Live from Music Row, Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed education reporter for The Tennessee Star, TC Weber in studio to explain the group, Chiefs for Change and Tennessee’s third-grade retention bill.
Leahy: In studio, a great education reporter for The Tennessee Star. You can read all of his stories at tennesseestar.com. TC Weber, you were going to give us a little bit of inside scoop about a group called Chiefs for Change and Penny Schwinn, the erstwhile commissioner of education, who’s not been seen a lot of late.
Weber: No. And a word on the street is she’s out and beating the bushes, looking for a new job.
Leahy: Looking for a new gig.
Weber: Looking for a new gig, looking ahead to DC. She’s looking for bigger and better.
Leahy: You know, looking for another state she can ruin.
Weber: Yes, I think she wants to move past states. But the thing about it is Chiefs for Change is an organization founded by Florida Governor Bush.
Leahy: The group is called Chiefs for Change.
Leahy: Chiefs of what?
Weber: Chiefs of education. Initially, it started out it was just state superintendents, and that’s a whole other story about how half of them ended up indicted or fired for misconduct. (Leahy laughs) And anyways, they opened it up to everybody. Kevin Huffman, at the time of the founding, was a commissioner of education here in Tennessee.
Leahy: Now we go back, wasn’t he commissioner of education under the latter part of Bredesen and the early part of…
Weber: This was about 2010, 2011. He was a chief. Candice McQueen was a chief with Governor Haslam, and then Penny Schwinn was a chief.
Leahy: Chiefs for Change.
Weber: They have an agreement with the state that they provide services without a contract, without oversight, without everything.
Leahy: Okay, so just what kind of service does Chiefs for Change provide? They helped craft the legislation for the literacy law; they helped create the website for TISA. They helped consult on all of it.
Leahy: Tell everyone what TISA is.
Weber: Tennesseans Investing in Student Achievement.
Leahy: So that’s a new funding mechanism.
Weber: It takes over for BEP.
Leahy: Is there an acronym we can’t find here?
Weber: There is an acronym for everything.
Leahy: BEP, LEA, SOL. (Laughs)
Weber: So for the last ten years, Chiefs for Change has used Tennessee as its educational laboratory. The major policies have all come out of initiatives put forth by Chiefs for Changes, who were funded by wait for it….the Gates Foundation.
Leahy: You didn’t have to say it, right? (Weber laughs) Everybody knew Bill and Melinda Gates trying to ruin something other than their own marriage.
Weber: Yes. Last week it was announced that there are two new future chiefs, or there’s a class of new future chiefs, and in that class are two Tennesseans. One, we’ve got Sonia Stewart down in Hamilton County, Chattanooga. She’s the deputy commissioner, and, interestingly enough, she spent about a year in MNPS’s doghouse under Battle.
Battle and her didn’t get along. She was in the doghouse. All of a sudden, she ends up in Chattanooga. She’s number two, and now she’s a future chief. The other one is Eve Carney, who already works at the Department of Education and has been there for 10 years. And that’s got me chuckling, because Schwinn, throughout her tenure, has not been somebody willing to share the spotlight.
Leahy: All Penny Schwinn all the time.
Weber: That’s enough about Penny Schwinn. Would you like to talk some more about Penny Schwinn? (Leahy laughs) She steals other people’s ideas and claims them as her own, and if you think she is suddenly going, oh, welcome to the team, Eve Carney? No.
Leahy: They are apparent now. Eve Carney. And she’s just been like an education bureaucrat.
Weber: Yes, she’s more of a bureaucrat. She’s less decisive. She’s less than all of that. But I tell people, you got to look at Chiefs for Change. If you’ve had this kind of free will in the state for 10 years, are you giving that up willingly? I don’t think so.
And the other question you ask is, what’s his name, Brock Purdy, on your roster, do you really need Tom Brady? So if I was Penny Schwinn, I’d be standing around going, boy, I better find a gig quick.
Leahy: Yes. She’s looking. But nobody apparently is offering.
Weber: Nobody is biting, because they realized that she shows up with a whole bunch of Gucci bags.
Leahy: Of problems. So Bill Lee, though, Bill Lee can’t fire her and have her hanging out there without a gig, because that will be admitting she’s been an absolute failure as Commissioner of Education.
Weber: It will be. And he’s got to put some distance between her, because right now, all her plans, whether it be tutoring, whether it be summer school, whether it be the Literacy Act, whether it be whatever it is, all of those are hypotheticals. So over the next six months to two years, we’re going to start to get data back that’s going to show, oh, darn. These weren’t as cool as we thought they were.
Weber: And it’s hard to run for president when that’s still hanging around your neck. So you got to get some distance.
Leahy: I still can’t get over this, that Bill Lee thinks somebody would actually think he could be President of the United States. I want to go to the third-grade retention bill, which has been controversial. But basically what it says is if kids aren’t reading at grade level at the end of third grade, they either have to go to summer school or repeat third grade.
It’s been controversial because a lot of parents are saying, oh, you’re so mean, because you know it will stunt the growth of our child socially. My take on all this is even different than that. This current system is failing to teach kids to read and write and do math.
And so instead of repeating that system, bring in a new system. I’m a big fan of direct instruction, as you know. I would say change it all. Your thoughts. Where does that bill, that third-grade retention bill, what are they going to do with that?
Weber: I think the biggest thing you got to understand is, over the last 20 years, we’ve changed education. We’ve turned it all into a numbers game. Whether it’s discipline, whether it’s test scores, whether it’s attendance, or whatever it is, it’s a numbers game.
Third-grade retention gives us a way to jog the numbers. So if you hold people back and you test fourth graders as third graders, guess what? They’re going to do better. And then you can claim success.
Florida does the same thing as long as you don’t look at their eighth-grade scores. Because if you look at their eighth-grade scores, well, they kind of suck. I don’t know if you can say that on the radio, but they do.
Leahy: well, I don’t know if you can either, but you just did. It’s not on the list of seven words you can’t say.
Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “TC Weber” by Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board.