So long as one’s just dreaming about what to do, one can soar like an eagle and move mountains, it seems, but as soon as one starts doing it one gets worn out and tired.”
Ivan Turgenev


Earlier in the week, I was driving to a crosstown ballet class, or maybe it was a sports practice or perhaps a martial arts class – hard to keep track these days – I was listening, as I often do, to sports talk radio, They were discussing successful coaches at the college and pro level and how they approach their jobs. It was mildly interesting but served primarily as a distraction to the ever-maddening traffic.  As such, I was only half listening.

One of the guests – for the life of me I have no idea who – started talking about his brother-in-law, a successful division 1 coach who had been coaching for several decades. He told how that when he observed him out and about, people whom he’d just met would often inquire about what business he was in. His answer was always the same. “I’m in the people business.”

I immediately let loose with a. “Good lord”. and switched the dial. I hate that kinda slogan slinging. Yes, it’s probably a bit of a character flaw.

But for some reason, the phrase stuck with me. As the evening progressed, I found myself dissecting it in my head, turning it over, and trying to find the flaw. There isn’t one. In fact, it’s probably the one thing we are all missing, caught up instead, in all the supposed “work” we have to do.

Education policy over the past several decades has increasingly become rooted in programs and technology. High-quality instructional materials, software platforms, tutors, and other snazzy memes have taken over, while the one true core element has been shuffled to the background – relationships.

All of the HQIMs in the world is not going to cover the lack of an authentic relationship. You can fool yourself all day long, standing at podiums in DC touting your inventiveness and commitment, but in the end, without relationships, it’s all going to fall flat.

The inverse is that a teacher who has built an authentic relationship with a student could take the Boy Scout Handbook and use it to teach that student to read.

Some may think that I’m just referencing student/teacher relationships, but it’s more than that, It’s relationships between all invested parties – administrators, parents, teachers, students, the community, and even legislators. The greater the strength of those relationships, the greater the likelihood of success.

Previous MNPS director of schools Shawn Joseph held a retreat for central office folks to plan for the coming year. There was a lot of discussion of grandiose ideas and accomplishments that they would collectively achieve. Finally one brave educator, in a move that probably sealed his fate with the district, stood and voiced the previously unacknowledged elephant in the room – nobody trusted anybody else.

That lack of trust wafted throughout the district and infected every stakeholder. Six years later little has been done to dispel that distrust and one just needs to pick up the local alt-weekly to see evidence of the ramifications.

Oh, we’ve got 14 signature initiatives at MNPS, but none of them address the importance of relationships in order to bring them to fruition. All of them are rooted in programs or doing something to people instead of with them.

MNPS isn’t alone in this fallacy. Every new superintendent begins their tenure with a promise of creating a 5-year strategic plan. Let’s forget that most are going to last less than 3 years, and ask how any plan will come to fruition without a lack of stakeholder buy-in. I long to hear a new leader vow to forge relationships and create trust were non-existed, and then follow up on it.

Last week I asked an administrator why I hadn’t received a follow-up call from a principal regarding my child.

“Well I’m sure she meant to”, he replied, “But that afternoon she had three meetings and was unable to do so.”

Fine and good, and I respect that, but school ain’t in the business of meetings or PowerPoints, and you don’t get accolades for the number of either that you create. We are in the business of people, and that doesn’t just mean the young ones, the sooner we remember that, the better we’ll all be.


Over the last couple of years, the subject of allowing students to retake a test if they don’t score well initially has become more prevalent. Some folks, absolutely hate the idea. Those that fall into that camp tend to begin conversations with, “back in my day…” The argument is that since kids know they’ll get another opportunity, they don’t take the initial exam as seriously as they should, and hence they don’t burn the middle night oil to the level of our expectation in preparation for the sacred event,

That’s not my take. I’m a huge proponent of retakes, partially because I’m all about mastery as opposed to measuring a child’s ability to take a test. I’m all about taking a test, finding out where you are weak, addressing that weakness, and moving forward, In my eyes, having every kid score a 100 after 3 retakes is preferable to administrating a test where half fail and are burdened with that score for the rest of the semester. To me, one feels punitive while the other works toward continuous improvement.

