Tennessee House Education Administration Committee Chairman Mark White on Third Grade Retention Bill, Early Literacy

Tennessee House Education Administration Committee Chairman Mark White on Third Grade Retention Bill, Early Literacy

Live from Music Row, Monday 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 Chairman of the Education Administration Committee in the Tennessee House of Representatives (R-TN-83) Mark White to the newsmaker line to address the core of the third-grade retention bill and confronting issues in earlier education.

Leahy: We welcome to our newsmaker line right now our friend, State Representative Mark White from Memphis, who’s the Chairman of the Education Administration Committee in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Good morning, Representative White!

White: Good morning. Good morning, Michael. Thank you. How are you doing?

Leahy: I want to thank you. It’s a federal holiday and it’s 6:15 in the morning, and you are working. You’re talking to us. Thanks for getting up and doing this. I really appreciate it.

White: Well, thank you very much. But when you are on the Education Committee, there is never a day off.

Leahy: Never a day off. You actually have a long history as a teacher. We have mutual friends. You were their teacher many years ago. You were a science teacher, correct?

White: Right, a science teacher for 5th, 6th, and 7th grade. Really enjoyed it.

Leahy: See if you can shed some light on this third-grade retention bill. I’m watching local television reports, and there are so many people whining and complaining about it. Oh, they’re setting standards. And if you don’t meet these standards, you may have to repeat third grade or go to summer school. What’s so terrible about that?

White: Yes. Number one, I’m glad that everybody’s attention is on the fact that we need to be fixing this issue. And so I’m glad the opportunity is here if a child or a person reaches the 12th grade and they are still struggling with the comprehension of reading skills that are affecting their ability to go into trades or higher education. And so we have really got to address this and can fix this.

Leahy: Yes. Clearly, there’s a problem. I’ve read various accounts of how many third-grade students will perform below. I think it’s the English language art standards for reading and writing.

In the tests given by the state in third grade, some people say it could be as many as 65 percent of kids will have to go to summer school or be held back. Some say it will be less than that. How many kids would, under the current law, will be held back?

White: That’s the real conundrum, and that’s the discussion that everyone is having. It depends on how you look at it. The big issue we need to consider as we move forward on this and we will have a good hearing in a couple of weeks on this entire issue to hear everybody’s concerns.

But the main thing is there are a lot of opportunities for summer school and for tutoring that the state has put in place that no child has to repeat if they take advantage and the schools take advantage of these opportunities to make sure the child is reading proficiently as they move on past third grade.

Leahy: I congratulate you and the Tennessee General Assembly for identifying this very important problem here. Can I make a suggestion for your consideration?

White: Absolutely.

Leahy: My view is, part of the reason that so many students are performing poorly in the third grade and other grades, but specifically in the third grade, where this bill is focused on reading and writing and arithmetic is because we have a bad system of instruction.

And merely putting kids into repeating the class or going to a summer school in the same system is unlikely to really solve the root of the problem. I would suggest the following: if you’re familiar with a methodology of teaching called direct instruction, which is something that Thales Academy has been using to teach reading, writing and arithmetic.

If the state were to implement such a strategy of delivery of curriculum, I think you would see a dramatic improvement in reading, writing, and arithmetic among all K 12 students. Your thoughts on that methodology?

White: Thank you very much, and I appreciate that. You’re really talking our language. And what you’re saying is exactly how I want to use the committee as we move forward. Let’s make sure whether it’s direct instruction as you suggest or let’s make sure we get kindergarten one and two correct.

We should not be having the discussion of third-grade retention if we have the issue of early childhood literacy under control in kindergarten, first and second grades. And so we’re really going to look at the entire picture of what we need to do now.

A couple of years ago, in January 2021, when we passed the Third Grade Retention Law, we also implemented Phonics. We’re putting Phonics back into our system. Our teachers are being trained as well as those who are coming out of college.

