400 Attend Nashville Rise Forum

DSC_0264After controversy and boycotts, the Nashville Rise forum was held Thursday night with an estimated crowd of over 400. There were parents, families, teachers, administrators, and elected officials in the crowd. The crowd included many non-native speakers who were receiving live translation directly to the headphones they were wearing.

In all, four candidates did not attend. Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, and Jill Speering boycotted the forum. Janette Carter, who is running against Sharon Gentry, was ill and was not able to make it.

Those who attended included: Sharon Gentry, Jane Grimes Meneely, Christiane Buggs, Miranda Christy, Corey Gathings, Erica Lanier, Jackson Miller, and Thom Druffel.

The questions for the candidates mainly came from parent members of Nashville Rise. While there are around 100 parent leaders in Nashville Rise, a few were selected to ask questions of the candidates.

“Tonight was important to inform the community on where candidates stand on issues,” said DeMica Robinson, a parent of Nashville Rise who also asked questions of the candidates. “There was also a consensus that change needs to happen now and that makes me hopeful.”

The questions asked during the forum were about traditional and charter schools collaborating, how we can best serve schools with a high ELL population, student based budgeting, retaining teachers, and closing the achievement gap. The questions allowed all the candidates to give their vision for the school board, something that would have been nice to hear from the three candidates that boycotted.

Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, and Jill Speering refused to speak to 400 community members who care about the future of Nashville’s education. The stage would have been theirs to describe why they disagree with the other candidates and state where they see the future of Nashville’s education going under their watch.

Last night, many spoke to the future of respectful collaboration with Dr. Joseph and all members of the school board. This was an incredible opportunity for all candidates to participate in a positive, collaborative exchange.

Instead, there were empty chairs with their names on it.

Nashville Rise Fights Back

Wendy Tucker of Project Renaissance, which oversees Nashville Rise, is in the Tennessean disputing the lies made from a handful of school board members. Wendy Tucker does a great job at laying down the facts around Nashville Rise and Project Renaissance.

Like I have previously written about, Tucker first discusses that one of Will Pinkston’s demands was a list of schools that the parents of Nashville Rise send their kids.

We sincerely hope Mr. Pinkston is interested in the needs of all children in his district and across Nashville, not just of those who attend schools he condones.

She then delves into the fighting back the lies that have been spread.

Hasn’t Project Renaissance/Nashville Rise hidden their funding from everyone? Not true.

When reporters asked for our Schedule of Contributors, we provided it immediately. When The Tennessean asked for our tax return, we provided that immediately as well.

Isn’t Project Renaissance funded by the Eli Broad Foundation? Not true.

Mr. Pinkston and school board member Amy Frogge have attacked the Eli Broad Foundation and continue to insist that they are funding our work. We have never requested or received funding from the Broad Foundation.

What about the allegations Project Renaissance recruited Amy Frogge’s opponent? Not true.

We have also been accused of political activity, including a claim by Ms. Frogge on her public Facebook page that we recruited her opponent. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Project Renaissance has not engaged in any political activity, including recruiting candidates or participating in political campaigns, and our organization is not endorsing or advancing the cause of any candidates in this or any election.

Doesn’t Project Renaissance support vouchers and employ lobbyists? Not true.

We are not supporting vouchers. We do not employ a lobbyist and do not engage in any lobbying at the state legislature.

Sitting school board members are to blame for this false spread of information. It’s sad that our elected officials would rather spread lies than discuss education with Nashville’s parents.

Public officials should be mindful of the irreparable harm that false accusations cause. While lively debate is a reality in the education arena, defamation takes things too far.

Wendy Tucker again extends the invitation to the forum to Pinkston, Frogge, and Jill Speering.

Are these school board members too afraid to talk to a group of diverse parents? It looks that way so far.

 

Payday Loans for Charter Schools

Earlier today, I reported on the links between Nashville’s Project Renaissance/Nashville RISE and national groups promoting corporate education reform. Specifically, I noted Renaissance’s membership in Education Cities and the similarities between what’s happening in Nashville and what’s happening in other “Education Cities” like Indianapolis.

It’s important to also examine what’s happening in Indianapolis — a district following the Education Cities playbook — in order to see if that’s what we’d like to have happen in Nashville.

First, the charter schools in Indy aren’t doing so well. It may be because, as former TN ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic once said:

“As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results,” he wrote. “I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.”

Chalkbeat’s Scott Elliott reported in April of this year on the struggles faced by charters in IPS:

Many Indiana schools saw rock-bottom passing rates on last year’s tougher ISTEP exam but in a city where public and charter schools compete for students, it’s worth noting that a majority of charter schools in the city had passing rates below the district’s average.

And that’s not a new phenomenon:

But of the 18 charter schools operating this year (2014-15) in the city that took ISTEP last year, about half fell below the Indianapolis Public Schools districtwide average of 51.6 percent passing.

These results may not be surprising, but they certainly don’t point to an Education Cities success story.

Here’s something else that’s interesting. Charter advocates have built clout in the Indiana legislature and used it create a charter school cash advance program — a payday loan of sorts, but with far better interest rates.

Chelsea Schneider in the Indianapolis Star reported on the plan:

The Indiana State Board of Education on Wednesday endorsed a plan to divvy out as much as $40 million in loans in the 2015-16 school year through a controversial new state program to fund charter schools.

Here’s how it works:

The per-student limit means a charter school could receive a maximum advance of $1,836 per student from their state tuition support, according to information shared by board staff. That could lead to some schools receiving less than what they requested. Two schools are seeking approximately $45,000 per student.

Under the program, eligible charter schools can request a maximum of $5 million. Interest rates on the loans are set at 1 percent.

That’s a pretty friendly interest rate provided to schools that may or may not get results.

The point is, it’s not clear from Indy’s example that theirs is a model Nashville should follow — even though Nashville’s ed reform advocates are using the same playbook used in “Education Cities” around the country.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

 

 

 

 

Cameron: From Lowest Performing to Reward School

Chris Reynolds, the CEO of LEAD Public Schools, is out with an editorial in the Tennessean. The editorial discusses how Cameron has been transformed from the lowest preforming school in the state with declining enrollment to a reward school for growth and a 20% growth in enrollment.

Cameron was a Black high school in Nashville during segregation and graduated many of the Black leaders in Nashville. Thanks to the amazing partnership with MNPS, the Cameron facility just held it’s first graduation in 40 years! Every person in the graduating class was accepted to a four year college. That’s a great way to continue the legacy of Cameron.

Here’s a small portion of the editorial:

In just five years, Cameron has been transformed, and we have learned a great deal about what it takes to engineer such a successful turnaround. We have learned that our vision of success for all students works. Cameron serves a high number of students with special needs, extraordinarily high numbers of English language learners, and accepts all students at all times of the year, just like any other school does. No one is turned away, yet our expectations remain high. Cameron (like three other LEAD campuses) has now become a top 5 percent Reward School for growth. In addition, the transformation has brought nearly 20 percent more enrollment back to the neighborhood school, reducing the number of students who had once been opting out for other schools.

Our families are thrilled that Cameron has been restored as the reliable educational asset it once was, and we are honored to be able to serve our community in this way. Our teachers and staff have done truly special work that is a lighthouse for what the future can hold for all students. We have learned that partnership is not always easy, but is the best path to sustained success. We have also learned a great deal about what students and families in the most vulnerable of circumstances face and how to support them.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport.

Nashville’s Not Alone

The involvement of Project Renaissance/Nashville RISE in this year’s MNPS school board races has been the source of a bit of controversy, from promoting (then deleting) an event with Stand for Children to a Phil Williams story raising questions about the source of funding and lack of disclosure.

A group of incumbent board members have said they won’t attend the upcoming forum and Zack Barnes on this blog asks questions about that decision.

This all may seem a bit much over a group that bills itself as a grassroots collection of parents dedicated to improving school quality.

Of course, Nashville has seen what an organic grassroots schools movement looks like. Just look at East Nashville United as one example.

There’s something a little different about Renaissance/RISE and it merits further examination.

As the Phil Williams story points out, Nashville RISE is incredibly well-funded, backed by money from philanthropic interests and by supporters of the charter school movement. Also backed by some donors who don’t want their identities revealed.

But there’s more. Project Renaissance/Nashville RISE is part of a national network of groups known as Education Cities.

Here again, the mission sounds pretty nice:

Our members are nonprofit organizations that create and coordinate ecosystems that foster the growth of high-quality public schools in their respective cities. Together, our members are improving opportunities for millions of children and their families. To find out more about our members, please click on the map or list below.

But, it’s difficult to find a true “success” story among the so-called “Education Cities.”

A closer look at two cities with Education Cities member organizations that have impacted education policy reveals a need for caution.

First, a look at Minneapolis and a group called MN Comeback. Sarah Lahm reports on this group:

In Minneapolis, MN Comeback has been meeting privately for at least a few years, and busily concocting a vague but “doable” plan to “remake our entire city’s education system.” This plan centers on the creation of 30,000 “rigorous and relevant seats” across the city, in “sector agnostic” settings, meaning they don’t care where these seats are–charter, private or traditional public school–as long as they are “high performing.”

This may all sound quite familiar, in that the rhetoric of Renaissance/RISE and Nashville’s charter sector is consistently focused on quality “seats” rather than the children who occupy those seats.

Further, Lahm notes:

Clearly, the privately managed, privately funded MN Comeback–which bears no responsibility to the “seats” it hopes to serve–has had its hands in the Minneapolis schools for some time. And their range is focused: the CPS model is one of only three things being “supported” by MN Comeback, according to the Education Cities website. The other two are MinnCAN, whose flush, reformy thumbprints are all over every MN Comeback policy “team,” and the IFF, a Chicago-based nonprofit that specializes in real estate consulting for “low-income communities.”

Next, let’s turn to Indianapolis, where their version of Renaissance/RISE is called The Mind Trust. You guessed it, The Mind Trust is also an Education Cities member. Also, Project Renaissance lists Ken Bubp as a Board Member and notes his role as Vice President of The Mind Trust.

What you are about to read may sound eerily familiar, as current MNPS board member Amy Frogge recently raised concerns about the high cost of school board races in Nashville.

Regarding the education scene in Indianapolis, Justin Miller reports for the American Prospect:

At the epicenter of the city’s reform push was the Mind Trust, a local education-reform group that promotes more school choice, autonomy, and charter partnerships. To do those things, the district needed a friendly superintendent and a sympathetic school board. The Mind Trust helped bring in DFER, the advocacy group Stand For Children, and the network of political money that came with them.

Sound familiar?

Miller continues, noting how Mind Trust-friendly groups and donors helped dramatically increase the cost of School Board races in Indy:

By the end, Cosby had raked in a total of nearly $80,000. Two other reform candidates were elected with more than $60,000 in support, including $10,000 checks from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The purchase of the Indianapolis School Board by outside groups continued, as Miller notes:

In her campaign to oust Roof, who had been elected board president, from Roof’s at-large seat, Sullivan (the reform candidate) raised more than $70,000, inundating the city with mailers, phone-banking, and paid media. She trounced Roof by more than 25 percentage points.

Miller suggests that what happened in Indianapolis is part of a broader, national effort supported by the likes of the Broad and Walton Foundations.

And here’s something interesting about all that: The funders of Education Cities include The Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and The Gates Foundation — the Big Three in corporate education reform.

Perhaps more interesting is the group of partners, including the pro-voucher Fordham Institute.

All of the above are big players in the drive to remake American public schools, though it is difficult for that group to point to a true “Education City” success story.

What is clear is Renaissance/RISE is following a playbook developed by outside interests. Looking to Minneapolis or Indianapolis can help us see where that playbook may lead Nashville.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

 

 

 

Please Read the Letter

Zack wrote earlier about what he calls the “slippery slope” of the escalating issue with Nashville RISE and some MNPS school board candidates.

For the sake of clarity, here is the letter sent by Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, and Jill Speering to David Plazas regarding the upcoming forum.

In the interest of transparency, and on the heels of yesterday’s reporting by WTVF-TV, we the undersigned members of the Nashville School Board are asking you to read aloud this letter to organizers and attendees at the upcoming Project Renaissance school board candidates’ forum.

As incumbent members of the local school board, and survivors of four years of attacks by the national charter school and voucher movement, we are skeptical of organizations that appear to promote vouchers or unabated charter school growth at the expense of students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers.

We understand from WTVF’s reporting that Project Renaissance is an organization largely funded in 2015 by the Scarlett Family Foundation, whose founder is one of Tennessee’s leading supporters of charter schools and vouchers to divert public funds to private schools. Other major contributors to Project Renaissance included the Vanguard Charitable Trust, a “donor-advised fund” whose donors apparently do not want their identities disclosed, and the Sunnyside Foundation, whose stated mission is to provide “financial assistance to practicing Christian Scientists who reside in the state of Texas.”

Additionally, we understand that Project Renaissance currently is funded by, or seeking funds from, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which is attempting to convert half of the public schools in Los Angeles, Calif., into charter schools. Project Renaissance has not, to our knowledge, publicly released its list of contributors, to date, in 2016.

We have repeatedly asked Project Renaissance to fully disclose its current sources of funding and organizational support – for expenditures including, but not limited to, a month-long television advertising campaign as well as political activities coordinated with Stand for Children, a national group that is inserting itself into local school board races through candidate endorsements, candidate campaign contributions, and negative attacks. Project Renaissance has not responded to requests for disclosure of its current funding sources and only shared its 2015 contributor list after receiving pressure from WTVF.

With this letter, we are not attempting to re-litigate the now universally-recognized fact that the unabated growth of charter schools has a negative fiscal impact on existing schools, or the fact that an overwhelming majority of Tennesseans are opposed to vouchers. Instead, we are simply objecting to the general lack of transparency by Project Renaissance — especially regarding donor contributions in 2016 that may be supporting its current activities, including the upcoming candidates’ forum.

Without full disclosure and transparency, we cannot achieve a trusting and productive dialogue. For these reasons, we will not participate in the June 23 forum hosted by Project Renaissance. If students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers need to reach us, we are easily accessible. Our contact information can be found on the school board’s web page at MNPS.org.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

The Slippery Slope of the Nashville Rise Pullout

This morning, School Board Member Amy Frogge released a statement about Project Renaissance/Nashville Rise on her Facebook page in response to a video that was released by Phil Williams that reveals the funding behind the organizations. Phil Williams reports the Scarlett Foundation as a major funder for Project Renaissance.

Amy Frogge states in her Facebook post, “… we do know that the group is funded in part by the Scarlett Foundation, a pro-charter/voucher group that is tied to the Beacon Center and the American Legislative Exchange Council.”

Additionally, Amy Frogge, without any evidence whatsoever, threw out another baseless allegation that her opponent, Thom Druffel, was recruited by Project Renaissance.

First, Project Renaissance/Nashville Rise is a 501 c3 organization. By definition, they cannot contribute money on any election activities. They are only focusing on parent engagement, including hosting forums to get parents engaged. As a matter of fact, it was the parents of Nashville Rise that voted to do the forum, not Project Renaissance.

Amy Frogge, Will Pinkston, and Jill Speering are not attending this event. Don’t let Amy Frogge’s post make you think it was this Phil Williams report that caused them to drop out. These decisions were already made before this piece was released.

The Investigation

In fact, we see that this “investigation” by Phil Williams came at the request of Will Pinkston, to whom Phil Williams only referred to as “an unnamed board member” in his piece. Emails obtained by Tennessee Education Report show Will Pinkston added 13 members of the press to his emails with Nashville Rise on June 9th.

Before Pinkston decided to attend the event, he wanted Nashville Rise to answer a variety of questions, including, “Of those parents who are part of the coalition, how many are residents of my School Board District 7 and what schools do their children attend?”

I find it strange that Will Pinkston wants to know the specific schools parents send their children to. He is a representative of all District 7, not just parents who send their children to schools he approves of. Does Will Pinkston treat parents differently if they send their students to JT Moore, Valor, or Harpeth Hall? If so, he does not deserve to be an elected official.

When reached by Tennessee Education Report, Nashville Rise released the following statement:

“On May 10th, we invited all school board candidates on the August 2016 ballot to participate in a city-wide, parent-led forum. Our hope was to have all candidates in attendance, so that parents could engage with them and make informed decisions about the race. We gave candidates a deadline for notifying us of participation. That deadline was June 13th at noon. Prior to the deadline, every candidate with the exception of Will Pinkston had responded. Jill Speering, who initially RSVPd that she planned to participate, notified us prior to the deadline that she would now be out of town. Amy Frogge declined our invitation. All other candidates, with the exception of Mr. Pinkston, plan to participate.”

Slippery Slope

If school board candidates start down the path of not attending events because of the organization’s funding, they will not be able to attend any events by the organizations listed below.

In the same 990 that shows that the Scarlett Foundation gave $250,000 to Project Renaissance, it also shows that they gave to many other organizations including Metro Nashville Public Schools, Conexion Americas, Communities in Schools, and United Way for the Read to Succeed program.

That means Will Pinkston couldn’t hold another campaign kickoff event at Conexion Americas, Amy Frogge couldn’t attend an event about wrap around services through Communities in Schools, and Jill Speering couldn’t attend a Read to Succeed event.

Are these school board members ready to go down this slippery slope? Should people boycott all of these nonprofits? Pinkston himself has touted the incredible work of Conexion Americas, and rightfully so. Frogge has been one of the largest advocates of Communities in Schools, and rightfully so.

Will Pinkston says that these organizations below should “return the dirty money.” Is that really what we want? I hope not because returning money will hurt the students of Nashville.

As someone who has put together a mayoral forum in the past, the goal is to get a moderator who is a member of the press in order to maintain impartiality. That’s what Nashville Rise has done. In good faith, they got David Plazas to moderate. Plazas has experience moderating many forums in Nashville, including a few mayoral forums last year.

Scarlett Foundation Funders

While the Scarlett Foundation gives to plenty of charter schools, they also give to a wide variety of nonprofits in Nashville that are making a huge difference in the lives of students in Nashville.

Here are some organizations that have received funding:

Almost 70 students have received tuition scholarships from the Scarlett Foundation
Metro Nashville Public Schools – $222,566 – Support program
Conexion Americas -$100,000 – Support of Parents as Partners Programs in MNPS
Oasis Center – $150,000 – Support for Nashville College Connection
Big Brothers Big Sisters – $50,000 – Support Programs
United Way of Middle Tennessee – $312,450 – Purchase Read to Succeed Program
United Way of Middle Tennessee – $35,000 – Books for Imagination Library
Book’em – $30,000 – Purchase new books for reading is fundamental programs
Backfield in Motion – $35,000 – Support for educational supplies for tutoring program for boys ages 10-18
Girl Scouts – $15,000 – Support of college access and college tutor program
Homework Hotline – $29,250 – Cost of middle school tutoring
Junior Achievement – $30,000 – Support “company program”
Martha O’Bryan Center – $80,000 – Thrive – Top Floor Zone
Nashville Adult Literacy Council – $50,000 – Support drop-in learning center to help adults learn to read
Pencil Foundation – $6,000 – Expansion of the reading partners program
Preston Taylor Ministries – $10,000 – Support afters chool program
Communities in Schools – $50,000 – Support for site directors at MNPS schools
Nashville Public Library Foundation – $53,043 – Support full time reading specialist
American Education Assistance Foundation – $125,000 – Support for Tennessee Promise Scholarship

There are other deserving organizations that do incredible work that are funded as well, but these are just a few. Like I said, charter schools in Nashville have been funded by this organization, but it’s not just an organization that gives only to charter schools. To me, it looks like an organization that cares about students. I love that we have a grant making organization that supports organizations in Middle Tennessee.

To discredit Nashville Rise because of their association with this generous foundation is unjustified from elected officials who say they are doing what’s best for students in Nashville.

Update (6/15): Will Pinkston has responded to the post by calling me a “nitwit” and stating my attacks on him are “kind of like powder puffs or a tickle fight. ;)

Nashville Rise to Host School Board Candidate Forum

Mark your calendars, Nashville!

Nashville Rise, a grassroots group of parents who are trying to elevate the parent voice in Nashville, is hosting a school board candidate forum later this month.

Date: Thursday, June 23, 2016
Time: 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm, with doors opening at 5:30 pm
Location: Tennessee State University, Avon Williams Campus, 330 10th Ave North, Nashville, 37203
Who will be there? School board candidates from each district that is up for election this year.
Who is moderating? David Plazas, the Opinion Editor for the Tennessean will be moderating. There will also be a panel of parents there to ask the candidates questions.

Transportation to the event and interpreters will be provided. Please RSVP at info@projectrenaissancenashville.org or 629-888-9692

I love that there will be a panel of parents asking questions!

Parents involved with Nashville Rise have been going door to door to invite parents and community members to attend the forum. In preparation for the event, Nashville Rise has released a TV ad and direct mailer to invite community members to the forum.

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I hope to see you on June 23rd!

TC Weber and the Return of the Summer Blockbuster

TC Weber thinks he sees blockbuster potential in this summer’s Nashville School Board race:

I’d argue that this year’s Metro Nashville Public Schools board race meets the criteria for a summer blockbuster, and with Stand For Children involved, it even has its own Michael Bay. For those of you who don’t regularly attend movies, Bay is a director known for elevating the blockbuster format through the increased use of explosions, beautiful people, and minimal substance. In other words, with apologies to William Faulkner, sound and fury signify nothing. To this point, that is exactly what the MNPS school board race has been. You have social media dust ups, campaign managers from one campaign resigning just before the filing deadline to launch their own campaigns, and other candidates attacking a spouse’s work record like it was their opponent’s. All entertaining to watch, but largely lacking substance.

The whole post outlines special interest groups, candidate recruitment, and all the other characters that make a blockbuster truly exciting. Also, he makes some recommendations on candidates he deems worthy of support.


 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport