HALF BAKED IDEAS, AND HIDDEN AGENDAS
“Simple people always reduce everything to their own simple measure.”
― Norah Lofts, The Concubine
Last year, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation that made it possible for local school board races to be partisan affairs. Locally, this year, both Williamson County and Nashville School board races are a reflection of that law.
At the time of passage, there was vocal opposition. Alarms were raised about the potential of chasing away good candidates or infusing party politics into school board races. As if, politics weren't already in school board races.
The reality is that politics have been in play at an increasing level for the better part of the last decade. Neither party gets it right, but neither do they have a problem using education policy to troll the opposition, all while overlooking their own complicity in bad policy. It's a recipe that continues to lock us tighter and tighter into individual echo chambers, working to the detriment of us all.
Where we really lose, is in the exchange of ideas. Here's a shocker to many of you, having a "D" or an "R" behind your name does not give you a pipeline to the factory of great ideas. Yet, we all are guilty of reading and consuming information that comes from sources that reinforce what we believe to be true. And our arguments reflect this.
I hear it all the time - attacks directed at the messenger as opposed to the message. Personalities over policy. Instead of having writers and communicators that help us stress-test ideas before implementation, more time is focused on tossing red meat to the converted.
Think back to earlier in the year when John Oliver did his "takedown" of anti-CRT efforts. My social media feed was stacked with left-leaning friends sharing the video, proclaiming it brilliant. From the other side, it was crickets. In other words, the people that might really have benefited from it weren't listening. That's not particularly helpful.
Compounding things, most of my left-leaning friends used that video to stop trying to understand where the opposition to Critical Race Theory was coming from. Oliver gave them fodder to feel good about sweeping all those complaints from parents up into a nice box, slapping a label of racism on it, and moving on. That too is not particularly helpful. Nor has it contributed to a solution.
If you think that there is no room for deeper questions about our current approach to race. you are fooling yourself. Some of what we are doing is long overdue, while other aspects might be having some serious unintended consequences. But separating the chaff from the wheat is a difficult process when neither side is listening to the other.
The risk here is that we are continually losing essential voices because they are only preaching to the base. Voices that could inspire real solutions. It doesn't matter how strong your ideas are if you can't communicate them, to those who may be in opposition, it's pointless.
When I first started writing this blog, I was inspired by a guy from Louisianna who wrote a blog called Crazy Crawfish. His belief was that he was not the smartest man in the room, so it was not his job to find solutions, but rather to find a means to draw the smartest people in the room into a conversation where solutions could be developed.
To use the current vernacular, that has become my North Star.
It's why you'll never read me writing, "Trump is an idiot." Or the same for Biden. I want everybody to listen, not dismiss before they hear the argument.
My role as a writer, in my view, is to make sure that ideas are communicated to readers to facilitate deeper thought. In order to successfully do that, I need to bypass as many filters as possible. An idea needs to stand on its merits, not its messengers.
We often talk about the need to broaden the conversation and increase the number of voices involved. But that's not what we really mean. More commonly what we are looking to do is increase the number of voices that align with ours.
I liken it to our oft-voiced desire to have spouses and children that are critical thinkers and unafraid to challenge us and society. That's all and good until it actually comes to be. Then we realize that those previously desired qualities are kinda a pain in the ass. And why do you have to challenge me on everything? Why do you always force me to think deeper? Can't you just agree with me?
These days, there is more at stake than ever. We can not afford to retreat into our silos and fail to engage with those who have opposite views.
Things are getting serious with the Governor's drive to pass school funding reform in Tennessee. The General Assembly is chomping at the bit to end the session, but TISA's passage is not a foregone conclusion. Last week legislation failed to make it out of the Senate Finance Committee. It's clear that legislators still have reservations.
What's also becoming increasingly apparent as the process moves forward, is the level of influence exerted by outside forces. While being touted as a Tennessee product, in reality, TISA is one cooked up by folks that rarely step foot in the state. Specifically, the level of investment in the revised formula by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation should be alarming to Tennesseans.
Seems like back in August and September of 2021, the Foundation was handing out $100k grants like candy on Halloween night to willing advocates. All to help build a more equitable funding solution, Amazingly all these recipients suddenly became vocal in their support for a new system, drowning out the previous cry to fully fund the existing one.
