A Plague of Snakes?

Will a plague of snakes soon shut down Tennessee’s rural schools? Watch a clip from a recent legislative hearing to find out:

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New Third Grade Law “Devastating”

One middle Tennessee mom says she was devastated when she learned of Tennessee’s new third grade retention law that goes into effect this year. The law requires that any third-grade student who scores at “below expectations” or “approaching expectations” on the state’s TNReady test in reading be held back unless they complete summer school and possibly enroll in a tutoring program during the school year.

Nearly 70% of all Tennessee third grade students score at that level on TNReady in any given year. In other words, even if a majority of them complete the summer program and participate in tutoring, a significant portion of third grade students will be forced to repeat third grade in 2023.

Here’s more from WKRN on this story:

One day and one test could change the life of Anna Sturm’s son.

“I was devastated when I read it,” she said. “As a mother, it was such a disheartening thing to read that this is going to be something that could impact my child and thousands and thousands of children.”

The news report also notes that the Murfreesboro City Schools have crafted a resolution asking the state to reconsider the legislation and make changes when they return to session in January.

That’s something the bill’s sponsor says he may be open to – though he was vague on what those changes may look like:

It’s worth noting, too, that the policy is based on a single test taken on a single day – and it’s a test that has not exactly been reliable in recent years:

The legislature appropriated no additional funds to help schools support third grade students nor are there funds available for the necessary summer reading and school year tutoring programs mandated by the law.

Instead, it seems legislators just passed a law and hoped that change would magically happen.

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Open to Change as Long as it’s Free

A new law that goes into effect this year and impacts third grade students is taking some criticism.

The law requires that all third-grade students who score below “met expectations” on TNReady reading be held back unless they complete a summer remediation program and possibly also enroll in a tutoring program for the academic year.

The point is to focus on improving reading scores. The reality is that nearly 70% of Tennessee third graders would fall into this category, thus requiring districts to offer extensive summer reading programs and school year tutoring. It’s likely, too, that some students will not complete the remediation and will then repeat third grade.

This means more costs for local districts – and the law, authored by Rep. Mark White, offered no new resources for districts. Additionally, since the law passed, the General Assembly has not offered districts funds to provide for summer reading or tutoring as indicated by this law.

Here’s more from Nashville’s WKRN:

When asked if he would consider adding funding to this bill to support schools with tutoring efforts and summer programs, White again expressed a willingness to talk about it.

“That is one of the big objections. We can look at this come January and modify the law if we think that’s what needs to be done,” he said.

That’s an interesting answer. White is not committing to providing funding or support to districts – only to “looking at” the law and the current objections. A more prudent approach would be to work with Gov. Lee to secure dedicated funding. Or, even, to change the law in such a way that districts get the supports/interventions/funding BEFORE any penalty hits students in terms of retention.

crop man getting dollars from wallet
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Of Vouchers and Indictments

Readers may remember a time when hot chicken, sex, and cocaine played a role in securing the passage of voucher legislation in the state.

That was three years ago. So, what happened? Well, as it turns out, the former Speaker of the House (Glen Casada) and his former Chief of Staff (Cade Cothren) have been indicted in a bribery and kickback scandal related to the voucher vote.

NewsChannel5 reports:

According to the indictment, beginning in October 2019, Casada, Cothren, as well as another conspirator engaged in a fraudulent scheme to enrich themselves “by exploiting Casada and the other conspirator’s official positions as legislators to obtain State approval of Phoenix Solutions as a Mailer Program vendor to provide constituent mail services to members of the Tennessee General Assembly.”

This reportedly began after Cothren’s resignation and after Casada stepped down as the Tennessee Speaker of the House.

While the indictment is not specifically around the voucher vote, the conspirators were directly involved in that event as well.

More to come as this process continues.

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Back to School During the War on Knowledge

What’s it like to be a Tennessee teacher during what can best be described as a “War on Knowledge” being waged by Gov. Bill Lee and the General Assembly?

