Total Disgrace

That’s how one incumbent Republican House member describes Gov. Bill Lee’s conduct in the face of comments from a key education advisor disparaging teachers.

Other candidates joined in and suggested the Lee should have taken action rather than sit silently while teachers were attacked. Since the comments were made, Hillsdale President Larry Arnn has doubled down:

Here’s video of the forum where candidates spoke about the incident:

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1550962055456456707?s=20&t=vu5OgV6ja6BKuvbMj46SZg

Here’s more on Lee making a weak attempt to distance himself from the whole situation:

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Milestones

Since Tennessee Education Report started, I have written and published more than 1500 articles on education politics in Tennessee.

That’s about 150 articles a year, every year since 2013.

It’s reflective of a commitment to covering the issues that impact Tennessee schools.

Maintaining a website means committing time and resources. Over the years, I’ve been lucky to have support from many of the readers of this publication.

I appreciate you – your financial support gives me the opportunity to share education news on a regular basis.

Yes – this is a post making a direct ask for your support – and when I say every $5 or $10 helps, I mean it – and I appreciate it.

Recently, I’ve been writing a lot about Gov. Bill Lee and Hillsdale:

It’s a story about a Governor with a steadfast commitment to directing public money to private schools. Even before he was a candidate, he was supporting Betsy DeVos and her privatization scheme.

Your help makes covering these issues possible.


Of course, there are also issues like the ongoing TNReady challenges. For years, Tennessee’s state testing system has been a disaster. And for years, TNEdReport has been providing coverage.

This year, as in years past, there are some exciting races for local school boards. This is the first year we’re having partisan school board races, and it’s been a bit of an adventure.

From testing to vouchers to elections to teacher pay and more – Tennessee Education Report is there.

Thank you for making that happen.

Your continued support is greatly appreciated!

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

Lee vs. Lee

It seems that July 2022 Bill Lee needs to go back and have a conversation with January 2022 Bill Lee. You see, July Bill Lee is out there doing damage control over a controversy regarding Hillsdale College.

Even early July Bill Lee was doubling down on attacks on public education and defending Hillsdale President Larry Arnn.

Now, though, Lee is backing away from Hillsdale – or, at least he’s claiming that his January 2022 vision for Tennessee is “not his vision.”

NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams has been relentless in pursuit of the Hillsdale story and recently caught up with Lee. Here’s what Lee had to say:

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Lee why those school board votes should not be seen as a repudiation of his vision of Hillsdale being a key part of his “school choice” efforts.

“It shouldn’t be seen that way because it’s not my vision,” Lee claimed, adding that his vision is “to create the best public school system in the country.”

Lee had asked Arnn to help establish 50 to 100 of the taxpayer-funded schools across the state as part of his push for “informed patriotism” in schools.

It’s pretty interesting that Lee seems to think that no one remembers his State of the State address and his embrace of American exceptionalism. Or, more specifically, Lee’s direct reference to Hillsdale as a beacon of hope for patriotic Americans.

Here’s what Lee said in his January State of the State:

Two years ago, I traveled to Hillsdale College to participate in a Presidents Day celebration and spend time with champions of American exceptionalism.

For decades, Hillsdale College has been the standard bearer in quality curriculum and the responsibility of preserving American liberty.

I believe their efforts are a good fit for Tennessee, and we are formalizing a partnership with Hillsdale to expand their approach to civics education and K-12 education.

And, Lee is working to create an “Institute for American Civics” at UT that borrows curriculum from Hillsdale:

The College Fix notes:

As part of his “America at its Best” agenda, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee allocated $6 million to establish the institute.

Furthermore, Lee said he has formalized a partnership with Hillsdale College to ensure that the Christian school’s philosophies and teaching methods on civics education are brought to the institute.

Anyway, it’d be great if July 2022 Bill Lee could go and catch up with January Bill Lee and tell him to scrap the part of his speech about being all cozy with Hillsdale.

Even better (and less likely) would be if July Bill Lee would actually stand up for Tennessee teachers and public schools and sever all ties with Larry Arnn and Hillsdale.

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Another Hillsdale Rejection

Hillsdale College is having a bit of a moment in Tennessee and the hits just keep on coming.

Just one day after the Rutherford County School Board rejected a Hillsdale charter school, the Clarksville-Montgomery County School Board did the same.

NewsChannel5 has more on Clarksville’s move against Hillsdale:

A charter school program tied to the controversial Hillsdale College suffered a third rejection by a Tennessee school board Tuesday night as the Clarksville-Montgomery County school board said it wanted nothing to do with the school pushed by Gov. Bill Lee.

With no debate, the Board of Education unanimously voted to reject the application of the Hillsdale-affiliated American Classical Academy. That follows similar votes by school boards in Rutherford County and Madison County.

While these districts continue to reject Hillsdale charters, it seems quite possible that Gov. Bill Lee’s unelected charter commission will force the charters on the districts.

So, the local elected leaders have no say and an unelected board loyal to Lee will decide what’s “best” for these communities.

This should come as no surprise considering Lee’s history:

It’s all part of an agenda to funnel public dollars to private schools with a decidedly evangelical bent.

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Rutherford Rejects Hillsdale Charter

The Rutherford County School Board rejected a charter school application from a Hillsdale-affiliated school last night. The vote was 6-1 against.

Here’s one Rutherford County School Board member talking about the problems with charter schools, Gov. Bill Lee, and Hillsdale President Larry Arnn:

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1549478212119547904?s=20&t=fC4-gH_Cg1Cba-14C6Rknw

Arnn’s recent comments disparaging teachers certainly didn’t help matters.

Following the vote, the Southern Christian Coalition issued a statement applauding the move and calling on Gov. Lee to sever all ties with Hillsdale.

Here’s more on that from NewsBreak:

Following the Rutherford County School Board’s rejection of a charter school affiliated with Hillsdale College, pastors affiliated with the Southern Christian Coalition hailed the move and called on Gov. Lee and state policymakers to sever all ties with the private college in Michigan.

Coalition member Rev. Donna Whitney of Metro Interdenominational Church in Nashville released a video statement in which she applauded the Rutherford County decision and pushed Lee to take action to end Tennessee’s Hillsdale connection.

“I’m grateful that the Rutherford County School Board rejected the application of American Classical Academy, a charter school connected to Larry Arnn and Hillsdale College. Since January when Governor Lee announced that he wanted to open 100 Hillsdale charter schools in Tennessee, I have been speaking out against this plan due to the school’s failure to appropriately separate church and state in our public schools and because of the fact that their history curriculum whitewashes history. All children across the state deserve access to a high-quality education with high quality curriculum that meets state standards and prepares them to become successful and productive adult members of our community, and these schools would instead be a disservice to our students.

“The comments made by Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College, an education advisor to Governor Lee, that ‘teachers come from the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges’ is just further proof that Governor Lee needs to distance himself from Hillsdale and abandon his attempts to bring Hillsdale Schools to Tennessee. These schools erase the line between church and state and are an attempt to bring White Christian Nationalism into our public schools.”

Whitney ended her remarks with an appeal for full funding of the state’s public schools.

“So today I am asking for Governor Lee to abandon this ill-advised partnership and instead finally fully fund our public schools as much as any other state so that every child in Tennessee has access to a quality public education that prepares them to thrive as productive and successful adults who enrich our Tennessee communities.”

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An Unapologetic Apology

Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn came under fire recently for comments he made at an event with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee. Arnn said, among other things, that “teachers come from the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges.”

Lee not only silently listened on while Arnn attacked teachers, but he also later doubled down, indicating his support for the general premise of Arnn’s statements.

Today, Arnn published an OpEd in which he apologized “if” he had caused trouble for Lee. He then noted that he meant what he said about teachers and the colleges that train them.

In reference to his comments about the “dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges,” Arnn said:

I have said this many times, in public and in private, and will likely say it again. This time it was important because Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee was present. Many were outraged. I was not speaking for the governor, and I would rather do anything than embarrass him. If I have done that, I apologize to him. 

Note he’s apologizing to Lee here, not to teachers in Tennessee.

It’s no wonder he wants to keep Lee happy. The aftermath of Arnn’s remarks, caught on video, has caused some in Lee’s own Republican party to at least say words about cancelling any relationship with Hillsdale. Larry definitely wants to keep the money flowing to his small, fundamentalist Christian school.

Arnn proceeds to disparage the teaching of pedagogical concepts such as diversity, equity, and inclusion – he mentions them as if they are a waste of time, rather than relevant concepts important to the day-to-day work of educators.

Many undergraduate education programs emphasize areas unrelated to the content covered in K-12 classrooms (such as administrative practices, classroom technology, counseling and diversity, equity and inclusion). As well-intentioned as they may be, these programs often steer educators away from the subject matter and toward a political agenda.

Here’s a bit more about the curriculum Arnn’s school promotes at its charters and also offers to schools around the country:

The curriculum calls for students to be “taught that ‘the civil rights movement was almost immediately turned into programs that ran counter to the lofty ideals of the Founders,’ ” News Channel Five notes. Hillsdale’s curriculum suggests that “Modern social-justice movements…are not based on the Founders’ views of equality, but on what it calls ‘identity politics’ that make it ‘less likely that racial reconciliation and healing can be attained.’”

Arnn is no fan of education around diversity, as NewsChannel5 notes:

Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Michigan’s ultra-conservative Hillsdale College, also takes aim at diversity efforts in higher education, claiming people in those positions have education degrees because they are “easy” and “you don’t have to know anything.”

In other words, Larry Arnn is sorry he got caught. Sorry that the backlash MAY cause a delay in the expansion of his empire of evangelical exceptionalism, may slow the flow of public dollars into his private institution.

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It’s Party Time in Tennessee

Tennessee Lookout has a story out about the first partisan school board races in the state. The piece examines the issue through the lens of races in Williamson County.

