“Just because she’s one way doesn’t mean you’re the other, I try to tell myself. Her beauty doesn’t make you ugly. Her intelligence doesn’t make you stupid. Her value doesn’t make you worthless.”
Thankfully, election season has come to a close. As no surprise to anyone, except maybe Dr. Jason Martin, Bill Lee secured himself another four years as Governor of Tennessee.
Some will contend that his margin of victory, 65% to Martin’s 33%, could be considered a mandate for him to continue his previous initiatives in education policy. Before you jump on that train, let’s take a look at voter turnout.
Per the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office, Tennessee has roughly 4.5 million registered voters. Just under 1.8 million votes were cast in the Governor’s race. This means Lee garnered 65% of 40% of the state’s registered voters. That’s not exactly overwhelming.
Martin was a nice enough fella, but couldn’t develop a narrative that resonated with voters. While his support of public education was very refreshing, the idea that charter schools in Tennessee are some kind of plot hatched by Republicans borders on the insanity leveled at those who suspect that the last election was rigged. Democrats chose to play identity policy, while the man who is arguably the worst Tennessee Governor stayed home and watched TV. Over half of the state’s registered voters did the same, and now he gets another 4 years to reach new heights of ineptitude.
When discussing the election, there could be lots of reasons for the low turnout. It could be that most of the state already felt that the governor’s race was a foregone conclusion, whether they voted or not. It could be that while they didn’t care for Lee, they didn’t relate the Democrat offering either, or view their narrative as being any more compelling than the existing one. Presented with two unattractive offerings, they chose to just dance with the devil they knew. Many will speculate, but we’ll never know with any certainty.
I would offer that to the majority of the state, the so-called “Hillsdale scandal” was nowhere near as important as it was to the loud and vocal opponents of the Governor. Unless you are willing to argue that without the misstep he would have garnered 70% of the vote, someplace I’m unwilling to go.
If I’m Lee, I’m on the phone to Michigan telling Larry Arnn, “All clear buddy, come on back to town.” Opponents have clearly wasted their gunpowder in a fight that is destined to only grow, Bill Lee makes no secret of his appetite for more options for parents, and now the runway is clear to bring it on home.
In the wake of his election victory, speculation turns to the future of his Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn. Largely absent from the state during election season, though she did manage to get back in town for the CMA awards show, her focus has been on spreading the gospel of Tennessee education policy to the denizens of Washington, appearing before various congressional committees.
On Wednesday, Schwinn appeared before Governor Lee and his team to present the TDOE’s 2022-2023 budget aspirations and report on the return on investment from previous initiatives. After repeated viewings, despite Schwinn’s proclamations of things being “really neat, “I’m still trying to untie that 30-minute Gordian knot she crafted, nor do I share her descriptor.
I don’t want to jump to any conclusions, but I think at times, Governor Lee was equally as confused. Which led to him asking questions about the success of his signature projects. About 4:58 into her presentation, as she’s describing the Grow Your Own programs, the first one comes.
Lee abruptly interrupts her presentation by declaring his intent to ask questions intermittently as she presents. He then asks, “Tell me about that program. What’s the been the interest so far? As we consider funding line items, how is that being utilized? What’s the uptick? We have a cohort starting in January, how big is that cohort.”
Schwinn responds by describing her excitement level before proceeding to a convoluted response that describes the 650 applicants currently in the program as filling funded vacancies in program applicants and then saying that the state has about 1000 teacher vacancies. Something like that. She follows up with the number of projected January enrollments in various programs across the state, which totals 350 applicants working with 40-50 districts.
Oddly enough Schwinn attributes those 40-50 districts as covering the “majority of the state”. Tennessee has 147 districts. Fifty would be one-third, nowhere near a majority. As I said, it’s a knot.
It would be wrong to make the assumption that just because there are 900 teaching candidates, the state will get 900 teachers, or that those who become teachers will remain in teaching for more than 2 years. Once their commitment to Tennessee expires, what’s to prevent them from running across the border to neighboring states? To paraphrase an old Broadway play, funny things happen on the way to the Forum.
Until we start talking seriously about retention, recruitment is destined to fall short. But nobody wants to talk about that.
Now back to the tape Jim, where Lee responds to Schwinn’s time-eating answer with a “That’s great. That’s awesome.” Failing to convey much enthusiasm.
One of my favorite moments comes at roughly the 8-minute mark when Schwinn boasts that it’s not the TDOE that’s doing the actual work around the Governor’s initiatives, but rather that, they are providing the vision while these other third-party providers and partners who are working with her and her team to actually make things happen. That’s one way to manage an ever-revolving staff – outsource virtually everything.
Education policy in Tennessee has long been interpreted as legislators supplying the vision based on constituent desires, the board of education interpreting that vision, and crafting rules and policy based on that vision and advisement from the TDOE, while the TDOE implements and enforces those rules and policies. What appears to be happening now is a clear case of the tail wagging the dog, but legislators seem content to let it happen.
This is something that bears further questioning, as those third-party providers – SCORE, Chiefs for Change, Education Trust, and Instructional Partners, among others – are all considered private entities and funded primarily through the Gates Foundation. SCORE alone has received over $20 million in grant money in the last decade. As such, these private entities are not subject to the same accountability measures and transparency requirements as government agencies, yet they are granted access to public money via federally funded grants.
