Another Note on Teacher Evaluations

Nashville education blogger TC Weber added a brief note on teacher evaluations in his latest post. He makes a good point: What the hell is the point of teacher evaluation this year? Is there a design for evaluating teachers who are teaching all online one week and hybrid two weeks later and fully in-person the next? Are we really going to rate and rank teachers this year in the midst of a global pandemic? We’re in a state where teachers are getting sick with COVID at a rate that exceeds the general adult population. We’re also in a state where the Governor canceled a planned teacher pay raise and the legislature followed his lead. Now, we’re going to continue with what is, in the best years, a highly flawed evaluation system that could be jobs on the line.

Absolutely ridiculous.

Here’s what TC has to say:

In a similar vein, let’s talk about teacher evaluations. What is the purpose of conducting teacher evaluations under present circumstances? Are we trying to weed teachers out at a time we need every single one of them? Are we trying to increase the usage of best practices when under present circumstances we don’t even know what those are? Or are we trying to make sure that the chain of command remains firmly established? I continue to see no upside in doing evaluations in the midst of a pandemic, and oh so much downside.

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

Your support$5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

Breakin’ the Law, Florida Style

Over at Dad Gone Wild, Nashville education blogger TC Weber talks about the Florida Virtual School, Common Core State Standards, and MNPS. Here’s a little hint: Tennessee’s state standards are basically Common Core — but don’t tell that to the newest member of the Textbook Commission!

Here’s TC’s take on Florida Virtual School and some apparent law-breaking:

Tennessee school districts are required to teach Tennessee standards using materials drawn from the state’s approved list of materials, or in which a district has obtained a waiver of use. The emergency rules allow a little bit more flexibility when it comes to online learning, but not when a district is delivering in-person instruction.

As part of its response to the challenges presented by COVID-19, Metro Nashville Public Schools chose to purchase a curriculum from the Florida Virtual School in order to standardized instruction across the district. As an added benefit, many of the accountability requirements called for by the state were embedded in the FLVS offerings – attendance, grading, assessments. It was a plan that made a lot of sense in light of the disruption students would experience this year. But to bring to fruition, it required every school to adopt the curriculum with fidelity. Which is something, right or wrong, that did not happen.

At last week’s committee meeting, State Representative Regan brought forth a question as to whether MNPS had been granted a waiver to use the FLVS curriculum. Board spokesman Nathan James did his best to dance around the question, but Regan was relentless, and eventually, it was revealed that no such waiver had been secured despite ongoing collaboration between the DOE and MNPS. Furthermore, MNPS had received written notification that they were in violation of Tennessee state law due to a failure to secure that waiver.

This question of approval is not a new conversation for me. Back when the use of Florida Virtual School was first proposed I raised the question of it requiring a waiver. That question was posed at an MNPS school board meeting by then-school board member Jill Speering back in July. Speering’s question was dismissed and she was assured, no waiver was required.

At issue here is that Tennessee law prohibits the teaching of Common Core State Standards, it takes less than a perfunctory search to identify that Florida Virtual School curriculum is deeply rooted in CCSS. Now that might be a dismissable factor considering the current situation if we choose to ignore the proliferation of CCSS architects currently employed by the Tennessee Department of Education. Be it AchieveTheCore, the Liben Foundation, CKLA, or David Steiner, it’s pretty clear that the department is deeply invested in the theory of CCSS despite their repeated claims to the contrary. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck… it’s probably a duck.

MORE from Weber>

Nathan James and Penny Schwinn?

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support$5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

Donate Button

No He Didn’t!

Actually, yes, he did! House Speaker Cameron Sexton has appointed the controversial leader of an anti-Muslim advocacy group to the State Textbook Commission.

Cari Wade Gervin has more:

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has recently appointed Laurie Cardoza-Moore to the Tennessee State Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission. The appointment, which had been vacant since 2019, runs through June 30, 2022. It is unpaid but does cover travel expenses.

Cardoza-Moore is the head of the Franklin-based nonprofit, Proclaiming Justice to the Nations (PJTN), a Zionist organization that ostensibly fights anti-Semitism. While that might seem like a noble cause, PJTN’s tactics are really in support of a Christian return to Israel. They also happen to take a very anti-Muslim way to get there.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has deemed PJTN a hate group for its work, which include initiatives like “Stop Access Islam.” (This designation led Amazon to delist the group from its Smile program last year.)

State Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville weighed-in via Gervin:

“I don’t think we want to invite conspiracy theorists into leadership positions that require objectivity and discernment. Nor do we want to give hate speech a platform and bullhorn,” says Johnson, who serves on the House Education Committee and is a former public school teacher. “When I think about the thousands of Tennesseans who support public education and want to collaborate to make it better, it boggles the mind we would select someone who has gone on a crusade in the national media to malign public education.”

Read more from Gervin on this appointment.

As Gervin notes, Cardoza-Moore’s appointment has not yet been approved. However, it’s unclear if enough House members will have the courage to challenge their fairly new Speaker. Sexton is generally well-respected and often thought to be a supporter of public schools. He opposed Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher scheme, for example.

Cardoza-Moore’s appointment to the Textbook Commission comes shortly after Gov. Bill Dunn named former Rep. Bill Dunn to an advisory role in the Department of Education.

It seems the state’s leadership has spent the time after the recent election stockpiling key advisors who are openly hostile to the state’s public schools.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support$5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

A Message for Joe Biden

From the Network for Public Education:

The promises made by the Biden campaign drew support from public education advocates across the nation. From those promises, we identified five K-12 priorities that must be kept at the forefront. Whomever the President-elect chooses to lead the Department of Education must be committed to those priorities as well.

Send your email to the Biden team and tell them pro-public education promises must be met.

Here are those five priorities:

Rebuild our nation’s public schools, which have been battered by the pandemic, two decades of failed federal policy, and years of financial neglect.

Reject efforts to privatize public schools, whether those efforts be via vouchers or charter schools.

End the era of high-stakes standardized testing–in both the immediate future and beyond.

Promote diversity, desegregation (both among and within schools), and commit to eliminating institutional racism in school policy and practices.

Promote educational practices that are child-centered, inquiry-based, intellectually challenging, culturally responsive, and respectful of all students’ innate capacities and potential to thrive.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support$5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

Donate Button

Gross Underreporting

The Tennessee Education Association has sent a letter regarding concerns with the state’s COVID data relative to public schools to Gov. Bill Lee and included Commissioner of Health Lisa Piercey and Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn.

Here’s that letter:

Over the past month, TEA has conducted a continuous review of local COVID-19 infection data of educators and  students. According to the data, COVID active case rates of school staff are consistently higher—sometimes  double—the rates of the communities those schools serve. The data indicate in-person instruction increases  infection risk and that Tennessee educators will become ill at a far higher rate than the state’s general population.  TEA calls on your administration to immediately 

• call for a mask mandate for all school staff and students; 

• publish firm state guidance for infection thresholds for school closure; 

• provide substantial emergency state school funding for high quality PPEs, updated HVAC and air quality  systems, and additional cleaning services;  

• enforce all CDC guidelines for school operations;  

• fund extended educator sick leave for active cases or quarantines;  

• issue guidance to prioritize assigning educators with underlying conditions to remote instruction;  • provide additional health benefits and coverage for staff who have been infected; and • provide hazardous duty pay for all staff directly involved with students.  

Another state action that should be immediately taken is to either improve the data of the Department of  Education statewide COVID dashboard or take down the website. It is clear there are significant errors in the SDE  dashboard; gross underreporting is apparent when the student infection numbers are cross-referenced with  concurrent Department of Health cases for school-age children. The SDE should require accurate LEA reporting of  student/staff COVID cases or stop publishing flawed datasets. 

It was demonstrably wrong SDE reporting that led TEA to review six school systems who have local COVID  dashboards and publish timely and accurate infection data for students and staff. These systems teach  approximately one-quarter of all Tennessee students, a strong sample size providing statewide insights. TEA used  this local data to determine highly elevated infection rates among school staff compared to the communities  where they serve. The state should require every school system to maintain accurate local COVID dashboards for  the remainder of the pandemic.  

The importance of in-person instruction to the academic and emotional wellbeing of students is undisputed;  however, the demonstrably higher infection rate of Tennessee school staff cannot be ignored. There are actions  your administration can and must take to reduce infections until a vaccine can be widely distributed. 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support$5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

Donate Button

Commissioner-in-Waiting

Gov. Bill Lee has selected former State Rep. Bill Dunn to serve in an advisory role to embattled Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn.

Sandra Clark has more in KnoxTNToday.com:

Former state Rep. Bill Dunn will earn $98,000 in his full-time position as senior advisor to state Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. He will work from both Nashville and Knoxville, according to Victoria Robinson, director of media for the state Department of Education.

Dunn started work Monday, Nov. 9, according to a press release from Gov. Bill Lee.

(Note: the new job will boost Dunn’s state pension, which is based on his highest-paid years. He has worked for 26 years as a representative, which currently pays about $24,000. Look for a follow-up when we get actual numbers.)