The responses in the District 10 race are pretty interesting. That race features incumbent Eric Welch and challengers Doc Holladay and Jennifer Haile.

In summarizing the race, Welch offers this comparison between his candidacy and that of Holladay:

I’m focused on students, and what needs to be done to provide them a world-class education that they can build a successful future on. Holladay is focused on social media hot-button issues that really aren’t applicable to Williamson County Schools.

Here’s how Holladay sums things up:

The polarization of political views has especially created a divide in how we want to educate and raise our children.  The left has held the steering wheel of  public education for decades now, and look at what that has produced in our schools: Marxism, socialism, grooming our kids in gender ideology, pornographic material in our libraries, divisive & racist curriculums like (Critical Race Theory), “white privilege,” “guilt training,” vilifying our founding fathers and our country, untold psychological and developmental damage from useless masking, a massive push to jab them with potentially harmful experimental gene therapy drugs and an effort to divide them ideologically from their parents.  

And Haile has this to say:

Race, gender and inequality, “CRT” as I understand it, simply does not exist in the K-12 curriculum. What we are talking about is the discussion of the human experience.   I think if we approach discussions of race, gender and equality as an issue involving fairness, kindness and understanding, we remove political agendas.  Of course, any curriculum must be age-appropriate and reviewed by parties who are knowledgeable about the subject; but the answer is not to pretend it does not exist and/or fail to adequately prepare our students for a diverse world.

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Wilson County Teacher Shortage

A teacher shortage crisis is hitting districts in Tennessee, and districts are struggling to hire teachers with only weeks before school starts.

One example is Wilson County, where WKRN reports there are still 75 teaching vacancies just two weeks before students are slated to return.

Although the shortage is in all departments, the biggest discrepancy is in the teaching department where they are 75 teachers short across all 24 Wilson County schools.

“Some schools are experiencing a shortage, maybe more than another school, but across the board when you have a 75 teacher shortage going into the school year as of today, yeah, it raises a lot of concern,” said Barker.

In a state that continues to lag behind the rest of the nation in teacher pay and school funding, it’s no wonder there’s a shortage of teachers.

In fact, this result has been predicted for more than a decade now:

But the report points to a more pressing problem: A teacher shortage. Specifically, the report states:

Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language.

So, we face a teacher shortage in key areas at the same time we are 40th in both average teacher pay and in improvement in salaries over time.

Besides the issue of pay, there’s the issue of respect. Rather, there’s the lack of respect teachers get from policymakers, including Gov. Bill Lee who sat idly by while a key education advisor disparaged teachers.

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TEA Talks Hillsdale, Charters

In response to the controversy surrounding Hillsdale College President and Bill Lee advisor Larry Arnn and his remarks about teaching and public schools, the Tennessee Education Association is calling on Lee to sever all ties with Hillsdale and to limit the power of the state charter commission.

Here’s more from TEA’s press release:

The Tennessee Education Association calls on Tennessee Governor Bill Lee
to sever ties with Hillsdale College and support legislation to limit the power of the state charter commission, restoring local control in public education.


“Hillsdale disrespects Tennesseans and Tennessee values,” said TEA President Tanya Coats. “Lee’s plan for 50 Hillsdale charters in rural and suburban districts is wrong. Using the state charter commission as the tool to open these private charters over objections of local communities is worse.”


“Hillsdale’s Larry Arnn said Tennesseans are too dumb to educate their own children, using talking points straight from the charter industry playbook,” Coats said. “We don’t care how he does it up north, and we don’t need to be saved by charter operators from California or Massachusetts. We know what it takes to educate our children.”


“All Tennesseans should understand Arnn’s slurs were not the words of one man, but part of an organized effort to undermine confidence in Tennessee public schools. That’s the only way they can siphon tax dollars into private pockets,” Coats said.


Tennesseans have had extensive experience with failure of state-created charters. The charters of the Achievement School District have been the lowest-performing system in our state.


“Make no mistake, charter schools often look to make money for financial backers. When charters fail, it is impossible to close them and local governments are left to untangle the mess,” Coats said. “Arnn’s comments not only revealed to us who he is, but also laid bare the tactics of the charter industry. We will be working with the General Assembly to limit the power of the state charter commission and restore local control.”

MORE ON HILLSDALE

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NPEF Opposes Voucher Program

Amid news that Gov. Bill Lee’s office and Department of Education plan to begin a school voucher program in Memphis and Nashville for this school year (2022-23) following the lifting of an injunction that had been blocking the scheme, the Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF) issued a statement expressing opposition to Lee’s move.

Here’s the statement:

Governor Bill Lee announced yesterday that the Tennessee Education Savings Account (ESA) program will enroll students for the upcoming school year in Davidson and Shelby counties.The Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF) opposes this decision and the ESA program. While NPEF supports high-quality school options for all students in Nashville, the foundation believes public dollars should stay with public schools. In addition, research suggests conflicting and inconclusive evidence on the effectiveness of voucher programs on academic achievement for students.  NPEF will continue to support Nashville students and Metro Nashville Public Schools to create a public system of education where all students can thrive.
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