So that that’s a plus. Reading 360 and a lot of these things we have in place that are working. So, yes, what you’re saying is let’s get the entire system in place so that we do not continue to talk about third-grade retention.

Leahy: And Direct instruction is a methodology that’s been around since the late 1960s. It is a proven methodology. And I would suggest that you and other committee members would be well suited to go and take a visit to Thales Academy-Franklin, where they use direct instruction and watch how the kids perform. Every single kid that goes there learns how to read and write in kindergarten.

White: Thank you. We would definitely look at that and have those people come in. We’re going to bring all types of experts into what is working as we move forward. I really want to use this opportunity.

We’re going to have several bills filed, legislation filed on addressing third-grade retention, but we’re going to look at the entire picture and not just legislation on whether or not we should have home students back or not.

Leahy: Do you anticipate that there will be a significant change in the current third-grade retention bill in this session?

White: Very good question. We’re going to have 19 members on the committee this year. We have about five or six that are new members that are coming in that will be on the committee and we’re going to have to catch up to speed as we go forward. There will be a lot of discussion around that.

Some legislation says, well, let’s just turn it back over to the local LEAs. In 2011, we did pass a third-grade retention law, but we left the decision up to the locals. And here we are 11 years later, still talking about it. So that’s not working. I’ll tell you, we need to have a part of the state and we need to step in and we need to make sure we correct this.

Leahy: I see that William Slater is the vice chair of the committee. 19 members, pretty big. A couple of new members as well. Gino Bolso from Williamson County is on it. Harold Love, Jr., from Davidson County, and Justin Jones, newly elected from Davidson County is on the committee.

White: Yes, they’re all new members, and I know some better than others. That’s what I’m doing. For the next two weeks, the House is on recess while the new members get adjusted and get in their offices. And so I’m going to spend that time not only working on this issue but getting to know some of the new members.

Leahy: When is the House back in session? And when will the Education Administration Committee meet to discuss the Third Grade Retention Act?

White: We’re back in session on Monday, January 30th, and then I’m going to kick off the committee right away. We’re going to meet on that Wednesday, which will be February the first, and probably we’ll kick this off within two weeks of committee in mid-February.

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 Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Mark White” by Tennessee General Assembly. Background Photo “Teacher and Student” by Arthur Krijgsman.


The Epoch Times Senior Editor Roger Simon Discusses His Latest Piece and Urges Citizens to Run for Local School Boards

The Epoch Times Senior Editor Roger Simon Discusses His Latest Piece and Urges Citizens to Run for Local School Boards


Live from Music Row Thursday 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 all-star panelist and senior editor-at-large at The Epoch Times, Roger Simon, in-studio to speak about his latest piece addressing the need for citizens to take back America by running for their school board.

Leahy: We are joined in the studio by our very good friend, my former boss at PJTV.  Also Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and now a senior editor-at-large for The Epoch Times, Roger Simon. Roger, good morning.

Simon: This is a good morning because the coffee is good here. (Giggles)

Leahy: I made it, especially for you.

Simon: Because I complained.

Leahy: You must start the day off with good coffee. And as our listeners are there getting up, most of them are brewing their coffee right now. And they’re starting to pour it. And so, like us, we are enjoying coffee as we have our morning discussions.

Simon: I was just going to say one thing about coffee. Woody Allen said life is 90 percent about showing up. Actually, it’s not even said about a coffee.

Leahy: Coffee helps you show up and get the day started.

Simon: You have a terrific commentary at The Epoch Times. Theepochtimes.com. I’d like you to talk about it. I think this is the central point of what’s happening in America today. You write, to save America, run for school board.

Simon: Yes. I don’t think there’s anything more important John Q or Jane Q citizen can do other than run for school board at this point in the history of the United States. Ironically, as I say in the piece, it’s more important than running for Senate or Congress or any highfaluting job you can think of it. It’s the grassroots of the grassroots.

What’s interesting about it is that one of the commenters on my piece already – and it only went up at 11 o’clock last night, but it’s really getting a lot of traction – it reminded us that Lenin said to give him four years of educating any young person and he would have them for life.

