“Can I trust you, Addy?” he asks. I say he can. Does anyone ever answer that question with a no?”
Megan Abbott, Dare Me


Education policy and administration in America are a walking contradiction. Maybe its the same in the rest of the world, but I don’t live in Germany, New Zealand, or Brazil, so all I can comment on is what happens in the good old US of A.

In this country, figuring out who’s responsible for what, and who actually benefits, is like undoing one of those knots kids get in their shoes when they are first learning to tie their shoes.

Anybody you talk to, be it Republican or Democrat, will espouse a belief that education policy decisions are best left to the locals. They’ll say it emphatically, and in some cases, they may even believe it. The problem, whether we acknowledge it or not,  is that we don’t trust the locals, so we feel the need to create separate entities at the state level in order to ensure the locals are behaving.

In Tennessee, we felt the need to create 3 oversight boards to ride herd on the locals – the Tennessee Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and the newly created charter commission. Unfortunately, that’s not enough because we don’t trust states either. Hence the creation of the US Department of Education.

Now one might consider the aforementioned as being capable of supplying ample guidance for educating the nation’s children, but apparently not. because crowding into the field is a number of non-profits that operate at every level, exerting an unknown amount of control in an effort to get schools to adopt their strategies.

There is an old adage if you want to know what’s truly transpiring, follow the money, In that light, take a look at the salaries of those who serve as CEOs for some of the most prolific non-profits operating in Tennessee.

As CEO of Chiefs for Change, in 2020 Michael McGee made just shy of $300K. The last three Tennessee Commissioners of Education all came from Chiefs for Change, and the organization has a handshake deal with the TNDOE to supply support services where they deem necessary.

For example, they are the ones who hired a third-party PR firm to create the website promoting TISA the proposed changes to the state’s school funding formula that were recently enacted. If you are one of the folks who entered your contact information, thinking this was a state government-controlled website, rest assured that data is now part of a privately owned database. One that has a very vague privacy agreement.

Education Trust, which is locally led by former MNPS school board member Gini Pupo-Walker, paid its CEO, John King,  half a million plus in 2021, despite him taking the year off to run for governor of Maryland.

The Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education(SCORE), in 2020, paid its CEO, David Mansouri, $305K in annual salary. They also doled out salaries of over $200K to two other employees, not to mention kicking another 200K to former CEO Jamie Woodson. The same Woodson who sits on the state’s charter school commission along with fellow SCORE board member Alan Levine.

Does your head hurt yet? We could play this game all day long, but in the interest of public sanity, we’ll move on.

The point here is that despite the general recognition that education policy decisions are best left to the locals, we do everything we can to ensure that they can’t effectively do their job, and are subject to the machinations of non-residents.

The local school board may be far from perfect, but at least a local parent is afforded an opportunity to give their representatives an earful at the local Walmart. When was the last time David Mansour listened to the complaints of a parent of a third-grade student in Humpries county? Or Hickman? Hell, even Maryville where the locals make on average almost as much as he does?

What we’ve created here, is a multi-tiered system that allows those reaping the most benefits to be subject to the least amount of accountability.

Complain about a local decision and fingers of blame will promptly be directed at the state.

Complain to the state and they’ll lament the amount of regulation they are subjected to by the federal government.

Complain to the feds and they’ll say they are only trying to make up for what the locals won’t do.

Lurking behind all of this are the non-profits, and other private entities, throwing around millions, both in political contributions and subsidies, in an effort to influence policies and practices. Did you know SCORE funds a position at the TNDOE? Now you do.

One of the benefits of working in the education sphere is the constant turning over of customers. Those third-graders who were around in 2013 when SCORE was touting their grand ideas that never bore fruit have moved on, and it’s been at least a decade since their parents even thought about the effectiveness of retention or literacy policies. They’ve been replaced by a whole new batch of parents trying to figure out what it all means and if policy aligns with their desires. They too will soon be replaced.

