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

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.

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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

New Kid on the Block

Charles Corra, an employee of RePublic Charter here in Nashville, has started a new blog on education policy and what he calls a “forum for ideas,” including ideas on charter schools.

In a post on charters, he says:

I look forward to a broad-based discussion of how charter schools impact Tennessee – whether it be negative, positive, or a little bit of both.

We’ll see how the discussion goes.

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

The Great Heart of KIPP: The State Board and Charter Authorizing

The Tennessee State Board of Education today used authority granted to it by the General Assembly in 2014 to approve two KIPP charter schools that had previously been rejected by the MNPS Board of Education.

The decision means the State Board has decided which schools will be opened and funded by MNPS rather than that decision being left to the elected School Board.

The authority was given to the State Board because of the Great Hearts Controversy.

Back in 2012, MNPS rejected an application filed by Great Hearts to open a charter school. The State Board heard an appeal from Great Hearts and sent the issue back to the MNPS Board, recommending approval. MNPS refused. Then-education commissioner Kevin Huffman fined MNPS $3.4 million.

And legislators, ever eager to micro-manage public education to the point of absurdity, filed legislation.

As John noted at the time, a significant part of the legislation is:

This might actually be a better financial deal for charter schools.  Under this legislation, a charter school authorized by the state would get the full state, local, and federal share of per-pupil dollars, plus a “local match” from the LEA for capital outlay.  The latter portion, especially, may be a change from how things currently work when charters are authorized by an LEA.

Specifically:

(d) Funding for charter schools authorized by the state board shall be in accordance with § 49-13-112, except that the LEA in which the charter school operates shall pay to the department one hundred percent (100%) of the per student share of local funding and any federal funding in the custody of the LEA that is due to the charter school.  The department shall withhold from the LEA the per student share of state funding that is due to the charter school as well as any federal funding in the custody of the department that is due to the charter school.  The department shall then allocate and disburse these funds to the charter school in accordance with procedures developed by the department.

It will be interesting to see how MNPS reacts to this course of action. The State Board has authorized the expenditure of Nashville tax dollars in a very specific manner, directing that those funds go to support the opening and operation of two KIPP charter schools.

It’s not like MNPS is averse to charter schools. Many charter schools operate in the district and the Board did approve some charter applications this year.

In fact, in 2014, the Board signed off on a plan to give KIPP an elementary school. As Dr. Register proceeded, this action actually led to the formation of East Nashville United.

At that time, the focus of the possible takeover was Inglewood Elementary. NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia even visited the school to build support for preventing a KIPP takeover there.

Ultimately, KIPP won the right to takeover Kirkpatrick Elementary.

All of this to say: The majority of the MNPS Board has not demonstrated a bias against charter schools or even KIPP.

Some, including Board Member Will Pinkston, have argued for smart growth when it comes to charters. Pinkston noted:

The school board took a fiscally conservative position. With 8,157 seats currently in the charter pipeline — including more than 1,000 yet-to-be-filed seats belonging to KIPP — that’s a total future annual cash outlay of $77.5 million.

What KIPP wants to do — expand the pipeline to more than 9,000 seats — would take our future annual cash outlays up to $85.5 million. None of this includes the $73 million in annual cash outlays for charter seats that already exist.

Pinkton’s argument and other analysis suggesting that charter schools do place a burden on the MNPS budget prompted Board Member Mary Pierce to respond with a straw man argument about the cost of closing all current metro charter schools.

The fact is, MNPS hasn’t been in the business of closing charter schools — they’ve been approving new charter applications nearly every year and have many more charter seats opening. It seems likely that the KIPP charter schools approved by the State Board today would have ultimately won MNPS Board approval.  But today, the State Board of Education decided they knew better than Nashville’s School Board when and how many charter schools should be opened in Nashville. They also obligated funds, including local funds, to the opening and operation of these schools.

One final note: The State Board now is accountable for the oversight and monitoring of the two KIPP schools it approved in Nashville:

Except as provided in subdivision (b)(3), oversight and monitoring of
charter schools authorized by the state board of education shall be performed by the state board. As requested, the department of education shall assist the state board with general oversight of any charter school authorized by the state board. (Public Chapter 850, 2014).

What happens next? Stay tuned…

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

TREE Takes on Charter Expansion

As the State Board of Education considers overruling the MNPS School Board and possibly approving charter schools for Nashville originally denied at the local level, grassroots advocacy group TREE is calling on citizens to take action.

From the inbox:

Attention Nashville and Tennessee Education Advocates! We need you to write the Tennessee State Board of Education TODAY! Be a voice for local control. Metro Schools recently approved two of fourteen charter applications.  Among the ten who were denied were KIPP, Rocketship and The International Academy of Excellence.

The International Academy of Excellence filled out an incorrect form and should have not been considered at all but was for legal reasons. These three charter companies are asking the State Board of Education to overrule the Nashville school board and divert funds from the Metro Schools budget to pay for opening their six proposed charter schools.

If you would like to see the local school board retain the ability to decide how to spend local tax dollars, and what schools should operate in Nashville, you must speak up NOW. Public comments are being received until October 7. Please copy this email list into your email recipient box:
Fielding Rolston <frolston@ecu.org>
Mike Edwards <medwards@knoxvillechamber.com>
Allison Chancey <achancey@bradleyschools.org>
Lonnie Roberts <lroberts@trh.com>
Carolyn Pearre <cpearre@comcast.net>
Lillian Hartgrove <lhartgrove@cookevillechamber.com>

It is fine to be brief. A few points you might to make:

1. Note if you are a Nashville taxpayer and/or public school parent.
2. Nashville currently has 8,112 charter school seats and will open another 8,157 over the next few years, under current approved charter contracts, effectively doubling the amount of charter school seats without ever approving another charter.
3. There is no evidence of demand for more charters and in fact there are currently many empty seats in Nashville charter schools.
4. If the state board of education overrules the local school board, it will force our city to fund a privatized public school.  A school that can not be shut down by our locally elected board if problems arise.
5. Nashville must be free to put its schools budget to the best use to improve education for ALL students. Under the law MNPS must adhere to their contract with approved charters and fully fund them.  Whatever amount is left gets divvied up among the remaining schools in the district continuing the trend of systematic underfunding which means not meeting the needs of our schools.

Thank you for your time and quick attention. Your voice is needed TODAY!
TREE

For more on the charter debate in Nashville:

The True Cost of Charters

Mary Pierce on Closing Charters

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

 

Pierce: Closing All Charters Would Cost More

MNPS Board Member Mary Pierce tried to reframe the charter debate in a recent editorial in the Tennessean. While many people believe closing all charter schools would save the district millions, it would actually cost the district millions.

Here’s what Pierce had to say:

As a new school board member, I sought to understand this claim and thus asked Metro Nashville Public Schools leadership, “What would happen to the budget if all charter schools closed and these students returned to their zoned schools?”

This hypothetical exercise, completed by the MNPS Finance Office this summer, showed that if every student attending a charter school in 2014-15 had attended his or her zoned school, MNPS would have spent roughly $3.5 million more to educate them in district-managed schools.

Hold up! If you are calling to close charters because it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do, I guess you need to stop that call. Let’s not waste millions of MNPS dollars by closing all the charter schools.

Charter schools actually get fewer dollars per pupil than a traditional school. Fiscally responsible!

On average MNPS spends $9,436 per pupil — $5,666 for direct classroom costs plus an additional $3,770 for indirect expenses such as transportation, central office and technology.

Each student enrolled in a charter school is allocated roughly $9,200, which often includes rent payments back to the district for building use.

Oh, look below! Mary Pierce puts it on the record that she does not want to charterize the district. MNPS rejects a huge majority of charter applicants, anyways.

We should not “charterize” the district, but should insist on the highest quality from all of our schools. Our charter review committees and our board have done an excellent job in recommending and approving charter schools. Anyone claiming that the MNPS Charter School Office is promoting unabated charter growth is not paying attention. This summer, the charter review committees recommended that the board deny 86 percent of the applications.

And finally, it’s not just charter schools that are taking students away from their zoned schools.

We should not ignore the realities of fixed costs. When students leave any school the result can be buildings operating under capacity, and that adds to indirect expenses. But, we won’t address the bulk of this fiscal challenge unless we include all our choice schools in the analysis. For example, Hillwood High School operates under 70 percent capacity while over 200 students zoned for Hillwood choose to attend another district school like Hume-Fogg or Hillsboro.

Go ahead and read the rest of the editorial here.

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