This week, those checks became due today, as per ChlkbeatTN - itself a recipient of the Gates generosity - published its first piece on TISA since March 5th. The news that demanded distribution was that. "A statewide alliance of more than 40 civil rights, social justice, and education advocacy groups on Monday announced their support for Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to revamp how Tennessee funds public education."
A perusal of the list of organizations that are indicating support shows a plethora of grant beneficiaries. Keep in mind, that if you don't see your favorite non-profit on the list of recipients, it doesn't mean that they are not getting money. If you are an organization receiving funding from either the national organization Chief's For Change or the state-centric, SCORE, you are getting Gates's money. It's just being passed through a bag man.
Both agencies have their annual operating expenses supplemented by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In the case of SCORE, it is a little over $2 million every two years and has been since 2016. That's a lot of cash for an organization that does little but sit around and cooks up ideas that they can try to sell off as best practice.
Last year in August, the Foundation was kind enough to award them an additional $600K. Wonder what that was all about?
As for Chiefs, they are an organization created by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. At one time, Tennessee was represented by 6 members. But one got fired as Commissioner of Education. One got rewarded with a big contract as Houston's Chief of Schools. One got promoted to President of a prestigious University in Nashville. One left the state after a stint in the Bluff City. One took a job in trucking. And now only one remains.
Penny Schwinn is a member in good standing and has undoubtedly benefited from her membership. Originally the organization consisted of only State Superintendents. That number has dwindled to only members from Alaska, Rhode Island, Mississippi, Colorado, Maryland, Indiana, the District of Columbia, and Tennessee. In other words, state superintendents from 40 other states don't see a value in joining.
In looking at the cash, the bottom line is, that the Gates Foundation clearly has a vested interest in Tennessee getting a new funding formula. The only question is, why?
To that, I don't know the answer. But I don't have a billion dollars to give away, so that's not surprising. Maybe it's as simple as hubris. Perhaps there is a belief that money and success in one area, can predicate success in another area.
I'm not saying that Bill and his estranged wife are up to anything nefarious here. What I am saying is that as Tennessee taxpayers we probably ought to have a better understanding of who's funding what, and who is exerting what influences where.
I really don't think that is too much to ask.
The non-profits who are championing TISA are doing so based on a few assumptions that are not reality. They are assuming revisions can be made in the future. Not true, In her own testimony, Commissioner Schwinn told legislators that states who passed similar legislation didn't do revisions for a minimum of 5-6 years.
They believe that perhaps some of the weights will get a further expansion. Not likely.
They think that TISA will facilitate greater investment in education, seemingly forgetting the whole, "investing $100 million means investing $217 million" conversation. $60 million of that being local funds. And how do government entities raise funds - taxes.
There is still so much that remains unknown with TISA. Hopefully, this week will bring more clarity.
Today marks the beginning of TNReady in Tennessee. To those of you not familiar, TNReady is the state's annual great big, super important, standardized test. One that is purported to measure student learning in the state. In reality, it's a billion-dollar exercise funded by Tennessee's taxpayers.
I'd advise parents to remember that today's test is merely a snapshot of where their child is today. It's not a defining reflection of what they know and what they lack. Unfortunately, starting next year, it'll be a snapshot with potentially harmful results as the state's third-grade retention law goes into effect. If a third-grade student doesn't test on grade level during the 2022-23 school year, they will be required to be held back if they didn't attend summer school or commit to a year of intensive tutoring. So, parents, you might want to slow up on those summer vacation plans.
I intended some profound thoughts on the issue around this year's testing, but to be honest, I really don't want to waste any more time thinking about it. On the whole, TNReady is a colossal waste of time that benefits adults more than children. The Tennessee Depart purports that parents deserve to know how their kid is doing.
Are there really parents out there looking at their kids and thinking, "I wonder what he knows?"
Or when the test results come back, "Hmmm....she's not proficient in ELA and I thought she'd mastered it. Thank you TDOE"?
If so, here's a revolutionary idea....talk to your kids. Talk to your kids' teacher. If you don't like the teacher...talk to the principal.
In MNPS, elementary kids will take both MAP tests and the state's universal screeners in the weeks after TCAP. In other words, instructional time is done for the year. So much for concern about lost instructional time.
That's all I got today, it's a little sloppy and a little rushed but...so is the TISA adoption process.
Hopefully, this piece turns out better than that.
Hopefully, the end of the week will bring more positive news to report.
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