Voucher Vulture DeVos Tapped as Education Secretary

President-elect Donald Trump has reportedly offered Michigan-based voucher vulture Betsy DeVos the role of Education Secretary in his cabinet.

Education Week reports:

  1. DeVos is the chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, an advocacy and research organization which advocates for a variety of forms of school choice including vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. Fellow board members include Kevin Chavous, a former District of Columbia Council member, and Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor and the founder of The 74, an education news organization that says the “public education system is in crisis” in the U.S.

Fortunately, we have a preview of what education policy could look like if DeVos has her way. Unfortunately, that outlook is pretty grim. In June, I wrote about Detroit’s experiment with school choice — an experiment designed and supported by DeVos. Essentially, the system DeVos champions is one based on chaos:

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.

The National Education Association was quick to respond to the reports:

Every day, educators use their voice to advocate for every student to reach his or her full potential. We believe that the chance for the success of a child should not depend on winning a charter lottery, being accepted by a private school, or living in the right ZIP code. We have, and will continue, to fight for all students to have a great public school in their community and the opportunity to succeed no matter their backgrounds or circumstances.

“Betsy DeVos has consistently worked against these values, and her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students. She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers — which take away funding and local control from our public schools — to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense.

In fact, the American Federation for Children by way of its Tennessee affiliate, the Tennessee Federation for Children, has spent millions of dollars in Tennessee lobbying for vouchers and supporting pro-voucher candidates for the General Assembly. In four consecutive legislative sessions, those efforts have failed. However, with renewed pressure from the federal government under DeVos, Tennesseans can likely expect an even more aggressive push for dangerous voucher schemes in 2017.

We’ve already seen voucher front group Tennesseans for Student Success spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect pro-voucher candidates.

And then there are the reports of voucher lobbyists hiding behind ethics law loopholes to host pro-privatization lawmakers at beach vacation retreats.

To be sure, Betsy DeVos is an advocate of education policies that have failed and she’ll likely seek an expansion of these failed policies through the use of the Department of Education.

MORE ON VOUCHERS:

Million Dollar Baby

Lessons from Louisiana on Vouchers

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


 

 

 

Is the MNPS Charter Proposal Illegal? This State Lawyer Says Yes

We learned this past week in a committee meeting that Nashville School Board Member Will Pinkston will ask for a policy change to require charter school proposals to list their location in their application. That would add difficulty to the proposal process because it would require a charter operator to secure a location before they even know if their application is approved by the district.

Many charter schools know the area they will open, but have not secured a location because it’s left to the will of an elected body to approve or deny their application. You can’t get financing to lease or buy a facility before your proposal has been approved.

According to a tweet by Nashville Scene reporter Amanda Haggard, Metro Legal said “if MNPS denies a charter based on not having location,  that (the) state could give them appeal if they chose to.”

School Board Member Sharon Gentry brought up the same fact in the committee meeting that this requirement could result in the State Board of Education overturning the denial decisions from the district.

The State Board of Education agrees, and says that it’s illegal to require charter applicants to have a specific location in their application.

The State Board of Education’s legal counsel, Elizabeth Taylor, said this past week during a State Board meeting that Tennessee law does not require a charter school to have a facility in place when they apply to open a charter school. The law, TCA 49-13-107, lists all the requirements that a charter application must contain, and a facility is not one of those requirements. “No, an exact brick and mortar address is not required at time of application,” Taylor added.

When asked if a local district denied a charter school application because they did not provide a location, would the state board uphold that?

“That would not be legally permissible as the only reason to deny an application,” said Sara Heyburn, the State Board of Education Executive Director.

The proposal brought forth by Will Pinston passed out of committee on a 5-3 vote. The five members voting to send the proposal out: Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, Jill Speering, Anna Shepherd, and Christiane Buggs.

With 5 members voting this proposal out of committee, there is a good chance that this legislation will pass and become school board policy.

If members vote for this policy change, they are voting for a policy that is possibly illegal and will end up having charter schools approved at the state level more often because of it.

We know that the Nashville school board disagrees with the state being able to authorize local charter schools. If they pass this policy change, they are giving more power the the State Board of Education to overturn charter appeals.

This policy proposal should be voted down.

Rocketship Grounded

Zack wrote earlier about Rocketship Tennessee’s appeal of the decision by the MNPS School Board to deny an amended application to open a new charter school. The appeal goes to the State Board of Education, which has the power to overturn the local decision and authorize the school.

Rocketship says their application should be approved due to a technical defect — the Board met one day later than the 30 day limit to vote on an appeal. Note, Rocketship is not asserting that it has responded to the concerns raised when the initial application was denied, but instead is saying that because of a technicality, it should get to open new schools. To be clear, the amendment does cite self-administered test scores, but the MNPS team assigned to review charter applications found those scores unconvincing.

The MNPS Board voted 8-1 to deny Rocketship’s application on appeal. That’s not a vote down the supposedly predictable pro- and anti-charter lines. That’s a vote that says a solid majority of the board agreed with the charter evaluation team that a denial was appropriate.

Interestingly, Rocketship was also denied a charter expansion last year by MNPS. They appealed to the State Board. The State Board, on an 8-1 vote, denied that application on the same day they approved an appeal by KIPP.

Now, Rocketship is saying it doesn’t matter if they’ve improved their application, addressed the concerns of MNPS, or provided the necessary information to justify a new school — they should just get to do it because of a technical oversight.

MNPS already has two Rocketship schools — the board is clearly not averse to launching Rocketships.

So, why the denial now?

Here’s what the review team had to say:

The review team did not find compelling evidence that Rocketship had sufficiently analyzed their performance data or developed a plan to ensure stronger student outcomes.

In fact, Rocketship’s appeal to the State Board was rejected last year in part because of low performance:

“They did have a level 5 TVAAS composite, which is the highest score overall you can get in growth,” Heyburn said. “But their achievement scores are really low, some of the lowest in their cluster and in the district.”

The MNPS review team addressed this as well:

In summary, with no additional state accountability data to consider, and no compelling evidence presented that provides confidence in the review team, converting an existing low-performing school before Rocketship has demonstrated academic success on state accountability measures would not be in the best interests of the students, the district, or the community.

The MNPS review team did note Rocketship’s reference to the use of the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment to bolster claims of academic success in the absence of current state data. However, several problems arise from this claim. First, there is no way to compare the MAP data to other schools in MNPS or across the state. Second, there is no way for MNPS to know if proper testing protocol was followed in administration of the MAP. Finally, the state charter application requires relevant data from state assessments. The MAP does not meet that standard.

Let’s review. Rocketship was denied expansion by MNPS and the State Board of Education last year. Rocketship applied again. MNPS denied them. Rocketship appealed. MNPS denied the amended application by an 8-1 vote. Rocketship is now appealing based on a technicality instead of working with MNPS to find a satisfactory way to address concerns.

If Rocketship should be complaining to anyone, it’s Candice McQueen and the Department of Education for the botched TNReady rollout. Perhaps with test data from this year, we’d know enough to know whether an expansion of Rocketship is justified.

Simply asserting that we need another Rocketship when we’re not yet sure it can fly seems an irresponsible course.

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


 

 

 

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.