Leahy: And I think those four years kind of go up to fourth grade. By fourth grade, they’re 90 percent formed, I think.

Simon: I think you’re right.

Leahy: Of course, we have actually some educators out there who may comment on that note. Just as an aside tonight, Roger, I’ll invite you to join me at this event. It is an open house for Thales Academy in Franklin at 6 pm.

If you come, you might want to write about it at The Epoch Times. This is a fabulous private school. It’s a chain now of eight.

Simon: People have been telling me about that for a couple of years, and I am anxious to see it.

Leahy: They use direct instruction as the most effective way to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. Since it’s most effective, the teachers’ unions hate it. But it’s very effective.

And they have a classical education based on the values of Western civilization. They learn about American values and it’s a great place. The tuition cost is just a little over $5,000 a year.

Simon: That’s pretty good.

Leahy: That’s really good. Tonight on Carothers Parkway in Franklin.

Simon: This is all about running for the school board. And I learned a few things from my colleague and from my wife but also from my colleague Trevor Lauden at The Epoch Times who’s been studying this.

If you’re going to run for school board, which is a very important thing to do considering what’s happened with schools, where they’re teaching Critical Race Theory and all the rest of the absolute Marxist lies to your children, you should do two things: Do not run by yourself and try to run with four or five other people.

Leahy: A slate. It’s easier to organize campaigns that way. If you’re running by yourself, the opposition, basically a bunch of lefty groups, particularly here in Williamson County for years, have been doing this.

That’s why of the 12 members of the Williamson County School Board, about 10 are lefties and two are just struggling to deal with all that pressure from the left.

Simon: As we have heard, and there’s been a lot of research on this, that people get slanted very easily in campaigns when they’re by themselves because in the last three days they publicize, you know, when did you stop beating your wife or one of those kinds of things.

Leahy: And you got a parking ticket you didn’t pay 20 years ago. You are a scofflaw.

Simon: One of those things. You have no time to reply and you have no allies in making it good. So do it as a group. And I’ll tell the second thing.

Leahy: Alright, we’ll hold off till after the break.

(Commercial break)

Leahy: A great piece to Save America, Run for School Board. Now you were giving advice to people running for school board. I think Trevor Loudon is a guy who suggested this. Number one, run as a slate with others. Great advice.

Simon: That one came from my wife. But the second one comes from Trevor. And it’s true. And that is not just criticize, which we have to do and highlight Critical Race Theory and the rest of the nonsense that’s being inculcated in children.

But also come up with and have a program that you want to replace it with. A specific one. Thales Academy is one good example. The place that leads the country in all this is Hillsdale College. And if you go online, you can see their K-12 programs.

You don’t need to run with super details of this. Four or five bullet points are plenty for everybody to digest. But you’ve got to have something when you run for all or the people to say, oh, what are you going to do? Well, this is what we’re going to do.

Leahy: Implement this curriculum. Classic education curriculum, a pro-American history. Honest pro-American history.

Simon: And not this nonsense like two plus two don’t equal four because they’re racist or the other extreme stuff that’s being thrown out there right now.

Leahy: I don’t know if anybody’s ever told you this, Roger, but you are a very good writer. I’m just going to read two paragraphs from your piece. You’d be saving America from turning into the bleakest socialist Communist state imaginable, because that is what our current educational system, K-12 is designed to do.

And sadly, has been successful in doing literally for decades. And it’s only getting worse. You would in the process also be a true revolutionary in the tradition of the founders of our country in bringing back truth, justice, and the American way to our children and our children’s children.

Simon: That is rather good.

Leahy: No, it is great. It’s a lyrical salute to America.

Simon: Well, thank you. It took me a while to get there having had a left-wing path.

Leahy: (Laughs) But everybody has a left-wing path. You know, the famous quote from Churchill. “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 20, you don’t have a heart. And if you’re not a conservative when you’re 40, you don’t have a brain.”

Simon: Right.

Leahy: Except the problem is a lot of people kind of get stuck in that liberal stance because as we’re talking about the schools.

The John Dewey approach to schooling is a propaganda approach, and we have a generation of children who have come through schools where they aren’t taught to think independently, but rather to kind of anticipate the answer the teacher is looking for.

Simon: That answer is so dull and socialistic. And it’s quite sad what’s happened, because of the self-replicating system. The people who become teachers have been taught that, too, for years and years and years. So what we need is you, John Q citizen, to get out there and run for school board.

Leahy: And yet, Roger, you know, just thinking about this independently right now, I will say for those in our listening audience who are saying, yeah, I’ll run for school board. Then they think about it a little bit. It is a daunting task, given the current structure.

Let’s think about Metro Nashville Public Schools. Right now there are nine members of the school board. Eight of them are lunatic, left-wing ideologues. And one friend, Fran Bush, actually has a brain and is an intelligent person and has common sense. But it’s very difficult. She’s been our guest here in-studio many a time.

And when you look at the kind of groupthink conformity, left-wing ideology promoted by the school board director and their focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. And then, headline at The Tennessee Star this morning: Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Calls for Board to Issue New Mask Mandate.

Simon: Here’s the irony in the whole thing. The United States spends more money on public education per capita than almost any country in the world. I believe Switzerland was once more. It varies, but we’re pretty close to the top and we’re getting terrible results. Think about that.

What a war on black people that is. Teaching equity and inclusion and all the rest of these buzzwords that are nothing but political power or fraud is an insult to the very people they’re trying to help.

They are the people who get screwed. Any Democrat out there should be ashamed of themselves. I used to be a Democrat, and I’m saying that. I mean, grow a brain.

Leahy: The problem is so they don’t think, they don’t analyze data, they just drop into almost a zealous religious approach.

Simon: Totally religious.

Leahy: It’s the religion of the left of totalitarianism, and it’s extraordinarily dangerous. We talked about this. The Judeo-Christian principles of Western civilization, that really is the building block of our American constitutional republic.

Simon: Of course it is. But sometimes they’re hard to follow. It’s easier to follow the leaders of the left who are going against that on every level. But you can save the country and yourselves by waking up to this. And I’m talking to liberals like I was. Some of them might be listening to this show.

Leahy: Our friend Karl, to whom I lost a bet because he bet that Joe Biden would be inaugurated. And I bet that it would be Trump. And I lost that bet. Took him out and had a steak dinner with him, bought it at Rafferty’s. Karl’s a great guy.

He got his start as a waiter at Rafferty’s and now has his own business, basically hauling junk and trash away from folks and very successful. But still, he’s got a certain worldview that’s different from ours. But he listens and we’re delighted he does.

Simon: Hello Karl. (Leahy laughs) We’ve never met.

Leahy: He is a nice guy.

Simon: But getting people to change their politics is very hard because most people have a whole network of reasons that they can’t change and that they won’t face or look at including work, including family, including friends. And it goes on and on.

And I’ve seen that all over the place. And I think most of us have. And right now we’re in a very bad place in our country because a lot of us are hating each other for reasons that have nothing to do with reality and have everything to do with being manipulated.

Leahy: But that’s an intentional effort at dividing the country, don’t you think?

Simon: Absolutely.

Leahy: This is what the Democratic leadership and I’ll go on, George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg, and the Chinese Communist Party, to me, all seem to be aligned in promoting American division.

Simon: Oh, absolutely. And they’re doing a good job, unfortunately. So it’s up to us. And that’s why back to the school board. That’s one of the places that any reasonably educated person can get in there and try to stop it.

When you were talking about how skewed the Metro school board is here, eight to one, and so forth, don’t let that stop you. Go, as I mentioned earlier, get three or four or five friends to run with you.

Leahy: As a slate.

Simon: As a slate. Don’t do it by yourself. Then you’re just running into a wall and it’s silly. But everybody’s got a few friends who are like-minded and do it together. First of all, you’ll help each other.

Secondly, you get more money that way from supporters. And that’s what you can do. And if we do that all over the country, the country is going to change.

Leahy: That’s a very good point. I think it’s an organizational challenge to a degree. Because it does have some similarities, I think, to the Tea Party movement…

Simon: It does.

Leahy: Way back when in 2008, 2009. You and I were involved.

Simon: You more than I.

Leahy: But it was putting people together and focusing them on a common goal. So we’ll see how it all plays out. Very insightful, Roger

Listen to the full third hour here:

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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 “Board Meeting” by KOMUnews (CC BY 2.0).













Thales Academy Franklin’s Principal Rachael Bradley Talks the School’s Successes and the Next Open House August 5

Thales Academy Franklin’s Principal Rachael Bradley Talks the School’s Successes and the Next Open House August 5


Live from Music Row Thursday 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 Thales Academy-Franklin’s Principal Rachael Bradley to the newsmaker line to discuss the continued successes of Thales Academy-Franklin and their open house Thursday, August 5 at 6 p.m.

Leahy: We are joined on our newsmaker line, our very good friend, a great educator, Rachael Bradley, the principal and administrator of Thales Academy-Franklin. Rachael, welcome to The Tennessee Star Report.

Bradley: Good morning! I’m so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Leahy: We first met two years ago. Do you remember that? You came here with Bob Luddy, the founder of Thales Academy, and we held a presentation, and we talked you into coming and setting up a school here.

Bradley: And here I am, a volunteer in Tennessee. (Leahy laughs)

Leahy: And you opened up a year ago. You started out with K-2 and I think maybe K-3 with 100 students. And now you’re opening up this year K-5, and you got a grand opening for everyone to come and look at the facility on Thursday, August 5. Tell us a little bit about where Thales Academy is today.

Bradley: So I want to back up just a bit further, because when I moved here last April, in the height of COVID, and we had about 20 kids enrolled. And it was a real challenge to spread the word about Thales and recruit new students. And then by the end of the summer, we had 100 kids and that was kindergarten through third grade. And now we are Pre-K all the way to fifth with just around 200 students.

Leahy: Wow.

Bradley: We had a really big first year.

Leahy: Pre-K to fifth grade. That’s great. And now tell our listening audience what is unique about Thales? Tell them about direct instruction and the very affordable tuition.

Bradley: Absolutely. So a couple of things. We offer a classical education. Our campuses were founded in North Carolina, go from Pre-K all the way to 12th grade.

And in the K-five level, which is my wheelhouse, we use direct instruction, which is a phenomenal teaching methodology. It’s over 60 years of research.

It’s data-driven, it’s mastery-based. And really, the two key components are: all of the children are engaged and learning the entire time. So it makes for a really nice learning environment.

Leahy: I’ve seen you teach and the classes at Thales Academy-Franklin, and what I notice is typically you go into a K-5 classroom and there are some kids sitting in the back looking at the ceiling, daydreaming. I don’t see any of that with Thales Academy.

Bradley: No. And that’s exactly how I describe it. In a traditional classroom model, a teacher will say a question and wait for children to raise their hands.

We all know from when we were children, the same few children raise their hand every time. And just what you said, we’ve got 10 or 12 kids in the back counting butterflies. (Leahy laughs)

So it’s really not an effective model. And the way we do it, it’s very teacher-led. Everything is very explicit and purposeful so that we can maximize learning in the classroom. It’s a thing of beauty to watch.

Leahy: It really is. And you’ve got to go see it. Tell us about your open house on Thursday, August 5. What time will it be? Where will it be?

Bradley: It’s going to be at our new campus in Franklin 3835 Carothers Parkway at 6 pm. I have it as Thursday, August 5. We have fully renovated our building.

It’s beautiful. Top to bottom. That was a big project over the last year. We finally completed it and we are ready to show off our campus.