Well, one teacher shares her story – with thanks to The Tennessee Holler for sharing it.

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1558858550214115328?s=20&t=zl6zmL5CHpFNnoyoeOm5wQ

Policy decisions have practical consequences. Maybe Gov. Lee or House Education Committee Chair Mark White would like to go to TN classrooms and start cataloguing the books?

Or maybe they could just repeal ridiculous laws like this one?

Unfortunately, instead, they’ll just keep pushing relentlessly toward full-on privatization of our public schools.

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MORE EDUCATION NEWS

Hillsdale vs. Your Local School Board

Back to School 2022

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Is Hillsdale Cancelled?

The fallout from Gov. Lee’s silence as an education advisor disparaged teachers continues to grow. This time, House Education Committee Chair Mark White is speaking out – saying the state must sever ties with Hillsdale.

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1546521735482179587?s=20&t=9yG9bcxmp8KFoANwIpPyzg

That’s a nice sentiment and it is good to see White take a public stance against Lee’s agenda.

However, it is worth noting here that charter schools affiliated with Hillsdale have already applied to operate in several middle Tennessee districts. While these districts have yet to approve a Hillsdale charter, the state charter commission – with all members appointed by Lee – can override local decisions.

So, while White may want to take action in January of 2023, it may be too late by then to stop Hillsdale from advancing its agenda of evangelical exceptionalism into Tennessee public schools.

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Cardoza-Moore in the House?

It seems that Laurie Cardoza-Moore is interested in becoming a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives.

Here’s more on Moore:

Her business model?

Well, her 2017 IRS 990 form offers some insight.

That year, Moore’s group – Proclaiming Justice to the Nations (PJTN) raised just over $1 million.

What’d she do with the cash?

Well, she paid herself $130,000. Then, she paid her husband’s business $67,000. There was a business “office expense” for occupancy at just over $49,000. She runs PJTN from her home, so that means she’s paying her mortgage with the cash. That’s $200,000 in payments to Moore and her husband, and another 50,000 a year to cover their mortgage. Then, there’s another $26,000 paid to Moore as an “occupancy expense.” Oh, and there’s $41,000 on “meals and entertainment.” Finally, her two kids received a total of around $2000 from the organization for “contract labor” that year.

Peddling ignorance is quite profitable, it seems. After all, that’s just one year of her “thriving” business.

And there’s also this:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today renewed its call for Tennessee to drop consideration of anti-Muslim activist and possible 9/11 truther Laurie Cardoza-Moore to that state’s Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission. Cardoza-Moore leads the Franklin, Tenn., group Proclaiming Justice to the Nations (PJTN).

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TEA’s Brown Continues Call for School Funding Boost

As the General Assembly returns and prepares to consider Gov. Lee’s school funding reform proposal, Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown continues a push to boost overall funding for public schools.

In a recent email to TEA members reporting on the committees reviewing the BEP, Brown said:

I am pleased to report there has been significant discussion around the need for increased funding for nurses; counselors, psychologists, and social workers; education support professionals; and assistance principals. In addition, we have discussed the real need for increases in educator salaries and benefits. All of these have been priorities for TEA for years.

But also noted:

Unfortunately, there has also been no indication that any changes to the funding formula will result in additional dollars being added to the state’s education budget. I and other stakeholders have stated repeatedly that unless there is an influx of funding into the education budget it doesn’t matter how we redistribute the funding to local school districts.

Meanwhile, state policy leaders like House Speaker Cameron Sexton have suggested that what is really needed is a proper incentive system for schools.

It seems the Speaker is not all that familiar with how schools actually work. The suggestion he makes here is that teachers and schools lack the proper incentive system. That is, schools fail students because there’s no threat of losing money no matter the outcome. This reflects a fairly depressing view of humanity. Further, it suggests that Sexton believes that teachers are currently “holding back” simply because they don’t fear punishment.

If only a punishment-based incentive system were in force, Tennessee teachers in every school system would rapidly accelerate learning, Sexton seems to be saying.

While policymakers pontificate about proper incentive systems, actual educators are practically begging for cash:

Former teacher Gabe Hart has a column in Tennessee Lookout that expresses his frustration at the current situation as it relates to teacher pay in Tennessee.

Here’s a bit of what he has to say relative to teacher salaries:

In December, in an attempt to recruit more corrections officers, Lee gave new officers a 37% raise which put the starting salary for a TDOC officer at $44,500.  First year teachers in Metro Nashville Public Schools will make $46,000 during their first year, and MNPS is one of the highest paying districts in the state.  First year teachers in Madison County make $38,000. The average first year teacher makes around $40,000 — almost $5,000 less than a first year corrections officer.  

I am fully aware that there are far more teachers in the state than corrections officers, and the funding comparison is apples and oranges.  Where I can push back, though, is that Tennessee has always been ranked between 44th-46th in the country when it comes to education funding

Oh, and did I mention there’s a growing teacher shortage?

As I noted in an earlier post:

Tennessee has tried a lot of education experiments in the last couple of decades. One experiment the state hasn’t tried? Actually investing large amounts of money in schools!

In the past, pleas for more cash would be met with resistance because investing more in schools meant raising taxes. Now, however, the state has a surplus in excess of $3 billion. This means we can fund TONS of improvements in public schools and not raise taxes one cent. Oh, and doing this with state surplus dollars also will help local governments keep property taxes low.

Of course, state Senator John Stevens seems to want to raise local property taxes:

“I’m not just going to give the locals a windfall by absorbing the costs that they’re supposed to pay for without them having some skin in the game,” Stevens said. “Because all the schools want to do is hire more people.”

I would remind Stevens and others that the Tennessee Constitution Article XI, Section 12 says:

The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools. 

It kind of seems like supporting and paying for public schools is the job of the General Assembly – it doesn’t mention anything about “costs” locals are “supposed to pay for.”

Maybe that’s why courts have ruled AGAINST the state of Tennessee in multiple school funding lawsuits since the 1990s.

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Is Sexton Serious?

House Speaker Cameron Sexton offered some concerning commentary on school funding ahead of an expected announcement this month on Gov. Bill Lee’s proposed changes to the state’s school funding formula (BEP).

Meghan Mangrum highlighted the comments in an article published in the Citizen-Tribune out of Morristown:

It seems the Speaker is not all that familiar with how schools actually work. The suggestion he makes here is that teachers and schools lack the proper incentive system. That is, schools fail students because there’s no threat of losing money no matter the outcome. This reflects a fairly depressing view of humanity. Further, it suggests that Sexton believes that teachers are currently “holding back” simply because they don’t fear punishment.

If only a punishment-based incentive system were in force, Tennessee teachers in every school system would rapidly accelerate learning, Sexton seems to be saying.

This type of thinking is especially alarming as the state considers revamping the school funding formula. Gov. Lee has promised a “student-centered” approach but has also stopped short of calling for more overall spending.

Here’s an analogy that might help explain the flaw in Sexton’s approach. UT Football has experienced a bit of a resurgence in recent years, but most fans would admit the last decade has been pretty rough. Under Sexton’s approach, the right answer is to offer less resources to the football program and then that will motivate them to get better and thus “earn” better resources. Want 10+ wins each season? Deduct $100,000 from the coach’s pay for each win under 10. Then, when the team only wins 6 or 7 games, take some more cash away so that they’ll be fired up to get after it next season. Maybe if the defense has a really bad game, the next game they could play without helmets? Surely, the proper punishment-based incentive will yield the desired results.

Of course, some have speculated that the whole movement on the part of Lee to change the BEP is really about a backdoor path to school vouchers:

In any event, I’m sure teachers across the state are working hard and polishing off all that knowledge they’ve been holding back thanks to the threat of lost resources made by Sexton. Once the punishment-based BEP formula is in place, I’m sure only good things will happen. In fact, I bet such a system will cause a rapid influx of people into the teaching profession in Tennessee – if only policymakers in previous years had thought of such a plan, Tennessee would be at the top of the nation by now.

Here’s a piece on merit pay that addresses (to some degree) the type of incentive plan Sexton may be envisioning:

And, here’s a piece that makes the argument for an across-the-board increase in school funding:

Finally, a note on the importance of raising teacher pay – not simply as a means of addressing the teacher shortage but also as a key factor in improving student achievement:

When teachers get paid more, students do better. In one study, a 10% increase in teacher pay was estimated to produce a 5 to 10% increase in student performance. Teacher pay also has long-term benefits for students. A 10% increase in per-pupil spending for each of the 12 years of education results in students completing more education, having 7% higher wages, and having a reduced rate of adult poverty. These benefits are even greater for families who are in poverty.

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Is This Who We Want on the Textbook Commission?

A national civil rights group is calling on the Tennessee Senate to reject the appointment of Laurie Cardoza-Moore to state’s Textbook Commission in light of her anti-Muslim views and her propensity to peddle conspiracy theories.

Here’s more from a press release:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today renewed its call for Tennessee to drop consideration of anti-Muslim activist and possible 9/11 truther Laurie Cardoza-Moore to that state’s Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission. Cardoza-Moore leads the Franklin, Tenn., group Proclaiming Justice to the Nations (PJTN).

Last Fall, CAIR called on Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton to rescind Cardoza-Moore’s appointment.

SEE: CAIR Calls on Tennessee House Speaker to Rescind Appointment of Anti-Muslim Activist to Textbook Commission

CAIR Calls on Tennessee House Speaker to Rescind Appointment of Anti-Muslim Activist to Textbook Commission

The Tennessee Senate Education Committee voted 7-1 Wednesday to move Cardoza-Moore appointment forward. Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) voted against the appointment. Cardoza-Moore’s appointment now moves to a vote by the full state Senate.

[NOTE: The 16-member commission oversees Tennessee’s list of textbooks and other educational materials recommended for use by public schools. Cardoza-Moore is already serving on the commission while awaiting confirmation.]

In her questioning of Cardoza-More, Sen. Akbari cited a textbook review from PJTN that seemed to promote the 9/11 truther hoax.

After referring to a textbook passage that said, “on September 11th, 2001, members of al-Qaeda carried out a terrorist attack on New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania,” the PJTN report highlighted the phrase “members of al-Qaeda carried out.” The PJTN report stated: (page 23) “given the plethora of evidence, the reviewer suggests removing the underlined section of sentence. . .This is a highly contested (per architects and engineers for 9/11 Truth, and demolition experts) argument. . .There is ample evidence that refute the ‘official’ story of what was perpetrated that day.”

Akbari pressed Cardoza-Moore on these statements by her organization but did not receive a clear reply. “This person has peddled hate, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and a conspiracy theory about what happened on 9/11, the most tragic event the United States where 3,000 people died,” said Sen. Akbari.

In responding to another question by Sen. Akbari, Cardoza-Moore stood by her false 2010 statement that a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., was a “terrorist training camp.”

“Someone with such bigoted, un-American and conspiratorial views should never be in charge of any state’s educational materials, which are designed to help shape young minds in a diverse society,” said CAIR Director of Government Affairs Department Robert S. McCaw. “We urge the Tennessee Senate to vote down this appointment as a clear sign that textbooks must reflect facts and reality, not conspiracy theories and hate.”

CAIR Research and Advocacy Coordinator Huzaifa Shahbaz said: “Her anti-Muslim comments and conspiratorial views should be nowhere near an educational institution. Our students deserve to have an education free from hate. The textbook commission needs to do a better job in fostering a healthy environment for our students — one that acknowledges diversity and cultural differences.”

BACKGROUNDER:

PJTN initiatives include “Stop Access Islam.” Cardoza-Moore led opposition to a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and opposed a mosque in New York City. On “The Daily Show,” she falsely claimed that “30 percent” of Muslims “are terrorists.”

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