now here lies an opportunity for Rep Mark White to put his money where his mouth is. I’m sure that Representative John Clemmons would be open to a proposal to co-sponsor a bipartisan bill repealing the creation of the state charter school commission. All White has to do is pick up the phone and call, and actually do something besides…talk. Don’t hold your breath.
In the wake of the Hillsdale fiasco, there has been a growing movement by the Democratic party to paint charter school proliferation as a symptom of Republican malfeasance. An interesting proposition, but not one that holds much water upon close inspection.
I can only speak for Nashville, but I’m pretty sure that KIPP Academy Nashville founder Randy Dowell is a liberal Democrat. I know Valor’s Todd Dickson is the walking embodiment of a liberal Democrat. The CEO and founder of RePublic Schools, Ravi Gupta, was instrumental in President Obama’s election. The reality is that there are a whole lot more Democrats enrolled in Nashville’s charter schools than there are Republicans. Why would you risk alienating a large base of potential voters based on a misconception?
When it comes to Hillsdale, I’m still waiting for some discussion around their partnership with the University of Tennessee to establish the Institute of American Civics. Here’s the irony, despite Mark White vowing that “Hillsdale, by Dr. Arnn’s comments, will not be a part of that solution”, by the General assembly approving the Governor’s budget, they very much will be. I’m pretty sure Mark knows that.
The current noise around Hillsdale reminds me of the NFL. All the distractions come in the early months of the season. In September and October, you hear about arrests, kneeling for the national anthem, and contract holdouts. But come money time, when things really count, in December and January, all distractions cease. I suspect that will be the case here.
If state Republican leaders thought for a second that any of this put Lee’s re-election in doubt, and thus the party’s grip on power in the state, the conversation would suddenly veer in a whole different direction. It’s fine to take shots at an unlikable but uncontested governor in the primary season, it’s a whole another thing to do it come money time.
What Republicans are likely not recognizing is that by November it will have dawned on parents across the state that Tennessee has a shortage of quality educators and the ruling class has done little to address that growing shortage. They’ll realize that the focus has been on apprentice programs and tutoring, while their kid’s favorite teachers have been allowed to exit the building.
I could go to the local Krogers and survey 100 people about Hillsdale College. I bet I couldn’t find 20 who know anything about the school or its effort to expand in Tennessee. Pretty sure I can find double that number, if not triple, who have experience with and understand what it means for their child to not have a quality teacher. That’s a controversy, I wouldn’t want any part of,
Nashville’s School board race is heading towards its conclusion. Next Thursday is election day. What should have been a fairly mundane process has suddenly taken on an air of the bizarre.
The race has clear divisions between the politically connected and the novices in all but one district. That should translate into less fundraising, and serve as a clear advantage for those with connections, But not so fast. per Mainstreet Nashville,
Executive committee members of the Davidson County Democratic Party voted Friday to spend $70,000 supporting Democrats in four contested school board races — nearly as much as has been spent by all candidates of all parties combined so far this cycle.
WTH? First off, why should the Democratic candidates need this kind of influx of cash? One is poised to be chairman of the board come the fall, another previously served with distinction, and another has already doubled the money available to her opponent. Now somehow, they need $70K in order to beat people who have never previously run for an elected office?
Lee Jones, chairman of the county Democratic Party executive committee, said the party has put together a strong voter turnout program “to protect our schools from extremists.” Going on to say,
“The only emergency is that a small group of extremists are running candidates for school board in Davidson County who want to ban books, control what teachers teach and single out LGBTQ children for shame and ridicule,” Jones said in a statement to Main Street Nashville.
Extremists?!? I suspect an inspection of at least two of the candidates, Amy Pate and Fran Bush, would show a history of voting…democrat. I’m pretty sure neither of them has ever supported or tried to ban books or single out LGBQT children. As for Bush, I sat in a work session for the MNPS School Board while she fought for the board to ask for a 10% raise, while Rachel Elrod argued for a 3% raise because the district needed to be good partners with Metro Council. Yet Elrod benefits from the party’s largesse and Bush is labeled an extremist.
