Lost In The Discussion

“Liking other people is an illusion we have to cherish in ourselves if we are to live in society.”
John Fowles, The Magus


Earlier this week, I can across an old friend, at least I’d call him a friend. I’m not always sure how he feels about me. We met about a decade on opposite sides of the fence over charter school expansion.

In talking about current events it became clear we were once again standing on opposite sides of the fence.

After patiently listening to my side of the argument, he responded, “I appreciate that TC, I really do, but I come at it from a different perspective.”

“If you’ll remember”, he said, “We met each other under different circumstances. When we met we both held different opinions on charter schools. But because of mine, I had people digging through my trash, video-taping me, and calling at all hours. It sucked. All because I held a different opinion.”

“That was wrong”, I told him, “And I believe I said it at the time. I’ve definitely said repeatedly since.”

He nodded, but I’m not sure he truly believed me, and I don’t know if I would believe me either. And that makes me sad.

Despite our differences, I enjoyed our sporadic talks. I find him funny, kind, and insightful. When we talk, I usually come away with some new knowledge – be it on stereo components, sports, or education policy. To not have him as a resource, would quite honestly suck, and while I didn’t directly invade his privacy, I supported those who did. All in the name of a policy, that today I’m not as sold on.

I regularly tell my kids that I’m self-governed by a guiding singular principal – that if they walk into a room and observe my actions, I can explain them in a manner that is consistent with my voiced beliefs.

Those of you who are parents are likely familiar with the arguments between siblings that start with, “But they…”.

In our house, all of us are told that if any defense of behavior starts with those words…it is not a sound argument and you need to amend it.

We frequently discuss allowing opponents to gracefully retreat from an argument, granting them the ability to save face once beaten.

Furthermore, whenever you fight, always consider the cost of victory, and never enter a battle without a plan for peace. Winning the peace is every bit as vital as winning the battle, and never forget, any tactic you use to win will ultimately be used against you, with even more viciousness.

There is one more lesson, argue ideas over personalities. There will be many people in life you don’t like, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have sound arguments.

There are more than a few people that share my ideas, but I can’t stand them as people. If you are focusing on the personality, you may be listening, but you are not hearing.

We are all focused on the personalities of Justin Jones and Cameron Sexton. Or Gloria Johnson and Gino Bulso. Maybe it’s Justin Pearson and Andrew Farmer. They are heroes or villains, depending on the view from your seat. The reality is, with all due respect, they don’t really matter. They are just placeholders in a much larger picture.

Hear me out before you get too upset.

I intentionally omitted their ” Representative ” titles because we are forgetting that is their role. They are not the first to hold the honor of serving as elected representatives. Many individuals have come before them, and many waves will follow.

What is important is what remains behind, and that it is a system of governance that functions in an orderly way and represents everyone. Equally important is that the behavior of their representatives reflects how we the people will conduct business. How will the lessons of today be interpreted and applied in the future?

By forgetting that these people are representatives, we ignore who they represent. We judge people by our life experiences without ever considering those. In doing so we assign motive and intent, that may not exist.

Much has been made about the supermajority of Republicans in Tennessee. But what about conservatives who live in Nashville? Where is their voice?

A Politico piece on the current events in Nashville shares, “And, though no one measures this directly, the city’s growing hordes of millennial tech workers may have contributed to its slight blue-ending over time — a Vanderbilt University poll shows an uptick of city residents calling themselves liberal or very liberal since it was first conducted in 2015, albeit from 26 percent to 30 percent. (They outnumber conservatives by six points, and self-described moderates handily prevail over both.)

Yet despite this slight edge, Metro Council has but 2 out of 40 members who identify as Republican, and both are regularly ridiculed by the local media. Ask current Mayoral candidate Alice Rolli what it feels like to run as a conservative in Nashville.

If Jones, is truly about “THE PEOPLE” how has he included these voices in his agenda?

What is a conservative in Nashville supposed to do if they repeatedly see the city head in a direction they are not comfortable with? I’m betting they appeal to their state reps, who try to help. Stories are ever as simple as we’d like them to be.

Years ago I sat done with a young black woman who was an active supporter of school choice. I thought I had her all figured out, but I knew nothing and my assumptions were merely that. My conversation with her remains a small but pivotal moment in my life.

By blanket painting House as racist, and assigning all their actions to that intent, you by defacto paint those who chose them as “racist”. I

n some cases, that may be a correct assumption, but there is danger in painting with a broad brush, and nobody deserves to be mislabeled.

I believe that words like “racist” and “rape” describe such heinous acts, that they should only be utilized with strong evidence, lest they water down the depiction of the acts they describe.

I feel very strongly that a government, where the voices of a few can drown that of others, is not an effective government, let alone a representative one.

Ironically, I agree with much of what “The Tennessee Three” is championing. But there is a mechanism to get heard. It involves winning elections, writing legislation, filing bills in a timely fashion, and making a sound argument for them that is more than an emotional plea. It means taking the time to consider the unintended consequences.

When you lose a fight, you don’t just keep imprudently swinging. You reevaluate, you restructure your argument, and you get bigger allies. Repeating the same strategies and expecting different outcomes is the definition of insanity.

Over the last decade, I’ve been involved in efforts to expose education leaders as the frauds they are behind their facades.

Dr. Shawn Joseph and Dr. Penny Schwinn are very similar individuals. It took nearly four years to convince people about Joseph, and it’s taken about five to do the same for Schwinn. Who, by the way, once sent State Homeland Security to my house to investigate me as a threat. So I guess Jones and I could swap some stories.

Throughout the process, others that worked with me continually looked for the “knockout” punch. Repeatedly I said, there is no “knockout” punch, there is only tireless work that requires the building of a case. A case rooted in being right, but not righteous.

I got one last story before we move on. My last job was co-managing a phone room. Ownership hired a new manager. He and I butted heads from the get-go. He was a lot of show with little substance. We fought relentlessly, often bringing our disagreements to upper management. After about 6 months he was terminated, because he showed them who he was, and it wasn’t who they assumed.

For about a week, I did a victory dance. Then they fired me.

The lesson learned was, nobody wants to expend a lot of energy trying to figure out who the bad guys are, they’ll just lump y’all together, and be done with you both.

It was an important lesson, and one I won’t soon forget.

Back to Education

Has anybody seen Tennessee’s Education Commissioner of late? More and more, she appears to be that guy at work using up their sick time and vacation hours in pursuit of another gig. Regularly absent from important state business.

This week, a bill expanding Tennessee’s Education Savings Account pilot program passed out of committee and is scheduled for a final vote in the House on Monday. Despite legislators asking the previous week for the Tennessee Department of Education to be present at the next meeting, Schwinn was nowhere in sight when the gavel dropped. Instead, it was a former representative, and current TDOE advisor, Bill Dunn, along with Governor Lee’s legislative enforcer Brent Easley who attempted to answer questions.

Some of you may remember that it was Dunn who worked nearly a decade on vouchers before getting legislation through in 2019.

I’m not even sure that Commissioner Schwinn was in Tennessee for this important policy vote. Recently released travel records for the first quarter of 2023, show she’s still jetting around the country with some frequency.

Included in the filing, are multiple trips to DC, along with trips to Austin and New Orleans. Keep in mind, these are only the jaunts where taxpayer money is being used. Recently she traveled to San Diego for another conference and she’s been a frequent participant in national panels throughout the early months of the year. It’s a repeated pattern from the fourth quarter of 2022.

Unfortunately for her, all of this job hunting on the public dime has failed to secure a new gig.

It has also left local districts in a bit of a quandary as they look for guidance on third-grade retention and the implementation of the state’s new school funding formula.

I guess there shouldn’t be too much concern though, as this is the same woman who once simultaneously held down 6 figure jobs running both her charter school in California and serving as an executive director with the Delaware Department of Education.

I suspect, that after this testing cycle, she announces that fate has called her to leave her beloved adopted home state and in the service of kids, she must move on. Seeing as Governor Lee has only three years remaining, and the next governor gets to appoint their choice, I don’t look for a heavy hitter to replace her. Instead, look for someone like Mark White (R-Memphis) or Dunn to serve as a placeholder.

Third Grade Retention

Three months ago, all anybody could talk about was the state’s new third-grade retention law. These days, with state testing starting next week, there is nary a peep.

The law requires that any student who fails to achieve a score of “meeting expectations” on the literacy portion of TCAP must repeat third grade unless they participate in a number of different remediation programs. Those programs include primarily summer school and tutoring. Students are also eligible to take a retake of TCAP, which includes everything but the writing portion, at the end of the month.

In response to voiced concerns, lawmakers have proposed legislation that would tweak the bill after next year. The changes are minimal and include expanding who in a school district can help with an appeal, expanding summer school options, and consideration of results from a second state-provided benchmark test — but only for third graders who score “approaching” on their TCAP. That bill is slated for a full Senate vote next week, but will likely pass.

My big issue with these changes is the usage of the benchmarks.

First of all, not all districts administer the state-approved benchmark test. Included in the same legislation that included third-grade retention provisions, local districts were required to adopt a state-approved benchmark, but given the option of utilizing either the state-provided version or one of 6 alternatives.

Despite the state option being provided at no cost to districts, only a little over 50% have adopted it. The others remained with their preferred assessment. Only those using the state-provided option – aimswebPlus – are eligible for the expanded consideration. In other words, the state giveth, and the state taketh.

Most importantly though is that aimswebPlus and TCAp are two very different tests administered in two very different ways, and scored very differently. Their results are not interchangeable. One is designed to guide instruction, and the other is an accountability tool. What’s quietly being done here, is the introduction of another high stakes test, even as parents say they want less high-stakes testing.

Senate Education Chair John Lundberg (R-Bristol), who has been exceedingly assessable during the tweaking process, says he is comfortable with the law moving forward, feeling that predictions of mass retentions are likely hyper inflated.

“I think that this is going to be a good year”, he told us, “I think after the results come in we won’t see the mass retentions, and that families will realize that their students are being better served.”

Lundberg added, “I think at this point people are ready for this to move forward. Districts are aware, teachers are aware, and parents are aware. The adjustments we have proposed are needed and will only make the bill stronger in the future. We arrived at these changes by talking to families across the state, and hearing their concerns.”

Time will tell. But one thing is certain when this discussion next begins, it will include actual data, as opposed to supposition.

School Security

Hmmm…it seems while everybody is focused on gun control as an option for keeping kids safe, other avenues are not being fleshed out as they should. Main Street Nashville has a report on the state of Nashville Schools’ plan to increase security officers at public schools. The plan announced last Fall, was for all schools to have armed school resource officers present at some point during the day. In addition, MNPS was looking to secure, in partnership with MNPD, 70 School Safety Ambassadors. These would be unarmed security staff for each elementary school.

Per Mainstreet,

In August, there were 22 SRO vacancies in a force understaffed by 200 officers. Eight months later, the number of vacancies remains the same despite 75 new officers.

According to MNPD, there are presently 38 SROs that cover all 13 comprehensive public high schools and a magnet school that was not named for security reasons. They also rotate among the middle schools.

Got a way to go on this initiative.

Still in Custody

Here’s something for you to chew on next time the idea of self-care for educators comes up.

MNPS Director of Visual and Performing Arts still sits in the Montgomery County jail, a month after being arrested for evading arrest, 2 counts of reckless endangerment (he had his two children in the car), and a charge of resisting stop/frisk.

Per the report from WKRN,

According to Metro police, a welfare check regarding Jeff Smith was received, and on March 9, a mobile crisis counselor visited Smith at his Antioch home.

he report said officers responded to the listed address in reference to the associated report number. The complainant advised that her husband was having a psychotic episode. Mobile crisis responded and provided an evaluation. The mobile crisis counselor determined that the listed victim did have a mental illness, but was not a danger to himself or others.

According to the DCSO, the next day, seven deputies came to Smith’s home to serve an emergency child custody order to take Smith’s two children.

What was the expected outcome of 7 deputies showing up at the house of a man who had acknowledged mental issues, but was not considered a danger to himself or anyone else?

At the start of the year, Smith was the director of a successful city-wide program, now he sits in jail, separated from his children and a profession he has served for over two decades.

Yeah…tell me again how we are willing to address mental health. Breaks my fucking heart. But does anybody care.

The television report concluded with Smith sending a message yo his kids,

“I love you. Daddy misses you. I just want to see you and I’ve loved you my whole life. Everything I have done is to support you into growing into the incredible human beings you are. You are both gifted and smart, more than you give yourself credit for. You are warriors for social justice just like your dad. Stay safe kids and trust nobody no matter what they do to me I will not stop loving you.”

Final Note

I know some of you are displeased with the arguments I’ve put forth in recent pieces. If I offended you, my apologies, I take y’alls support very seriously. My goal has always been to encourage deeper thought.

As former Blogger Crazy Crawfish once told me, “My job isn’t to be the smartest guy in the room, it is to get a bunch of very smart people in a room for a discussion that delivers the best policy.” I never lose sight of that.

Trying to see both sides of a situation is not a valued trait these days, but critical thinking is more needed than ever.

I will always try to err on the side of kindness.

I will also always put country before party.

– – –

Putting this blog together requires a great deal of time and resources, If you think it’s valuable, your support would be greatly 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.

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.

If you’d like less opinion and more news, check out my writing for The Tennessee Star. It’s a bit drier but equally informative.

Categories: Education

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1 reply

  1. The lawmakers may have put to rest concerns about massive third-grade retentions, but the teachers and kids certainly have not. My nine-year old grandson is so anxious about testing that he has said he might kill himself. He received a packet about summer school because he made a poor score on one benchmark test. He is an excellent reader
    who strives for perfection. Our legislature has created a nightmare for Tennessee’s families.

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