In Response to the Response: An East Nashville Story

Yesterday, I reported on a clash between East Nashville United and MNPS over emails purportedly revealing a plan to turn Inglewood Elementary School over to KIPP, a local charter operator.

Essentially, MNPS says that the emails and other communications are about an ongoing dialogue. In a statement, MNPS said it appreciates the passion around the issue of East Nashville schools and that no final decisions have been made about charter conversions or other options.

For their part, East Nashville United remains skeptical.

In a response posted today on the group’s blog, East Nashville United says that MNPS is playing word games. The group calls into question the credibility of MNPS Innovation Zone Director Alan Coverstone and MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register.

The post includes a timeline of events and lays out the case that members of the East Nashville community may not be getting the full story from MNPS.

Read the full story from East Nashville United’s perspective.

The bottom line: This story is just getting started.

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

 

East Nashville United Applauds Action by Register

From a press release by the group in the orange shirts:

 

East Nashville United—the parent-led coalition formed in September after the abrupt announcement of sweeping changes to East Nashville schools—celebrates the director’s recent actions to provide long-awaited support to East Nashville’s priority schools. For example, the district has recently provided more reading instructors and reading-related resources for several priority schools including Kirkpatrick and Inglewood Elementary and Jere Baxter Middle School. The district also hired an assistant principal for Inglewood Elementary.

 

Jai Sanders, a parent at Inglewood and one of the founding members of ENU, commends the move, even as he questions why it took so long for the district to address his school’s needs.

 

“Our school should have had an assistant principal well before we landed on the priority list. That was inexcusable.” Sanders says. “But we are grateful for the district for filling the position and providing more reading-related resources for our children. This will help children and help them right away.”

 

The support for Inglewood is particularly noteworthy considering that just a few weeks ago education insiders speculated that IES was ripe for a closure or charter conversion to KIPP. But Register quickly discredited those rumors and provided much needed resources to the priority school.

“For my family, ‘choice’ means being able to choose my zoned school,” says Sanders. “We hope that any East Nashville proposal continues the district’s recent focus on our priority schools.”

 

Is East Nashville Orange or Blue?

According to East Nashville United, it doesn’t matter.

The color question refers to a recent MNPS School Board meeting to discuss Dr. Register’s proposed plan to create an “all choice” zone in East Nashville. At that meeting, supporters of the group East Nashville Believes joined East Nashville United members — those who “believe” wore blue shirts while those who were “united” wore orange.

Of course, East Nashville United has been attending meetings and talking about this issue for some time now. They’ve asked the Board to slow down and receive more community input.

In the face of what appears to be a competing group, East Nashville United has attempted to reach out, asking for a comprehensive dialogue about the future of schools in East Nashville.

Here’s the latest from East Nashville United:

We want a discussion about all of our East Nashville schools and how we can make sure that they are serving the needs of our children. We aren’t going to accept a top-down plan that throws our schools—all our schools—into a state of panic and chaos. We want a plan that reflects the diverse needs of our East Nashville communities.

How then do we get there? From the very beginning, East Nashville United (and only East Nashville United) has pushed for a community-driven task force to make recommendations to MNPS. We advocated for a position from East Nashville Charter Schools on the task force. We repeat: East Nashville United pushed for a community-driven task force and for a East Nashville Charter School representative on the task force. This is a fact, and cannot be disputed.

On Tuesday, Dr. Register announced that he would be forming such a task force. This was a first step in ensuring that MNPS devises an effective, thoughtful plan for our schools—and not a collection of slogans disguised as policy. We have more work to do in ensuring that our task force has the time and resources necessary to do its job, but we’re making progress. Over the next few weeks, you can expect to see us at neighborhood meetings, football games, and walking your streets talking about schools.

We renew again our invitation to the charter school community to join us—and build on what we have already accomplished.

We have done this privately with very little success. We will continue to do so in spite of the roadblocks.  We want a genuine conversation about education policy for all schools in East Nashville, and hope that the charter school folks on this side of the river will participate. We know they love their schools; we hope they’ll spread the love for the rest of the schools in East Nashville as well.

Read the full statement from East Nashville United.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennesse, 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

Charter Zone Not Planned Years Ago

Andy Spears posted an article titled, East Nashville Charter Planned Years Ago? The blog post was based on and cited an op-ed by Dr. Kristen Buras, a Georgia State professor.

I am here to tell you that is not true, in my opinion.

For starters, I don’t know how much someone outside of Tennessee (Buras) can tell about what’s happening in our school system. People in Nashville are still trying to find out about this plan because it’s came about so quickly. For someone outside Nashville to know this has been planned for years, but not anyone in Nashville, is something else altogether. What really happened is that very soon after the priority list was released, Dr. Register held a meeting with a variety of high level staffers. This happened relatively shortly before a school board meeting. Dr. Register decided to tell the public as much as he knew about the plan. One thing was clear: It was not a clear plan.

Dr. Buras’ article made it seem like you can only have community meetings before you have a plan. To have a community meeting, one must have a plan in the first place. What will you present to the community if not a loose idea of a plan? After a fluid plan was announced, Dr. Register announced meeting with all the priority list schools, which he is currently in the midst of doing.

Another way you can tell this hasn’t been planned? Dr. Register stumbled out of the starting blocks. The announcement was messy, it wasn’t clear, and there were a lot of misconceptions. But that means this was a plan that was formed at a fast pace so that it could be quickly disseminated to the public.