Dunn has been a long-time critic of public education in the state, opposing the creation and expansion of a Voluntary Pre-K program and taking the lead in ushering in Lee’s school voucher scheme. The voucher plan has since been declared unconstitutional.

Some speculate that Dunn’s role is in preparation for his eventual takeover of the Department of Education. Schwinn has come under fire for her mismanagement of the DOE, and even Republican allies of Gov. Lee are calling for an investigation into her leadership.

Meanwhile, Dunn is a familiar face at the legislature and a committed privatizer. Whether or not he ultimately receives the Commissioner title, there’s no doubt his influence will be felt in the Department and in pursuit of legislative action.

Will former State Rep. Bill Dunn become Commissioner of Education?

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support$5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

Donate Button

Elections and Education

Former Nashville School Board member Amy Frogge offers her take on recent election results around the state and what they mean for education policy.

It’s been a rough week for public education in Tennessee. Here in Nashville, John Little, a political operative paid by charter school interests, was elected to the school board. Funded by wealthy (white) elites seeking to profit off public schools, Little has used aggressive and underhanded smear tactics to “disrupt” school board meetings and legislative hearings for many years now. He considers school board work “political theater” (his words), which has been obvious from his tactics.

In Williamson County, former Speaker of the House Glen Casada, who used questionable tactics to pass Tennessee’s most recent unconstitutional voucher law, was reelected to the state legislature. He was accused of offering incentives to lawmakers to vote in favor of vouchers, which resulted in an FBI investigation of the voucher vote. Casada stepped down as Speaker after only months in the position when confronted by a scandal involving racist and sexist text messages that embroiled him and his staff.

In Knoxville, two voucher proponents are heading to the state House of Representatives. Rep. Jason Zachary, who was responsible for the new unconstitutional voucher law last year, flipped his vote only after Casada held the clock open for 40 minutes and allegedly offered bribes for the vote. Nevertheless, he was reelected. Voucher proponent Michele Carringer was elected to fill the seat left open by departing representative Bill Dunn, an ardent voucher advocate in the legislature for many years. Dunn has now been asked by Governor Lee to join the floundering Tennessee Department of Education.

However, there is hope. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the most disliked current cabinet leader and perhaps the most despised education leader in U.S. history, will be gone in January. DeVos has consistently diverted public school funding to private schools. The national mood around “school reform” (i.e., school privatization, aka “school choice”) is rapidly changing, and President-elect Joe Biden has promised to name a teacher as Secretary of Education. Fingers crossed that we will not backtrack as a country to the low quality of former appointees under the last several presidents. We have real work to do in Tennessee, but perhaps changes at the top will make their way down to our state.

Former State Rep. Bill Dunn, now an education adviser to Gov. Lee

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support$5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

Donate Button

In Light of These Outcries

It seems that someone is finally listening to educators from across the state who have consistently complained about poor management at the Tennessee Department of Education. Let’s be clear: Though flippant and abrasive, current Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn is merely carrying out the privatization agenda of her boss, Gov. Bill Lee.

Still, it’s noteworthy that both Senator Dolores Gresham and Rep. Mark White (who chair the education committees in the Senate and House, respectively) are now calling for an investigation into the financial management practices at the DOE under Scwhinn.

Here’s more from Chalkbeat:

Two legislative leaders are calling for an investigation into the Tennessee Department of Education’s management of millions of dollars earmarked for coronavirus relief, as well as the state’s school voucher program for students with disabilities.

Sen. Dolores Gresham and Rep. Mark White, who chair the legislature’s two main education committees, want the state’s chief internal investigator to look into “questions and concerns” raised about both CARES funding and the 4-year-old voucher program known as Individualized Education Accounts.

Neither lawmaker provided details but, in an Oct. 23 letter to Comptroller Justin P. Wilson, said the concerns “come from every level of education across the state.”

“In light of these outcries,” they wrote, “we respectfully request that your office conduct an investigation into the management of these two areas to determine if they are being administered in accordance with both state and federal law.”

That only took — FOREVER. It’s nice to know the legislature would rather placate a governor hellbent on privatizing our schools instead of actually paying attention.

Here’s …. LOTS of evidence that Gresham and White clearly missed because they are either willfully ignorant or … YOU make the call:

Those are a few examples.

Make no mistake, Bill Lee stands by Penny Schwinn. This is HIS agenda.

Today is Election Day 2020. If you want a different outcome for Tennessee schools, the next time you can vote for someone other than Bill Lee is in November of 2022.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support$5 or more – makes publishing education news possible!

Donate Button