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


 

 

 

The ACT Results Are In. How Did We Do?

Tennessee tracks if students are career and college ready by requiring all students to take the ACT. On the ACT, college and career ready is determined by a score of 21. A score of a 21 allows students to qualify for the HOPE scholarship, and students will be able to skip remedial courses in college.

How did the state do? Chalkbeat has the answer:

Tennessee held steady with an average score of 19.4 out of a possible 36, increasing its standing from eighth to seventh among the 18 states that require students to take the ACT. The national average score was 20.8, down from 21 last year.

Even so, state officials celebrated that nearly 1,300 more Tennessee public school students hit the college-ready mark this year than last.

In 2016, only one-fifth of Tennessee public school students taking the ACT met all four subject benchmarks for being considered college-ready. English drew the best showing, with about 55 percent meeting that benchmark, followed by 34 percent in reading, and 27 percent each in math and science

What about individual districts? In Nashville, only 11% of students are college and career ready. The Tennessean has the Nashville numbers:

Metro Schools tallied an 18.4 composite score, marking a 0.3 point drop over the 2015 year‘s 18.7 composite score across all students tested, according to 2016 ACT numbers released to districts Tuesday. Only 11 percent of all Metro Schools students are ready for college, a three-point dip over last year.

We must do better in preparing our students for college and career state-wide, but especially in Nashville. The average MNPS student will need remedial courses if they go to college. That means MNPS students and their families will be paying more money to take courses that may not even count towards their post secondary degree. That’s a disservice to our students.

How does MNPS with the rest of Middle Tennessee?

  • Cheatham County: 19.6 composite; 17 percent college ready
  • Dickson County: 19.4 composite; 16 percent college ready
  • Metro Nashville: 18.4 composite; 11 percent college ready
  • Robertson County: 19 composite; 14 percent college ready
  • Rutherford County: 20.2 composite; 21 percent college ready
  • Sumner County: 20.8 composite; 23 percent college ready
  • Williamson County: 23.8 composite; 45 percent college ready
  • Wilson County: 20.3 composite;  19 percent college ready

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


 

 

Understanding Amy Frogge

TC Weber talks to animal rescuer and MNPS school board member Amy Frogge about how she got involved in local education policy. The interview explores her two campaigns and her time on the board.

Here’s what she has to say about how she got started:

Well, I had been doing a lot of work at my children’s elementary school. When my daughter started at Gower Elementary, we had a very small PTO. The year after she got there, we were flooded in 2010 [Nashville was the victim of a flood in 2010], and we ended up having an immense amount of help from our neighbors and people throughout the city – and even people from other states – who were willing to come and help us rebuild our house and clean up the mess after the flood. There was just an immense amount of support, and I decided, in that process, that I wanted to give back to people. So I decided to become more involved at the school. The PTO had recently died out, and so essentially two of us parents offered to try to rebuild parent engagement at the school. We started small, but the more we did, the more exciting it became, and the more we were able to accomplish. We ended up building about 15 new community partnerships for Gower over the course of about a year, and we dramatically increased parent engagement through that process. We learned what an impact that had on the school’s performance and the atmosphere and culture of the school. Five years later, that school had a wait list and its performance improved. People in the neighborhood were excited about the school.

So having seen what happened at the local level, I hoped when I ran the first time that I would be able to do that sort of work on a larger level and support the schools in my area and throughout the city. That’s why I ended up running for school board.

The entire conversation is worth a read and provides helpful insight into Frogge’s approach.

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


 

 

What Can you Buy for $750,000?

Apparently, not a lot of Election Night victories. While the Tennessee affiliate of national group Stand for Children spent $750,000 in local and state elections last night, they came away with very few wins. In Nashville, the group spent more than $200,000 and lost all four races in which it backed candidates.

Dave Boucher at the Tennessean has the story:

More than $750,000 buys plenty of campaign mailers and advertisements. But it doesn’t necessarily buy election wins.

Stand for Children, an education advocacy organization, found that out the hard way Thursday night. After spending a small fortune, all four candidates it backed in the Metro school board election and a handful of state GOP primary candidates lost their races.

While Stand for Children attempted to change the face of the Nashville school board by opposing three incumbents, ultimately, voters overwhelmingly rejected their preferred candidates — with the exception of the District 7 race, which was decided by less than 40 votes.

More on Stand for Children in Nashville:

Stand on the Defensive

Stand for Children Buys Its Way Out of the Race

Stand with Charters

MNPS School Board Race Spending

Nashville’s Not Alone

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


 

 

Facts Not Included

Steve Cavendish at the Scene offers some insight into the Tennessean’s recent dealings with MNPS board member Will Pinkston. Specifically, Cavendish notes that key facts seem to be optional in the paper’s reporting.

He writes:

That Sunday story by Jason Gonzales, which described Pinkston as a bully, interviewed a lot of critics. It quoted a former director of schools that Pinkston stopped from getting a contract extension, an innovation director who routinely fought with Pinkston and other board members and a paid political operative working for (Jackson) Miller.

And points out that the Tennessean also endorsed Pinkston, a fact not mentioned in the Gonzalez piece.

Of course, on the same day, the Tennessean did allow Pinkston to respond.

But, as Cavendish points out, it would have been a lot easier to just include the relevant facts in the first place.

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


 

Will Pinkston Responds

Will Pinkston offers his response to a piece that appeared about him in the Tennessean by way of the paper’s Op-Ed page.

Here’s how he starts:

“I have excellent relations with MNPS employees and I am proud to have earned the endorsement of our teachers and support employees. Our employees have told me countless times that they’re grateful I stood up to a Central Office bureaucracy that had failed students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers

“Nashville’s schools are thankfully under new management, and we’re now heading in the right direction. The voters in South and Southeast Nashville know me personally, and they will see through this flimsy attack by a handful of disgruntled individuals, four days before Election Day.”

This is the statement I provided to the Tennessean in advance of a smear piece that appeared in Sunday’s Tennessean. The newspaper declined to publish the statement in its entirety. Instead, it printed a report based on lies and half-truths leveled by a four former Metro Nashville Public Schools employees.

I won’t dignify the baseless allegations. But I will briefly address the two former employees who orchestrated this smear:

Read his full response here.

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

 

Stand on the Defensive

Just days after a controversial email sent from the CEO of the Martha O’Bryan Center raised questions about possible illegal political activity and coordination with political advocacy group Stand for Children, one school board candidate held a meeting with Stand’s political director that he claims was not about his campaign and did not violate any laws.

Alanna Autler of WSMV reports:

A candidate for the Metro Nashville School Board is facing questions after meeting with a representative of a political action committee this week.
District 9 candidate Thom Druffel met with Daniel O’Donnell, the local director for the special interest group Stand for Children Tennessee.

The organization has thrown support behind Druffel, along with several other candidates running for school board this election cycle.

The meeting took place at the Holiday Inn Vanderbilt, where Druffel works.

O’Donnell was seen entering and leaving the building Tuesday, one day after a mandatory blackout period kicked in. Under the law, PACs cannot contribute to a candidate during this period.

O’Donnell denies any wrongdoing and says he was taking the day off work. The timing of this day off seems odd given that it allegedly took place just over one week before an Election Day in which Stand for Children seems to have a great interest.

While at least one candidate mentioned in the Martha O’Bryan emails has called for MOB to stop recruiting volunteers in coordination with Stand or in support of her campaign, Druffel had no problem meeting with Stand’s political director and now claims he was just chatting with a volunteer and not coordinating any activity with a group investing heavily toward his election.

Stand for Children’s attorney released the following response:

Stand for Children and its political committees observe both the letter and spirit of the law. Any suggestion that there has been improper coordination between Stand and the Druffel campaign is categorically false.

As Autler notes:

Communication and coordination is also entirely prohibited between independent expenditure committees and candidates.

 

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

 

 

Complaint Filed over Martha O’Bryan Political Activity

Following emails sent by Marsha Edwards of the Martha O’Bryan Center asking for volunteers and/or paid canvassers for School Board candidates endorsed by Stand for Children, complaints have been filed with the IRS and Tennessee Attorney General by MNPS board member Will Pinkston.

Nate Rau of the Tennessean reports:

In a letter to Attorney General Herb Slatery, Pinkston said Edwards’ emails constitute a violation of the federal law that prohibits direct or indirect political activity by tax-exempt nonprofits. Pinkston told The Tennessean that Edwards should apologize to the school board and resign from her job.

“Through her actions — including forwarding Stand for Children’s email request to all of her tax-exempt organization’s employees — Ms. Edwards caused Martha O’Bryan Center to directly or indirectly participate in political campaigns on behalf of (or in opposition to) multiple candidates for elective public office,” Pinkston wrote in his letter outlining his complaint. “As email correspondence indicates, Ms. Edwards not only forwarded Stand for Children’s email request to all of her tax-exempt organization’s employees, but she also identified her preferred candidates as being ‘friendly to charters.'”

Edwards has denied any wrongdoing.

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


 

 

Marsha Responds

In response to allegations that her organization (Martha O’Bryan Center) coordinated with political group Stand for Children by recruiting volunteers for Stand’s endorsed MNPS School Board candidates, Marsha Edwards released the following statement:

Today’s story in The Tennessean references an email I forwarded to employees of The Martha O’Bryan Center for an opportunity to work as a paid canvasser in the upcoming School Board election, so that it could be passed on to students in our programs or anyone in our organization looking for paid work this summer. I felt that this was an employment opportunity for young people and we would pass along this type of opportunity for ANY candidate and will continue to do so. I added to the email what knowledge I had of the few candidates that I had met and the organization that was hiring. While I have been assured by our legal counsel that this email did not constitute “political activity” as defined by the IRS, I do see how the personal context included in the email could be misunderstood, and I truly regret that.”

“The Martha O’Bryan Center does not engage in political activity and our track record supports that. We are an organization that has been serving the Nashville community for over 120 years and continues to do so without political bias. At Martha O’Bryan we are about breaking the line of poverty through education, employment and family support, not politics.”

Her statement comes even as one of the supported candidates has asked MOB to stop volunteer recruitment.

Additionally, the email from Edwards notes that all the candidates are endorsed by Stand for Children and are “friendly to charters…”

Here’s some more insight as to why Edwards might want more Board Members who are charter-friendly.

Finally, she notes that one of the candidates, Jane Meneely, is a paid consultant for MOB and would be a “strong, smart, well informed, and thoughtful board member.”

I’m curious to know what Edwards would have done had Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, Christiane Buggs, or Jill Speering asked for her help. Would she have advised them that such recruiting was political, and therefore out of bounds for MOB? Her statement claims she would have passed along the information for ANY candidate who asked.

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


 

Christy Calls on MOB to Stop Asking for Campaign Help

Yesterday, it was revealed that Marsha Edwards, CEO of the Martha O’Bryan Center, had sent emails requesting volunteers for School Board candidates endorsed by political group Stand for Children.

At least one of those candidates, Miranda Christy, is speaking out, calling on the group to stop sending such emails.

In a Facebook post she says:

The Martha O’Bryan Center is a wonderful institution providing critical services to District 5 families. I have always been inspired by their work in alleviating poverty in District 5, and I would never want them to put their tax status in jeopardy. Our campaign had no knowledge that they were circulating a request for volunteers, and we would never encourage it. We have only one volunteer (and no staffers) who to our knowledge has ever worked at the Martha O’Bryan Center (and he is a longtime friend of mine), and we ask that they stop making such requests for volunteers.

For their part, Both Martha O’Bryan’s Edwards and Stand for Children’s Dan O’Donnell deny any coordination.

It will be interesting to see if the other candidates endorsed by Stand call on MOB to stop the volunteer recruitment for their campaigns.

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