Additionally, we are Nashville. We are not Chicago. We are not New Orleans. We are not New York. Comparing what is happening in other cities is like comparing apples to oranges. We are a very specific district with very specific needs. We have a school board that does not approve all charter schools, closes down charter schools, and has a good discussion while doing that.

Of course we should take what happened in other cities and make sure it doesn’t happened here, but that’s totally different argument. I may not agree with what all charter schools are doing in Nashville, but I am totally confident in our elected officials and our central office staff to make sure that we don’t get run over with charters.

Finally, this is what we should actually be discussing: We are failing students. You may not agree with that statement, but I wholeheartedly agree. I see it everyday when I teach in North Nashville. I think we are failing students at the elementary level. If we cannot teach kids how to read in elementary school, they will be behind for the rest of their life. I understand all the dynamics that a child comes with when they reach elementary school. Parents don’t care, no books in the household, SES, etc. But that shouldn’t stop a child from learning to read. There are research proven ways to teach kids to the read, and we are not doing that.

Something needs to change.

What change should that be?

I don’t know, but it looks like MNPS is trying to find out.

For more on education policy and politics 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

 

Report: Charter Schools an Expensive Proposition for MNPS

A report by a third-party group commissioned by the MNPS School Board finds that the rapid growth of charter schools in Nashville is having a negative financial impact on the district.

The report, prepared by MGT of America, notes:

“… it is clear that charter schools impose a cost on MNPS – both directly and indirectly.  It is also clear … that the loss of operating funds caused by the transfer of revenue cannot likely be made up through a reduction in capital or facility costs.  Therefore, approving future charter schools does potentially meet the “bar” described in  Tennessee Code Annotated 49-13-108(b) which encourages local boards of education to consider fiscal impact in determining whether new charter schools may be “contrary to the best interest of the pupils, school district or community.”  From this analysis, new charter schools will, with nearly 100 percent certainty, have a negative fiscal impact on MNPS:    

They will continue to cause the transfer of state and local per student funds without reducing operational costs. 

They will continue to increase direct and indirect costs. 

They will continue to negatively impact deferred maintenance at leased buildings. 

They may have an offsetting impact on capital costs, if they open in areas of need for increased capacity.

The report confirms what some have suspected: Continued growth of charter schools presents higher costs to the district than operating without such growth.”

That’s not to say that the report suggest MNPS should not approve future charter schools. The report makes recommendations for handling future growth of charter schools, including encouraging such growth in areas of the school system experiencing rapid student growth. The Board adopted just such a proposal earlier this year.

The recommendations for managing future growth include: Developing a process to identify and quantify indirect costs to MNPS, such as support services; establishing a separate fund to better account for direct and indirect costs; levying depreciation charges to charter operators leasing MNPS facilities; and identifying areas of the school district where charter school growth would help offset the need for MNPS capital growth and expenditures.

The study is likely to shape future discussions at the Board level about what direction future charter growth will take.

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

Cheatham County Charter School Denied Again

A proposed charter school in Cheatham County was turned down by the School Board for the second time last night.

The application had previously been rejected, but the organizers revised their application and appealed.

25th District State Senate candidate Tony Gross helped organize opposition to the charter application and this morning sent out an email thanking those who came out to speak in opposition.

Here’s what he had to say:

Twice, outside groups have attempted to push a costly charter school into Cheatham County. And twice, we have defeated it.
 
I am so proud of what we accomplished last night. For everyone of you who supported this cause, thank you so much. 
A special thanks to all of those who came out to the meeting last night – people like Kingston Springs mother Rachel Harwood, who stood up to speak about the programs that are already being neglected in our schools due to budget constraints.
 
I think my wife Joy put it nicely: “When money is taken away from our struggling education system, ALL of our schools suffer.” 
 
Our public schools are vital parts of our communities in the 25th district, and you all stood up for them last night. But you also did more than that. You showed our teachers, who put their sweat and tears into teaching our children, that you appreciate the job that they do.
I’m sure that message is not lost on them tonight.
 
This was a win for all of Cheatham County. Our public schools are not just where our kids go to learn, they are where we gather on Friday nights for football games, they are where we have our bake sales and car washes, and they are even the homes of important local meetings like this one. 
 
They are so integral to keeping our community together, and thanks to you all, they will continue to grow and thrive.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Cheatham Charter Fight Continues

The original application for a charter school in Cheatham County was denied.

Now, the group is back at a special meeting to appeal that decision.

State Senate candidate Tony Gross is encouraging opponents to attend.

Here’s his email:

Cheatham Co To Decide on Charter Schools

We must fight back.

Friends, I need your help.

In June, we defeated a measure that would bring a controversial charter school to Cheatham County – a charter school that would draw important funds and attention away from our public schools.
Tomorrow night, the Cheatham County school board will have a special meeting to discuss the appeal of that decision. All we’ve fought for could come undone if we do not throw our full support behind our public schools tomorrow evening.
If you are able, I strongly encourage you to attend the meeting, which will be at the Ashland City Elementary School cafeteria at 6 pm. To show the strength in our numbers, we will be wearing white in support of our schools.
Public schools are the foundation of our communities, and the teachers and faculty that work there are so important in our children’s lives.
Let’s not let them down.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport