“Southerners are an easygoing race when it comes to aberrations of conduct. They will react with anger if something out of the ordinary is presented as a possible future occurrence; but if an unusual circumstance is discovered to be an established fact, they will usually accept it without rancor or judgment as part of the normal order of things.”
Michael McDowell, Blackwater: The Complete Caskey Family Saga

Nashville continues to turn into a city where everyone has important stuff to do and thus is in a constant rush to get things those important things completed. Drive the speed limit on a two-lane street and you’re like;y to get passed by a fellow motorist destined to sit one car length in front of you at the next stop light.

Sit a second too long at that stop sign, and you’ll likely hear a chorus of car horns reminding you that the light changed. As if that single second will actually make a significant difference in anyone’s day.

I’m not sure what all this important stuff is, some of it may actually be legitimate, but I miss the days when we are all a little more courteous and patient toward each other.

But enough about me, let’s get to the news.


Recently the Tennessee State Board of Education approved a list of eligible materials for K 12 classroom use for mathematics instruction by local districts. The responsibility of compiling the list falls to the Tennessee Textbook Commission. Over the course of the last year, they have utilized a board of expert teachers to review and recommend for inclusion on the list. That list was presented last week to the state board through the Tennessee Department of Education (TNDOE).

The submission and subsequent approval are part of the state’s legally mandated review process. Every six years, one core subject is slated for review, and districts must select the materials they intend to purchase and implement to educate students for the next six years in that core subject. English language arts went through the process in 2019, and social studies in 2020. Math was slated for review in 2021 but was delayed for two years, so as not to conflict with a state review of math standards.

The math standards review was completed by the state board of education in 2019-2020 and go into effect for the 2022-2023 school year. The revision of math academic standards was undertaken to align the math standards review process with the next math textbook adoption cycle. As a result, the textbook adoption process was delayed to accommodate the standards review process, thus local districts were granted a waiver to allow them to use previously adopted materials to fill the gap until the new adoption process was complete.

The Tennessean Textbook Commission oversees the adoption process, with nominal influence from the TNDOE. Publishers who want their materials considered for adoption must submit them to the commission for review and approval.  If approved, materials are then placed on a list submitted by the state board of education. Once approved, local district officials and the general public are provided an opportunity to review and select materials. Districts must choose and adopt from the state-approved list unless a waiver is granted from the state board of education. Districts must use adopted materials until the next adoption period

Let me point out here, that the State Commissioner of Education used to have a little bit of a say in how the list was compiled, and how the business of textbook adoption was conducted. That was changed after the English Language Arts (ELA) adoption process in 2019 turned into a dumpster fire.

The review process was stopped mid-stream by Ms. Schwinn in order to commission a study by David Steiner at John Hopkins University on Tennessee’s textbook review process. As a by-product, the initial textbook reviewers were dismissed and new ones were trained and appointed before the process restarted.

On whose authority Ms. Schwinn conducted this reformation of textbook adoption in Tennessee has never been adequately explained. Out of either ignorance or fear, legislators charged with the writing of Tennessee’s laws, allowed the commissioner to circumvent legislation establishing the state textbook commission as an independent entity.

When one of the commissioner’s favorite publishers, Great Minds, had its offering, Wit and Wisdom rejected due to a lack of a phonics component, the state proceeded to take the unprecedented action of writing a phonics component and making it available for free to districts, Which facilitated the issuing of 72 waivers allowing local districts to adopt Wit and Wisdom, despite its failing the review process.

After that tumultuous adoption period in 2019, in response to charges of undue influence by the commissioner and the TNDOE, changes to the process were made to limit their influence. Legislators passed a bill removing the commissioner as a voting member of the Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission and the commissioner’s ability to grant waivers for school districts seeking to use unapproved books and materials was also taken away. Waivers for use of materials must now go through the state board of education.

None of this seems to concern Commissioner Schwinn and her Chief Academic Officer Lisa Coons. The two have such little faith in the local district’s ability to select quality materials that they’ve skirted legislators’ safeguards by setting up a Statewide Standards and Materials Support Plan(7-21-22 Math Standards Slides), along with a tour of the state in order to influence how districts make those decisions. You know…just to educate them.

Here’s where it gets interesting when looking at the list of approved materials, two publishers, Cengage Learning and Pearson Online failed to win approval for inclusion through the appeals process after initially having their bids rejected. The former made no upgrades to their materials after seeing what reviewers found as deficient – a decision not viewed favorably by the commission – while the latter was rejected because they still had “Common Core” referenced throughout their materials. Tennessee state law prohibits the use of Common Core-related materials in instructional materials.

If you look at the state-provided support plan and compare it to Achieve the Core’s Instructional Practice Guide, the two seem closely aligned.  So let me be sure I got this straight. Governor Lee brags about eradicating Common Core from Tennessee classrooms. Tweeting out,

I promised that we would root out Common Core in TN public schools, and we’ve made tackling this issue a key legislative initiative. Proud to sign a law today that closes the Common Core loophole.

This is in response to legislators passing legislation prohibiting the use of Common Core in the classroom. Legislation that holds schools and teachers accountable if they use Common Core-related materials in the classroom.

Yet, the TNDOE sends out an instructional plan to districts to help guide the selection of materials that appears to align with…Common Core.

That sounds about right.

On the list, approved last week, are newer publishers like Great Minds, publisher of Eureka Math, and Amplify, publisher of Amplify Math TN, as well as longtime names like Houghton Mifflin, Intro Math, and McGraw Hill, publisher of Tennessee Reveal Math. Great Minds and Amplify are the producers of ELA curricula Wit and Wisdom as well as Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA), respectively. Both have been subject to controversy since adoption.

Another interesting entry is Zearn Math. In case you didn’t know, Zearn provides the materials and the remote platform for TNDOE-endorsed tutoring. Immediately prior to the adoption period, districts are not permitted to pilot materials. Without sitting down and comparing the Zearn tutoring materials and the Zearn math offerings, it’s hard to argue the use of the tutoring materials as a piloting program.

That said, you can not deny the advantage over publishers being offered to Zearn. What district would not want to align tutoring materials with their primary instructional materials?

For their part, Zearn apparently sees no need to downplay the relationship. Releasing a press release detailing their addition for inclusion on the approved list of materials, that includes the following quote from Shalinee Sharma, CEO and co-founder of Zearn,

“When Zearn Math was being used as a digital complement, we felt honored that more than 90% of Tennessee teachers who use Zearn said they would recommend it to another teacher,” Sharma said. “We are equally honored to have been selected by the Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission, which is composed of school leaders, teachers, librarians and residents, all of whom have a stake in student math learning.”

As a teacher, this alignment would concern me because it lends itself to an argument diminishing the contribution of a high-quality instructor. You may not care who gets credit for improved student outcomes but come the budget time it’ll certainly become a lot more important.

Over the next several months, districts will review the list and select their instructional material with input from the public. Selections are due by June 2023.

The review of science materials is slated to begin in Spring 2023. There is talk of the process being delayed, but as of now, there is no official communication of that intent.


Teachers across the state of Tennessee are reporting that they are receiving an email from the TNDOE inviting them to participate in a conversation about their teaching experience. Hmmm…suddenly Schwinn and company care about the opinions of teachers?

One red flag in this email should be the mention of a “third-party partner”. If history serves as any kind of indicator, that third party will be Chiefs for Change and one of their paid minions.

Keep in mind that the Chiefs have assisted in several policy campaigns, including TISA, over the last year. It’s been reported that the TNDOE has an agreement with the organization, due to Schwinn being a member, which allows them to perform undisclosed functions without a contract, or even an agreed-upon scope of work.

Some teachers have revealed that their invitation-to-participate emails have come to their personal addresses. The question arises as to how those addresses were secured.

This is an important consideration because, during the state’s school funding reform campaign, Chiefs contracted with a third-party PR firm to build a website that appeared to be sanctioned by the TNDOE, but collected personal information while providing none of the transparency required of an official state website.

My only question is, what foregone conclusion is this campaign being constructed to serve?


Perusing recently released NAEP results and comparing them with trends over the last decade comes with some interesting revelations. We all know about the great literacy jumps made by Tennessee in 2013,. At that time we had a basic or above rate for 4th graders at 67%. In 2015 it had dropped to 65.67. The downward trend continued in 2017 with a percentage rate of 64.47. 2019 was more of the same at 65.65. In 2022 we sit at a rate of 58.98, a full point behind what we were in 2011.

In 8th grade, the success rate is nearly ten points hire. In 2013 we were at 76.76%. That number dropped similarly to the 4th-grade scores until this year when we scored 67.19.

Two takeaways for me. First, whatever we are doing doesn’t seem to be working, as scores continue to slide. It is easy to attribute the current lower score to COVID, but Tennessee has been backtracking for a decade.

Secondly, if we are good at anything, it’s assuring that 8th-graders catch up. Ten points is ten points, and those results appear consistent.

Florida is crowing about the results that earned them the number three ranking in the country for 4th-grade literacy. But look at their 8th-grade scores. It ain’t so pretty. There they slip to 21st.

Yet, Tennessee seems bent on imitating some of its policies that may be contributing to the discrepancy between 4th and 8th grade – vouchers and 3-rd grade retention. We might want to take a closer look at that idea.


The so-called “school-to-prison pipeline” has long been discussed in education circles. This week Scene reporter Kelsey Beyeler takes a deeper look at what that means locally. It’s worthy of your attention.

How to scale up tutoring efforts has always been a challenge. How do you expect to find tutors when you can’t adequately staff schools with teachers? You won’t be surprised to find out who’s discovered that there is money to be made by studying this and other questions around tutoring – former Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman. When it comes to education policy, only students and teachers fail, never policymakers.

The Tennessean offers up an inspirational story about Cane Ridge’s Kurdish quarterback who has led them to a 9-1 season this year and will start today as the Raven open a possible playoff run. While there have been Kurdish players on MNPS teams in the past, none of them enjoyed the success of Shivan Abdullah, who embraces his role as a role model, telling the paper, “I love my culture, and for the younger people in my community, I take so much pride in being a role model for them.” Good luck to him today.

Prayers are being offered up to  US House candidate Heidi Campbell, who received word this week that her husband has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Having known Campbell for neigh on 30 years, I know how devastating this news is for her. Life is seldom fair.

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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