Superintendents’ ears should have perked up during the meeting when the Commissioner reveals that districts won’t get their funding projections until late January, or early February. This is due to her decision to use not just October, but November and December, to collect individual district enrollment numbers. When pressed if she meant early December, Schwinn coyly responded, “I’m going to say, probably late December, because then we can only exceed expectations”. Then walks it back to early December amid nervous laughter.
Blame for the delay is laid at the feet of this being a transition year between state funding formulas. Promises are made that going forth data will be available in mid-Fall – maybe.
Next up are questions about the state’s Career Technical Education programs. Specifically how the current investment is being utilized. Lee interprets one of Schwinn’s convoluted answers by saying, “it is a lot of money and I’ve wondered how the implementation of it can work. How many are accessing these dollars and can we get them out the door?”
The question throws Schwinn for a loss for a heartbeat, but she quickly recovers and resumes her convoluted reply. This never really answers the Governor’s question and indicates that little work is currently being done while districts wait to apply for grants. Ms. Schwinn attributes this delay, to districts waiting until February to apply for grants, thus utilizing this time to plan.
Her answer didn’t seem to satisfy Lee, but in the interest of time, he moved the discussion on to summer school. This is where things get good.
Schwinn cited three areas of benefit from the state-sponsored summer programs – student achievement, student confidence, and student access.
Under student achievement, she indicated that student data was available to support increased achievement but didn’t seem inclined to share that data or its source. Just that it was, “Absolutely measurable”.
As an indication that the shelf life of learning loss is coming to a close, Ms. Schwinn has shifted to “summer slide” as justification for investing in summer programs.
While the argument that children lose learning during the summer months has been popular in education circles for years, lately, experts are casting doubts.
Paul T. von Hippel, for example, is doing just that in a new piece in Harvard University’s EducationNext journal. An associate professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, von Hippel says that he once was a “big believer” in summer learning loss but is no longer. He wrote in part:
I’m no longer sure that the average child loses months of skills each year, and I doubt that summer learning loss contributes much to the achievement gap in ninth grade.Several things happened to challenge my faith. One is that my colleagues and I tried to replicate some of the classic results in the summer learning literature—and failed. Sure, the patterns were present on one test—the one used in the best-known study of summer learning. But that study is 30 years old, and we couldn’t replicate its results using modern exams. And it turned out that the test from that study had problems, which had been debated long ago and then, over time, forgotten.Then I looked more closely at the research on early learning. Early-childhood scholars believe that nearly all of the gaps between children’s skills form before the age of five, or even before the age of three. According to their research, the gaps that we observe in ninth grade were already present, and almost the same size, as they were when those children started kindergarten. Where does summer learning loss fit into that picture?And of course there is no shortage of researchers who will tell you that achievement gaps are largely the fault of schools. Schools serving poor communities are inferior, these scholars argue, and even when poor children attend schools in middle-class communities, they are shunted into lower achievement groups and curricular tracks, which impede their intellectual growth while wealthier peers surge ahead. If school is the source of achievement gaps, where does that leave summer holidays?
Next Saturday morning at Titans stadium, Metro Nashville Public Schools will be holding their inaugural celebration of schools bash. A rebranding of what was previously known as the school choice festival. This year, not all MNPS schools are invited to the party. Despite being considered an option offered by MNPS, charter schools are not welcome at this year’s festival. So roughly thirteen thousand students are being denied an opportunity to celebrate success despite their only crime being, to choose a school not politically favored by district leaders. Explain again to me how it’s all about the kids.
Kelsey Beyeler over at the Nashville Scene has been providing a fantastic public service by recapping MNPS board meetings. This week she reports on the district’s Grow Together program, an attempt to coordinate pre-k services across the city. In my eyes, one of the worst ideas ever,
Once again MNPS is working from the assumption that parents are incapable of providing for their children without their help. It also assumes that all parents will bypass individual choice in order to become MNPS participants at an even earlier junction, and that church and private pre-k providers will modify their current practices in order to align with MNPS directives. Color me skeptical about all of it.
People have begun taking a deeper look into high-dosage tutoring, and they are coming to the conclusion that not all that glitters is gold:
The researchers, from Brown University and the University of California, Irvine, tried three different ways of engaging students. But no matter what they tried, a majority of students never used the tutoring service. Even their most successful effort, which involved nudging both parents and students with frequent text messages and emails, convinced only 27 percent of the students to try an online tutor at least once. More than 70 percent of the students never tried it. Without the nudges, only 19 percent of the students connected with an online tutor. And, among the students who needed tutoring the most because they had failed a class with a D or an F in the fall of 2020, only 12 percent ever logged on. Students who were doing well at school and not at risk of failure were twice as likely to take advantage of the free tutoring.
Hmmm…where have I heard all of this before?
Make sure you check in over at The Tennessee Star for more of my coverage on Tennessee Education issues. The politics might not be your cup of tea, but we are staying out of that and focusing on policy and how it affects teachers and students. Same mission but a different vehicle. And if you can’t do that, I’ll still be here at the same bat time, on the same bat channel.
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