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.

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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. 

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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?

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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

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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.

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A Note on Teacher Evaluation

Amid this interesting post by Nashville education blogger TC Weber is a note on the challenges of teacher evaluation in the age of COVID-19. While groups like the TEA have called for halting TNReady and teacher evaluation during this trying time, Gov. Lee and Commissioner Schwinn seem intent on moving forward.

Here’s more from Weber:

Furthermore, at the urging of Commissioner Schwinn, despite her public position, MNPS leadership is continuing to push forward with teacher evaluations. Principals have been given direction that evaluations need to be completed by the beginning of December. I’m really curious since the majority of instruction has been delivered remotely and remote instruction is a new frontier, who is qualified to do these evaluations? Will these evaluations take in the hours of uncompensated time that teachers have put into self-teach themselves on delivery remote instruction? Will the stress from trying to meet student needs while taking care of their families be factored in? Will the challenges associated with students not showing up be included? What about middle school teachers who found themselves suddenly creating new lesson plans for students based on the halting of the district re-entry plan?

The whole idea of evaluations at this time is inappropriate and should be suspended until a sense of stability is achieved. Unfortunately, Schwinn and the Governor need those evaluations to generate data in order to support their dastardly deeds. One long term DOE employee recently responded to an inquiry of mine by saying, “I have no idea. My sole job these days seems to be focused on forwarding the career of Penny Schwinn.” Teacher evaluations at this time reek of the same odor.

Read the entire post for more on COVID-19 and MNPS>

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Tennesseans for Stupid Testing

Dark money lobbying group Tennesseans for Student Success is out with a statement supporting Gov. Bill Lee’s weak ploy on state testing — continuing with the time-wasting tests while taking it easy on so-called accountability measures.

Here’s what Tennesseans for Student Success has to say:

“Tennessee students and teachers have been challenged this year in ways we could not have imagined. We have been inspired by the commitment demonstrated by parents and teachers to provide intellectually challenging learning opportunities for students across the state,” said Adam Lister, TSS President & CEO. “In these uncertain times, abandoning testing and progress reporting for our students would be a mistake and result in leaving some of our students behind. By continuing with end-of-year testing, the governor ensures each Tennessee student will receive the support they need based on objective data to measure learning loss, inequities, and areas of improvement. We also believe, in this extraordinary moment, student growth measures should not be used in teacher evaluations unless it benefits the teacher and supports his or her professional growth. We thank Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn for their commitment to student improvement and growth in the future generation.”

So, basically, they say: “Hey, look, we know this pandemic sucks and learning time has been lost, etc. But, let’s take weeks out of the year for a test that hasn’t really worked at all in the past five years.”

Meanwhile, Congressman Mark Green is simply calling for the cancellation of TNReady.

In addition to being dark money spenders and supporters of stupid testing, let’s not forget this group is also pretty good friends with payday predators:

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Taking on Testing

Four members of the Tennessee House of Representatives have signed a letter to Gov. Bill Lee calling on him to end TNReady testing and teacher evaluations this year. The move follows a similar request issued by the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) last week. The letter, signed by Representatives John Ray Clemmons, Gloria Johnson, Bill Beck, and Jason Hodges notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has created special challenges that must be taken into account.

Here’s that letter:

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TEA Continues Push to #CancelTNReady

Following an announcement from Gov. Bill Lee today that this year’s state testing will not be used in so-called accountability measures related to teachers and schools in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Tennessee Education Association renewed its call to cancel the TNReady test altogether.

Here’s more from a press release:

“The governor’s statement is a good first step on how to support educators who are already doing everything they can during a pandemic,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “There are additional important steps the administration can take quickly to further reduce the burden on teachers and administrators.”

TEA calls for extending hold-harmless to include suspension of other areas of the evaluation system that take up enormous time and are not aligned to teaching in a pandemic, such as observations and portfolios for non-tested grades.

“It’s not just standardized testing. Our evaluation system is simply not designed to assess teaching during a pandemic,” Brown said. “Many educators are teaching both virtually and in person. We constantly adjust to disruptions caused by infections or quarantines. We teach while doing everything we can to minimize transmission and take time to attend to the emotional needs of students dealing with the pandemic. None of these issues are even remotely included in models the state requires schools use to evaluate teachers.”

The administration could save teachers countless hours by letting school systems know that observations, portfolios, and other evaluation requirements may be suspended, letting teachers devote that time instead to the hard work required for both in-person and online instruction. It would be a tremendous signal of support to Tennessee’s teachers.

As has been the case for months, TEA also disagrees with the administration on the need to administer state standardized testing during the pandemic and calls for the suspension of TNReady.  

“Administering state tests takes weeks and disrupts instruction,” Brown said. “Our students are already dealing with so many distractions and challenges that we simply cannot afford to lose additional instructional time. Our goal must be to get students back on track, not collect testing data that everyone knows will be so flawed it will be useless.”

TEA understands assessing students is important and is being done on a continual basis by educators.

“We don’t need to have state standardized tests to know where students are academically,” Brown said. “We have ongoing state-approved benchmark assessments in addition to the tests and exams teachers administer themselves throughout the school year. If you want to know where students are academically, just look at our gradebooks.”

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TEA Pushes for School Nurses

In a recent tweet responding to Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to have school nurses conduct COVID-19 testing, the Tennessee Education Association highlighted the need for the state to provide funding for a nurse in every school.

https://twitter.com/TEA_teachers/status/1313532196930686978?s=20

The issue of school nurses has been on the agenda of the state’s BEP Review Committee for years. In fact, back in 2014, the committee (tasked with annually evaluating the efficacy of the state’s school funding formula), recommended a significant improvement in funding for school nurses.

Here’s the recommendation from the 2014 report:

Change funding ratios for nurses from 1:3,000 to 1:1,500  $12,194,000

So, for at least six years now (and, to be fair, BEP reports before 2014 also mentioned improvements to funding for school nurses), the state has fallen significantly short of the necessary funding to adequately staff schools with nurses. Now, Gov. Lee wants to add tasks without adding personnel.

Here’s the deal: The management principle of “get more with less” is total crap. Gov. Lee should know this, as he came to state government straight from the private sector. Here’s what you get when you ask overworked, underpaid people to do more with less: You get less. Something has to suffer. Maybe COVID tests will happen, but something else will fall by the wayside. Or, maybe less people will even consider becoming school nurses in Tennessee, further exacerbating the current shortage.

Six years. Two Governors named Bill. No action.

Sad!

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