“The fool’s crime is the crime that is found out and the wise man’s crime is the crime that is not found out.”
The silly season is upon us. Coming out of the holiday rush, we’ve run smack dab into a rush of self-serving initiatives. Let me explain.
On MLK day, the boy’s middle school basketball team was invited to participate in a holiday exhibition. It was held at Montgomery Bell Academy(MLK). I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the MBA campus, but trust me when I tell you, it’s jaw-dropping.
The basketball arena was comparable to one at a small division 1 college, equipped at each corner with 4 high-definition scoreboards. There is an indoor lacrosse field, 3 basketball practice gyms, handball courts, and a weight room that eclipses anything at the local YMCA. That’s just the stuff I observed.
I stood in the middle of it all with my mother-in-law, who taught in public schools for 35 needs, and said, “I dare any public school advocate to come and stand with me and tell me that a public school experience is equatable to this.”
It’s not, by any measure. But that argument gets made regularly in order to keep people enrolled in and satisfied with the public school system. We do it with a root argument of concern for kids. I’ll flip the argument and put forth, that if any of this was really about kids, we’d be doing everything we can to give kids a similar experience, with little regard for who’s running it.
The most dominant argument put forth in defense of traditional schools is that they are underfunded. It’s an argument that wears thin with me because we never define what adequate funding looks like. If the goal was to make every school look like a version of an MBA, well then now I’m interested.
But that’s not what we do, Instead, we find fault with any other options and try to convince the public that doing anything but enrolling your child in their local school is a threat to democracy. Something that only racists and elitists would consider. Who do we think we are fooling?
On the 23rd of January, the window for Metro Nashville Public Schools(MNPS) families to explore optional schools for 2023 opens. You wouldn’t know it, because the district is doing everything it possibly can to keep it on the down low. Sure it’s listed on the website, but virtually nowhere else.
In fact, the district is doing everything it can to ensure that students choose their zoned schools without considering charter schools or magnets. Despite these schools being MNPS schools. Yesterday it was announced at the district principal meeting that schools will get a minimum of $1000 each and some as much as $10000 for the sole purpose of marketing. purportedly the money is drawn from ESSER funds.
A couple months ago I was shocked to hear an ad for a local middle school arts magnet on the radio. That’s kind of weird I thought, but now I understand. Can we expect other schools to quickly follow? Can I expect my social media feed to be clogged with testimony to the greatness of local schools? Maybe we can get some kids down at intersections spinning signs like politicians do during campaign season.
One of the most coveted spots in the local school choice lottery is with 1 of the 2 academic magnet schools. But don’t think being coveted protects you from the slings and arrows. For years I’ve heard local critics accuse magnet schools, and their supporters, of utilizing mechanisms that segregate out poor kids through grades. All I can do is shake my head.
In order to qualify for a seat at either Hume-Foge or Meigs, two schools regularly recognized as being among the top schools in the state, a student simply needs to maintain a GPA of 80 or above, and score “”on-track” on TCAP. That’s it. Shouldn’t that be the expectation for every student that enters a schoolhouse? Are you arguing that a student that comes from an impoverished family is incapable of scoring better than a “C”?
I agree that social elements have as large an impact on student outcomes, as what happens inside a school, but to act as if the bar required to qualify for the academic lottery is some out-of-reach number, unattainable by anyone but the wealthy, raises some heavy skepticism. But it gets even more egregious.
A student may have the academic credentials to qualify for a seat at a magnet, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get in. The only thing they are guaranteed is an entry in the lottery. From there it is all luck of the draw. We don’t even weigh the lottery in a way that rewards those who’ve performed at a higher level. Nope, everybody is considered the same. But they’re not.
A child who maintains a GPA of 95 has different needs than one with an 85. It’s likely that they’ve also worked harder and put emphasis on their studies than the student with a lower GPA. Shouldn’t that mean something? By just throwing everyone into a straight lottery, we are inadvertently sending a message that work and perseverance don’t matter, in the end, it is all ruled by chance.
Critics of magnets will put forth an argument that even if they don’t get to attend the academic magnet, students will still have incredible comparable opportunities at their local zoned school. We’ll sell the idea that those options are just as good as what’s available at the magnet school, just like we’ll try and sell an equitable comparison between private and public schools.
Now tell me again, whose needs are we putting first?
Who’s in Charge
The Tennessee Department of Education(TDOE) continues to operate like a rudderless ship. One of the worst-guarded secrets in the state is that Commissioner Schwinn is ready to shed the orange and white, and head for greener pastures. Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any takers for her services. For someone regularly championed as a savior in the national press, there doesn’t seem much interest from others in bringing the architect on board to replicate her advertised successes in Tennessee.
