ASD Faces Memphis Challenges

Bluff City Ed has the story of how Memphis teachers, parents, and students are standing up and resisting the Achievement School District.

The story chronicles recent events in summary format and demonstrates that what the ASD is selling is not being well-received. It could be because there are real questions about the effectiveness of the ASD’s work in Memphis.

From the story:

If the last few days are any indication, Memphis is close to an open revolt against the Achievement School District.

It doesn’t take much more than a cursory look at the news since the announcement of the ASD’s nine new takeovers to reach this conclusion.  The revolt is coming every quarter, both from within the schools being taken over and from those outside the schools in the community. It’s even coming from district leaders and, one can infer, from the charter operators themselves.

What make it notable is that it’s all much more intense than what we’ve seen in previous ASD takeovers. Its no longer bordering on dissent – it appears we’ve moved now into open revolt.

Read the whole story to understand the resistance and what it might mean for the ASD’s future in Memphis.

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

Experts on New Orleans Ed Reform to Speak in Nashville

As debate continues over an education reform model for Nashville’s public schools, two local groups have teamed up to offer an event that will highlight the reform experience of the Recovery School District in New Orleans.

From a press release:

As Nashville continues to reform its public school system, it must look to the successes and failures of particular reforms in other cities as a guide. Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE) and Gideon’s Army: Grassroots Army for Children have invited Karran Harper Royal and Dr. Kristen Buras to discuss the impact of education reform on the students, teachers, and schools of New Orleans, La.–the nation’s first all-charter school district.

Kristen Buras is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at Georgia State University. She is the author of Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance, which chronicles the past decade of education reform in her hometown of New Orleans.

Karran Harper Royal is an education advocate in New Orleans. She has been a public school parent for the last 23 years and has has worked with various community groups uplifting parent and community voices in public education.

“On Tuesday, October 21, the State of Louisiana released their RSD (Recovery School District) performance scores,” reports Karran Harper Royal. “While the state average rose from 88.5 in 2013 (on a 150-point scale) to 89.2 in 2014, the RSD New Orleans average dropped from 71.9 to 71.2 during this same time period.  Does Nashville really want to follow this model?”

NOTE: These results seem somewhat similar to the so-far disappointing results coming out of Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

The speaking event “Is School Choice an Empty Promise? What Nashville Can Learn from New Orleans” will be an informative discussion about the real outcomes of charter school expansion. It will also provide an opportunity for concerned community members in Nashville to raise questions about access, achievement, equity, and accountability. The chance to dialogue across cities is a unique opportunity and is well timed in light of recent proposals to create an all-choice zone in East Nashville.

The event will be held at the East Nashville Recreation Center, 700 Woodland Street, Nashville, TN 37206 on Sunday, November 2. The speakers will begin at 3 p.m. and a question and answer period will follow. This event is free and open to the public.

Seating is limited. RSVP online is recommended.

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

Struggling ASD to Takeover 9 More Memphis Schools

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports:

Nine more schools in Memphis will be taken over by the state-run Achievement School District next fall, including Wooddale Middle, Raleigh-Egypt High and South Side Middle, which have already been assigned to charter schools. Nine others — Florida-Kansas Elementary, Denver Elementary, Airways Middle, Brookmeade Elementary, American Way Middle, Hawkins Mills Elementary, LaRose Elementary, A. Maceo Walker Middle and A.B. Hill Elementary — are eligible for takeover, although only six of those will be under new management. The six to be taken over will be determined in part by a community vetting process that suggests which charter operators are best-suited to each school’s needs. The ASD will announce the final matches in December.

A recent analysis of the ASD’s performance indicates that the schools it has taken over in Shelby County would have been better off if they had remained in district hands. The ASD’s student achievement numbers have failed to meet their own ambitious targets and also failed to grow at a rate consistent with that of district schools.

An additional analysis compared schools in the iZone to ASD schools and found that the iZone model consistenly out-performs the ASD model.

When asked recently if he planned to convert iZone schools to charter schools, Shelby County Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson called the idea “absurd.”

Hopson’s statement is noteworthy because converting district schools to charters is exactly what the ASD plans to do.

While it may be fair to give the ASD more time to prove it can be effective with its existing schools, it seems irresponsible to allow the ASD to take on more schools. The leaders of the ASD would not be likely to put more students into a classroom of a teacher who failed to meet their desired student achievement targets. Why should more schools be handed over to a model that’s not only not living up to its own hype, but also failing to outperform the district schools it has taken over?

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

Hopson: Turning iZone over to Charters “Absurd”

Amid reports that the Shelby County Schools iZone may turn over some of its schools to charter operators due to financial concerns, Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson told the Memphis Daily News, “That’s absurd. I just want to be clear on that.”

Instead, Hopson indicated he plans to seek additional grants and/or private funding to continue the successful iZone efforts.

A recent analysis indicates that iZone schools are outperforming their Achievement School District counterparts. In short, the iZone is working. And Hopson’s comments acknowledge that while also making clear his commitment to find a way to stick with what’s working to help improve outcomes for students.

 

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

East Nashville “Charter Zone” Planned Years Ago?

Amid pleas from some East Nashville parents to start over or at least slow down, Dr. Jesse Register appears poised to move forward with a plan to turn the Maplewood and Stratford clusters in East Nashville into a “Charter Zone,” with information unveiled regarding what happens to which schools in those zones by January 1, 2015.

This in spite of a recent report presented to MNPS that details the increased cost to the district if the growth of charter schools is not carefully managed. That report came to light following another report noting that the Achievement School District model has so far produced unimpressive returns.

In an OpEd released today by Kristen Buras of Georgia State University, questions are raised about how long the East Nashville plan has been developing and if there is really any choice being afforded local parents seeking more answers.

Buras draws parallels between the New Orleans Recovery School District and what’s now happening in Nashville. She notes:

In 2010, New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO), the city’s leading charter school incubator, received a $28 million federal grant to expand charters in New Orleans as well as Nashville and Memphis. NSNO worked with Louisiana’s RSD and Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD), designed after the RSD, to “scale” the model in urban areas beyond New Orleans.

Around this same time, Mayor Karl Dean and Director of Schools Jesse Register welcomed the newly formed Tennessee Charter School Incubator (TCSI). TCSI was led initially by Matt Candler, NSNO’s former CEO, and planned to launch 20 new charter schools in Nashville and Memphis within five years.

And:

Register’s open letter says education officials are “coming up with new ideas” to solve Nashville’s problems. The ideas are not new; they were incubated in New Orleans. The plan is not in “early stages of development”; charter school entrepreneurs have been laying groundwork for years. The task force formed and “big news” dropped before community input was invited. In New Orleans, schools were seized and chartered before communities returned to the city.

Buras also points out that the New Orleans RSD faces several problems, including:

Neighborhood schools were closed without genuine community input. Meanwhile, charter school operators have paid themselves six-figure salaries, used public money without transparency and appointed unelected boards to govern the schools.

Community members have filed civil rights lawsuits, including one by Southern Poverty Law Center alleging thousands of disabled children were denied access to schools and federally mandated services in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Moreover, there are charter schools in New Orleans with out-of-school suspension rates approximating 70 percent.

She suggests parents in East Nashville should be concerned about a district following the same model as New Orleans. Perhaps public meetings on the topic and continued engagement by groups like East Nashville United will lead to questions being answered or more time being given to consider all options.

 

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

 

Shelby County’s iZone May Seek Expensive Charter Bailout

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports that Shelby County’s iZone schools may be handed over to charter operators in the manner of the Achievement School District. This is because a federal grant is running out and the continuation of the iZone under its current operating format may be too expensive an investment for Shelby County Schools.

The iZone is getting good results, the schools are managed by the district, the teachers receive pay incentives and additional support, and the district is thinking about abandoning the program for a model similr to the ASD – a model the iZone beats in head-to-head comparisons.

It seems that perhaps the district ought to be considering ways to expand the iZone to reach more Shelby County Schools in need of additional support. Instead, they are looking at leaving behind what’s working for model that’s not getting great results.

Moreover, a recent report out of Nashville indicates that the growth of charter schools there also leads to increased costs for the district. So, the proposed solution to the dilemma of continued iZone funding may actually result in a net increase in costs to Shelby County Schools if not managed properly.

Finally, the type of disruption of taking the iZone schools and handing them over to various charter operators can also be disruptive to student learning.

Perhaps Shelby County Schools will ultimately decide to keep its iZone as it is or even expand it. For now, the question is: Why are they looking at a costly, unproven solution when they’ve got a good thing going?

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

 

East Nashville Parents Call on Register to “Start Over”

In response to an announcement by Dr. Jesse Register that plans are in the works to shakeup schools in East Nashville, including closing some schools, handing some over to charter operators, and allowing the state’s Achievement School District to takeover others, a group of East Nashville parents held a meeting on Saturday to launch a formal response.

The group, calling itself East Nashville United, is forming a Political Action Committee (PAC) and is calling on Register to start over on any plans to change the way schools work in East Nashville.

Matt Pulle, who hosted Saturday’s meeting, said, “We’d like Dr. Register to tear up his plan for East Nashville and start again, this time by listening to us all.”

In response to Register’s planned community meetings in East Nashville, Pulle said, “We don’t see the purpose of these community meetings if he already knows what he wants to do. So, start over. No plan, no preconceptions and hear what local parents and teachers want and need. And go to all our neighborhoods.”

At least one mayoral candidate, Jeremy Kane, attended Saturday’s meeting.

The possibility that Inglewood Elementary School may become a part of the Achievement School District caused parents there to send a letter supporting the school’s principal and expressing concern about being included in the ASD.

Turning schools over to the ASD is becoming more controversial in light of data analysis that indicates the ASD is not doing better (and in some cases, is performing worse) than the schools were performing before ASD takeover.

For more on the East Nashville United group, follow @EastNashUnited

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

Arne Duncan Visits Tennessee

This is one teacher’s account of Arne Duncan’s visit to Memphis this past week. I’ve edited to include the key highlights of Duncan’s visit.

When asked about large Kindergarten classes and how to handle the added stress, Duncan reportedly told the audience that the answer was to work with faith-based organizations to find tutoring and support for the students.

Chris Barbic, Superintendent of the Achievement School District (ASD), which has come under fire recently for low performance, was asked about taking over the bottom 5% of schools. According to this report, he claimed there will not always be a takeover of the bottom 5% of schools (a group which changes year to year).

Barbic was then asked about the low performance of the ASD. His response was that the low performance could be attributed to the quality of teachers and that more needed to be done to improve teacher quality in the ASD. Apparently, offering free drinks isn’t working.

That was Memphis.

And in Chattanooga, columnist David Cook had a few words for Duncan as well.

Cook’s chief complaint? That Duncan didn’t visit a Hamilton County public school while he was in town. Here’s what Cook had to say:

Was there no public school you’d want to see? No Hamilton County classroom to tell the rest of America about?

Let me tell you what you’re missing.

“Lots of discontent. Resignation. Depression. Many teachers will leave this year, including me,” one teacher recently told me.

Mr. Secretary, our public schools are on the verge of something quite awful, a ground zero of this perfect storm — sorry funding, broken-hearted employees and warped policy — that’s just about to make landfall.

So, while Duncan’s visit to Tennessee created plenty of nice photo ops, it also was a chance for some to show discontent. In both Memphis and Chattanooga, there were voices expressing displeasure at the policies put forth by Duncan. Policies like support for school takeovers by the Achievement School District. And David Cook raises a fair point: If the education secretary comes to town, shouldn’t he visit a local public school and see first hand what’s working (and what’s not)?

Maybe next time.

 

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

Is the Achievement School District the Right Solution?

In a week that saw a group of Nashville parents actively resist state takeover of their school by the Achievement School District (ASD), MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register suggested turning more Nashville schools over to the ASD.

MNPS responded to questions about this on social media by saying that MNPS schools were likely to be taken over anyway, so they might as well work with the state on the ASD takeover.

Interestingly, Ezra Howard has an analysis of ASD schools compared to Memphis iZone schools over at Bluff City Ed.

Howard has written about the ASD before, noting that when compared to the trajectory district schools were on before ASD takeover, the ASD schools are actually doing worse now.

The most recent analysis by Howard shows that by and large, district-led school turnarounds get better results than ASD efforts.

This may because district-led efforts are less disruptive — Howard has also written about education reform buzzword “disruption” and its disastrous effects on students.

In light of more and more data suggesting ASD efforts aren’t living up to their early hype (ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic once suggested that ASD schools need to make 8-10 point gains each year), it will be interesting to see if more parent resistance to ASD school takeovers emerges.

In the meantime, take a look at Howard’s work on ASD results.

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

Resisting the ASD

After learning that their school has been placed on the “Priority” list as a result of its TCAP scores, some parents at Inglewood Elementary School in Nashville are pushing to prevent the school from being handed over to the Achievement School District (ASD). The PTO has posted a letter from a parent pointing out the positive changes made at the school over the past three years. The parent suggests that with more time, Inglewood will show steady improvement.

A recent analysis of ASD results indicates parents are right to be skeptical. The analysis, published in full over at Bluff City Ed, indicates that the ASD did not no better than district schools in English/Language Arts (ELA) and actually performed worse in Math. So, if Inglewood becomes a part of the ASD, parents might expect the same results — that is, no real improvement from where they are now or, worse, a falling behind.  That’s a difficult pill to swallow for parents who have seen evidence that their school is turning around.

Here’s the Inglewood letter:

 

Inglewood Parent Letter -- ASD

 

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