APPEARANCES CAN BE DECEIVING

“Do you tell other people when you realize they were right?”
Julia Galef, The Scout Mindset: The Perils of Defensive Thinking and How to Be Right More Often

 

Some of you may be familiar with Tammany hall and the brand of politics it practiced. For those of you who aren’t, it was a corrupt form of politics successfully practiced in New York City in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In a nutshell, the city was divided into wards, and city leaders would use ward captains to capture votes by granting favors to various citizens, with special attention being attention on those who were perceived to have influence in the immigrant community. A dose of intimidation was thrown in when needed, in case some minds couldn’t be changed through kinder channels. Bit of an oversimplification, but you get the picture.

If a neighbor needed some food, they’d bring it to the house. Another potential voter might need a horse shod, a Tammany Hall member just happened to know a guy who knew a guy. The grateful recipient would then feel obligated to return the favor by casting a vote aligned with the organization’s desires.

In the mid-1800s members secured several seats on the city council, and the profits began to roll in,

The new council was made up of two sets of 20 members, a twenty-member Board of Aldermen and a twenty-member Board of Assistant Aldermen. This new council would be known as the Forty Thieves. Each Alderman had the power to appoint police (including precinct officers) and license saloons within his district. Together, the Aldermen possessed the power to grant franchises for streetcar lines and ferries. Each Alderman also sat as judge in criminal courts, determining who sat for juries and choosing which cases came to trial. On paper, these aldermen received no pay. A number of real estate deals followed with suspicious transaction amounts, including a purchase of a pauper’s burial ground on Ward’s Island and the sale of city property occupying Gansevoort Market near the western end of 14th Street to Reuben Lovejoy, an associate of James B. Taylor, a friend of many of the Aldermen. Other deals included expensive fireworks displays and bribes for ferry and railroad operations (Jacob Sharp for the Wall Street Ferry and various applicants for the Third Avenue railroad). Aldermen would also resort to creating strike legislation to obtain quick cash: a spurious bill would be introduced that would obviously financially harm someone, who would then complain to legislators. These legislators would then kill the bill in committee for a fee. As the press became aware of the Forty Thieves tactics, a reform movement instigated for a change in the city charter in June 1853 so that city work and supply contracts were awarded to the lowest bidder, franchises were awarded to the highest bidder, and bribery was punished harshly.

Feels a little familiar, ay?

I raise the subject because I think we are seeing a modern-day version of Tammany Hall politics right here in Tennesse and Hillsdale College is just a piece of that.

These days everything is viewed through the lens of ideology. Despite most of us falling somewhere in the middle, a constant battle is being waged between the far left and the far right. Every action is viewed by opponents as being viewed as a means to further the interests of either/or.

Since Governor Le is a white Christian male from the south, the assumption is that he’s a right-wing extremist – because aren’t all white Christian males from the south right-wing extremists? But I don’t believe that for one minute.

Throughout his tenure, in the Governor’s office, Lee has often failed to demonstrate any fidelity to traditional conservative values. Look at his Commissioner of Education who hails from a solidly blue state, California, and got her start in politics interning for Diane Feinstein. Kevin Johnson, the Democratic mayor of Sacramento served as her mentor and backed her run for school board. I’d argue every hire at the DOE has been part of a jobs program for Democrats with candidates coming from Maryland, California, and Illinois.

When it comes to Lee’s policies, the potential for growing government and the risk of higher taxes is embraced, while he eschews local control and smaller government. Sure he’s done a few things that align with the Republicans like expanding carry permit laws and his response to COVID was definitely aligned with other red states, but were those his own initiatives or simply a reflection of Tennesseans and forced on him by a Republican-dominated state General Assembly?

I would strongly argue that Lee is loyal to neither the Republicans nor the Democrats, but instead embraces any policy that serves his personal ambition. Schwinnmirrors his aspirations and thus makes a perfect foil.

Passage of the CRT law offers a clue on how deep his party loyalty runs, In Texas and Florida, where governors fueled by ideology lead, CRT laws similar to Tennessee’s were passed and both leaders are using them to full capacity. While here, the law was passed, granting Lee admission to the club, but has laid dormant since enactment. Not a single case has been brought forth, nor has a single warning even been issued. I’d argue that’s because neither Lee, nor his Secretary of Education Penny Schwinn, have any real interest in doing so,

The strongest words uttered by Schwinn came shortly after the law was passed,

“Recent legislation tasked TDOE with building a framework to prevent propaganda like critical race theory from being taught in Tennessee classrooms. The department is in the process of building this framework,” Schwinn said in the June 30 letter. “We acknowledge the challenges that exist in balancing the state’s current process for curricula approval but are committed to enforcing the CRT law as the legislature designed it.”

Not exactly the fire and brimstone brought forth by Florida’s DeSantis or Texas’s Gregg Abbott.  Lee just checks a box and moves on.

