$500+ Million and four years later, Common Core delivers below-average results

Copyright: Little Seed Productions

Copyright: Little Seed Productions


by Eric Holcombe


You are seeing plenty about Tennessee school achievement and the TCAP scores that are “closing the gap” or like last year were “exemplary” based only on changes in scores. Of course with Tennessee’s “waiver” from the No Child Left Behind requirements that we begged from Obama, it is incumbent upon the state to show progress. Some are using these reported changes in scores (but never the actual scores themselves mind you) to attribute the success to academic standards that were changed and as Gov. Haslam does in the first linked article, all these improvements seem to need to be compared back to 2010:

This is a very positive step for our state,” said Gov. Bill Haslam. “We’ve had steady growth and progress since 2010.

As readers of this blog well know, that was the year Tennessee lied on their application for Race To The Top federal funds, fraudulently claiming unanimous consent by all school districts and school board chairs to implement the yet-unwritten Common Core State Standards for math and English language arts. A little over sixty days later, we were rewarded with over $500 Million in public taxpayer funds which has now been spent implementing the so-called “state-led” standards. Public money was also used in the federal Race To The Top program to create two new, mandatory achievement testing firms: the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Joining a “multi-state” online testing consortium to measure your human capital widgets’ compliance with the Common Core State Standards was a federal requirement contained within the Race To The Top application (but keep telling yourself it is “state-led”). PARCC governing board member and Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and Assistant Commissioner of Curriculum and Instruction Emily Barton both testified in Senate hearings on SB1985 that Common Core is “fully implemented” and we are seeing such great results on NAEP assessments due to Common Core that somehow going back to only 2013 would be a step backward academically. Well, what do we have to show for our $500+ Million spent over the last four years?

Well, besides an illegal, multimillion dollar, no-bid testing contract with PARCC, not much. We can hide in the TCAP bubble for only so long. TCAP tests are not nationally-normed, meaning your Tennessee students’ scores only compare to other Tennessee students. Useful for ranking your in-state districts vs. one another, but not good for comparing ourselves to other states. We are told we needed (I mean we states created) Common Core so our children can “compete in the global marketplace”. It seems like we would be interested in academic performance comparisons outside our little TCAP bubble. But we are told that Common Core is “rigorous” and “internationally benchmarked”, so we should have nothing to worry about, right? Jamie SCORE Woodson claimed in the Senate Education Committee Common Core “fact-finding” hearings that one reason Common Core was implemented was because of TN’s poor performance on the NationalAssessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, a.k.a. the Nation’s Report Card) tests. These tests are not comprehensive of all grades, but test 4th and 8th grades (and now some pilot states participating in 12th grade) in several subjects, but not every subject every year:

“National Assessments​ include many subjects, including mathematics, reading, science, writing​, the arts, civics, economics, geography, and U.S. history. These assessments follow the frameworks​ developed by the National Assessment Governing Board, and use the latest advances in assessment methodology. Each subject is assessed at grades 4, 8, and 12, although not all grades are assessed each time.​”

Since TN does not use a nationally-normed achievement test like Iowa Basic Skills or Stanford Achievement, we only have the NAEP to let us know how we compare to the rest of the country. Since the testing schedule is intermittent in nature, it makes it even more difficult to reliably trend results. So how do we stack up after four years and $500 Million spent?

Unfortunately, Tennessee is still below average on every single metric for 4th and 8th grade students. We are almost nearly average on some, but not yet. Among the thirteen 12th grade pilot states, Tennessee is next to last in both mathematics and reading proficiency at 17% and 31% respectively. Just think, Gov. Haslam claims they have improved the last four years to get to that point. I don’t care how you slice it, that is an ugly score. How many more years will it take with “exemplary, closing the gap” years to get to say, 50% proficient?

Note that the last data point is 2013. Huffman and Barton claimed both that the gains up to 2013 were due to Common Core, and backing up to where we were in 2013 is a step backward in academic standards (which they claimed were already fully implemented, thus nothing to “delay”) even though they have ZERO test results. They can’t have it both ways.

In either case, we have spent four years and $500 Million extra and are still below average on every count. Tennessee should be the Common Core flagship, getting round 1 RTTT money, getting round 1 NCLB waivers and all those trips with Arne Duncan telling us how good we are, all those checks from Bill & Melinda Gates to Bredesen and Haslam’s Achieve Inc., Bill Frist and Jamie Woodson’s SCORE, the TN Dept. of Education, the City of Memphis and so on.

So when are we going to get the “World Report Card” to go with our Tennessee Report Card and Nation’s Report Card? After all, we are told that we states created Common Core so we could would have “internationally benchmarked” standards so our children can “compete in the global marketplace.” Or hasn’t Bill Gates sent a check for that yet?

Arne Duncan in his latest appearance with Gov. Haslam (reminding us that Common Core is “state-led”) asked “where’s the outrage” on education achievement gaps. What gaps Arne? We are told everything is great, we are improving every year. Don’t you read the paper? It’s just like Gov. Bredesen was telling us before we all-of-a-sudden “needed” Common Core.

No conflict of interest statements read at shameful meeting

Tonight’s special called meeting on the fiscal year 2015 budget was not disappointing for those looking for comedy and tragedy rolled into one.  The best word to describe the evening is shameful.

The meeting was necessary because of the Mayor’s incompetence in following the law requiring public notice and a public hearing.  This Commission has never balanced the budget the entire four years of it’s term.  The first year they increased the property tax rate instead of making necessary cuts.  The past two years and this year they spent the rainy day fund rather than making necessary, sensible cuts.

Only one Commissioner discussed the budget and offered reasonable amendments, Commissioner Jim Folts.*  What a loss to the people of Blount County that Commissioner Folts chose not to seek a second term.  Good people often don’t make careers out of politics.  None of the rest of the Commissioners said a word about nearly $165 million of your money being spent.  The Department heads got their huge pay raises.  It was shameful to watch.

To top the meeting off, the Commissioners who work or are retired from the County or are related to County employees failed to read their conflict of interest statements which would make their votes void per State law, if their votes had been challenged.  Chairman Jerome Moon adjourned the meeting without public input off the Agenda, leaving the audience with no recourse to  challenge the votes.  State law requires the votes to be challenged at the same meeting that the voting took place.

*Update: Commissioner Tab Burkhalter asked a question about a change to Highway Funding.

TCA 5-5-102.  Membership.

  (a)  (1) The county legislative body shall be composed of not less than nine (9) nor more than twenty-five (25) members.

   (2) There shall be at least nine (9) districts in the county legislative body in any county designated as a Class 2 county before January 1, 1999, as established by § 8-24-101.

(b) Members shall reside within and be qualified voters of the districts that they represent.

(c)  (1) Notwithstanding any provision of the law to the contrary, any county employee, otherwise qualified to serve as a member of the county legislative body, shall not be disqualified from such legislative office by reason of being a county employee.

   (2) No person elected or appointed to fill the office of county mayor, sheriff, trustee, register, county clerk, assessor of property, or any other county-wide office filled by vote of the people or the county legislative body, shall also be nominated for or elected to membership in the county legislative body. After June 18, 2005, a director of schools shall not be qualified to serve as a member of the county legislative body.

   (3)  (A) Any member of a local governing body of a county or a municipality who is also an employee of such county or municipality may vote on matters in which such member has a conflict of interest if the member informs the governing body immediately prior to the vote as follows:

         Because I am an employee of (name of governmental unit), I have a conflict of interest in the proposal about to be voted. However, I declare that my argument and my vote answer only to my conscience and to my obligation to my constituents and the citizens this body represents.

      (B) In the event a member of a local governing body of a county or a municipality has a conflict of interest in a matter to be voted upon by the body, such member may abstain for cause by announcing such to the presiding officer. Any member of a local governing body of a county or municipality who abstains from voting for cause on any issue coming to a vote before the body shall not be counted for the purpose of determining a majority vote.

      (C) The vote of any person having a conflict of interest who does not inform the governing body of such conflict as provided in subdivision (c)(3)(A) shall be void if challenged in a timely manner. As used in this section, “timely manner” means during the same meeting at which the vote was cast and prior to the transaction of any further business by the body.

Elected Officials and Department Heads are giving themselves huge pay raises

At the Budget Committee on Monday I spoke about the outrageous pay raises that some elected officials and Department heads are giving themselves in the fiscal year 2015 budget, which runs July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015.  My comments fell upon deaf ears, as did all the comments from the citizens.  This is disturbing because two elected officials, receiving big pay raises, like to use their employees to demagogue for more money.

As usual Sheriff James Lee Berrong (Bewrong) came to the meeting asking for a pay raise for his employees.  He could start with the $18,773 raise he has given himself over the past two years.  That $18,773 could provide a nearly $1,000 pay raise to 19 employees.  The money is there Jimbo.  Why are you giving it to yourself?  You live on Lambert Acres Golf Course.  That would still leave you with a $99,063 salary, free car and gas and the most generous health care plan from any employer that I know of.

Then there’s Register of Deeds Phyllis Crisp who should be given the Blount County drama queen award.  She flapped her jaws, devoid of facts, and complained about the people who stand up to the good ole’ boys.  She is giving herself a $6,105 pay raise for FY 15 over FY 13, for a desk job where she sits in an air condition room and will make over $80,000 and have one of the most generous benefit packages on the planet.  Her husband Tony Crisp is the Chief of Police of Maryville, so she’s not hurting for money either.  Crisp made the statement at the Budget meeting that it takes years to train her employees.  That means that she is either doing a lousy job training her employees or she has incompetent employees, and I don’t think the problem is the latter.

So we have the County Sheriff and the wife of the Chief of Police feeding at the taxpayer trough.  If they really care so much about the men in uniforms on the streets, they wouldn’t hog all the bacon for themselves.  There’s plenty of fat to trim and it will start as soon as Bewrong and drama queen Crisp look in the mirror or when the County Commission grows a spine.  Don’t look for either to happen anytime soon.  The solution?  Show up at the Commission meeting on Monday June 30th at 6 PM and let them know that the buck stops with the Commission and they need to trim the fat from the good ole’ boys.

Important facts to keep in mind: The Mayor nominates the Commissioners to serve on the Budget Committee.  This Budget Committee originally sent a budget requiring $4.5 million use of fund balance from the General County without a recommendation to the County Commission.  The Mayor failed to properly hold a budget hearing.  The Mayor sent an illegible notice to the paper for publication about the public hearing.  The Mayor had to reschedule another budget hearing because the first one that he had was illegal, under the budgeting law.  This incompetent Budget Committee falls squarely at the feet of the incompetent Mayor.

Here’s a list of most Department heads and elected officials.  The County Buildings supervisor is not included because the numbers listed in the budget do not match the payroll earnings for the current and past years.  I am seeking clarification on this and will update this post when I have the information.

Official FY 2013 FY 2014 FY 2015 1 Year 2 Year 
Accounting & Budgeting $84,298 $87,866 $90,511 3.01% 7.37%
Animal Control $4,167* $51,000 $52,500 2.94% *
Circuit Court Clerk $75,048 $78,508 $89,269 13.71% 18.95%
Civil Defense $58,580 $59,050 $57,050 -1.12% -2.61%
Clerk & Master Chancery Court $75,048 $78,508 $81,153 3.37% 8.13%
Commission Salaries^ $102,060 $102,060 $102,060 0% 0%
Co. Clerk $75,048 $78,508 $81,153 3.37% 8.13%
Data Processing $87,308 $89,120 $88,120 -1.12% 1.00%
Development $61,025 $64,000 $68,000 6.25% 11.43%
Election Commission $67,543 $70,657 $73,038 3.37% 7.52%
General Sessions Judges $153,231 $156,449 $158,796 1.50% 3.63%
Highway Superintendent $82,553 $86,359 $98,197 13.70% 19%
Mayor $104,340 $108,813 $123,727 13.70% 18.60%
Planning $70,086 $71,086 $70,086 -1.41% 0%
Probation Administrator $56,250 $66,000 $65,000 -1.52% 15.56%
Property Assessor $75,048 $78,508 $81,153 3.37% 8.13%
Purchasing $52,250 $56,548 $55,548 1.77% 6.31%
Records $41,624 $42,624 $41,624 2.35% 0%
Risk Management $61,992 $63,243 $62,243 -1.58% 1.00%
Register of Deeds $75,048 $78,508 $81,153 3.37% 8.13%
Sheriff $99,063 $103,630.80 $117,836 13.71% 18.95%
Soil Conservation $47,954 $49,205 $48,205 2.03% 1.00%
Trustee $75,048 $78,508 $81,153 3.37% 8.13%
Veterans Services $44,750 $51,000 $50,000 1.96% 11.73%
*No paid director for most of FY 13.  Staff was paid from part time personnel, overtime and other salaries & wages.
*AC Director, Part Time Personnel, Overtime, Other Salaries & Wages $118,152 $160,949 $164,300 2.08% 39.06%
^This is the salary for all 21 Commissioners combined.
Note: General County employees received a $1,000 bonus in FY 14.  They did not take a pay cut if their salary is $1,000 less in FY 15.
Rate of inflation is approximately 3.6% for 2012 to present.

Watch the entire meeting.

Doug Overbey is the most liberal Republican in Nashville

This comes as no surprise to anyone that pays attention to State politics.  The only other politician to receive a negative score denoting being to the left is the former Republican, Kent Williams who was kicked out of the Republican Party.

This rating system isn’t entirely accurate, because the political spectrum is not linear, but it’s good enough to accurately reflect what we all know about Senator Doug Overbey.  Beth Harwell is hardly one of the farthest right Republican, like this rating system shows.  She’s declared herself a globalist.  Her rating may be boosted by the fact that she abstains frequently from voting, which the Speaker can do.

See the rankings here:


Are the good ole’ boys of the political machine sexist?

At the last minute, a woman named Helen Abbott has filed to run as a write-in candidate against Karen Miller who won the Republican nomination for District 4 Seat B on the County Commission.  After the primaries, three women were set to take office in September, but the political machine of Blount County has produced write-in candidates against 2 of the 3 women.  The third women, Tona Monroe, faces no challenger.  It’s likely because the political machine views this Tona Monroe as the strongest of the 3 and doesn’t believe that they can defeat Tona, while viewing Jamie Daly and Karen Miller as weak women.

You may be saying, well Helen Abbott is a woman, but that may be exactly what the machine wants to avoid the appearance of being anti-women.  Helen Abbott has worked for the good ole’ boys for years.  Furthermore, it’s probably all the machine could find before the filing deadline today.

Four years ago, Wendy Pitts-Reeves was the machine’s biggest political target.  This time Linda King and Tona Monroe were the biggest political targets.  The attacks against Tona slowed down after media coverage of the chain saw massacre of her signs, until election day when The Daily Times decided to do the soft hit piece on her and husband.  The machine went full throttle against Linda King, with Gary Farmer stealing her sign and a series of meetings that appear to be illegal.

Write-in candidates against Jamie Daly and Karen Miller appear to be the latest good ole’ boy misogynist actions of the Blount County political machine.

2014 Blount County Employees Salaries

Here’s a list of earning for Blount County employees in FY 2014.  This report was generated in April.  Thus, you will see the annual earnings as well as what they were paid up to that point.  Additionally you can see which employees received a bonus and which ones did not.  There is roughly 12 pages of employees making $50,000+ annually.

FY 2014 employee earning
FY 2013 earnings
FY 2006-2009 earnings

Commission in violation of State budget law

The Budget Committee failed to have a public hearing on the annual budget as required by State law.  Commissioner Jim Folts pointed this out at the Agenda meeting on Tuesday.  Rather than taking his advice of sending it back to the Budget Committee, the Commission choose to enrich attorney Craig Garrett’s wallet by getting his opinion and then sending the budget back to the Budget Committee.  Another example of waste.

A new Budget Committee public hearing is set for Monday the 23rd at 6:30 and the Commission will be meeting on June 30th at 6 PM to discuss the budget.  The regular monthly Commission meeting will occur on the 19th, without the annual budget.

The Mayor is responsible for this problem.  He chooses the Budget Committee.  His Budget Committee sent the unbalanced budget to the Commission without a recommendation.  He failed to have the public hearing and he failed to put a legible public notice with important required numbers in the paper.  Despite his multiple failures to comply with the law, he is proposing giving himself a $14,914 pay raise this year after taking a $4,473 pay raise last year.  That’s a 18.6% increase in two years, bring his annual salary to $123,727.  His Budget Director and “Assistant” Mayor will make $90,511 if the Commission approves the proposed budget, which is a 7.37% increase over the past 2 years.

10th District Commission Rematches

Neither of the candidates who lost their Commission races in the 10th district covering Louisville are taking no for an answer.  Both Gerald Kirby for Seat A and Larry Henry for Seat B have filed the paperwork to run as write-in candidates.  The August 7 election will be a rematch for both races in the 10th District.  Larry Henry lost by 6 votes and Gerald Kirby lost by 23 votes.

In the 8th district, 2 candidates have filed paper work to run as a write-in for Seat B, Doug Meyers and Gordon Wright II.  Doug Meyers has decided not to run after filing the paperwork.  Gordon Wright will face Teacher Union President Grady Caskey who won the Republican nomination unopposed after Gordon Wright Sr. passed away in March.

Sam Duck has filed to run as a write-in against Mike Caylor who came out on top of a 3 way race, for District 3 Seat B in the May 6th Republican primary election.