Hundreds of Waivers

Chalkbeat is tracking requests from school districts to waive various state mandates for the upcoming school year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s more:

Wanting flexibility for a school year of uncertainty, more than half of Tennessee districts have asked for one-year waivers to state mandates ranging from duty-free lunch periods for teachers to new physical education requirements for students.

Hundreds of waiver requests have already been submitted by 79 school systems to the Tennessee Department of Education. More are expected in the coming months as schools reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.

The first round of requests will be considered on Friday by the state Board of Education. That vote will offer an early glimpse of how far Tennessee will go to help schools navigate COVID-19 at the expense of statewide policies aimed at improving the quality of public education.

It seems worth noting that of the requests on the agenda Friday, only one includes TNReady testing. The recommendation of State Board of Education staff is to deny that request. Some districts, like Williamson County, have appealed directly to Gov. Bill Lee for relief on the testing front.

Here’s the rest of the Chalkbeat story>

https://tn.chalkbeat.org/2020/7/21/21333088/tennessee-school-systems-seek-hundreds-of-waivers-from-state-mandates-amid-covid

Here’s a breakdown of requests and State Board staff recommendations:

https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/stateboardofeducation/documents/2020-sbe-meetings/july-24%2c-2020-sbe-meeting/7-24-20%20IV%20M%20COVID-19%20Additional%20LEA%20Waivers%20Attachment%20Public.pdf

You Down With PPE?

Tennessee’s largest organization representing teachers is calling on all school districts to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) if or when schools resume operation. Here’s more:

TEA calls on every Tennessee school district to provide personal protective equipment, all necessary sanitation supplies, and enough support professionals necessary for maintaining the safest possible teaching environments if or when students and educators return to public schools. 

The move comes just weeks before school is slated to start in many Tennessee districts. It also comes amid a continued spike in cases of COVID-19 in the state.

Turns Out, We Need Schools

Jeff Bryant writes about how the COVID-19 pandemic is waking America up to the reality that schools are, in fact, essential. To everything.

Here’s a bit of what he has to say:

In May, as the pandemic was just about to explode from hotspots in the Northeast to a nationwide contagion, Forbes contributor Nick Morrison argued, “Until children go back to school, parents will have to remain at home looking after them, and it will be impossible to fully restart the economy.”

New York Times op-ed writer Spencer Bokat-Lindell, marveling at how European countries were able to reopen schools, wrote, “Restarting classes is essential not only to parents’ mental health and children’s development, but also to reviving the economy.”

“We cannot have a functioning economy, or any hope of reducing economic inequalities, without a functioning educational system,” wrote Paul Starr for the American Prospect in June.

“A consensus is emerging among top economists and business leaders,” reported Heather Long for the Washington Post in July, “that getting kids back into day cares and schools is critical to getting the economy back to normal.” She quoted chief executive of JPMorgan Chase Jamie Dimon saying, “If schools don’t open, a lot of people can’t go back to work.” Those pronouncements on the need to reopen schools in order to save the economy have turned into a drumbeat in the halls of government.

At a June hearing on Capitol Hill, senators and federal health officials called for “schools to resume some form of normal operations in the upcoming academic year, due in part to concerns about a weakened economy and the long-term welfare of children and families,” according to Education Week

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Turns out, we need schools. It also turns out that YEARS of chronic underfunding of public schools means… well, we’re not quite ready for what’s next.

Do we value kids? Families? Our investment (or serious lack thereof) in schools tells the real story.

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

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Nashville Non-Profit to Present “AntiRacist Classroom” Event

From a Press Release:

July 24 at 1:00 PM (CT) The Educators’ Cooperative will host a virtual conversation titled “Antiracist Teaching, Learning, and Leading from the Classroom” in an effort to openly address the legacies of segregation, white-flight, and white supremacy in schools. The teachers of EdCo are dedicated to facilitating this essential antiracist work cross-sector, for the benefit of all students. Registration for the event will open Tuesday, July 7 at 8:00 AM (CT) at educatorscooperative.com

Tickets, priced from $15-$60, are limited in order to ensure active engagement by all participants.

The event will feature four expert panelists:

José Luis Vilson is a Teacher, Activist, Author of This is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class and Education (Haymarket Books, 2014), and Executive Director of EduColor, an organization dedicated to race and social justice issues in education. Vilson asserts, “The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of police, plus the ensuing uprisings across the world have created a level of urgency among white educators to become more aware of their complicity. I’m choosing to engage this new set of subscribers with a huge sense of responsibility and awareness of the moment.”  

Ansley Erickson is a Columbia University Professor and Author of Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and Its Limits (University of Chicago Press, 2016), an exploration of educational inequality in Nashville from World War II through the end of Nashville’s court-supervised school desegregation in 1998. History of Education Quarterly called the book “a comprehensive history that explores how factors both within the school system and without have interacted to increase inequality.”

Christiane Buggs is an MNPS Board Member, graduate and former educator. She serves on the EdCo board and on the founding board of The Equity Alliance, where she actively works to equip African Americans with tools and strategies to engage in the civic process.

Alecia Ford is an award-winning MNPS Teacher. She will facilitate a post-panel workshop for teachers to share resources, connect with accountability partners, and make concrete plans for implementation. 

EdCo Executive Director Greg O’Loughlin is “honored to host this distinguished panel of activists, authors, public servants, and educators for what promises to be a meaningful and thorough discussion.”

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The Educators’ Cooperative is a Nashville, Tennessee based non-profit organization that provides a professional learning community for K-12 teachers. EdCo provides professional development and support for educators to collaborate across sectors, disciplines, and career stages, aiming to revolutionize teacher development and leadership by focusing on the common ground all teachers share.

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

Tennessee PTA Statement

Statement of Tennessee PTA President Kim Henderson:

Tennessee PTA joins with others throughout the nation who are deeply saddened by the continued examples of racism, systemic discrimination and injustice that are present in our society.

We support National PTA president Leslie Boggs who said “This ongoing problem of unequal justice has led to protests across this country and continues to have a profound effect on African Americans and communities of color, who feel hurt, frustrated, angry and afraid. Our nation must do better, and PTA stands with those who peacefully seek to inspire meaningful change…Our transcendent goal has always been to change the lives of children for the better and we will continue to ensure our society values and protects every child. We encourage PTA members and all concerned citizens to speak out and demand that every child be afforded the opportunity to make their potential a reality. Together, we can move above and beyond the perceived division of our diverse experiences and build a shared experience—the experience of working together as human beings, intent on building a better nation and world for our children’s future.”

PTA’s mission is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children. Tennessee PTA stands and advocates for equal opportunities for all children and youth. We work to amplify the voices of those who are too often unheard. It is time for all our members and the communities in Tennessee to participate in honest and open discussions and earnestly listen to those in our communities of color. We must have empathy, examine our own thoughts and feelings and then speak up and work to find ways for improvement which will alleviate injustice, cultural biases and discriminatory practices ensuring a better future for our youth.

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

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TC and the General Assembly

Nashville education blogger TC Weber takes on the General Assembly and Gov. Bill Lee in his most recent post. Interestingly, he lays out some potential GOP challengers to Lee. Here’s more:

It’s a poorly kept secret that many Republicans are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Governor Lee’s leadership. Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton, Congressman Mark Green, and former SCORE Executive Director Jamie Woodson are all in various stages of considering a run to challenge Lee in 2022. This comes in spite of Lee maintaining that in house polls show him running with a 64% approval rate.

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TEA Executive Director to Retire

Carolyn Crowder, the Executive Director of the Tennessee Education Association, is set to retire, according to a press release from the organization.

Tennessee Education Association Executive Director Carolyn Crowder is retiring from the association.

“Carolyn spent her career serving students and educators nationwide prior to joining TEA as executive director nearly seven years ago,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “She came on board during a rebuilding time for the association and has been instrumental in leading TEA to year-after-year membership growth during her tenure. Her leadership will be greatly missed by our members and our staff.”

Crowder came to Tennessee from Denver, where she served four years as executive director of the combined Denver Classroom Teachers Association, Denver Association of Education Office Professionals and DCTA-Retired. She previously served as president of the Oklahoma Education Association and as a member of the executive committee of the National Education Association. Crowder began her career in education as a vocal music and elementary teacher in Oklahoma.

“Over the past year, I have found several reasons to embrace the idea of retirement,” Crowder said. “I remember at my first staff meeting, a staff member asked me if I was here to ‘save’ TEA. TEA didn’t need saving. We just needed to roll up our sleeves, learn to fight for our cause a little differently and put our faith in building a member-led organizing culture. It is rewarding to reflect and see so clearly what we’ve been able to accomplish together.” 

The TEA Board of Directors has named Assistant Executive Director Terrance Gibson to serve as interim executive director until Crowder’s replacement is hired later this year.

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

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30 Years of Lies

A former school superintendent from Ohio exposes 30 years of education policy lies foisted on public schools by policymakers too busy or too self-involved to actually focus on what our kids really need. Here are some highlights:


For at least three decades, politicians have claimed their goal has been to close the achievement gap between children who are successful in school and those who are not, and, by their own admission, their laws haven’t worked. They have failed while wasting billions of our tax dollars.


In the early 1990’s, politicians told us that if they could force all schools to follow the same academic standards, the achievement gap would be eliminated. But, the gap still exists.


Similarly, politicians promised us that forcing kids to take state approved tests, with schools, teachers, and principals being “held accountable” for their students’ performance, the achievement gap would be eliminated. But, the gap still exists.


The public was also assured that if laws were enacted “guaranteeing” that every child must achieve a politically determined level of achievement, all children would be successful. But, the gap still exists.

What are the education policy lies you hear most often?

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Lee’s Friend DeVos Pitches Failed ESA Scheme

PR Watch has the story of how Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (a long-time associate of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee) pitched Arizona’s Education Savings Account (ESA) scheme at a recent ALEC meeting. The Arizona plan is similar to the one Tennessee’s legislature passed in 2019 at Lee’s request. The vote on the voucher scheme bill is currently under investigation by the FBI. Here’s more on DeVos’s pitch, which appears to have been divorced from reality:


Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos held a roundtable on “education freedom” with Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) yesterday at the ALEC States and Nation Policy Summit to promote her controversial and costly Education Freedom Scholarships proposal.


DeVos heaped praise on Arizona’s school system at the event, saying, “Arizona is really a leader in giving parents and students the kind of freedom that they need to find their right fit for education. And I’m so grateful for the example that you are setting here,” the Arizona Republic reported.


But Arizona is not a great example when it comes to school performance. The state consistently ranks among the bottom among all states in opportunities and performance and was recently named the worst state to teach in.

Lee appears in some ways to be modeling his education agenda after the failed agenda of AZ Governor Doug Ducey.

It seems he might do well to heed the warning from Arizona when it comes to vouchers:


And later in the afternoon, DeVos told a larger group of attendees, “Arizonans are loving their ESAs,” or Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. But voters rejected a ballot measure to expand the state’s voucher system by a 65-35 percent margin in 2018, so DeVos appears to be misinformed. 

The same type of voucher scheme Lee is now fast-tracking has been devastating to Arizona public schools:


Last year, nearly $200 million which otherwise would have been in the state’s coffers, money which could have been used to boost our shamefully low education budget, is paying for children to go to private schools.

This is what Bill Lee wants for Tennessee. Unabated charter growth. An expansive voucher program that sucks funds from public schools. It’s an agenda that has failed children in state after state. It’s a top priority of Betsy DeVos, ALEC, and other Koch-funded entities.

The good news: There’s a bipartisan effort to repeal the voucher scheme in 2020.

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