Always on the Attack

Sen. Brian Kelsey of Shelby County took some time today to attack the Shelby County Schools and get in a jab at the teachers union. He never misses a chance to attack public schools or the educators in them.

Here’s the video:

This is the same guy who sent out a Christmas card crowing about his legal work to voucherize public schools.

This is also the same Brian Kelsey who led efforts to eliminate the Hall Income Tax and $200 million a year in revenue for the state. Then, the issue was what to do with repeated years of surplus revenue. Kelsey’s answer was NOT to invest it in schools, but instead to create a tax giveaway for investors.

Brian Kelsey does not and has not supported our state’s public schools. Now, he’s using his position as chair of the Senate Education Committee to attack public school teachers. In other Kelsey news, he’s the lead sponsor of legislation that would undermine the ability of working Tennesseans to join a union.

MORE ON KELSEY:

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An Unwelcome Pause

Even as state lawmakers push for an accelerated return to in-person learning, the State of Tennessee is announcing that teachers will not be able to receive COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as planned.

Chalkbeat has more:

Tennessee teachers, school staff, and child care workers must wait for COVID-19 vaccinations until after people age 70 and older receive their shots, state officials said Friday.

The new directive pauses the inoculations of educators, which already had begun in many rural counties. As of Thursday evening, more than half of counties in the state had run out of vaccine doses.

Based on current projections, it seems teachers will begin to be vaccinated again at the end of February, with a goal of saturation by sometime in March.

The announcement of the pause comes as the state reports an ever-increasing number of COVID-19 cases.

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State’s Poor Pandemic Response Takes Toll on Teachers

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) today released the results of a statewide survey of teachers regarding the experience of teaching during the pandemic. According to the report, 74% of teachers rated the state’s handling of the issues surrounding schools and COVID-19 as “poor.”

The findings should come as no surprise as Governor Bill Lee continues to pursue a privatization agenda while failing to actually do much of anything about the spiking COVID cases.

Here’s the full press release from the TEA:

As students and educators begin the Spring semester, a statewide Tennessee Education Association survey of educators reveals just how difficult and time-consuming the fall semester was on educators across the state. Public school educators are struggling under tough teaching conditions of the pandemic, working longer hours with little training or support—often with inadequately supplied classrooms—and enduring the daily threat and reality of infection.

“Tennessee public school educators have been staying strong for months, taking the challenges of teaching in a pandemic head-on,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “Our educators need more support and resources as they begin what will certainly be another difficult semester. As the survey showed, most public school staff are working longer hours with daily disruptions and changing tasks, but with little guidance, support or tangible encouragement from the state. The state must do more to assist with the burdens of teaching in a pandemic.”

In December, more than 7,000 teachers, education support professionals, administrators and certified personnel participated in the confidential TEA survey on education working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. An overwhelming majority of those polled said their work is more or much more difficult than in past years.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • Eighty-four percent of teachers, 78% of administrators and 67% of certified professionals said they are working more hours than in the past.
  • The average Tennessee educator worked an additional 235 hours during the fall semester to overcome pandemic disruptions and maintain quality instruction.  
  • The concern of infection and the disruptions in teaching caused by the pandemic are taking a psychological toll on educators, with 84% reporting a negative emotional impact and half reporting being strongly impacted.
  • An overwhelming 91% of educators teaching virtually said they have been given new assignments and responsibilities that differ from their training and professional practices.

Additionally, a growing number of educators are being diagnosed with COVID-19. The rate of reported infections in the survey match TEA tracking data which shows educators having significantly higher infection rates than the general population and in the communities they serve. TEA estimates more than 16,000 public school educators have contracted the virus since July.  

“Educators are front-line personnel in this pandemic. From the stress of taking care of students and overcoming the disruptions the virus causes, to dealing with the anxiety of being infected and bringing it home to family and loved ones, these past months have been exhausting mentally, physically, and emotionally,” Brown said.   

While educators are critical of school districts’ response to the pandemic, the harshest criticism is leveled at the state government’s response, with 74% of respondents rating the state response poor.

“Our school districts have been left with insufficient guidance from the state, from how to slow infections or when to close schools to providing resources that assist with overcoming disruptions. The survey shows the high level of frustration with state leadership,” Brown said. “We’re 10 months into the pandemic, and one-third of teachers are still less than adequately supplied with personal protective equipment and cleaning materials. Most educators have once again dipped into their own pockets to purchase all the necessary supplies for their classrooms, and there is no excuse for that.”

“The survey confirms that we’ve worked more hours under the most difficult circumstances imaginable, going above and beyond for our students. The administration and legislature must acknowledge the sacrifices we’ve been making and take concrete steps to give us the support and recognition we have earned,” Brown said. 

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Students Set to Return to School as COVID Cases Spike

The head of the Knox County Education Association (KCEA) is calling on that district to begin school this semester in a hybrid or virtual model as COVID-19 cases spike in Knox County and across the state.

WBIR has more:

The Knox County Education Association called for the county’s schools to start the semester in the “red zone” with no in-person learning, or with an alternating hybrid schedule where students alternate in-person days, the group’s president said Monday. 

“We can’t sacrifice lives over politics and we need to do what’s right and what’s best for everyone,” Tanya Coats told 10News. “Educating kids is a priority for us, but we just need to do it remotely from home.” 

The push in Knox County to move to remote learning comes at time when new cases of COVID-19 in Tennessee and in Knox County are increasing.

As WBIR notes, since December 11th:

. . . the county’s health department has reported in excess of 10 thousand more positive tests and more than 100 new deaths tied to the virus. The number of active cases has increased by 62 percent. 

In fact, Tennessee achieved “best in the world” status for COVID transmission rate (the highest rate) in December and the entire state is currently identified as a COVID-19 “hot spot” according to Tennessean reporter Bret Kelman:

Some districts have already announced they will open virtually this semester for at least a few days up to a few weeks. With numbers surging and a post-Holiday spike expected, it’s not clear when conditions will be safe for in-person learning.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Lee has called a “not so special” session of the legislature to address the issue. That meeting will begin on January 19th.

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COVID 2021

As the new year starts, schools will be back in session. The question for many districts, though, is will they return to in-person learning or will they come back in a virtual or hybrid model? Wilson County Schools answered that with a message to families noting the district will be operating virtually until January 15th.

Metro Nashville has already announced they’ll be virtual until at least January 18th. Likewise, Sumner County will be virtual when that district returns from January 6th-8th.

What’s your district doing?

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Just Kidding

Apparently, Gov. Bill Lee doesn’t really believe the COVID-19 pandemic is all that serious. Despite a prime time address Sunday in which he “strongly urged” and made some suggestions, there’s been very little real action. What action there has been reflects a Governor who is not actually all that concerned about the safety and well-being of those in schools.

WPLN’s Alexis Marshall has more:

But a state education department spokesperson tells WPLN News that the newest executive order doesn’t apply to schools.

The governor says that if people must work in-person, they should mask up. “We want you to work safely, and that’s what we’ve been doing with teachers throughout this pandemic,” he said.

However, the state has not required teachers to wear masks. That decision is left up to individual school districts, some of which have declined to require face coverings for students and staff.

So, despite what Lee describes as a crisis in our state, schools will be open for in-person learning and there will be no mask mandate issued by the Governor for schools.

Lee’s failure to lead is evident in our status as among the worst places in the world for the spread of COVID, and now he’s making a series of suggestions but also not applying any new policy to schools.

Bill Lee claims to be taking the virus seriously. His actions suggest he’s just kidding.

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Turkey Farmer

Nashville education blogger TC Weber offers some insightful commentary on Gov. Bill Lee’s speech on the state’s ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Here are some highlights:

What you missed remains unclear because the Governor managed to address a crisis without offering any clear direction. There were a lot of suggestions, and a few warnings, but no mandates. In essence, a request was entered, that if Tennesseans planned on any social gathering, perhaps they’d be kind enough to limit them to 10 people unless they were funerals, weddings, church services, or … not social events.

Nearly a third of Executive Order 70 is devoted to sporting events, with nary a mention about schools, bars, restaurants, or constructions sites – all of whom would welcome, and arguably require clearer guidance. Mind you, I’m not favoring one set of mandates over another, but if you are going to promise something of substance, offer something of substance. Hell, he quoted Churchill, that alone raises the bar. Per usual with Lee and his team, we are left to debate the quality of action as opposed to the actual policy. Something that has come to define the Lee administration.

The thing that I’m more fascinated with is, what happens behind the scenes. I’m assuming that there were several meetings held prior, to devise the strategy and wording of Lee’s speech. Wasn’t anybody struck by the inadequacies of this response? Or did everybody sign-on?

Did Blake Harris his Chief of Staff, read the speech and say, “Perfect. Way to thread the needle on Government and free will. People will love this.”

Did his Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn take a look at it and say, “Nicely done. Don’t offer any guidance on schools, nobody’s interested in that. We already put those rumors about closing schools to bed. This here speech is a shining example of leadership.”

It has long been my belief that the quality of leadership is revealed by the people a leader surrounds themselves with. Between several high profile resignations and current moves by Governor Lee, I don’t think anybody can put forth the argument that he’s surrounding himself with a high-quality team focused on the citizens of Tennessee. My father used to have a plaque on the wall that read, “You can’t fly with the  eagles if you surround yourself with turkeys.” Governor Lee seems to fancy himself as some kind of turkey farmer.

READ MORE from TC>

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Image of a Potential Cabinet Member in the Lee Administration

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Lack of Action

Tonight, Gov. Bill Lee addressed the State of Tennessee in response to a growing crisis as Tennessee is a national and world leader in COVID cases per capita and in the rate of spread of the disease.

Lee insisted that masks work and then refused to issue a mask mandate. He did issue an Executive Order that says very little. It limits indoor social gatherings to 10 or less people but allows high school sports, says nothing about whether schools should or will be open for in-person learning, and does not change current protocol regarding bars and restaurants.

Here’s more on that order:

Lee took no responsibility for his failure to take action up to this point – a failure that has made our state one of the most dangerous places to be in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Tennessee hospitals are strained and residents are sick and dying (10,000 new cases a day, as Lee mentioned), Lee did not acknowledge that his policy ineptitude had anything to do with the current crisis – a crisis not faced at this time at this level anywhere else in the country.

State Representative Gloria Johnson of Knoxville offered this succinct response to Lee’s address:

“More than 6,000 Tennesseans are dead and many of these were preventable deaths. His own administration told us that hospitals are on the brink of collapse. At this point it is impossible to separate COVID-19 suffering and death from Gov. Bill Lee’s refusal to fight this virus.

I have already heard from constituents with hospitalized family members and from doctors who had hopes the governor would listen to their pleas, they were devastated by the lack of action.”

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TC Talks Learning Loss

Nashville education blogger TC Weber takes a moment to talk about all that so-called “learning loss” going on and in the process, he teaches us a lesson.

Here’s some of what he has to say:

Yesterday I attended the Tennesseans for Student Success & TennesseeCAN webinarThe event was previewed as an opportunity to see what the Tennessee General Assembly would be tackling this upcoming session. On the panel were House Education Chairs Deborah Moody and Mark White, along with State Senator John Lundberg. Lundberg is the presumptive successor to former Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham, though there has been some chatter about the position falling to Senator Kelsey. joining them was SCORE Director of Policy and Government Relations, Aleah Guthrie.

I’m not sure what I expected, since I can’t cite a single instance of the three pre-mentioned organizations getting in a room together and producing anything memorable, but the conversation was fairly predictable. All three continually scream, “Crisis!” while conveniently ignoring the role they’ve played in shaping policy over the last decade. Today would be no different.

The prevailing theme of the entire session was “loss” – be it learning or students. To put it into perspective, had I been playing drink “learning loss” – taking a shot of whiskey every time I heard the phrase – I would have been hammered by the mid-point of the event. On the flip side, had I been playing drink “student gains”, I could have gotten behind the wheel and driven to Memphis with no worries.

It’s fascinating to me that in a state filled with proud conservatives, so many are willing to subscribe to a belief that children can’t learn without government intervention. The government can’t tell me to wear a mask, but a child is incapable of learning sans legislator involvement. No statewide mask mandates, but hell yea, bring on the state testing mandate.

The portrayal of nothing but losses is an inaccurate one. The lessons that kids are learning may not be the ones prescribed by policy experts and politicians, but I think they are worth acknowledging. We have long talked about the need for increased fluency in technology. Has there ever been a year that mirrored the growth of this year? We have children as young as five, navigating systems and receiving instruction better than half the state’s adult population. I would think that goes in the win column and is cause for celebration alone.

Not Wrong

TC is not wrong. At all. Kids ARE learning. Teachers ARE teaching. In fact, in many systems, teachers are teaching both online AND in-person. Just because school buildings might not be open, doesn’t mean learning isn’t happening or that teachers aren’t working their asses off to adapt to a new reality.

While Gov. Lee may not know how to lead, our Tennessee teachers are demonstrating they get the job done no matter what.

Also, here’s a bit more about SCORE and all the “work” they do for kids:

If lawmakers aren’t coming forward to raise teacher pay and direct more resources to the classroom, they can just take a seat. Teachers are getting it done with less and risking their lives because of COVID. Their governor cancelled a raise and their legislature thinks being 45th in school funding is the same as being adequate.

Some analysts differ. Big time.

If there’s going to be hand-wringing over learning loss, then legislators need to start getting serious about funding Tennessee schools. Every single year. So far, there’s a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing.

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The Best in the World

Well, Gov. Bill Lee has finally done it. Tennessee is the best. Not just the best in the South. Not just the best in the United States. Tennessee is the best in the whole WORLD!

Yes, you read that right. A guy who previously ran a mildly successful HVAC company has now led his state to become the BEST in the whole world at something.

What is it, you might be asking. I mean, this is an education blog, so maybe it has to do with schools.

It does, sort of .

Tennessee is number one in the world in the number of new COVID cases per population.

Here’s a tweet (and maps/graph to follow):

Here’s the thing: Gov. Lee refuses to lead on this issue. He won’t talk mask mandate. He won’t close schools to in-person instruction statewide. Hell, he won’t even properly deploy CARES Act funding.

Teachers across the state are dying of COVID and Lee’s best idea is to make sure kids take EOC tests.

Oh, and this is interesting — Lee’s lack of leadership means we also lead in another category – 9 of the top 20 cities where COVID is spreading the fastest are in Tennessee.

Oh, and if you’re a parent wondering what to do about childcare in case your kid’s school is closed into 2021? Yeah, Bill Lee doesn’t give a damn about that, either:

I keep trying to think of an example of a Governor in our country who has failed more spectacularly than Bill Lee. But, he’s basically cornered the market on governmental ineptitude.

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