Pinkston: Charter Industry Unraveling

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston argues in today’s Tennessean that Nashville’s charter school industry is unraveling.

To make his case, he cites a federal class action lawsuit against RePublic charter schools, a state finding that Rocketship isn’t following the law when it comes to serving students with disabilities and English language learners, and a significant financial deficit at LEAD Public Schools.

Of Rocketship, Pinkston notes:

Despite failing to serve its current students, Rocketship routinely makes end-runs around the local school board to seek state approval of more charters. That’s because Rocketship’s growth isn’t driven by what’s best for kids but rather by its real-estate deals with Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund, a for-profit investment fund co-managed by tennis star Andre Agassi.

Taken together, Pinkston says, the problems faced by these three charter operators show an industry not living up to its hype.

Add to that the expense of charters, and Pinkston says we should exercise caution. He previously noted based on the findings of an audit of MNPS:

Briefly: The new audit acknowledges that unabated growth of charter schools does, in fact, have a fiscal impact on existing MNPS schools. The operative language in the audit relative to charter fiscal impact can be found on Page 3-16, which states: “The key question for determining fiscal impacts is whether enrollment reductions allow a district to achieve expenditure reductions commensurate with revenue reductions. Fixed costs are incurred regardless of whether students attend traditional or charter schools. The problem is that some fixed costs, such as building maintenance, computer network infrastructure, and health services do not vary based on enrollment. Therefore, teachers and their salaries are a key cost driver tied to student enrollment … However, it is not always possible to reduce teacher costs proportionate to losses in revenue. For these costs to be reduced significantly, the school would need to close altogether.”

While some call it a distraction, the charter debate is alive and well in MNPS.

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


 

MNPS Responds To Large Number Of Bus Driver Complaints

schoolbus

Jason Gonzales at the Tennessean has a report out today that shows that there have been almost 400 complaints on MNPS bus drivers from August to January. These complaints range from not picking up students at the correct bus stop to some very serious accusations.

One case in the six-month span included an allegation against a bus driver of inappropriate communication with a student.

“Mom wants to report what she thinks may be suspicious activity between her 17-year-old daughter and her bus driver ‘Mr. Q.’ Mom says the driver bought her daughter a cell phone. Mom has the phone and found text messages between the two saying: ‘I’m thinking about you’ and ‘what are you doing,'” the January complaint reads.

“Also, she says that the driver has given her daughter money.”

MNPS doesn’t track the resolutions to these complaints so there is no information on if theses accusations were dealt with. Another accusation seems to read like the bus driver was okay with students fighting.

“(Parent) states when her son was on the bus in the afternoon route … three male students told her son they were going to jump him. The driver told the students, ‘whatever you do off the bus is up to you.’ Parent states after students got off the bus they jumped her son and busted his head. She feels the driver encouraged the students to jump her son, and didn’t do anything to prevent the incident,” a parent complaint to Metro Schools file in September says.

The board and district must act quickly in finding a solution to this problem and investigate all complaints. If bus drivers are having inappropriate relationships with students and encouraging violence, the punishment should be swift and harsh.

Thousands of students ride the bus each and every day. Their safety should be the top priority. This will now be the district’s top priority thanks to the reporting of Jason Gonzales. It shouldn’t have taken this long.

Palacios said the request of records for bus driver complaints “has been enlightening and identified as a serious priority” by the district. The management tool to monitor how resolutions came about from complaints would also be able to monitor discipline trends and how many drivers were disciplined, she said.

You can read the full article here.

Update (10:20am)

School board member Will Pinkston responded to the story on twitter.

Uncharacteristically good reporting by . I’ve been complaining about stuff like this since 2014. I’m glad is under new management. The new team is fixing broken processes and creating new processes where none existed. Logical follow-up reporting would be: Jesse Register systematically cut wages and hours bus drivers, causing many of the most experienced drivers to go elsewhere and leaving the remaining drivers overworked and stressed out. He left behind a mess.

