Rocketship Claims MNPS Took Too Long To Act on Appeal and Schools Should Have Been Automatically Approved

Rocketship Tennessee is appealing to the State Board of Education to open a new charter school in Nashville after Metro Nashville Public Schools denied their application on appeal earlier this month in an 8-1 vote.

But in a letter to the State Board of Education, Rocketship Tennessee claims that Metro Nashville Public Schools took longer than the 30 day period to act on the appeal, which would mean the two schools should have been automatically approved. The Tennessee Public Charter School Act of 2002 clearly explains how the appeal works.

The local board of education shall have thirty (30) days either to deny or to approve the amended application. Should the local board of education fail to either approve or deny the amended application within thirty (30) days, the amended application shall be deemed approved.

Rocketship Tennessee claims they submitted their amended application on July 7th. Based on the 30 day rule, Rocketship Tennessee says the Metro Nashville School Board had until August 8th to deny or approve the appeal. The school board did not meet until August 10th, outside of the 30 day time limit, which Rocketship says should mean both of their applications should have been approved.

That is just a small portion of the appeal to the State Board of Education. Rocketship Tennessee currently has over 1,100 students in their two Nashville locations. Unlike most charter schools, Rocketship opened a full K-4 school at once instead of the grade by grade expansion that other charter schools do. Rocketship Tennessee has a waitlist of over 200 students for their Nashville schools.

With the lack of TNReady assessment data, Rocketship is providing their own normative assessment data to show that the school should be approved.


Our confidence in our Rocketeers’ continued growth is grounded in their performance on the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment, a nationally norm-referenced exam that evaluates both math and reading/language arts proficiency. On MAP last year, 63% of our students moved up one or more quartiles (or remained in the top quartile). Our first-year Rocketeers in Nashville grew 1.5 years in math and 1.4 years in reading.

This is powerful proof that our personalized learning model is meeting the unique needs of each and every student. By meeting students where they are academically, we are putting them on the gap-closing path.

This is the second time that Rocketship Tennessee has appealed to the State Board of Education, with the original appeal being rejected in October 2015.

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


 

Jason Egly’s First Week Reflection

Below is a piece from Jason Egly, a 4th grade teacher at Rocketship United Academy in Nashville. 

Egypt
Kenya
Somalia
Mexico
Honduras
El Salvador
Venezuela
Puerto Rico
USA

Is this about the Olympics?

No. It’s a list of the homelands proudly represented by the students in my two fourth grade Humanities classes at Rocketship United Academy (RUA) in Nashville.

As I sat with my students on the carpet for our daily Community Circle last Friday, the last day of the first week of school, I was stunned. Speechless, actually. (And as my students and co-teachers can already tell you after one week, that’s not something that happens very often.)

As the dad of three girls born on two continents, diversity is one of my family’s core values. Before my first day at RUA, I had seen the school’s diversity numbers on paper: 34% Hispanic, 42% African American, 42% English Learners. But sitting with them on the carpet that day and hearing their stories in the flesh awakened something deep within my teacher soul. And I wasn’t sure at first exactly what it was.

“I was born in Nairobi. We still have family there. We miss them, but my mother tells me we can get a better education here.”

“My parents moved here from Egypt before I was born. I’ve never visited, but I want to. My parents say it might be a long time before we can, but they promise they’ll take me.”

“I was born right here in Nashville, Mr. Egly,” one student said, dropping her head. “I don’t have a cool story like that.”

“Oh, yes you do!” I said. “Your story is like my story! You and I have the honor and the gift of learning from so many new friends from places we have never been!”

And then it hit me. The reason for my stunned silence. The cause of the soul-stirring moment I had just experienced. You see, I thought I was coming to Rocketship United Academy to teach these students. And I wasn’t wrong, I will teach them.

Together this year, with the most talented team of educators and administrators I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of, we will participate in our own Olympics of sorts. We will clear hurdles, climb STEPs, and close gaps. But it’s not just that. I realized in that moment that there was so much more.

I was not the only teacher in the room. I was one of twenty-seven. Twenty-six amazing fourth graders and one lucky 30-something with a fourth grader’s curiosity who will share our lives and space for the next ten months, opening each other’s hearts and minds to new horizons of understanding, acceptance, and achievement. Creating a culture that values each individual, and listens to every voice, whether they are from Nashville or Nairobi.

I am so proud to be part of this diverse family of Rocketeers!

Charter Schools Included in Democratic Party Platform

With the Democratic convention coming up at the end of this month, the draft of the 2016 Democratic Party Platform has been released. Charter Schools are part of that platform:

Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. We instead support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.

As a teacher, I love that that high-quality public schools are a part of the platform, but not everyone will see it that way.

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton spoke at the National Education Association’s (NEA) annual conference. When Clinton spoke about charter schools and public schools collaborating, boos came from the crowd.

“When schools get it right, whether they’re traditional public schools or public charter schools, let’s figure out what’s working and share it with schools across America,” she said, as the audience of educators interrupted her with boos.

The problem of not working together is not just within the charter movement, as some say. It’s a problem with all sides.

We need to truly work together because that is in the best interest of our students, and that should be how we make all decisions in education.

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


 

 

 

Charter School Smack Down

TC Weber attended last week’s National Charter School Convention in Nashville and offers this first report of what he saw and heard.

First, he wasn’t sure if he was at an education conference or WWE Smack Down:

Entering the main area for the morning speeches was like entering a high-end disco. The room was lit up like the set to WWE Smack Down, with two giant video monitors flanking the stage, loud music, and ever changing lighting. I half expected the Rock to bound on the stage and holler, “Can you smell what the Rock is cooking!?” The music selection that was being pumped loudly through the room induced a bit of a chuckle. “1999,” “Centerfield,” and “Life is a Highway” were among the tunes meant to pump up the crowd and convey a sense of being on the cusp of greatness.

After being pumped up, Weber notes that some speakers framed the charter movement as a sort of war:

Next up was journalist Roland Martin, who was also broadcasting from the convention. If I had any notions of this being a welcoming, feel good, we entertain all kinds of ideas type of convention, they went screaming out the window once Martin began speaking. He made it clear from the get go that we are in a war, and he had no time to be nice, no time to entertain alternate opinions because this was a fight. Martin issued a warning to any who opposed charter schools: “We will fight you until hell freezes over, and then we will fight you on the ice.” What made things even more disturbing was the thundering applause in response to his remarks.

Read more of TC’s take on the charter convention and stay tuned for further dispatches from his time there.

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

 

 

The Hunger Games for Schools

What happens when a large, urban school district expands charters and maximizes “school choice?”

One policy advocate in Detroit described the environment this way:

“I often describe this whole environment as ‘The Hunger Games’ for schools,” said Tonya Allen, president of the Skillman Foundation, which invests $17 million a year to try to improve the lives of Detroit’s poorest children. “You get these kids who are moving three or four times in the elementary school years. I did that, but it was because my mother couldn’t keep her rent together. Here, it’s being incentivized.”

This from a recent story in the New York Times about education in Detroit and the impact of an education environment that places a premium on choice.

The story is worth noting in Tennessee because the National Charter School Conference just left Nashville and because so many education reform advocates in Nashville and at the Tennessee General Assembly are pushing an agenda of “free market education.”

So, what happens when you have virtually unlimited choices?

Michigan leapt at the promise of charter schools 23 years ago, betting big that choice and competition would improve public schools. It got competition, and chaos.

“The point was to raise all schools,” said Scott Romney, a lawyer and board member of New Detroit, a civic group formed after the 1967 race riots here. “Instead, we’ve had a total and complete collapse of education in this city.”

It all started with a focus on bringing a free market approach to public education:

The 1993 state law permitting charter schools was not brought on by academic or financial crisis in Detroit — those would come later — but by a free-market-inclined governor, John Engler. An early warrior against public employee unions, he embraced the idea of creating schools that were publicly financed but independently run to force public schools to innovate.

So, how’s that free market working out?

By 2015, a federal review of a grant application for Michigan charter schools found an “unreasonably high” number of charters among the worst-performing 5 percent of public schools statewide. The number of charters on the list had doubled from 2010 to 2014.

And here’s what the competition among schools for students looks like:

The competition to get students to school on count day — the days in October and February when the head count determines how much money the state sends each school — can resemble a political campaign. Schools buy radio ads and billboards, sponsor count day pizza parties and carnivals. They plant rows of lawn signs along city streets to recruit students, only to have other schools pull those up and stake their own.

Another key policy analyst describes the issues this way:

“People here had so much confidence in choice and choice alone to close the achievement gap,” said Amber Arellano, the executive director of the Education Trust Midwest, which advocates higher academic standards. “Instead, we’re replicating failure.”

Oh, and here’s what happened when city leaders and legislators tried to introduce a level of accountability to rein-in the chaos created by too many operators and a wide open market:

In the waning days of the legislative session, House Republicans offered a deal: $617 million to pay off the debt of the Detroit Public Schools, but no commission. Lawmakers were forced to take it to prevent the city school system from going bankrupt.

Translation: Still no real oversight, still a wide-open, chaotic market for schools.

Often we hear legislators and choice advocates say that the situation in certain urban districts is so bad we may as well try to expand choices and even add vouchers or expand charter options because it can’t get worse.

Guess what? In Detroit, it got worse. A lot worse. As the article notes:

Detroit now has a bigger share of students in charters than any American city except New Orleans, which turned almost all its schools into charters after Hurricane Katrina. But half the charters perform only as well, or worse than, Detroit’s traditional public schools.

Chaos. Uncertainty. Instability. That’s what a free market approach to public education brought Detroit. And, sadly, it also resulted in academic outcomes even worse than those expected in one of the worst public school districts in the country.

Choice advocates would have us believe that having more options will lead to innovation and force the local district to improve or close schools. Instead, in the case of Detroit, it led to chaos. The same fate could be visited upon other large, urban districts who fall into the free market education trap. Another unfortunate lesson from Detroit: Once you open the door, it’s very, very difficult to close.

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


 

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.

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.

Tyese Hunter: Let’s Accept The Facts

Nashville School Board Member Tyese Hunter is out with an editorial in the Tennessean where she discusses facts around Nashville’s charter schools.

Tyese Hunter breaks down some statistics on charter schools, including a recent report that showed that many Nashville charter schools are closing the achievement gap while MNPS schools are seeing the gap widen.

She compared this recent report to the data from the MNPS Academic Performance Framework, which showed that many charter schools were labeled as high performing.

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She also discusses a report that showed that charter schools are teaching more students of color, more economically disadvantaged students, and more students with disabilities than the typical public school. Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 8.09.32 AM

But more than just laying out the facts, Tyese Hunter calls out her fellow school board members who ignore any data or study that doesn’t fit their belief system.

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Read more of here editorial here.

RTTT Had Everything to do With Charter Schools

PinkstonComment

I was sent a Facebook comment by Nashville School Board Member Will Pinkston in regards to the Race to the Top grant that Tennessee won in 2010. Pinkston claims that Race to the Top had nothing to do with charter schools. Race to the Top had everything to do with charter schools.

PinkstonComment

 

Before I break down the Race to the Top application, let’s revisit the Will Pinkston of 2013 after he was elected to the school board. In 2013, Pinkston praised Kevin Huffman and Bill Haslam for their work in continuing the reform started under Bredesen. Pinkston also endorsed Haslam in 2010, around the time he worked for Bill Frist’s State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).

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Pinkston also advocated for charter schools.

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I remembered that Will Pinkston as I read through the Race to the Top application that was submitted by the state of Tennessee. Let’s remember that Will Pinkston helped write the application while he worked for Governor Phil Bredesen.

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You can read through the application here. The Race to the Top grant application mentions “charter school” 108 times. The Achievement School District was mentioned a lot in this grant application. Will Pinkston has said that he was in the room when the Achievement School District was created.

According to the grant application, the ASD would pull together an “unprecedented set of non-profits” to open charter schools in the ASD and other schools. The ASD was created, from the beginning, to partner with an unprecedented amount of charter schools.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 8.54.57 PMThe application, which Will Pinkston helped write, gushed over how great charter schools are. It also shows how Tennessee wanted to use charter schools to help in the turnaround of failing schools. The application shows Tennessee’s love of charter schools by showing that Governor Bredesen signed an updated charter school law in 2009.

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The application goes on to say that the state is actively recruiting charter school leaders to the state. While the state itself will help recruit, the ASD specifically will help charter schools find facilities in Tennessee.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 9.10.48 PMThe current landscape of Tennessee’s charter schools was mapped out years ago in this Race to the Top application. The ASD has partnered with charter schools to help turnaround school districts and state and city leaders have gone out to recruit charter school leaders. We have seen both of those items happen right here in Nashville.

If we move back to the start of the application, we see that the application is pushing for more charter schools. The application reads, “In this application, we describe how the atmosphere in the state encourages fresh ways of thinking, opens the education market to charter schools…”Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 9.54.58 PM

If the Race to the Top application had nothing to do with charters, why was so much of the application about charter schools? The state, and their grant writers, knew what they wanted. They wanted more charter schools in the state of Tennessee. They got their wish.


 

 

Is That Even Legal?

Charles Corra examines the potential legal issues with Tennessee’s charter schools in light of the Washington State Supreme Court ruling saying that state’s charter law was unconstitutional.

He starts with this note:

I recently tweeted about an article published in the Nashville Bar Journal called “Tennessee’s Waltz With Charter Schools,” which commented on the potential unconstitutionally of Tennessee’s charter school legislation.

Then adds:

Similar to Washington, Tennessee’s charter schools are also private entities that contract with a school board and cannot be managed by for-profit entities.  The author also points out the similarity with funding between Washington and Tennessee charter laws: that the money follows the student. What is important in the article is the discussion that follows regarding the variance in success rates between charter schools (i.e. some performed well while others did not), which could be attributed to the freedom that charter schools have with how they allocate resources. The takeaway here is that, based on a study the author delves into, there are inconsistencies in management, operation, funding, and student achievement among charter schools in Tennessee.

The points, as Corra makes it, is that because of the way Tennessee charter schools are operated and funded, they could be in violation of established precedent regarding equal educational opportunity. No challenge to this law has yet been made, but the issues raised in the Washington case may merit attention by Tennessee lawmakers.

Read Corra’s full analysis of this issue.

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