Today’s reality is that as an adult, there is not a single exam that I am required to take where I am not afforded the opportunity for a retake. Most of my professional licensing tests are pass/fail, there is no extra incentive if I receive a 95 vs an 85, as long as I secure 80%. I realize that for colleges and universities, it’s harder to sort kids if you don’t have individualized grades, but who’s that really serving?

MNPS. as a district sees the value of a retake, but apparently not to the level of devising a uniform district policy. In this case, each school is given the freedom, or autonomy, to create its own policy. Thus it should be no surprise to anyone, that school policy varies widely from school to school.

Some schools make it a policy that everyone can retake an assessment. Some schools require remediation before a retake. Some schools require retakes to be taken at the end of the semester. Some make a cut-off of 75%, and some 85%. Some require that the score on the retake be averaged with the previous score, while others take the higher of the two. This unsurprisingly leads to a great deal of confusion.

This should be something of interest to the District’s Executive director of equity and diversity Ashford Hughes because I would argue that the lack of a uniform policy works to undermine equity. Especially in light of the district’s high mobility rate. As kids apply to magnet schools and advanced education opportunities their grades come into play, how can you compare grades between schools if there is no uniformity in how they are calculated?

We recognize that it’s nearly impossible to qualify grades in separate districts, but shouldn’t we be able to do so inner district? Especially in a district that puts so much focus on “equity”.

Once again, and let me say it loudly so the ones in the back can hear, you can’t have data-driven conversations if the data isn’t valid. Just comparing a bunch of numbers does not suffice to meet the standard of being driven by data. The lack of a uniform policy only serves to invalidate the data.


Recently Tennessee’s commissioner of education Penny Schwinn announced that the department of education, despite the legal requirement, would not be releasing letter grades for schools. This is an interesting development that raises numerous questions. Some of which we’ve already explored, but some need further explanation.

First some clarity, the department is going to release A and F grades, just no B, C, or D scores. If she didn’t release the F scores the state would not be in compliance with federal law. Hard to get a gig with the USDOE, when your previous employer is not in compliance with federal law.

One unanswered question remains, on whose authority is she suspending the law? I’ve seen it argued that the commissioner has the power to suspend any law she chooses, though I can’t seem to find that codified anywhere. But let’s assume it’s true. If she has the power to suspend state law then she has the ability to suspend laws relating to recently CRT and library books, right?

Instead, she expands the latter to include indivudle classroom libraries, and pretends like the other doesn’t exist.

In a recent ChalkbeatTN piece, author Marta Aldridge makes some salient points,

Removing reading materials to comply with a state law would be an ironic twist for a state that has been trying for years to help its children become better readers.

Only one-third of Tennessee fourth-graders earned a proficient reading score in 2019 on the most recent national tests conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also called the Nation’s Report Card.

In Memphis, home to the state’s largest district, nearly 80% of students aren’t reading at grade level.

The same legislature that passed the governor’s library proposal, dubbed the “Age Appropriate Materials Act,” approved a raft of measures the prior year aimed at improving students’ literacy skills.

It would certainly be helpful if Schwinn would wave her magic wand and suspend the law here, right?

We’ll be visiting this more next week, but TNDOE has announced today that they will not be taking over any schools next year. In doing so Commissioner Schwinn offered some further clarification on the A-F grades and why she made the move to suspend. According to The Tennessean,

The school letter grades legislation passed in 2016 and was set to take effect for the 2017-18 school year, but has since been delayed. While the department can receive a federal waiver for the letter grade pause, the legislation requires the grades be assigned annually, department officials said.

Some lawmakers, as well as superintendents, were part of the department’s decision to halt the grades, the department said Friday.

And while lawmakers lowered testing participation rate requirements to 80% for the 2020-21 school year, the impact of the lowered rate of participation on the state’s letter grade system could not have been known at the time, department officials said Friday.

Officials said they saw significant discrepancies across the state both between and within school districts last week when grade calculations began.