The blame Register excuse is getting old from the school board. Jesse Register left Metro Nashville Public Schools on June 30, 2015. MNPS has been without Register for 633 days. The fault from this falls squarely on MNPS and the school board. Acknowledge the issue, fix it, and move on to the next set of issues facing our school system. Don’t spend time blaming others when you have the power to make changes yourself but failed to do so.

Blaming the problems of now on a leader who left 633 days ago is poor leadership.

Update (11:55am)

Nashville school board member Pinkston has responded via twitter:

Sounds like the nitwits are coming unglued and trying to blame the bus driver stuff on me. Let’s be clear about who did what and when. Let’s not forget who attacked for meeting with bus drivers to discuss their poor working conditions.

 

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

 


 

 

Walkout!

A large group of students at Antioch High School walked out Friday morning due to a number of issues they say need to be addressed at the school.

Here’s the list of grievances from the students:

  • Administration’s decision to deny all applicable students the opportunity to take the PSAT, ruining their chances to qualify for National Merit Scholar scholarships
  • Extremely strict dress code that removes students from their learning environment based on what they are wearing
  • The fragmentation of school clubs and activities due to the denial of fundraising
  • Cancelation of Senior Week and all senior activities
  • Lack of adequate facilities
  • Vacancy of teachers for crucial classes
  • Unorganized administration
  • Failure to involve students in the decision making of school policies
  • Unfair and unequal treatment of staff members
  • Failure of administration to respond to student concerns in a timely manner
  • Cafeteria food that is moldy or undercooked and therefore unable to be consumed
  • Lack of fair discipline
  • Having an unlicensed principle for half of the school year
  • Discontinuation of Fee Waivers for students in tough financial situations
  • Tardy Policy that is extremely strict and unwarranted

NewsChannel5 also reports that a number of teacher have already or will be leaving the school:

Teachers there told NewsChannel 5 more than half the staff has already decided not to return next year. In fact, many teachers have already left.

MNPS offered the following response:

“A few hundred students at Antioch High School participated in a peaceful walkout today in response to a personnel issue involving the football coach. Personnel matters at schools are at the discretion of the principal. We are working with the administration at Antioch High School to resolve this issue with the community.”

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


 

Will Pinkston on the Nashville Chamber Education Report Card

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston had this to say about yesterday’s release of the Nashville Chamber’s Education Report Card:

After digesting the news accounts of yesterday’s 2016 Education Report Card staged by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, I am more convinced than ever that the Chamber is an enemy of public education — and frankly, it has been for a long time. Consider this passage in Nashville Public Radio’s report, taken directly from the Chamber Report Card: “Over the past two decades, Metro Schools has launched various district reading and literacy initiatives, with no discernible impact on overall reading results.” This is true. However, this line could easily be rewritten to read: “Over the past two decades, the Chamber has meddled constantly in the affairs of Metro Nashville Public Schools, with no discernible impact on overall results.”

The reality is: The last two directors of MNPS — Jesse Register (2009-15) and Pedro Garcia (2001-08) — were the Chamber’s hand-picked superintendents who presided over stagnant growth in reading proficiency and, in Register’s case, a proliferation of struggling schools and lack of innovation to assist English learners, who represent the fastest-growing segment of our student population. I know this because I serve Nashville School Board District 7, where 43% of our students are struggling to learn English. Our lack of progress in helping these kids was a big reason why I led the charge in 2014 to exit Register from the school system and install new management that can think and act strategically.

What was the Chamber’s response? Not surprisingly, the Chamber did not step forward and agree that a leadership change was needed at MNPS. To the contrary, the Chamber and its rubber-stamp Report Card Committee instead attacked me and other board members who actually were confronting problems, versus turning a blind eye to the situation. The fact is the Chamber, through its lack of understanding of public education and lack of leadership in this community, helped to enable poor-performing superintendents for the better part of two decades — while at the same time trying, mostly ineffectively, to destabilize the school board in local elections. Adding insult to injury, the Chamber has advocated to strip the school board of local control while vigorously endorsing vouchers and the unabated growth of charter schools, which drain finite resources at a time when MNPS is now universally considered to be an under-funded school system. If the Chamber and the Report Card Committee aren’t happy with the lack of progress, perhaps they should take a look in the mirror and do some soul-searching. I daresay they won’t see any profiles in courage.

All that said: I’m optimistic that MNPS is finally headed in the right direction. This year, the school board exerted overdue independence and sidelined the Chamber during the search for our new MNPS director. In typical passive-aggressive fashion, Chamber leaders pouted throughout the months-long search process, then tried to take credit for the favorable outcome, and then attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) to oust from elected office one-third of the school board — members who played key roles in ushering in the new leadership. Our new director of schools, Dr. Shawn Joseph, now is doing yeoman’s labor getting his arms around years of problems that have been either created or exacerbated by the Chamber. Thankfully, the Mayor, the Metro Council, and the school board are finally on the same page. We’re all working together to lead public education forward, no thanks to the Chamber.

So now let me send the same message to Ralph Schulz and the Chamber that I sent to former Tennessean columnist Frank Daniels (whose sycophantic and obsequious support of the Chamber helped perpetuate some of this mess): MNPS is going to succeed despite you, not because of you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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

Amy Frogge on the Chamber and Charters

As reported earlier, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce released its education report card today.

Board member Amy Frogge did not attend the event and offered an explanation as well as some comments on why she supported the proposed moratorium on expansion of charter schools. The moratorium proposal was pulled from the agenda at last week’s meeting.

Here are her comments:

Today is the presentation of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce’s Education Report Card. I have not attended this event for the last two years and will not attend today. I was actually considering attending this year (it’s a new day in Nashville with a new Director of Schools), but Chamber leaders were up to their old tricks at our school board meeting last week, which left a bad taste in my mouth. Their actions demonstrated, once again, that their first priority is not the health of our school system, which is why I will not attend today’s presentation.

When I first decided to run for school board back in 2012, I contacted several people to learn more about the work. I spoke with a minister who formerly served on the board, and one of her first comments to me was: “I am very concerned about the influence of the Nashville Chamber on education in Nashville.” I was perplexed by this remark and wondered why business executives might have a negative influence on public education. I soon learned. I have since been warned about the Chamber’s influence over the board by several other leaders in the city.

What Chamber leaders chose to do last week is a good example of why I have lost respect for their work. The school board was scheduled to vote on a charter school moratorium. It was absolutely the right thing to do, given the facts (which I will detail below), but then the Chamber got involved. Chamber leaders like to use their powerful connections to twist arms behind the scenes, and they also started a campaign for more charter schools. This was not a grassroots campaign. Instead, the Chamber managed to generate a number of emails to the board opposing the moratorium from people in places like Brentwood, Mt. Juliet, Murfreesboro, and even Claremont, California. The emails came from affluent folks who obviously don’t have children in local schools, who likely don’t even utilize public schools, and who most certainly don’t send their children to charter schools. So what’s this all about? In part, it’s about education for “those” children (something quite different than the education they expect for their own children). However, the primary impetus for these emails is quite simple: Chamber leaders want more charter schools that will drain money from public schools to financially benefit their wealthy friends.

Expanding charter schools has been the Chamber’s number one focus since I’ve been on the board. While I’m all for school partnerships and I do appreciate the business partners the Chamber has brought in to support our high schools, Chamber leaders repeatedly overstep their bounds by trying to set the agenda for the school board. There have certainly been some good folks involved on the Report Card committee who do support public education, but their voices are drowned out by those who are more interested in profit for their rich friends. Top level Chamber leaders have worked hard to control the school board for many years, and they do not seem to recognize that we are duly elected representatives who answer to the public, not them. These folks are used to running things in Nashville, and they expect school board members to hop to.

In my own interviews with Chamber leadership, I’ve been arrogantly lectured, told that school board members should never go into the schools, and admonished that I don’t understand the role of the school board (which apparently should be to cater to the elite). I was so annoyed by these interactions that I finally quit going to Chamber interviews and did not seek their support during this last election cycle. I do not work for the Chamber, and I will not be controlled by the wealthy and powerful.

If Nashville Chamber leaders truly care about our students, they should promote fiscally responsible policies. They would also do well to start trying to work with- and not against- the school board and the Director of Schools. Great partnerships happen when each partner respects and values the role and viewpoint of others.

Here are the remarks that I planned to share at our last school board meeting before the moratorium was pulled from consideration. I hope Chamber leaders read this and take note.

“Currently, there are 1,128 children on wait lists for charter schools in Nashville. Our charter schools currently serve 10.529 students, but by year 2021, the projected enrollment for charters is 18,365, which comprises a 74% increase. That means that even if we don’t approve another single charter school in Nashville, the number of charter seats will nearly double in five years.

In contrast, there are 5,433 students on wait lists for optional schools in Nashville, including both traditional schools and magnet schools. The wait list for one school alone, Meigs magnet school- at 816 students- is nearly as high as the combined wait lists for all charter schools in the city. And if we are truly interested in responding to parent demand, it would make sense to consider opening another Montessori school, because there are nearly 600 students on the wait list for Stanford, one of the city’s two public Montessori options.

Also of note: there are 2,389 students on wait lists for preschool and pre-k programs across the city. It’s important to acknowledge that this extensive wait list includes only children under 6 years of age. There is obviously a huge demand for more pre-k seats, more than double the demand for charter seats.

So while there’s been a well-funded marketing campaign for increased ‘choice’ by the charter sector and a great deal of our tax dollars spent on charter marketing to families, the data paints a very different picture about parent demand. There is simply no demand for more charter school seats in Nashville. The already approved growth of our existing charters schools greatly eclipses any wait lists for charter school seats.

Unfortunately, we have failed to set a clear direction for charter growth in our city. The lack of planning for controlled charter school growth can lead to disastrous outcomes for school districts. In 2013, Detroit schools filed for bankruptcy, and this past June, the state of Michigan had to pay $617 million to bail out the Detroit school system, which was facing bankruptcy again and couldn’t even afford to pay its own staff. Detroit has the biggest share of students enrolled in charter schools than any other city in the US, with the exception of New Orleans, and Detroit has been on the forefront of charter school expansion. Its approach to education, which is based on school competition, has been described as ‘the Hunger Games for schools.’ Philadelphia is another case in point. Philadelphia schools have been plagued by persistent budget deficits, according to a recent audit, which have been attributed largely to charter school growth in the city. As one source summarized, ‘The influence of charter schools mixed with funding cuts for traditional schools combine for a perfect storm of financial distress.’ Similarly, two years ago, Shelby County Schools in Memphis reported a $157 million deficit, which school leaders attributed largely to the explosive growth of charter schools in the city, many imposed upon the district by the state’s Achievement School District. Last year’s shortfall was $125 million, and this year’s deficit is $86 million. The deficit is decreasing because Memphis is closing neighborhood schools to address debt created by the expansion of charters schools in the city. These stories are not scare tactics; they are lessons for us to learn, and we would be wise to pay attention and take heed of how the growth of charter schools is impacting other school districts around the country. And if we need further evidence of the problem, Moody’s Investors Service, which rates the fiscal health of local governments including Nashville, has warned that ‘charter schools pose growing risks for urban public schools’ and noted that ‘a city that begins to lose students to a charter school can be forced to weaken educational programs’ in traditional public schools.

Here in Nashville, we have been warned. Two independent studies of our school system concluded that ‘charter schools will – with nearly 100 percent certainty – have a negative fiscal impact on Metro Schools.’ We cannot rob the schools that serve 90% of our students to feed the charter schools that serve only 10%. Every student deserves a great education, and if we support some students at the expense of others, we have created a major equity problem. It’s particularly baffling to me that we would risk placing our school system at risk when there’s no demand for more charter schools and no plan to pay for them.

And then there’s the question of whether we are really improving outcomes for students by increasing school choice, via charter schools, within our district. Research on the impact of school choice on student learning generally shows mixed results with studies typically showing little or no difference in overall performance compared to traditional public schools.

As this board moves forward in partnership with a new administration, we would be wise to create a strong strategic plan that positively impacts all students. We have allowed the charter sector to create its own vision for growth in Nashville, a duty that should instead fall squarely on the board’s shoulders. The board should set clear parameters for charter growth, decide what programs we could implement to benefit the majority of students, and what investments we must make to ultimately improve our outcomes. We cannot continue to open more and more schools, willy nilly, with no clear vision of how they will serve our needs or impact other schools and students. And we would be foolish to ignore the ample warnings we’re received indicating that charter growth could very well place our already underfunded district in financial distress.

For these reasons, I support the moratorium.”

 

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


 

The Nashville Chamber’s Education Report Card

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce today released its annual Education Report Card for MNPS today.

Here are some highlights:

The graduation rate, which measures the percentage of all students who graduate from high school within four years, plus a summer period, fell from 81.6 percent in 2015 to 81 percent in 2016. The number of MNPS students taking the ACT increased by 586 students in 2016, while the percentage of those scoring at least a 21 dropped from 30 percent in 2015 to 28 percent in 2016. Based on these limited results, we must conclude that MNPS did not record overall improvement during 2015- 2016 – for the second year in a row. With a new director of schools and executive team in place for the 2016-2017 school year, there is an expectation in the community for MNPS to resume a faster pace of improvement.

And the recommendations:

1. Metro Schools should expand its commitment to school-based budgeting to ensure equitable access to resources across all schools.

2. The State of Tennessee should incorporate measures of both career and college readiness into the new school and district accountability system.

3. Metro Schools should ensure that its early-grade teachers have demonstrated expertise in literacy instruction.

4. Metro Schools should measure each school’s implementation of the district’s literacy initiatives to ensure fidelity.

5. Metro Schools should engage community partners in developing a citywide plan and timeline to ensure early-grade (K-2) literacy by May 2017.

For more details on the findings used to reach the recommendations, read the full report.

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


 

Test Scores Are In! How Did Our Nashville Students Do?

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education released TNReady results for individual districts. The data only show results for high schools because elementary and middle schools did not take the full assessment last school year.

For those of you who just want the gist of it, Nashville’s public high schools are struggling to get kids to proficiency, and they’re particularly struggling with math.

Let’s dig a little deeper, using some screenshots from the state’s Report Card website.

ACT Achievement

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-10-19-14-am

I have written previously about the ACT scores of the district. TNReady is trying to be more aligned with the ACT.

Math and ELA Achievement 

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-10-21-30-am screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-10-21-34-am

The data show that our high schools are struggling more with math than English language arts (ELA), though each section has only a small percentage of students who are scoring within the top two tiers of TNReady.

Here’s the more in-depth breakdown of the data, including individual subjects. As we see from the graph below, we have new terminology to use when discussing the data.

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-10-24-19-am

The data clearly show that too many high school students are not “on track” nor have achieved mastery of the subjects. We have given our high schools a makeover, but has that makeover really improved the achievement of our students? That will be hard to tell because this is a brand new assessment.

The achievement of high school students are more than just a problem with high schools. We need more support in lower grades to give students the skills they need to achieve in high school so that they can graduate and move on to college or a career.

Growth

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-10-28-09-am

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-10-28-59-am

It’s great to see that we are showing growth in literacy, but we have to do better in math.

We Have to Do Better

Our district has to do better. We have too many students not achieving at the level they should be. I hope our school board will really delve into this issue, instead of spending so much time on petty resolutions that will only hurt the district in the long run.

Turning around our district is not something that will make the newspaper tomorrow. It’s not something that you can brag about in your monthly email in a few weeks. Turning around our district takes time, resources, and a vision to help all students achieve. It means that everyone involved in the education system must work together, which can be hard for some.

It’s results like this that draw people away from Davidson county and into the suburbs and private schools. We can’t let it continue.

Let’s get to work!

