"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

TN Taliban Votes to Arm Teachers

As parents, students, and teachers lined the gallery with signs calling for gun regulations in a state where are none, a bill sailed through the State Senate to arm teachers.  

The best reaction so far belongs to Senate Democrat, Jeff Yarbro, who posted this on X:

The legislature doesn’t trust teachers to pick out books for their classroom or teach basic history—things they’re actually trained to do, but is authorizing them to carry & use firearms in active shooter situations?!? 

This place has lost its damn mind.

Monday, April 08, 2024

Bill Lee Breaks Law To Appoint Perjurer, Lizzette Reynolds

Even though Tennessee's unqualified Education Commissioner collects over $21,000 per month to wreck the State's public schools with Bill Lee's proposed school voucher scheme, she, nonethless, chose to lie on an official state document about her length of service in order to receive a tuition waiver from UT Martin, where she is now enrolled in order to gain certification as a teacher.  Reynolds became a state employee on July 1, 2023, and on August 14 she swore that she had been a state employee for six months.

Reynolds perjured herself a second time when she submitted another of the same form in November, 2023.

You see, Bill Lee made history by being the first Tennessee governor ignore and, thus, break state law by appointing someone as education commission who has no teaching experience, school admin experience, and who lacks certification in either:

According to the century-old law, the education commissioner “shall be a person of literary and scientific attainments and of skill and experience in school administration,” and “qualified to teach in the school of the highest standing over which the commissioner has authority.”

Sunday, April 07, 2024

The Osteopath Who Now Vouches for Trump's Health

WaPo has a great piece today contrasting the two most recent medical reports issued on the two presidential candidates running this year.  Essentially, Joe's report, written by a real doctor, is 6 pages and includes lots of data, both quantitative and qualitative. 

Don's report is written by an osteopath, Bruce Aronwald, who hangs out at the Bedminster, NJ swimming pool looking to ingratiate himself to rich clients who don't know quackery when they see it.  

Dr. Bruce's report is a three-paragraph gloss on Trump's "excellent" condition, with no test results and no numbers. 

You can check out some numbers on Dr. Bruce, himself, here. Spoiler alert: his reputation is much like all the other "best people" that Trump hires to help him maintain the delusion he calls reality. 

There are many qualities measured in this little assessment, but Dr. Bruce scores highest of all among patient loyalty.  Hmm.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

TN Republicans Plan to Have Teachers Pay for School Voucher Scheme

As reality begins to set in about the public expense of using taxpayer money to fund private schools (see here and here), the brain trust for Republican House members have come up with a plan to cheat teachers out their promised raises so that there will be enough money to fund their school privatization plan.  

Instead of providing the teacher raises that Gov. Bill Lee has promised, Republicans plan to forego the raises for a cheap scheme to increase the State's portion of health insurance premiums for teachers from 45 percent to 60 percent.  

And what if you are one of the thousands of teachers who are on your spouse's insurance plan, rather than the State-sponsored plan?  Well, sorry.

From The Tennessean:

As lawmakers continue to hash out parameters for a proposed statewide school choice program, House leadership is proposing to pay for some of their proposal with a pot of money that funds teacher raises.

House leadership said Thursday their plan will fund teacher insurance at a higher level, leaving more "take-home" pay for teachers. . . 

. . . . House leadership confirmed they intend to pay for the difference with the $261.3 million in the governor's budget that right now is allocated toward TISA increases for public schools ― and also includes teacher salary raises ― "through a reallocation of the funding proposed by the Governor," Sexton spokesperson Connor Grady told The Tennessean in a text message.


Thursday, March 28, 2024

KIPP St. Louis Teachers Still Seeking Fair Contract

 From the St. Louis/Southern Illiois Labor Tribune:


St. Louis – Still fighting for a first contract, educators from KIPP St. Louis High School, represented by American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 420, attempted to deliver a petition Feb. 22 to district leaders outlining their key concerns as contract negotiations drag on.

Officials at the district headquarters at 1310 Papin St. in downtown St. Louis refused to accept the petition but did agree, earlier in the day, to return to the bargaining table with union members.

Teachers and staff at KIPP High School organized in December of 2022. It took KIPP administrators seven months to come to the bargaining table, but after five months of on-and-off negotiations, bargaining had all but ground to a halt.

Now teachers and staff are calling on administrators to work collaboratively to improve the educational experience for students.

“We are dedicated to providing our students with the high-quality education they deserve,” said Nate Gibson, a KIPP history teacher and member of the bargaining team. “However, we face significant challenges in achieving this goal without a stable and empowered staff. We believe that by working together with district leaders, we can find solutions that address our concerns and create a thriving learning environment for all.”

The petition, signed by a majority of the school’s teachers, emphasizes three main areas of concern:

  • A Safe and Stable Learning Environment. The petition highlights the importance of a consistent and structured learning environment for students. It emphasizes the challenges created by high staff turnover at the charter high school and calls for solutions that ensure stability and continuity for students.
  • Educator Voice and Decision-Making. Educators seek greater involvement in shaping the school environment, including curriculum, programming, safety protocols and professional development opportunities. They believe that their expertise and insights are essential for creating and effective and thriving school community.
  • Compensation and Working Conditions. The petition calls out the disparities in compensation and working-hours between KIPP and other schools in the area. Educators believe that addressing these disparities is crucial for attracting and recruiting qualified staff, ultimately benefitting students.

“The school is suffering a 50 percent turnover rate that prevents the teachers from meeting the students’ needs,” said AFT Organizer Ben Harmon.

“A lot of times people look at this as just the teachers issues, but teachers didn’t become teachers to become wealthy. They care about what they do, and students needs are teachers’ needs. If the teachers needs can’t be met how do we meet the students’ needs?”

“We need a contract,” said Kurt Johnson, an English teacher at KIPP. “Too many teachers and staff members are leaving. It’s creating a situation that’s unsafe, because it’s creating too much teacher turnover. That’s unsafe for teachers and students. It’s not allowing us to do what we want to do, which is to create an environment where all of our students learn. We need to see movement on this contract.”

Johnson said teachers and prospective employees need a reason to stay, Johnson said and that starts with being competitive with the school districts surrounding the high school.

“At the beginning of the year we had multiple people leave for St. Louis Public Schools because they could make more money. We just don’t have anything to counter that and it’s creating a situation where the students don’t have enough certified teachers.

“For the first semester, I think there were two 10th grade certified teachers that made it through the whole semester. That’s only two subjects where students are getting certified teachers. They have seven periods a day. They’re taking these online classes for essential courses like math and science because there’s no teacher. To me, the problem is really about our students. It’s about being able to provide an education and make sure that we have a competitive offer for teachers to stay.”

Adelina Blood, who teaches English as a second language, started at KIPP in August of last year.

“Since then, in a semester and a half, there’s already been 10 teachers leave,” she said “That’s really unstable for not only the school but the education of the students. It creates an unsafe environment to have that many new teachers come in who don’t know the students and how the school works. What we’re trying to do is stabilize everything. We’re trying to make sure that we also have a voice and we can be listened to. We’re trying to make sure that we get heard and that the students get the best education that they can.”

Leonette White-Hilliard, a member of the teachers’ bargaining committee, said KIPP administrators are not bargaining in good faith.

“We’ve tried to meet in good faith,” she said “But they’re not really, honestly trying to come to a conclusion with the bargaining. Some things I thought would be fairly common sense, like a third party arbitrator deciding  any disputes. We’re still at loggerheads after a year over even something that simple. That would be a protection for both the school as well as the teachers. That would be something that protects everybody.

“It makes me as an individual question is this really good faith or are they hoping this problem with go away?”

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Tennessee Taliban Set to Pass Law to Keep the Sky from Falling

If anyone in the nation or the world were looking for a place as backward as Afghanistan under the Taliban--a place as hostile to science, as committed to a single religio-political dogma based on hate, oppression, corruption, and revenge--one would need to look no further than the knoll whereupon sits the State Capitol of the State of Tennessee.  For this, my home state, is where the Tennessee Taliban convenes each year to decide the laws for a politically and culturally diverse state that is now misrepresented by a political minority that holds a super majority.  

And despite values and beliefs of the majority of Tennesseans, a corrupt mob of ignorant hicks, swindlers, and bible thumpers are committed to the legislative agenda of a handful of fascist billionaires who achieve their self-serving agendas by successfully fanning the flames of fear and bigotry and by buying the services of state and federal politicians to conduct their dirty business. 

See the big success of the week as the Tennessee Taliban advances a bill to make Tennessee the first state in the nation to pass a law to ban "chemtrails," something that only exists in the heated imaginations of paid conspiracy theorists, intellectual midgets, and political wackos. 

From USA Today, via the Tennessean:

The Tennessee Senate has passed a bill targeting "chemtrails."

SB 2691/HB 2063, sponsored by Rep. Monty Fritts, R-Kingston, and Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, passed in the Senate on Monday. The bill has yet to advance in the House.

The bill claims it is "documented the federal government or other entities acting on the federal government's behalf or at the federal government's request may conduct geoengineering experiments by intentionally dispersing chemicals into the atmosphere, and those activities may occur within the State of Tennessee," according to the bill.

The legislation would ban the practice in Tennessee.

If your bullshit detector just went off, then you're still awake.  See this link to get the facts.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

No Excuses for IDEA Charter Schools Theft of Public Funds?

Based on the No Excuses KIPP Model for chain gang schooling of brown and black children, IDEA Public [sic] Schools was founded in 2000 by two former Teach for America recruits, Tom Torkelson and JoAnn Gama.  The new corporate charter chain saw explosive growth, becoming the largest charter chain in Texas, with 36 schools and 19,000 students by 2015. By the end of 2024, IDEA plans to have 143 schools and 80,000 students in Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Ohio.

Early in 2019 the U. S. Department of Education handed IDEA Charter Schools, Inc. a five-year grant for $116 million, ostensibly to open new charter schools. 

By December of the same year, IDEA's corporate board under the direction of IDEA's CEO, Tom Torkelson, had voted unanimously to lease an eight-passenger private jet for $15 million to, well, jet around. When the story came to light, thanks to the Houston Chronicle, the plan was canceled. 

Ah, well, that didn't stop the high rollers at IDEA from spending $400,000 a year for sky boxes to watch the San Antonio Spurs or for other luxuries that were brought to light by a forensic review in 2021.

Co-founder TomTorkelson took his money ($900,000 in severance) and ran in 2020, followed a year later by the firing of the other co-founder, JoAnn Gama, and a number of other corporate welfare queens and kings.  

Even so, the corruption persisted.  Which led to further investigation by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).  That investigation wrapped up in late January, and the San Antonio Report reported on March 6 that TEA has appointed two conservators to oversee operations.  No indictments, no slaps on the wrist, no criminal referrals.  

As a condition, I suppose, of no one at IDEA getting an orange jumpsuit, IDEA has agreed to pay back $28.7 million in federal funds. Why, you ask. No explanation by TEA, which remains a cheerleader for IDEA, so much so that IDEA, specializing as it does in cultural sterilization of brown and black children, has announced a building boom moving forward.

Monday, March 11, 2024

What Did KIPP Leaders Know, and When Did They Know It?

  • Are there former students and/or teachers who are willing to share their stories (anonymously if you so choose) about Charlie Randall or his protege and now-convicted child sexual abuser, Jesus Concepcion? If you would like to share your story, please contact me via email: ontogenyx@gmail.com

Straight out of undergraduate school and fresh from two year stints with Teach for America (TFA), Mike Feinberg and David Levin found themselves in 1994 running their own school program in an elementary school in Houston, TX. They called their new program KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), and with the help of the rich white elites who were bankrolling TFA, Levin and Feinberg quickly became media darlings and the next great white hopes for solving the urban "Negro problem" that white America had fretted about since Emancipation.

The next year KIPP Houston became a separate school under the direction of Mike Feinberg, while David Levin was handed his own school program in New York City, where the white, privileged, and fresh-faced Yale graduate found himself face-to-face with Bronx indigenous cultures entirely foreign to Levin and the other white teachers who were hired to build the first KIPP franchise beyond Houston.

Hoping to garner public attention to KIPP's program, Levin and the NYC Board of Education brought in the renowned school orchestra director, Charlie Randall, who gained fame from his work at a neighboring school in the Bronx, I.S.166.  Randall, who had been a music teacher since the early 70s and the founding director of the I.S.166 orchestra since 1980, brought Levin a skill set that he would desperately need in order to make it in the Bronx. Randall brought PR skills, charisma, street savvy, and local knowledge that Levin did not have and that he came to depend upon in his new position of leadership.  

Charlie Randall also brought with him an attraction to middle school girls, as well as a bad drinking problem.  According to allegations from an anonymous source interviewed by Gary Rubenstein, Randall openly engaged in lascivious behavior among KIPP students, behavior that would have gotten him fired and reported to authorities under normal circumstances. Instead, KIPP eventually promoted Randall and put him in charge of starting orchestra programs at other KIPP schools around the country.  According to Rubenstein

[t]he source, claiming to have firsthand knowledge, alleges that multiple witnesses, including numerous KIPP teachers and leaders, observed Charles Randall’s misconduct but did not report the egregious behavior exhibited by both Randall and Jesus Concepcion.

One account from the source states, “Randall would frequently arrive at school intoxicated. He kept a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black in the orchestra room and even offered us shots.” Additionally, the source mentioned, “He would often make sexually suggestive remarks about our bodies, accompanied by licking his lips, and the teachers witnessed this behavior but never intervened. It seemed as though no one cared until he began harassing the teachers. It was only then that he was eventually removed from KIPP Academy and reassigned to a national position.”

So I have questions:

  • In 2018, the KIPP Foundation was eager to fire Mike Feinberg for alleged sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behaviors.  Will KIPP fire the other founder this time around in 2024 for his alleged complicity?
  • Who was aware of Randall's misconduct while at KIPP, either in New York or at the other KIPP schools?
  • Are there former students and/or teachers who are willing to share their stories (anonymously if you so choose) about Charlie Randall or his protege and now-convicted child sexual abuser, Jesus Concepcion? If you would like to share your story, please contact me via email: