RePublic of Probation

The Tennessean reports that Nashville’s RePublic High School (a charter school) will be placed on probation in January:

Nashville’s RePublic High School will be placed on academic probation for the 2020 year due to low performance on state measures.

The charter school will begin its probation on Monday, with Metro Nashville Public Schools officials monitoring academics and operations until December, according to a letter sent to the school in November.

At that time, if there aren’t improvements, the school will either be recommended for closure or be placed on a second year of probation, according to the letter.

The move comes even as the Tennessee State Board of Education is forcing charter expansion across the state.

A recent report on federal charter expansion funds spent in Tennessee indicates:

One hundred and twenty-one grants were given to open or expand charter schools in Tennessee from the federal charter schools program between 2006-2014. At this time, at least 59 (49%) of those charter schools are now closed or never opened at all. Forty-three of the 59 grant recipients never opened at all.

Of the 43 that never opened, 38 did not even have a name. Only a grant amount was listed.

In total, $7,374,025.00 was awarded to Tennessee charter schools during those years that either never opened or shut down.

Despite all of this, Governor Bill Lee remains committed to a privatization agenda.

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Spare Change

Senate Finance Chair Bo Watson wants you to spend your spare change on Tennessee’s public schools. Watson touts the Volunteer Public Education Trust Fund in a recent piece distributed around the state. Here’s more:

For all those who clamor for more financial investment in K-12 public education, there is a perfect investment opportunity for you – the Volunteer Public Education Trust.

Watson then goes on to highlight the many potential benefits of investment in this fund.

Let’s be clear: A state that is 45th in the nation in school funding is now asking people to just donate their extra cash to a fund to help boost schools.

Watson sounds like he’s not among “all those who clamor” for more investment in our schools. But, hey, if YOU are, go for it.

Watson fails to mention that Tennessee has banked over $3 billion in surpluses over the past five years. Was that money invested in public schools? No! Instead, the inheritance tax and Hall investment tax were phased out.

In fact, a recent analysis indicates that while state revenue is up by an 7% over the past 10 years when adjusted for inflation, teacher salaries are down by 2.6% over the same time period.

This lack of commitment to directing available dollars to public schools is why Tennessee earned an “F” for effort in a recent comparison of state spending on education.

Now, instead of committing to use state funds to fill a $500 million hole in school funding, Watson is suggesting collecting spare change from donors in order to meet the needs of our state’s schoolchildren.

The Volunteer Public Education Trust is now ready for contributions from individuals, businesses and corporations that will transform the way we fund public education in Tennessee.

Here’s another way to transform the way we fund public education in Tennessee: Start funding education in Tennessee.

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While City Services Suffer, MNPS Plans $45.6 Million for Charter Expansion

Former Nashville School Board member Will Pinkston offers thoughts on plans to expand charter schools in Nashville. Pinkston is the founder of Public School Partners, a project that helps local school systems control the unabated growth of charter schools.

This holiday season has been hard on many Nashvillians in the wake of Metro government’s budget woes.

Affordable housing advocates are seeing funding cut for their initiatives. Criminal-justice reformers are being told they’ll have to wait longer than promised for the rollout of police body cameras to protect innocent citizens. Taxpayers are bracing for steep rate hikes to bail out the city’s bankrupt water and sewer system. And the list goes on.

Yet despite citywide fiscal austerity, Metro Nashville Public Schools officials are clinking champagne glasses in celebration of their latest plans to expand taxpayer-funded privately run charter schools.

During the past three months, MNPS Interim Director Adrienne Battle has quietly recommended that taxpayers fund an estimated $45.6 million in additional cash outlays for charter growth over the next five years. Battle not only pushed for a new charter school that will quickly grow to nearly 600 students, but unveiled plans to expand three existing charter schools.

Additional recommended charter growth is anticipated in the New Year — even though MNPS principals and teachers report that more charters are unneeded and unwanted, and siphon away resources from competitive teacher pay and adequate support in the classroom.

So what’s driving the MNPS agenda? Clearly, Battle does not understand the destabilizing effect that charters have on traditional public education — and she has no regard for the fiscal problems facing the rest of Metro government. Insisting on the costly privatization of public schools is a slap in the face to Mayor John Cooper, the Metro Council, and Metro employees who are tightening their belts while the school system writes blank checks for charters.

No doubt, the charter zealots will respond by flooding social media with myths. They’ll claim:

Myth #1: Charters are better than traditional schools. Fact: Charters cherry-pick in admissions to enroll students who are more likely to succeed, and then “counsel out” kids who don’t make the grade. Each spring, school board members are inundated with complaints about charters sending kids back to zoned schools prior to testing season. Not long ago, investigators found that California-based charter operator Rocketship — which Battle is recommending for a new school — failed to provide services to students with disabilities and forced homeless students to pay for uniforms.

Myth #2: Charters don’t cost more money. Fact: An independent analysis commissioned by the school board found that charter schools will, “with nearly 100% certainty,” have a negative fiscal impact on MNPS. Former Mayor Karl Dean pushed for a competing audit to refute the findings, but his auditors instead confirmed that when charter schools open, they suck funding out of traditional schools where costs such as staffing, maintenance and technology cannot be easily adjusted.

Myth #3: Charters are in high demand and families are entitled to school choice. Fact: Wait lists at most Nashville charters are minimal or non-existent. Meanwhile, in this environment of finite taxpayer resources, charter families are not more entitled to choice than working families are entitled to affordable housing. Charter families are not more important than citizens subjected to police brutality. Charter families’ wish lists should not be prioritized ahead of basic municipal needs, including clean water and reliable sewer services to homes and businesses.

Defeatists in the fight to protect public education will just shrug and say: “We have to do charters because state law says so.” The competing argument, of course, is simple: Stand up against hostile state laws. Nashville can learn from Memphis, where leaders are taking control of their school system after more than a decade of hostile, state-mandated charter intrusion.

Heading into 2019, MNPS went five consecutive years without approving a new charter school. Now, unfortunately, the school system is sliding backward and reigniting charter growth at a time when local taxpayers can ill-afford it.


The Charter Truth

So Much for Local Control

Don’t Believe the Hype

On the Need to Slow Charter Growth

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Pay Boost Coming for Memphis Teachers

Amid statewide struggles to hire and retain teachers in part due to low pay, Shelby County Schools is working with local teacher unions to boost pay, Chalkbeat reports:

The starting salary for new Shelby County Schools teachers would increase to match or exceed neighboring competitors, and teachers would be annually compensated for master’s degrees under a district counterproposal presented to teacher groups on Friday.

The proposal would add $2,000 to the compensation of new district teachers, raising the starting salary to $45,000. Teachers with master’s degrees could make a salary as high as $74,000, and teachers with doctorates almost $84,000.

The negotiations in Shelby County come as districts across the state struggle to maintain fair compensation for teachers. In fact, a new analysis reveals that while inflation-adjusted state revenue has increased significantly (by 7%) over the past decade, teacher pay is down (by 2.6%) over the same time period:

So, let’s be clear about a few things: 1) State lawmakers prioritized tax cuts for wealthy Tennesseans over raising pay for teachers and 2) Even with these tax cuts, there is significant money available to fund teacher raises and 3) Now that the economy is slowing a bit, legislators are being encouraged to exercise caution — which likely means less money to invest in teacher pay and other public service needs.

The news out of Memphis is encouraging for teachers there. But, there’s a broader, state-level problem that must be addressed.

Tennessee underfunds the BEP (school funding formula) by at least $500 million year. We under-invest in teachers. The recommendations of the state’s BEP Review Committee are routinely ignored by the legislature.

When you pay as little as you possibly can for teachers while stockpiling revenue and under-resourcing schools, you are headed for a crisis.

We’re here. Kudos to Memphis/Shelby County leaders for taking steps to address it locally. It’s time for Governor Bill Lee and the General Assembly to get serious about supporting public schools.

For more on education policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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Belmont’s Dream: Pro-Charter, Anti-Teacher

Belmont University’s College of Education has its first Dean, and he’s got a record of undermining public schools and attacking teachers. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that outgoing Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis will be the inaugural Dean of the College of Education at Nashville’s Belmont University. Here’s more:

Wayne D. Lewis Jr., who just resigned under pressure from Gov. Andy Beshear’s newly appointed Kentucky Board of Education, was on Monday named the inaugural Dean of the College of Education at Belmont University at Nashville, according to a news release from Belmont.

As Commissioner of Education in Kentucky, Lewis advanced an agenda focused on creating charter schools in Louisville and Lexington. He also helped then-Governor Matt Bevin crackdown on teacher strikes by requesting that districts provide him with a list of teachers who had taken sick days on days coinciding with demonstrations against Bevin’s privatization agenda in Frankfort.

In announcing the hire, Belmont Provost Thomas Burns said:

“We wanted to find a different kind of leader to build our ‘dream’ of a College of Education, who will lead the faculty and staff in the School of Education to develop and deliver world-class programs designed to educate teachers for students in our community and our world as the next generation of compassionate, confident and committed leaders in the classroom and beyond.”

Apparently, Belmont’s dream includes the privatization of public schools and the silencing of teachers voicing dissent over low pay and poor working conditions. Should be great for recruiting students to the program.

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Lee’s Friend DeVos Pitches Failed ESA Scheme

PR Watch has the story of how Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (a long-time associate of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee) pitched Arizona’s Education Savings Account (ESA) scheme at a recent ALEC meeting. The Arizona plan is similar to the one Tennessee’s legislature passed in 2019 at Lee’s request. The vote on the voucher scheme bill is currently under investigation by the FBI. Here’s more on DeVos’s pitch, which appears to have been divorced from reality:

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos held a roundtable on “education freedom” with Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) yesterday at the ALEC States and Nation Policy Summit to promote her controversial and costly Education Freedom Scholarships proposal.

DeVos heaped praise on Arizona’s school system at the event, saying, “Arizona is really a leader in giving parents and students the kind of freedom that they need to find their right fit for education. And I’m so grateful for the example that you are setting here,” the Arizona Republic reported.

But Arizona is not a great example when it comes to school performance. The state consistently ranks among the bottom among all states in opportunities and performance and was recently named the worst state to teach in.

Lee appears in some ways to be modeling his education agenda after the failed agenda of AZ Governor Doug Ducey.

It seems he might do well to heed the warning from Arizona when it comes to vouchers:

And later in the afternoon, DeVos told a larger group of attendees, “Arizonans are loving their ESAs,” or Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. But voters rejected a ballot measure to expand the state’s voucher system by a 65-35 percent margin in 2018, so DeVos appears to be misinformed. 

The same type of voucher scheme Lee is now fast-tracking has been devastating to Arizona public schools:

Last year, nearly $200 million which otherwise would have been in the state’s coffers, money which could have been used to boost our shamefully low education budget, is paying for children to go to private schools.

This is what Bill Lee wants for Tennessee. Unabated charter growth. An expansive voucher program that sucks funds from public schools. It’s an agenda that has failed children in state after state. It’s a top priority of Betsy DeVos, ALEC, and other Koch-funded entities.

The good news: There’s a bipartisan effort to repeal the voucher scheme in 2020.

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Testing and College

Jill Richardson talks about a lawsuit against the University of California that is taking on the SAT/ACT.

A lawsuit is taking on the University of California system’s use of the SAT and ACT standardized tests in admissions. The suit claims the tests are “deeply biased and provide no meaningful information about a student’s ability to succeed.”

As a sociologist who’s looked at the research, I agree the tests are biased.

For instance, studies show that students whose parents have more education and/or higher incomes do better on the tests. Test scores are also racially biased, with whites and Asians scoring better than blacks and Latinos in ways that are “unlikely” to be “explained away by class differences across race,” according to Brookings researchers.

Why does wealth impact your SAT score? There are several reasons

Schools are funded by property taxes, so students from wealthier families get to go to better-funded schools. They can afford to take test prep classes, and they can afford to take the test multiple times to improve their scores. Additionally, students from wealthy families are more likely to get access to disability accommodations (like extra time) on the exam if they qualify for them.

But there’s a second part to the lawsuit’s claim: These test scores don’t even predict a student’s ability to succeed in college.

This appears to be correct as well. What does predict college success? High school GPA. This makes sense: The skills students use to get good grades in high school are more or less the same ones they use to get good grades in college. The skills used to take a standardized test generally aren’t. 

In America, we like to think we live in a meritocracy, where people get ahead through brains, grit, and hard work. We don’t. 

Instead, students from low-income families are already at a disadvantage in the school system, for a long list of reasons. Even the most talented and hard-working child born into a poor family is going to struggle to compete with wealthier peers.

In episode of This American Life, a reporter followed an honor student around his high school in Ferguson, Missouri. In an entire day he had only three academic classes, and only one in which a teacher showed up and taught. 

At the time the reporter visited, the school had been failing for so long that it had lost its accreditation, and yet it was still teaching students — or failing to. How could even the best students in that school compete with peers who had full days of classes with teachers teaching in their schools?

While the school system cannot single-handedly correct for all social ills and inequalities, it should do what it can to level the playing field for all students. And efforts to increase equity need to start long before students apply to college.

That said, if standardized tests are biased against low-income students and students of color — and if they don’t even predict success in college — then what are they even for?

Under these circumstances, the only function they can possibly serve is as a roadblock to social mobility for students who were not born into privilege — and as an extra unearned advantage for those who were.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Distributed by

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Still Asleep

Jeff Bryant offers some insight into a new report detailing the significant failures of a federal program designed to boost charter schools. I wrote earlier this week about the Tennessee-specific cases. Here’s a quick summary of Bryant’s analysis:

When members of Congress repeatedly confronted U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos about a study finding the federal government’s charter school grant program had wasted an estimated $1 billion on schools that had never opened or opened and quickly closed, she dismissed the findings and accused the report authors of having a “political agenda against charter schools.” On December 10, the same authors issued a more detailed examination of waste in the government’s charter grant program, and concluded the $1 billion figure was indeed likely not correct: it was an underestimate. This report, Still Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Results in a Pileup of Fraud and Waste by the Network for Public Education (NPE), calculates approximately $1.17 billion in federal funding has been spent on charters that either never opened or that opened and have since shut down. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the four front-runners in the race, has proposed “halting the use of public funds to underwrite new charter schools.” Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, another front-runner, has pledged to, if elected, “eliminate” the federal charter school grant program and “end federal funding for the expansion of charter schools.” Warren in particular has been taking the brunt of the pushback from charter supporters, who contend her call for ending the federal grant program for charter schools is “threatening the freedom” charters enjoy.


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The Charter Truth

I recently noted the NPE report on failed charters in Tennessee relative to a federal grant program. Now, a message from In the Public Interest succinctly explains the problem:

Thousands have been shuttered since the turn of the century. More than 35 percent of those given federal grant money between 2006 and 2014 either never opened or were shut down, costing taxpayers more than half a billion dollars. Nearly 91 percent have failed in Iowa—in Virginia, 71 percent.

No, these figures aren’t about start-up companies trying to become the next Uber. They’re from a new report by the Network for Public Education, which reveals staggering data about the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program (CSP).

At least $504 million of the more than $4.1 billion dollars the CSP has spent to fund new charter schools and expand existing charter schools was wasted on defunct schools.

This adds to the bevy of data showing that charter schools are more volatile and disruptive than traditional, neighborhood public schools that, if given adequate funding, can help hold communities together. Students at charter schools are two and a half times more likely to have their school close than those at neighborhood schools.

To the likes of billionaire Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—who calls public education an “industry”—constant churn is a good thing. She’s compared charter schools to food trucks and—you guessed it—the rideshare companies Uber and Lyft.

The deep-pocketed voices aiming to privatize public education are fine with a system that creates winners and losers—in fact, that’s exactly what they want.

But the data overwhelmingly show that school closures harm students. They often damage relationships students have with friends and others. They can end long-standing parent and teacher relationships. They appear to slightly lower test scores. They can increase student absenteeism. They can destabilize families who can’t afford higher transportation costs.

Further research is needed on the psychological effects of closures, but they also likely provoke feelings of grief and loss.

Get this: this past October, a charter school in California’s Central Valley unraveled over the course of a month, abruptly closing its doors in the middle of the school year. Its students have since scrambled to find other options, swelling the class sizes of the local school district.

As the Network for Public Education says, the federal government is “asleep at the wheel” when it comes to bankrolling failing charter schools. Public money should be spent to benefit students, not charter school entrepreneurs.

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Wish List

Nashville attorney Jamie Hollin takes on the Chamber of Commerce as he discusses the “Adopt-a-Teacher” program. Here are some highlights:

Our elected officials have chronically underfunded public education in Tennessee at virtually every level. The fact we rank near the bottom in the U.S. in per-pupil spending should surprise no one.

But governments have accomplices, and one of them here is the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, which has consistently advocated for policies that undercut our public schools.

When Mayor Karl Dean proposed a modest 53-cent property tax increase in 2012, largely to increase pay for early career teachers and make Metro schools more competitive, the Chamber had to be dragged into supporting it. When the school board joined a lawsuit to force the state to live up to their promises and fully fund schools, the Chamber was and has been silent.

The Chamber has been vocal about supporting charter schools, though, and unabated charter growth now accounts for $130 million that could be going to traditional public schools. The Chamber has also supported vouchers in the past and now Gov. Bill Lee’s plan looks like it will take another $330 million out of public schools in Davidson and Shelby counties by 2024.

Read more from Hollin about the Nashville Chamber and the current “budget crisis” that may prevent further investment in Nashville’s public schools.

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