The Year is Off to a Banner Start, Tennessee Style

“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.”
Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White


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.

Quick Hits

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 new year doesn’t equate to greater financial stability. Putting this blog together requires a great deal of time and resources, If you think it’s valuable, your support would be appreciated.

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.

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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.


Categories: Education

8 replies

  1. Re “”I dare any public school advocate to come and stand with me and tell me that a public school experience is equatable to this.” I absolutely and enthusiastically dare state this. I’ve begged many times for my taxes to be increased so we can get there.

    My number a few years back was $17,000 per kid per year ought to be a baseline, a number that gets class sizes down to manageability, funds extra curriculars. It was a number from former USN head Vince Durnan, a product of his extensive education Safari. We need to bump it for inflation.

    It is a number that approaches public per pupil education funding in affluent northern suburbs.


    Your discussion of the magnet system is one that I so wish Nashville would really take on. Most of us focus on “What is my families exit ramp?” and the question “Why does the district want my family to try to leave?” is never asked.

    I will comment more about this after I’ve read your post a few more times. For now, I challenge anyone in the district to simply answer the “Why?” question. Why do we have score-segregated magnet schools in 2023? That should not be hard to answer. If “because some of us win lotteries, and really really like winning lotteries while others lose, It’s a fun game.” is the answer, and that answer is sufficient, that would change the entire district overnight. The answer has to be more than that – but I have been unable to find it – after a couple of decades of trying really (really!) hard to find that answer.

    More later. Great writing – thanks!

    • Chrisit’s been answered for you 1000 times but its not the answer you want. We have academic magnets because students have different needs. And not all needs can me met. We can never have a serious conversation you are going insist that a student MBA is akin to one at any zoned high school. That’s just not reality.

  2. I don’t understand why MLK doesn’t get the recognition that Hume Fogg does. It is also a top school. Look closely at the stats and AP course offerings. They’re extremely close, and MLK offers more AP courses. There are often available spots at MLK for students who qualify.

    Why do so many parents say “Meigs/Hume Fogg or private.” I can’t help but to think part of it is the difference in demographics.

    • I think it’s a complex answer, partially due to Hume-Fogg being established longer.

      • TC,

        Thanks for trying to answer my “why” question, when you write “We have academic magnets because students have different needs. And not all needs can be met.”

        I have to report however, that this intriguing reason is nowhere on the MNPS website. It is _your_ answer, Even as some others in Nashville believe this is the district answer, and that’s a problem.

        If you can send me a link pr press release from MNPS that says clearly, and officially, why we have score-segregated schools in 2023, that would be a very welcome gift.

        Then I could shift my discussion points to the merits of your answer. (For example, if MNPS were to answer with your “some students _need_ score-segregation”, we would be right to ask, “OK, why?… What is it, more precisely, about Calculus taught in a score-segregated high school that is different from Calculus taught at a score-integrated high school? And, can we measure that difference?”

        The +only+ answer I have myself found from the district dates to 1981, when against the wisdom of the Board, the overseeing courts ordered Hume Fogg and MLK into existence as an experiment to combat white flight. And indeed, we learned from the experiment that a number of whites would return to public school if the African Americans were excerpted for having scores in the top 1/3 of the population.

        Amy, Hume Fogg is definitely a “whiter” school. That is due to the Meigs autopathway, the lack of a GPZ for feeders, and the inconvenient MLK bus connection for affluent West Nashville whites, when compared to the straight-shots of the Nashville bus lines down Hillsboro, 12th, West End to Hume Fogg.

        You wrote “… top school…” But is there _any_ _evidence_ that Hume Fogg or MLK is a “top?” The average ACT scores of the graduates, to my first glance, exactly matches what you would expect from any population of students if the bottom 6 test-score stanines are not allowed in. I wish the district would do a dive into the score results it crows over. Because if there are really students who “need” a score-segregated school, per TC, and if those students are doing worse in zoned schools, that is a travesty we should all work on. I.e. – we should advocate to ensure that all score-segregation-needing kids get score-segregated school building. On the other hand, if score-segregation accomplishes nothing academically, if no kids “need it”, and is no longer serving as a helpful experiment in racial integration, our district should dial back on it, assuming racial integration is still a goal for urban public education.

        Thanks always to both of you – always, Chris.

      • I look forward to an explanation on how an 80 is score segregation

      • TC asks, “how is 80 score segregation?” Wow. OK.. How is it not score segregation?,5%20or%20above%20will%20qualify.

        There are many voices in Nashville who claim with you, that 80 is no big deal. But, throughout the history of the magnets, the score-system has clung to the notion of stanine 7/8/9 being allowed in, more or less. Those stanines were part of the original court order, in the Minutes of our School board from 1980 or so.

        MLK very much believes it is score-segregated. Here is the email they send out.

        I am 92% sure that this letter was sent home to no more than 60% of the 8th graders in the district. _That_ is the definition of score segregation. If you are right, and this email went to 100% of 8th graders, then you are right, I apologize, and I will go away once and for all :).

        Enjoy the email from MLK…
        Jan 20, 2023….
        Subject: MLK Eligibility – Come Visit Us!
        “Congratulations! You are receiving this email because your 8th grade student academically qualifies to apply for 9th grade at Martin Luther King, Jr. Academic Magnet High School! We want to encourage you to apply to MLK for the 2023-24 school-year and will highlight some of the reasons below.

        MLK offers a comprehensive program for our students by offering 26 Advanced Placement (college-level) classes alongside Honors options. Our average ACT score is a 25.6. We have a College Counselor dedicated to guiding our students through the college admissions process, including an individual student college planning meeting where parents are invited to attend. Ninety-seven percent (97%) of the class of 2022 enrolled in a postsecondary institution this past fall.

        The courseload at MLK is six (6) academic classes and one (1) Personalized Learning Time (PLT). Incoming 9th graders typically take English I Honors, Integrated Math Honors, Biology Honors, Lifetime Wellness, a World Language (Chinese, French, German, Latin, or Spanish) and a course that meets the Fine Arts graduation requirement (Visual Art, Band, Orchestra, Chorus, or Theater Arts). Freshman also have the opportunity to begin taking Engineering classes in our state-of-the-art Engineering facilities.

        In addition to our academic offerings, students receive weekly lessons related to SEL (Social Emotional Learning) through “Royal Time,” MLK’s Advisory Program. Students remain in the same advisory group with grade-level peers and one (1) faculty advisor for all 4 years of high school. MLK also offers a weekly club period during the school-day where students can choose between sixty (60) unique club options. MLK is proud to offer fourteen (14) varsity level sports as well as a myriad of after-school club and enrichment opportunities. Please go to our website for more details:

        We are currently offering building tours and information sessions so we can share more about what makes MLK special. Please go to our school website (above) and/or click on our “Visit MLK” link to sign-up for an in-person school tour.

        The MNPS Optional Schools Application will open on Monday, January 23rd and closes on Friday, February 10th. For more information on the School Choice process, please visit the MNPS School Options Homepage.

        We hope you take advantage of the opportunity to apply to MLK. We want to work with your child to provide academic and extra-curricular opportunities that will prepare your child for college and the future.


        Angela McShepard-Ray, Ed.D.*

        Executive Principal

        One of my kids went to MLK for a day a few years ago. At the parent orientation, this goes back a few years, the staff announced to the pack gym that “Your children are lucky. You don’t have to worry any more about high school.” It was stunning.

        If we were to drop all academic entrance requirements for Hume Fogg and MLK, and assign a zoned population of students from impoverished areas, then I would join you in “Hume Fogg and MLK are not score-segregated”. Until that happens, until the MNPS website screening requirements are removed, as long as emails like the above go home, until the average ACT score of graduates drops to around 20, then MLK is absolutely the definition of a score-screened school.

        If you feel the screen is so low as to not matter, then let’s link up to have it removed altogether. That would be a huge step forward for this district, and for improving public perceptions of all our high schools! I think an easier next step would be to return to letting all 8th graders “compete” for the segregated 9th slots on equal footing…. but I love your idea of “drop the score screens – as they are meaningless” and I would welcome the opportunity to champion it if we can find a few more.

      • I would hate if you went away, but your argument ain’t winning any new fans or going anywhere

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