Department officials said the pause on letter grades did not have to do with traditionally low-performing schools receiving higher letter grades relative to their traditionally high-performing counterparts. Officials again pointed to the impact of the participation rates on the school grading system.

OK…that’s going to take a minute to unpack. I’d love to know who the legislators and superintendents were. Let’s name some names.

Also if you believe that part about traditionally lower achieving districts receiving higher marks, you also probably still suffer from the illusion that TISA wasn’t crafted to facilitate vouchers.

Schwinn also contends the following,

When Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn announced a pause on school grades, she said the decision was due to the number of students taking the tests, or participation rates, rather than a decision based on the validity of testing data.

Administration of state testing, known as the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP, was “strong,” the data quality “good” and “the accountability system was run accurately,” she wrote in a memo this week.

So is there a required number of students in order for grades to be released? And how does that not corrupt the data?

She sure seems to be tying herself up in knots. Maybe that’s why she’s posting old pictures on social media and trying to pass them off as having been recently taken.

I get it. It’s probably kind of lonely at the office these days, and nowhere near as fun as it was in the beginning. Today’s probably a good day for an extra holiday.

For the record, Lincoln High School plays Nolensville tonight, while Fayetteville plays Wayne County.


Though it garnered very little when it was proposed, education advocates are waking up to the pending Tsunami heading towards districts as enforcement of the third-grade retention is slated to begin this year. Andy Spears points out in the TNEd Report,

Nearly 70% of all Tennessee third-grade students score at that level on TNReady in any given year. In other words, even if a majority of them complete the summer program and participate in tutoring, a significant portion of third-grade students will be forced to repeat third-grade in 2023.

That’s going to require additional teachers and additional spaces, which equals additional funding. Mainstreet Nashville provides a breakdown of third-grade readers hat met or exceeded expectations on ELA tests last spring by Middle Tennessee school districts:

  • Metro Nashville Public Schools – 27.4%
  • Murfreesboro City Schools – 40.6%
  • Rutherford County Schools – 39.3%
  • Williamson County Schools – 66.1%
  • Franklin Special School District – 55.9%
  • Wilson County Schools – 47.9%
  • Lebanon City Schools – 36.6%
  • Sumner County Schools – 44.8%
  • Robertson County Schools – 27%
  • Montgomery County Schools – 40%
  • Dickson County Schools – 36.9%
  • Maury County Schools – 32.9%

This one should be easy for the commissioner to suspend, being as it’s been on the books for over a decade without ever being enforced. We could resort back to previous practice.

If the commissioner truly has the ability to suspend the law, just think of the good that the lady from California could do. Her old friends in Democrats for Education Reform might not be happy, but, hey, you can’t please everyone.


Just in case you haven’t received the official announcement from the TNDOE, today is Rachael Maves’s last day at the department. She’ll be handing her duties as assistant superintendent of accountability over to the ubiquitous Eve Carney. At this point, I don’t know why Eve and Lisa Coons don’t just divide up the state between them and take responsibility for everything since that’s where it’s trending anyway. You’ll probably be shocked to find out that Maves is telling folks that she’ll be taking up employment with an education non-profit. Yea…the more things change the more they stay the same.

Nashville’s Metro Council’s committee leadership positions have been announced. The Education Committee will be chaired by Zulfat Suara. A committee that may arguably be overshadowed by Metro’s elected Board of Education, which directly oversees Metro Nashville Public Schools, its worth noting that she has served as a mentor to recently re-elected board member, Berthena Nabaa-McKinney. We’ll see how that plays out.

Remember pre-primary when the Hillsdale Charter School scandal broke and House Education Chair Mark White was doing his best Buford Psuuser impersonation while loudly proclaiming that there is no place in Tennessee for Hillsdale Schools? Word on the street is that his song has changed considerably. This week he was reportedly trying to gather signatures for a statement of support for the Tennessee Charter School Commission. Getting those signatures was a bit more difficult then he imagined. We shall see.

That’s enough for now. Enjoy your holiday and we’ll see you Tuesdays. Be safe.

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

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