Meanwhile, it seems her handlers, Chiefs for Change, are itching for a change themselves. Last week, the Chiefs announced a new cohort of “Future Chiefs”, with two Tennesseans – TDOE’s Eve Carney and Hamilton County’s Sonia Stewart – among the ranks. This is significant because it’s been well over a decade since Tennessee had a Commissioner of Education who wasn’t a member of Chiefs for Change.
In that time, Chiefs have turned Tennessee into their own personal education laboratory. The Literacy Bill, TISA, and charter school proliferation – all riddled with their fingerprints. Hard to imagine them letting that kind of opportunity go.
This week, social media was ablaze with a shiny graphic touting the accomplishments of Eve Carney, now a deputy superintendent at TDOE. Who knew, right? Apparently not most of the folks at TDOE.
Eve, for the most part, is a competent administrator, but reading through her accompanying list of accomplishments might make you almost forget that until recently the state was out of compliance with the USDOE, and at risk of losing millions in federal dollars. Ms. Carney was involved and oversaw many of those areas of non-compliance, so I’m not sure that bragging about developing “a comprehensive, results-based monitoring protocol for federal K-12 grant programs that emphasizes compliance and positive student outcomes is a credible move. And I sure as hell wouldn’t let my name be connected with the Tennessee Achievement School District.
But that’s the thing about these national education non-profits, they just say shit assuming that you’ll take it as gospel. The truth is a secondary consideration.
I would argue that Chief for Change’s recent promotion of Carney is a sure sign that Schwinn is looking to Schwinn out the door. Why else would a woman who has never demonstrated the ability to share credit, nor be slow to claim credit for others’ work, suddenly be cool with sharing the spotlight?
As far as the Chiefs go, it’s like this, why would you need Tom Brady if you’ve got Brock Purdy sitting on the bench?
To complicate matters further, word on the street today is that the TDOE’s Assistant Commissioner of Policy and Legislative Affairs, Charlie Bufalino, is out the door. The timing is weird on this one because the legislative season has just kicked in and Charlie has been the department’s primary liaison with the General Assembly since 2020. He’s among a plethora of former employees from TennesseeCAN – an education advocacy chapter of a group formed by Michelle Rhee – that joined Governor Lee’s staff at the beginning of his first term.
Speculation is that former Representative Bill Dunn(R – Knoxville) could, in a pinch, fill any void left by Bufalino. Dunn previously led the House Education Committee, so he’s well-versed in education issues.
Governor Lee’s inauguration for his second term is this weekend, and thoughts will soon turn to his state of the state address. Maybe we’ll get some clarity about Commissioner Schwinn’s future by then. Whatever happens, it’s going to be interesting.
Listening to the new HARDY record, and the line, “What’s one less .30-06 to a redneck?” spills from my speakers. I’d dismiss but the lyric comes from a man who’s had 15 number one’s in 5 years which equates to one in 10 of the songs that have hit the top of the country chart. He reveals his secret in a recent song:
“It’s gotta be a truck, there’s gotta be a girl, she’s gotta be hot and you gotta rhyme the s**t with ‘world.’ It can’t be too fake, but it can’t be too real; gotta make them tap their feet, or I’ll lose my record deal,”
Curiously this record sounds like Creed and Nickleback gone country, and Hardy looks like Sheldon Cooper’s younger brother. But he’s got the hits.
The Nashville Public Education Foundation is out warning folks about the dire consequences presented by Tennessee’s new 3rd-grade retention law. You might want to pay attention.
Next Tuesday is another opportunity for Nashvillians to show up and tell the MNPS School board what they want to hear. Changes in policy interpretation mean more opportunities to talk more and say less. Public participation happens at every meeting, but participants are limited to subjects on the agenda. A glance at the agenda this week reveals that once again there will be plenty of discussion around the board’s favorite subject – charter schools. Weigh in if you must,
Here’s a juicy one for you. I overheard a conversation about a recent gathering of leaders where Will Pinkston presented the economic costs of charter school proliferation, which has become Pinkston’s area of expertise. Recently elected Representative Justin Jones was in attendance, apparently, like many, Pinkston has rubbed him wrong. Jones reportedly stormed out after dropping several “mother fuckers” and calling Pinkston a racist, Again, I don’t know many details, but I can’t help but chuckle at the irony. It was Pinkston who resigned his seat on the MNPS School Board because everybody else was racist. Can’t make this stuff up.
A huge shout-out to all of you who’ve already 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, Christmas is right around the corner.