So anybody who’s interested in finding a really great high-quality education for their children in Pre-K through fifth-grade levels, please come out and visit us. You can go to the classrooms, talk to our wonderful teachers. You can review our curriculum. I will be there, of course, happy to answer any questions. So we would just love you to come out and see our school.

Leahy: One thing that really impresses me about the way you run the school, Rachael, is it’s like a project management par excellence to watch how kids come in in the morning and how they go out.

Describe the safety and security and the process that you go through to make sure that the kids get in and get out safely and in a timely manner.

Bradley: Yes, it is like a well-oiled machine. Admittedly, we started school on Monday. That’s another important feature for me to point out – is that we use a year-round calendar, which is phenomenal so we don’t have time lost learning.

It’s the same amount of school days as a traditional model, but our breaks are spread out through the year. So we started school on Monday and we’ve had a great first week.

It does take a little bit to get all the children and especially the adults, who might have to be trained.

Leahy: Just as you trained me here. (Laughs)

Bradley: (Laughs) That’s right. But then we are rocking and rolling. So it is just everybody pulled up. It’s just synchronized opening of car doors, safely escorting the children in. And we get everybody in the building in about 20 minutes.

Leahy: And you don’t have that big, like two and a half month summer off where kids forget about stuff and you’ve got to reteach them. That’s a key premise. A key idea of the Thales Academy model, right?

Bradley: Yes, exactly. We pick up right where we left off from quarter to quarter. It’s essentially four quarters, nine weeks on, three weeks off, in the fall, winter, and spring.

And then summer is five weeks, which is just enough time. And all the parents out there now, by then they’re ready to send them back and the children are ready to go back.

I can’t tell you how excited the kids have been this week to get back to school and back to learning and seeing their friends and being engaged instead of hanging around on the couch watching YouTube.

Leahy: Yeah, exactly. Apparently, your parents are very grateful for the schooling you provided. They went out and they bought a big thank-you billboard right outside the school, didn’t they?

Bradley: They did. They sure did. That was one of our best teacher appreciation gifts. They bought the billboard behind the school to thank all the teachers and staff for a great year.

So they really were thankful. And I get it as a parent and seeing how the last year was so challenging for friends and family and neighbors who didn’t have a classroom to send their children to. We’re just really fortunate we were open in person all year.

Leahy: So you’re located in Franklin, Rachael. But I hear that people from all around Middle Tennessee bring their kids there. I know folks from Wilson County. What’s the range of student locations and residences?

Bradley: I would say we’re primarily Franklin residents, but we have students from Spring Hill, Nashville, Nolensville, Columbia, and Chapel Hill.

People are really driving from all around to get to our school because we were kind of what a lot of people were looking for, which is an amazing education.

But the key is that we’re affordable and that’s our mission. Excellent, high quality, but affordable because we want to educate as many children as possible.

Leahy: Now, when you say affordable, what’s the tuition for a full year?

Bradley: So, Mike, most private schools in this area are around the $20,000-$26,000 range. Thales Academy is $5,300 for the year.

Leahy: $5,300 for the year?

Bradley: Yes. Now, to me, that’s something that I think any middle-class family that budgets can probably afford for a child.

Bradley: I agree. It’s really a no-brainer. Once you get in and see the program and what we’re able to offer and do for the children. You’re looking at about $500. a month.

And I know as a mother again, I paid more than twice that for preschool for my son. It’s really a very certain niche that we’re feeling that I don’t think anybody else is offering right now.

Leahy: I’m going to be there Thursday, August 5 to see how direct instruction works. I’m the poster child for today’s lesson in direct instruction. Thank you, teacher Rachael Bradley. (Chuckles)

Bradley: My pleasure.

Leahy: 6 p.m. I’ll be there. You can meet Rachael. It will be great. Thales Academy in Franklin.

Listen to the full second hour here:

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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 “Rachael Bradley” and Background Photo “Thales Academy School” by Thales Academy.