The Plan

Significant controversy has surrounded a survey put out by the Tennessee Department of Education in relation to the use of COVID-19 stimulus funds for schools. So much controversy, in fact, that the survey was changed to take away questions about summer school and extending the school day as ways to “make up” for time lost due to school closures during the global pandemic.

The flames were further fanned when what was labeled a “bold and visionary” plan from Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn was discussed in Education Week. The heat was so hot that the article ultimately changed to reflect a more nuanced discussion of Schwinn’s ideas.

Here’s the language that generated a LOT of interest from parents, teachers, and others involved in public education:

Penny Schwinn, understands that making up for lost time will be a multiyear effort that starts immediately. Her three-year learning plan—which should be a model for other states—retools the school year calendar with a mix of in-person and online learning, including a surge of 20 days of learning over the summer.

Her plan to retool time to support a coherent long-term, three-year academic plan for the students of Tennessee is bold and visionary. 

These remarks left the impression that no matter what happened with the surveys, Schwinn had already decided what options would be on the table for school systems.

Wondering where else the idea of extended school days and summer school as “make up” for lost pandemic time is mentioned?

Turns out, it’s in a March 30, 2020 document about how TDOE is responding to COVID-19.

On page 11:

Make-Up Missed Instructional Time

• Local districts may consider afterschool programs, optional summer school, and other locally-led strategies to extend learning time

Page 17, discussing use of funding:

Providing summer learning and supplemental afterschool programs (including on-line learning);

Page 29:

in 18 months, a full school year will have finished, with additional minutes recovered, potentially in a mixed learning format

And, of course, there’s MORE testing:

It will be important to measure student achievement and growth now more than ever, so that teachers and leaders know where to focus efforts. (page 10)

So, there’s a plan. According to one of Schwinn’s pals, it’s “bold and visionary.” And it involves re-tooled (longer) learning time (minutes added to days, summer days). Will this be a statewide mandate? That’s not likely. But, it is possible that local districts receiving CARES funds will need to follow rules created by the state. It’s also noteworthy that while Schwinn attempted to avoid the controversy by clarifying what was published in Education Week, the March 30th plan tracks with the original account.

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

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