SHOWING LOVE TO WHERE YOU START FROM
Life and study have persuaded me of the openness of history. There is no inevitability in history. Thinking about what might have happened, what could have happened, is a necessary element in trying to understand what did happen. And if, as I believe, individual acts of decency and courage make a difference, then they need to be recorded and remembered.”
― Fritz Stern, Five Germanys I Have Known
Over the last decade, in writing this column, I've told a lot of stories. Unfortunately, it is rare that they are the stories that I would like to be telling or the ones I think we should be telling. Time is instead endlessly eaten by arguments over charter schools, vouchers, or money. All important, but should never have become the center of our focus.
Earlier in the week, I was researching the history of how an elected school board became a part of Nashville's City Charter. As a result, I read a lot of articles, including letters to the editor, from the early 80s. It was disheartening to see how many of those articles from 40 years ago could have been written today, I can't help but think that 40 years from now, someone we'll be reading today's article and thinking the same. That would be a tragedy but feels inevitable.
In an effort to clean the palette a bit, I'd like to start today with a little beauty before we get to the ugly, These are two examples of the kind of stories we should be telling. If we were playing offense instead of always being on defense.
Brandon Miller is easily the best high school basketball player in Nashville. By most measures, he is the best prospect in the state of Tennessee for the class of 2022. In November The Athletic ranked Miller as the 10th-best high school player in the entire nation, regardless of class. He has the rare level of talent that makes private school coaches salivate at the mouth. And if he followed the common thinking, he'd be playing at one of those elite schools. But he's not.
Miller is a junior point forward at Cane Ridge High School, an MNPS school located on the southern edge of Davidson County. Nobody would blame the young man had he chosen to attend one of the private academies that recruited him. When COVID hit, MNPS school programs shut down, they remained shuttered this past fall. There was no shortage of players that used the opportunity to transfer schools. Marshall stayed put.
Reportedly it came down to a couple of factors. First, he has two older siblings who both attended Cane Ridge, and had good experiences. I know you're not supposed to say those words in the same sentence, "good experience" and "public school". But apparently, they did, and there was no reason for Marshall to believe his experiences would be any different.
At a time when we focus on test scores, and data, this elite athlete's decision was based on the experience of his siblings.
While the basketball phenom's exploits garner the headlines, I bet a closer look at Cane Ridge will show a bounty of scholars, musicians, and future craftsmen that have also chosen to put their faith in the school's principal and educators and are better for it. Students who could have gone elsewhere, but instead chose the experience offered by an MNPS high school. We owe it to them to tell their story.
Miller's own words supply the second reason, “It means a lot to me,” Miller said. “Playing under Coach Simms and the other staff. Always show love to where you start from, that’s what I was taught."
That simple quote says a lot about both the young man, and what's transpiring at Cane Ridge High School. The beauty of this story is that it is not with precedence. The trail from MNPS classroom to pro sports superstardom has already been blazed by Overton HS graduate and World Series MVP Mookie Betts.
We can get consumed by data, and a rush to prepare for the future, but if we narrow our vision too much, we lose sight of what's really important, the people behind those numbers.
If we spent less time on the numbers and justifying adult concerns, and focused more on sharing experiences, maybe we'd get somewhere. Instead of this perpetual hamster wheel we seem to live on.
My second story comes from J.T. Moore, an MNPS middle school. Per Channel 5 News, at J.T. Moore Middle School you'll find Deana White, or "Ms. Dee" as she's known, roaming the halls, on the playground, and especially driving the bus.
Ms. Dee has had a long-term goal to purchase a house. A goal that seemed forever outside of her grasp. A single mother who has successfully raised 4 boys discovered Habitat for Humanity's homeowner program which helped her bring her dream into focus. Still, she was $5k short. That's where the families and teachers of J.T., Moore stepped in.
A Go-Fund-Me account was created with a goal of $5000, It raised $9000. Ms. Dee has her home. In June, she is expected to move into her new Habitat for Humanity home.
None of this story will end up told on an assessment delivered by the school. But it definitely will show up in the character of those involved. And I'll always take the latter over the former.
Now on to the dastardly shit.
BATTLE LINES DRAWN
So currently those who serve on the state's board of education do so at the discretion of the Governor, but change is afoot.
Making its way quietly through the General Assembly is a bill that would limit the governor's input on the state board of education to three appointees, with the remaining 6 equally divided between the House and the Senate. To say the governor is not a fan of this change is an understatement. He hates it and is working hard to ensure that it doesn't pass. Unfortunately for him, it's already passed the House.
This week it was in the Senate Education Committee, and Lt. Governor McNally brought a little twist. At his bequest, an amendment was added that not only limits the governor to three appointments but those appointments must be approved by the General Assembly. There is no such requirement for the nominees put forth by the speakers of their respective bodies.
It's pretty clear that Governor Lee does not enjoy the same high level of trust as that which was extended to his predecessors. I'd say with good reason, and for evidence, one needs to look no further than his recent appointment to the state board of education, Knoxville businessman Jordan Mollenhou.
For those of you who aren't regular readers of Dad Gone Wild, you might be shocked to find out that Miolienhou was sued after his company, LuckyGunner.com, sold more than 100 rounds of shotgun and handgun ammunition to Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a 17-year-old who killed 10 people and wounded 13 more at a Santa Fe, New Mexico high school, without checking his ID. The company also had another case of lax sales. Sounds like a perfect fit for Tennessee's Board of Education.
Senator Yarboro said in best, '“There are almost 7 million people in Tennessee. Surely to God, we could find one person to serve on the state board of education,”
Make no mistake, the Governor's clumsy heavy-handed approach to education policy is going to have consequences for legislators when they hit the campaign trail next month. making it even more interesting is that many of these trails will lead through uncharted districts filled with unknown constituents due to redistricting. Having to explain potential tax increases coupled with a loss of local control to people you are just forming a relationship with is difficult during the best of times. These are anything but the best of times.
BREAKING OUT THE SHOVELS
Emmy winning Channel 5 new investigator Phil Williams is back focusing on education issues. Per usual, he's following the money. This time as it relates to state education policy. While Williams has barely scratched the surface, his early-week report did include some gems.
The Tennessee Charter School Center is one of the leading voices in the growth of charter schools statewide. It's led by long-term advocate Mya Buggs. It is not uncommon for the Center to bring charter school students to the legislative plaza while the General Assembly is in session. As Williams points out, these visits are "part civics lessons and part public relations — a chance for advocates to put on a show for lawmakers in support of what advocates call "school choice."
Williams asks Buggs, "who is paying for these lobbying efforts?" A fair question, to which Buggs supplies a ludicrous answer, "So we are a non-profit -- so minimal effort is put into lobbying. We do a lot of education. We educate legislators about the issues."
Yeah...that's interesting when you consider that per their 990, they've spent just shy of a million dollars on lobbying over the last 4 years. If that's considered a minimum, I can't imagine what the maximum looks like.
They also employ one of the sharpest minds in the state on education policy in Elizabeth Fiveish. Fivish serves in the role of Chief of Policy I find it a stretch to believe that they are paying her a 6 figure salary to "educate" lawmakers. The very people she used to educate when she was employed as an associate superintendent at the TNDOE. Coupled with SCORE's Aleah Guthrie the two make a formidable tandem in promoting charter school interests. Or should I say educating legislators on the nuances of policy as it relates to charter schools?
As Williams points out, "The truth is the Tennessee School Charter Center employs a big firm that calls itself "Tennessee's Lobbying Powerhouse." His team on a recent visit has counted at least 61 registered lobbyists on the school privatization side, compared to just 17 lobbying for traditional public schools.
Hopefully, in the ensuing weeks, Phill Williams will go deeper. As interesting as his report is, it barely scratches the surface. We still need to talk about SCORE, TNTP, TennesseeCAN, Education Trust, and the real elephant in the room - the Gate Foundation. I'll be watching, hopefully, you will be as well.
CAN I GET AN APPRENTICE?
I guess we need to offer congratulations to the TNDOE's former head of HR David Donaldson. Exactly 6 months, almost to the date, after he left the TNDOE, he and his former Chief of Staff have partnered on a new project - National Center for Grow Your Own.
Donaldson describes his current work such,
“Grow Your Own” (GYO) is a partnership between school districts and educator preparation providers (EPPs) to select candidates (para-professionals, graduating high school seniors, career changers) from local communities to earn their degree and educator license in order to teach.
The aspiring educators earn their degree and license for free while being employed during their student-teaching/clinical internship experience. Upon graduating, aspiring educators are hired as full-time teachers of record within the district. GYO can improve retention and increase educator diversity.
You'll remember that Donaldson is frequently cited by Commissioner Schwinn as an architect of Tennessee's Grow Your Own program. In fact, in his bio, he makes the following claims,
During his tenure, Tennessee ranked #1 for prioritizing educator diversity and equity by The Education Trust. He was the lead author on the approved application by the U.S. Department of Labor to federally recognize the “K-12 teacher” occupation as eligible for apprenticeship.
In case you did forget, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System is kind enough to provide photos of his work to remind you.
I'm sure everything is completely above board and devoid of any conflicts.
Some more news on the front of former TNDOE employees and pals of Penny. While the company founded by Ms. Chief of Staff and former bestie Rebecca Shah is no longer working in Rhode Island - yea, that didn't work out so well - the women-founded group has hired their first man. Ian Rosenblum has joined its senior leadership team as a principal. Rosenblum, who previously led the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education during the first year of the Biden Administration, will provide strategic planning and hands-on implementation support to education leaders and systems across the country as part of the nationwide PK-12 education recovery.
Some of you might remember that Rosenblum supplied much of the "learning loss" fuel that drove Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn's response to COVID. Rosenblum was the founding Executive Director of The Education Trust–New York. This should make Tennessee's ED Trust Executive Director happy as speculation abounds that ILO is currently working in Tennessee around the TISA initiative. After all, someone has to add order to the chaos, and who better than the person who once provided that service on the state's dime.?
IS ANYBODY PAYING ATTENTION
Few things have irked Tennesseans like Governor Lee's intent to bring 50 new Barney schools to Tennessee. In news sure to add fuel to the fire, last week WKRN reported that according to the Transparent Tennessee website, in June of 2021, Tennessee taxpayers paid for Commissioner Penny Schwinn’s trip to Hillsdale to attend the school’s ‘American Classical Education 2021 Summer Conference”. When the TV station asked for details the TNDOE advised they file an open records request.
The purpose of the trip is listed as promoting Tennessee. In case you are unsure of who taxpayers are paying Ms. Schwinn to entice, I encourage you to read a recent article by Peter Greene that offers an overview of Hillsdale College. I particularly draw your attention to his conclusion,
For Hillsdale, the Tennessee partnership is a great deal because, if Lee gets his education savings accounts (neo-vouchers) up and running, Hillsdale can expect to hoover up truckloads of taxpayer dollars. Will the taxpayers get their money's worth?
Ironically, Hillsdale is located in Michigan and enjoys a loose association with former US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Some of you may not remember the extent that Mrs.Schwinn went to not have her picture taken with Mrs. DeVoswhen the Secretary visited Tennessee, including buying tickets on a flight she had no intention of taking. I suspect those tickets were paid with taxpayer money as well. Just further evidence that few are as skilled as the Commissioner when it comes to speaking out of both sides of their mouth.
ABOUT THAT BETTER FUNDING OF STUDENTS THROUGH TISA THANG
Of course, we can't end without talking about the Governor's efforts to reform education funding in Tennessee, or TISA as he likes to call it. Proponents fro the legislation like to call it a funding model instead of a spending model like the current formula, That's a little disingenuous.
No matter how fast they say it and with no matter how much conviction it is said, it becomes a spending plan when it hits the district door. Just like under the current model, districts have the right to spend their funds as they see fit. So, you can label it anything you want, at the end of the day, the new proposal remains a hybrid version, just like the current model.
Speaking of being disingenuous, the Governor likes to frequently remind everybody about how many listening sessions were held, and how many committees meetings were conducted in crafting the reformation, but have you noticed, not a single information meeting, town hall, or committee meeting, has been held since details started trickling out?
Nobody has taken it upon themselves to go back to townspeople and present the plan, asking if this is what they envisioned.
Nobody is out there asking for citizens to send emails voicing their opinions of what has been developed. When it comes to current stakeholder input, it's crickets.
This is why the Governor spent so much time and energy on the front end. It was so they wouldn't have to listen on the back end, but could still cite community participation statistics. To paraphrase Shakespeare, all the world is a stage and we were merely considered players.
Lastly, but certainly;y not least importantly, let me point out an elephant in the room that nobody seems to be talking about. TISA offers a 25% weight to kids that live in poverty. But that qualification is based on a student's family participating in direct services. like TANF, Food Stamps, or a program associated with those.
So let me get this straight, a conservative super-majority is proposing that unless a citizen signs up for government assistance, they are ineligible to receive their fair share of education funding. People that are typically criticizing those who they decry as being on the government tit, are now incentivizing people to get on the government tit. Tell me again how Lee is a Republican.
Someday we ought to play a game of “drunk”, "liberal" or "Governor Lee". I'll read a statement or action and you have to decide if it's connected to a “drunk”, "liberal" or "Governor Lee". I guarantee I'll stump you more than once.
The other part of this is the failure to recognize the number of undocumented children living in this state. You may try to paint it as a large urban center problem, but I suspect that rural districts likely have their fair share of undocumented residents as well.
Regardless of your stance on immigration, the reality is that they are here and it is our obligation to educate their children. Before you try to shirk that responsibility and write them off as freeloaders, remember that they also contribute to the local tax base through various sales taxes. Again though, this isn't about your beliefs on immigration policy but rather the reality that once again schools are forced into providing services without adequate funding. We all know how that is going to work out.
This whole TISA bill is like a rotten onion. You keep thinking if you peel a few layers away, you'll get to the good part. But you soon realize that the spoilage runs much deeper than you initially assumed. It's time to throw this one in the trash and grab a new onion. All we are doing here is prolonging the inevitable.
That does it for today. Sorry for the delay, but we'll see you Friday.
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