We shouldn’t be surprised that those charged with overseeing and influencing policy are rarely held accountable, it’s an ever-shifting mark and a process devoid of a lever in which to apply accountability, Name me the ANOs for either Penny Schwinn or Gini Pupo-Walker? Despite working in a public field they are only accountable to private interests.

In the NFL, coaches and general managers are fired with some regularity, and it’s widely recognized that a player’s success hinges on more than just their individual talent. When was the last time you heard of a state superintendent being fired because they were incompetent?

When was the last time a state board of education member had their term cut short due to their ineffectiveness?

When was the last time a CEO of a non-profit lost their gig for promoting crappy policy?

I bet though, you can easily name a teacher or principal, in some cases even a district leader, who lost their job based on a failure to produce meaningful outcomes. Why the discrepancy?

All of this turmoil, and lack of clear accountability, has only acerbated the fracturing of public education. There is nary a parent in the whole country that will blindly send their child to a school where they don’t feel their input is welcome and their child is being well served. You can blame an increased dissatisfaction on charter schools, racism, ignorance, or greed, and while some of that plays into the equation, I’d argue that the primary culprit is the increased disenfranchising of parents brought facilitated by a system where policymakers and educators are disparate.

I think about my own parents. They spent about 8 seconds thinking about education policy throughout my public school career. The only time they thought about school was when we relocated, which we did often due to my father being career military, and had to figure out for which school I was zoned.

This wasn’t because they didn’t care, the importance of education was a prime tenet of our upbringing. It was that they trusted the public school system. They believed that whatever school I went would serve me well. Whether that was naive on their part, or whether we’ve squandered that trust by taking it for granted, it’s something that no longer exists. To our detriment.

Instead, we’ve seen a rise in practices that effectively communicate a lack of trust by stakeholders. Do you know how many schools we toured prior to enrollment during my K-12 years?

None, because we didn’t feel a need to. These days, almost everybody tours the local elementary school prior to enrollment to ensure that it’s a good fit for little Johnny or Susie. It serves to reassure us that we are making the right commitment. In essence, we are hedging our bets. It is sometimes warranted but often not.

It’s essential that the concept of rebuilding trust is embraced, or else public school defenders risk emulating Japanese soldiers stranded on islands still fighting World War II long after the war was lost. You can’t shame or scare people into embracing the public school system, but you can instill trust that the belief that the system is there to serve everybody.

If we continue to cloud the waters in a manner that only allows those doing the actual work – teachers, principals, superintendents – to be held accountable, that trust will never return and the system will continue to fracture.

Look at any school in Nashville that succeeds, be it J.T. Moore, Valor Academy, or Battleground Academy. They do so because parents feel valued and welcomed, and in return, they trust the school’s leaders and teachers.

It ain’t easy, but the concept ain’t difficult.


A couple weeks ago, I mentioned how MNPS was changing its annual school choice festival into a newly branded celebration of schools. The new festival is to be held at Titan’s stadium on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Included in the celebration is a parade of schools. Participation in the day’s events is considered mandatory, despite there being no budget committed to paying people who give up the majority of their pre-holiday Saturday in order to do so.

I’m assuming that the purpose of the festival, and its parade, is to show the public how wonderful the city’s schools are and hopefully stem the declining enrollment numbers. Here’s the irony, while the parade is unlikely to persuade any parent to alter their decision to pursue an alternative pathway, it does work to siphon off the time and energy of teachers and principals who could be making a better investment in something that could alter parental decision – increasing safety and student outcomes. You know, the duties they are actually charged with.

Instead, time and effort will be invested in an event taking place at a time when most of the public is distracted by the approaching holidays. But by all means, let’s see if we can’t burn out school staff at an increasing rate with a minimal return by dumping even more work on them.


At the last MNPS school board meeting, Dr. Battle and her team addressed the district’s high rate of chronic absenteeism – defined as a student missing more than 10% of the school year, roughly 18 days. Per THE TENNESSEAN,

In January 2020, 16% of MNPS students were considered chronically absent. But with the onset of the pandemic, that number inched upward. By October 2021, 33% of MNPS students were identified as chronically absent — a record high for the district.

At the end of the 2021-22 school year, the number was a little over 30%. The number is concerning when you do the math and realize that we are talking about 20K kids. That’s a lot of kids.

Battle in her presentation to the board when as far as to say, if it weren’t for these challenges with attendance, the state would have designated MNPS an “exemplary” district instead of “advancing” earlier this year. Nice spin, but a bit of a stretch.

The accountability formula consists of 6 weights, absenteeism is the only one that MNPS didn’t show improvement. That said, greater growth in any one of the other areas, graduation rates, career readiness, AMOs, ELL student growth, or achievement, would have produced a similar, though arguably a more meaningful, result.

Absenteeism is important, but I’m not sure how much weight it should hold in an accountability formula as it consistently has a negative impact on schools that serve impoverished students. If a younger family member gets sick, who’s staying home with them? I guarantee it’s not the family member earning an income. That’s just one example of which there are many.

With COVID still occurring, and uncertainty around transmission rates, I’d be hesitant to encourage anyone to not err on the side of caution. Should a person come to school with symptoms and risk contributing to the absentee rate by infecting a large number of students?

I do find it interesting that the district recognizes the need for timelines, yet buses continue to run chronically late,

“Attendance has a direct correlation to academic growth and achievement for students,” MNPS director of attendance services Carol Lampkin said. “Being on time to school as well as staying throughout the day is essential to students not missing any instructional time.”

One former district middle school math teacher did an informal study last year using MAP scores. What they found was that of those whose buses regularly ran late, all but a handful failed to hit their targeted growth rate. Conversely, all of those who’s buses were regularly on time hit their target growth rate.

Draw your own conclusions.


October means that the release of NAEP scores is just around the corner. I could tell you all the reasons why you should take these results with a grain of salt – be they bad or good – but Peter Greene does a much better job of it and rightfully points out,

NAEP is extraordinarily clear that folks should not try to suggest a causal relationship between scores and anything else. Everyone ignores that advice, but NAEP clearly acknowledges that there are too many factors at play here to focus on any single one.

I suspect that once results are released, Memphis’s State Representative Mark White, who was recently named to NAEP’s board, will have a lot to say. Can’t wait to hear it.

Everybody’s favorite whipping boys, the state charter school commission wrapped up its recent slate of appeals this week by denying the appeals of 2 Memphis applicants. The commission was scheduled to hear 13 appeals, the verdicts were 6 denials, 4 approvals, while three dropped out. It was the Hillsdale affiliates who withdrew. So riddle me this, when Hillsdale applies next year, how much water will the narrative of the commission as a rubberstamping body hold? Yea, they withdrew because they were afraid of denial and not because they were politically savvy.

Fox 17 took a look at the recent communications between the USDOE and TNDOE notifying the latter that they were out of compliance. The story is a solid one, but my favorite quote comes from the TNDOE, “The department will be sending a letter to USDOE in response to their Sept. 22, 2022 letter, but has not yet responded.” Psst…September 22, was nearly a month ago and the USDOE has been on you about this for a year. It reminds me of my kid’s response after I look at Schoology and see they missed an assignment “I meant to dad, I really did, and I’ll make it up soon. Honest.”

When Tennessee voters go to the polls in November they will have several opportunities to amend the state constitution. The November ballot is slated to have four amendments to the Tennessee Constitution, and Amendment 3 aims to replace language that has existed in the Tennessee Constitution for more than 150 years pertaining to slavery. Though the Constitution was amended in 1865 to prohibit nearly all forms of slavery, a single line lingered to allow slavery and involuntary servitude for people convicted of crimes. Hopefully, this amendment passes by a large margin.

A huge shout-out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. 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.

If you are interested, I’m sharing posts via email through Substack. This has proven to be an effective way to increase coverage. Readers have the option of either free or paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will potentially 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.


Categories: Education

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