My favorite was when an attempt was made to claim that Bush was among the candidates endorsed by Moms For Liberty. In case you missed Bush is Black. The charge against, and I’m not arguing its merit, is that MFL is rooted in racism. So this would be akin to the klan endorsing Jesse Jackson. If there was any fact to any of this, I’m pretty sure it is an endorsement that would be refuted by both sides.
To be fair, Rachel Elrod is facing a candidate who could be described as far right. But Todd Pembroke is an insurance salesman with no political experience and no political connections. Surely she should be able to dispense with his efforts with ease. Her record alone should suffice to roll back the threat, right?
Apparently, somebody knows something I don’t because Mrs. Elrod is treating Pembroke like a real threat. Coming out with negative campaign literature straight out of the box. The irony here is that she decries negative campaigning and attacks on individuals while her finance disclosures show a $5K investment with Harpeth Strategies, a marketing company owned and operated by CM Dave Rosenberg, and specializes in negative campaigning and personal attacks.
While we are on the subject of Rosenberg, we should point out that he spent the entire school year attacking the administrators of his children’s school. Amy Pate spends the year reminding people that we made a mistake closing school due to COVID as long as did. One is viewed as an extremist and a zealot the other is embraced as a political warrior and champion of public schools.
Back to the Elrod race real quick. One of the hardest parts of being a new candidate is fundraising. It’s hard and without the established connections of the politically savvy, few are successful at it. I think I raised a total of $12K in my run. Well thanks in part to the efforts of Elrod to paint Pembroke as an extremist, over the last three weeks, he’s raised $10K. Now granted, $7K of that comes from a personal loan, but why do I suspect that he’ll eventually find assistance with that loan?
Over in District 8, the aforementioned Pate is competing against Erin O’Hare Block, who previously worked for the TNDOE and Peabody University, as well as being affiliated with EducationTrust. Yes, the same EdTrust led by current board member Gini Pupo-Walker.
At yesterday’s hearing, I actually had a respected friend recognize and decry the cronyism that runs rampant through public education circles in the state. They then encouraged me to vote for Block because public education is under attack. What?!? Who does she think Block is? Why do you think she has donations from 24 different sites?
Compounding all of this is the fact that the Democratic party is investing $70 in a race for a board that is doing everything in its power to make itself irrelevant. They are seldom informed of initiatives by the director and her staff in advance, rarely consulted in policy discussions, and have yet to do a meaningful evaluation of the one employee they are responsible for – Dr. Battle. On Monday they passed a resolution supporting teachers and denouncing Hillsdale College that came a month after the fact and was ignored by virtually everyone. The resolution from Sullivan County received more coverage than that of MNPS.
All of this is surreal to me and fails to adequately address the real needs of our schools.
Yesterday I spent the morning at the public hearing for the rules governing the state’s new school funding formula. I got to admit I was a little surprised at the turnout for the proceeding. Typically these affairs turnout about 8 people, yesterday brought several hundred, including several locally elected officials. Noticeably absent from the event was state education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. This is notable because she has spent a portion of the summer up in the nation’s capitol touting the value of TISA. The rule-making hearings are where that value gets established. Unless of course, she is realizing something that most of us are slowly grasping, these hearings don’t mean a thing and serve only as political theater.
Congratulations to Robin McClellan, Assistant Commissioner of Academics and Instructional Strategy for the TNDOE, on her new job with Amplify, producers of CKLA. Yea…I know.
Quick note, some on social media have called for me to apologize to Mrs. Elrod for things that occurred during our race for school board. A race Mrs. Elrod won handily. I’m going to leave you with the words of Economic Warfare: Secrets of Wealth Creation in the Age of Welfare Politics, “Never explain yourself. Your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe it.”
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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