Talk to anybody about Lee, on either side of the aisle, and the most common descriptor attached to him is that he’s not…how do I say this politely…the sharpest tool in the shed. Nobody describes him as being intellectually curious, or a deep thinker. But they will describe him as ambitious.

It’s not a secret among the political class that he aspires to be president – yes I’m talking of the United States and not the local chamber of commerce – or at the very least a vice-presidential candidate on a Trump or DeSantis ticket. In my mind, he’s more likely to grow wings out of his butt and fly to the sun, but by all accounts, he is convinced that he’s a viable player. His actions while in office, speak to that strong belief, as most are geared toward gathering political favors.

Potential political allies are granted lucrative contracts and granted access to the governor’s mansion. Organizations like Chief’s For Change, the Jeb Bush-founded educational non-profit, operate freely in Tennessee, providing services to the TNDOE sans a contract, or even a scope of work. While Bush is no longer involved, you can be certain that the Chiefs still have plenty of national clout, and perhaps Lee hopes to leverage his current relationship with them into support for future endeavors.

If you look at the Hillsdale blow-up through a self-interest lens as opposed to an ideological one, it begins to make a whole lot more sense. Remember how Arnn introduced Lee?

It wouldn’t surprise me if Lee didn’t know Hillsdale College from the Hillside strangler, only that they were conservative, favored Trump, and had access to a robust donor and voter base. When they said 50 charter schools, he said 100, because wouldn’t 100 only make them better friends?

There is little chance that either number will come to fruition by the end of Lee’s term, something he himself has acknowledged. The logistics that it would take to turn these dreams into reality are just a little more than either Arnn or Lee is capable of pulling off. As pointed out in a report by the AP’s Kimberly Krussi,

Starting in 2010, Hillsdale began setting up charter schools — publicly funded but privately run — across the country. Hillsdale says it does not operate or manage schools, but instead offers two types of support by licensing their curriculum for free and providing training and other resources to so-called member schools. The program had more than 20 member schools by the end of 2021 and more than 30 schools using its curriculum, with major presences in Florida, Colorado and Michigan.

That’s 20 in a decade. But dreams are often the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and perhaps his new friend could whisper in the ear of their old friend Mr. Trump.

This would explain why lee has been slow to discredit Arnn’s comment or disassociate himself from Hillsdale. To do so would ensure that nobody would be whispering in anybody’s ear and that access to donors and voters would evaporate. Not getting 50 charter schools wouldn’t be a loss to Lee, failing to grasp his self-perceived destiny would be a tragedy in his eyes.

Sometimes, it’s not the green shirts vs the brown shirts. Sometimes it’s just plain old self-interest and greed.

The irony in the words used by Arnn to defend his criticism should not go united, “Dumb can mean ‘unintelligent,’ which I did not mean. Dumb also means ‘ill-conceived’ or ‘misdirected,’ which is, sadly, a fitting description for many education schools today,”

Or a fitting description for many of today’s politicians, particularly one in Tennesse.

VOUCHER BLUES

Plenty of news this week on the voucher front in Tennessee. The week opened with Justin Owen from the Beacon Center penning an op-ed about Tennessee’s new school funding plan, TISA. Owen, for those who don’t know, was appointed by Gov. Bill Lee to lead the Fiscal Responsibility Subcommittee to study and offer recommendations for a new state education funding model. In his piece, he writes the following,

One of the last benefits of funding students over systems is that it can give parents more choice and children greater opportunities. Now that we know how much each child receives, that funding will more quickly follow that child when he or she switches schools. The time frame for funding to follow the child currently takes many months; this will be reduced to just a couple of weeks.

This is exciting for advocates of parental choice in education. If the funding can more quickly and easily follow children to another public school, it should also be able to follow them to any other school of their parent’s choice, whether that be a charter school, a private school, or a virtual school. Thus, a student-centered funding model not only gives parents greater transparency and accountability, but it can truly empower them with more choice.

Hmmm…I thought all those non-profits, like SCORE and EdTrust, assured us that passage of TISA had nothing to do with vouchers. Seeing as Owen not only sat on one of the committees but chaired it, this shouldn’t be the first time this intent has been revealed, but apparently, nobody believed him until after passage. Imagine that.

The week closed with an announcement from the TNDOE that they have approved 46 voucher applications, with 34 going to Nashville families. To date, the department has received 517 applications. None have been ruled ineligible, and they are continuing to accept, review, and process applications.

Reportedly, three department staff members are working to implement the program, and the department is seeking to fill 6 to 8 more positions. In case you are wondering, how the DOE is going to pull this off with the skeleton crew that works over there, remember they just have to get it up and running. Next year there will be an independent contractor overseeing the process. One that I’m sure will be able to provide plenty of political benefits in return for a hefty payday.  There is no indication of what role the current employees will play in the future.

Equally interesting to how many students applied for consideration is the list of schools that applied, Per Mainstreet Nashville,

Eight private schools in Davidson County have been approved by the state to host participating students, according to the department, all of which are religious: Christ the King School, Goodpasture Christian School, King’s Academy Nashville, Lighthouse Christian School, Saint Ann School, St. Clement Christian Academy, St. Henry School, and St. Pius X Classical Academy.

Like it or not, the landscape is changing, and both MNPS and SCS are going to have to figure out how to navigate the new reality.

TVAAS BLUES

As Tennessee districts continue to trumpet their TVAAS results, I would offer a word of caution and a reminder that results should be viewed with a jaundiced eye. A key component of a standardized test is the limiting of variables, something the pandemic made virtually impossible due to the introduction of multiple variables – participation rates, the extent of remote learning, changes in demographics, etc. By all means, congratulate students and teachers but do so with caveats. Remember last year when Hamilton County Schools was a 5, and they crowed?

Chiefs for Change applied the accolades in then Superintendent, and member, Bryan Johnson’s bio,

During his tenure, the district saw historic levels of improvement. It jumped from 130th to second in the state for student academic growth, making Hamilton County Schools the fastest-improving district in Tennessee. The district also reached the state’s highest level for student academic growth in all areas for two consecutive years, the second of which was during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year they are a 1, and the comments are a little different,

According to Shannon Moody, chief strategy officer at HCS, the efficiency and growth measurement can be viewed like a walking track. “In this analogy, proficiency scores measure how many students crossed the ‘finish line’, which marks proficiency in the year-end exam,” Ms Moody said. “Development, or TVaaS, doesn’t measure only how many students crossed the finish line, but how m

any students kept pace with their peers in other districts. Higher development scores mean that the student group, as a whole, has more grows faster than peers, or advances in the state distribution. A low development score means the student group did not advance as fast as their peers, or moves back into the state distribution. Reaching proficiency The number of students with disabilities may increase while the group slows relative to the pace of their peers.”

That’s not to disparage Hamilton County. The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle and neither score is truly indicative of the district. Something that MNPS and SCS probably ought to keep in mind this year.

QUICK HITS

In the “I told you so department”, this week state senator Mike Bell announced that he will step down from his district 9 Senate on Aug. 31 to take a job as Senior Advisor for Legislative Affairs and Policy at TWRA on Sept. 1. This has become common practice under Governor Lee, as Bell follows former state Representatives John DeBerry and Bill Dunn into lucrative state government gigs after a year of carrying the governor’s water. With Bell, it’s particularly galling though, because he’d been a leading critic of Commissioner Schwinn until last year when rumors around this move began to swirl and he suddenly began fan-girding her. Those old Tammany Hall politics continue to rear their head.

Does anybody else find it strange that in the middle of an election year, with Lee up for reelection, his Commissioner of Education is out touting his education successes nationally but is uttering barely a whisper locally? Just saying.

I wonder if at the next MNPSschool board meeting any members will bring up the supposed job opening numbers, and ask questions about how many of those new hires don’t have emails or Schoology access. Maybe they could ask, how many new hires are we still waiting for their fingerprints? Also what percentage of them received their paychecks on time? Getting paid on Monday when Friday is payday is not the same thing. It’s all a numbers game, right? Luckily MNEA is on the case.

Interestingly, Tennessee’s Superintendents are now interested in the state’s 3rd-grade retention law. While it’s been on the books for a decade, the recently passed Literacy bill put some teeth in it. At the time opposition was minimal. This week it was brought up in Maryville, and you got to love Superintendent Mike Winstead’s approach, “We don’t want any parent to get to springtime and be caught off guard or blindsided by this law that goes into effect this year,” Director Mike Winstead told the Maryville Board of Education Aug. 8. Wow…that never happens in MNPS where blindsiding the sport detour.

Per the law, students who score at the “below expectations” or “approaching expectations” performance levels on the TCAP exam must be retained or complete a summer remediation program. Statewide, that could mean two-thirds of third graders. That means potentially significant investment for the state’s LEAs. I wonder if that increased cost was factored in when the TNDOE was putting out figures that showed tax increases in the near future wouldn’t be necessary. But of course, they were.

f 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.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support and a reminder that I will be out here heavily shaking the can all month. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

Fees associated with the blog are due the first week in September and any help with those is always appreciated. An old rival used to accuse me of begging on the internet, an accusation with a ring of truth. But we all do what we can.

If you are interested, I’m sharing posts via email through Substack. This has proven to be an effective way to increase coverage. I am offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

If you wish to join the rank of donors but are not interested in Substack, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated. Not begging, just saying.

Ok, I’m kinda begging.

 



Categories: Education

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