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


 

The Call For A Charter School Moratorium Lacks Transparency

On Tuesday, the Metro Nashville School Board will vote on a charter school moratorium. The policy proposal is being brought by Will Pinkston. As of Monday morning, language of the resolution has still not been publicly shared on the MNPS website.

Will Pinkston calls for transparency for charter schools, but he should also be held to that same transparency. It’s unacceptable that the meeting is tomorrow, and the citizens of Nashville still can’t access the policy that will be discussed.

Sources within MNPS tell me there is a draft floating around, but language is still not finalized. It seems like this policy is being snuck in at the last moment so that the citizens of Nashville cannot give specific feedback before the vote. That’s not right.

If this is what Nashville wants, why does this resolution have to held in the dark?

Because of the lack of transparency, the Metro Nashville School Board should postpone voting on this moratorium until the people of Nashville can read and respond to it.

While on the issue of a moratorium, it should be noted that having a moratorium will give the State Board of Education more power. I wrote the same thing when Pinkston last tried to change charter school policy:

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

The same is true with the moratorium. A moratorium will give the State Board a bigger hand in approving charter schools in Nashville. Nashville should continue to rigorously review and approve the charter schools that best meets the needs of MNPS.

A flat out moratorium on charter schools is not in the best interest of our Nashville schools or their students.

Update: As of 1:45pm, the resolution has been posted here.  

 

 

Changes Are Coming To Nashville Middle Schools

Dr. Joseph heard a lot of critiques about Metro Nashville’s middle schools when he arrived in Nashville. He later found out that those critiques were spot on, according to Nashville Public Radio.

The newly-hired administrative team held 30 parent listening sessions over the first few weeks. And moms and dads kept talking about middle schools and how they’d like to see them add rigor, more advanced courses and even just a bit more homework.

As a former middle school principal, superintendent Shawn Joseph thought maybe parents were just misunderstanding their pre-teen children. But then he visited many of the district’s middle schools, and the concerns about academics were “validated.”

As a middle middleprepschool teacher, I’ve clearly seen the need for the transformation of middle schools. The district spent so much time transforming high schools that it felt like they forgot about middle schools.

While elementary schools are now getting more resources, middle schools got a new name in 2014 (Middle Preps) and were left alone. It’s like needing stitches and throwing a bandaid on it. It’s time for a real transformation and not just a quick fix. It didn’t work in 2014 and it won’t work now.

As I wrote in September following the release of ACT scores,

Preparing our students for graduation starts before the students even get to the high school level. MNPS transformed our high schools years ago towards the academy model. I think it’s time to start looking at the transformation of elementary and middle schools.

Elementary and middle schools need more supports in place to help close the gaps before students move on to high school. I don’t have all the answers, but I hope MNPS will be looking into ways to give more support to our lower grades.

It looks like Dr. Joseph is answering this call. I think too many students are still coming to middle school without basic skills that middle school teachers are not usually equipped to handle. I hope Dr. Joseph will continue to add more support to elementary schools while he is working to transform middle schools.

So when will these changes start to take place?

“Now is the time to give middle schools the love and attention they need to help strengthen our high school programs,” Joseph says.

Joseph cautions that he doesn’t anticipate any “mid-year, shoot-from-the-hip shifts.”

“We’ll take a bite at the apple next year with more comprehensive plans in year two and three,” he says.

Good luck, Dr. Joseph.

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


 

Nashville Teachers Vote for Conferencing

Teachers in Nashville overwhelming voted to enter into contract negotiations by way of Collaborative Conferencing according to a press release from the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA).

According to the release, 85% of teachers selected MNEA as the bargaining agent, meaning no other organization will represent Nashville teachers at the bargaining table. Under the rules for collaborative conferencing, any organization representing teachers that earns the support of at least 15% of teachers can play a role in the bargaining process.

MNEA President Erik Huth described the vote as an “overwhelming” victory for teachers and MNEA and noted that his organization has represented Nashville teachers for over 50 years, pre-dating collective bargaining.

According to MNEA, the next step in the process is training for both board members and teacher negotiators.

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