More Trouble for the ASD in Memphis

Bluff City Ed cites a Chalkbeat story noting that Green Dot is pulling out of a possible takeover of Raleigh-Eqypt High School.

The story notes that both Freedom Prep and KIPP have also pulled out of prior agreements to takeover Memphis schools.

While charter operators are pulling out of the process, the community is increasingly outspoken in opposition to the ASD takeovers.

Here’s the key takeaway noted by Jon Alfuth at BCE:

I also hope that this serves as a wakeup call for the ASD. As shown at Fairley, it is possible for communities to work with ASD authorized charters and have a positive experience. But the opposite has happened with Green Dot. Chris Barbic, the ASD Superintendent, said in the chalkbeat article, “We’re going to go back and do an autopsy once we’re done with all this.” Lets hope that autopsy helps the ASD identify how it can create more situations like Fairley and less like REHS moving forward.

Read Jon’s full story.

More stories on the ASD in Memphis:

Teachers organize against ASD takeovers

ASD faces Memphis struggles

Is the ASD working?

For more on Memphis education issues, follow @BluffCityEd

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

A TN Teacher Talks ASD

A Tennessee teacher has some questions about the Achievement School District:

Why is the ASD in Tennessee?

Submitted by Lucianna Sanson, President of the Franklin County Education Association

Why is the ASD, modeled after the RSD in New Orleans, here in Tennessee in the first place? What is the true rationale for bringing Charters to our state? We don’t need the ASD. We need strong community schools with wrap around services. We know how to run our schools. We need money to support our public schools, not Charter Authorizers that make money off of them.

Teachers, students, parents, and vested community stakeholders don’t want their community schools sold, they want them funded. If the ASD were truly transparent the Charter Authorizer would admit they are in TN to take our tax dollars to turn a profit, not turn our under-funded, under-staffed, under-paid, under-appreciated public schools around.

Who benefits from the ASD? Who pays for the ASD? Why are the majority, if not ALL of the schools selected in the “matching” process located in low-income communities, namely communities where the majority of students are black or brown? Why are experienced teachers pushed out and replaced with Teach for America recruits, green from college with no experience in the classroom?

Tennesseans, don’t be fooled into thinking these Charters are good neighborhood investments. As Anthony Cody points out in his new book, The Educator and the Oligarch, parent “choice” is simply a “charm offensive.” Parents and teachers are lured into believing that ed reform and Charters are a good use of our tax dollars. They are not. They are a good investment for the venture capitalists who make money off our students and public schools.

Do you have thoughts on the ASD or other education policy issues in Tennessee? Let us know, propose an article, and share your thoughts here.

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



The ASD Responds

Bluff City Ed does a phenomenal job of covering the Memphis education scene and we’ve published information from a number of their stories on Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

Today, Bluff City Ed has a response from the ASD about some of the criticism the District is receiving.

Here are a couple highlights:

On performance:

If you look at our 2nd year charters, their average composite proficiency growth over two years is 11.2, compared with an average growth of 2.2 over three years in the 10 Priority schools on our matching list.  All three of our 2nd year charters had Level 5 growth last year.  Two are off the Priority list.  I say this not to suggest that every ASD school is where it needs to be—far from it—but that when it comes to ASD charters with at least two years’ experience running schools, these schools are showing real promise.  Where our schools aren’t performing, we’re going to hold ourselves accountable.  It’s just way too early to draw major conclusions about school performance and policy implications.  There may be a time for a mea culpa or a moratorium, but not after two years.

On Contentious Meetings:

We had loud, contentious meetings last year, too.  It’s absolutely right for people to come in skeptical, emotional, and confused by this.  It’s a lot to take in.  For teachers, especially, it’s difficult news.  Understanding this, our goals aren’t to claim we have every answer, but to stand humbly before parents, teachers, and community members; to listen and learn; to make sure we’re sharing every bit of information we have; and to always keep our focus on what’s best for kids.

Elliott Smalle, the ASD’s Chief of Staff, says a lot more about issues like co-location and the future of the ASD. The entire post and response is worth a read.

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


Memphis Teachers Organizing Against the ASD

Chalkbeat has the story on a group of teachers in Memphis organizing against the Tennessee Achievement School District’s takeover of schools there.

The ASD has faced a particularly challenging environment this year as it prepares to takeover 9 more Memphis schools.

The Shelby County Teachers Coalition, as the group is calling itself, points out that ASD schools are getting mixed or disappointing results and that the disruption ASD takeovers cause is bad for kids and their communities.

For his part, ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic says he welcomes the dialogue, even if it is rather intense:

“So much of this conversation is right—people asking great questions, voicing support for their schools, and expressing deep emotions about education, schools, and community,” ASD superintendent Chris Barbic said in an e-mail to his community Monday. “We don’t believe authentic community engagement is a neat and tidy process.  Not if it’s done right.  It’s totally understandable that last week’s meetings spurred people’s emotions and generated good, hard questions. We commit to standing with communities and, together with our operators, answering these questions and listening to parents’ input.”

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

What Can Nashville Learn from New Orleans?

That was the theme of an event last night sponsored by Tennesseans Reclaiming Education Excellence (TREE) and Gideon’s Army for Children and held at the East Park Community Center.

The event featured parent activist Karran Harper Royal of New Orleans and Dr. Kristen Buras, a professor at Georgia State University who has studied the Recovery School District in New Orleans.

Between 60 and 70 people were in attendance for the event, including MNPS School Board members Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, Jill Speering, and Anna Shepherd.

The event coincides with a discussion happening in East Nashville regarding MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register’s proposal to create an “all choice” zone for schools there. Parent advocacy group East Nashville United has been critical of the plan and continues to ask for more information. For their part, MNPS says it wants to continue dialogue on the issue.

Royal spoke first and outlined the systematic takeover of schools in New Orleans by the Recovery School District. The Recovery School District is the nation’s first charter-only district. The takeover began with a state law that allowed for the takeover of low-performing schools, similar to a Tennessee law that allows the Achievement School District to takeover low-performing schools.

As schools were taken over, they were handed over to charter operators or reconstituted with charter management. Entire staffs were fired and replaced and students were moved to different locations.

Royal said some of the successes claimed by the RSD are deceptive because the district would close schools, move out the students, and bus in new students. Then, the RSD would claim they had improved the school when achievement numbers were released even though those numbers were not from the students who had been attending when the school was taken over.

Royal also claimed that the choice of a neighborhood school was foreclosed for many families, but that in two majority-white ZIP codes, families are still able to choose a school close to their home.

Buras used her time to expand on an op-ed she wrote earlier this year about the parallels between New Orleans and Nashville. She pointed to data suggesting that the RSD has done no better than the previous district in terms of overall student achievement. This point is especially important because the RSD has had 9 years to show results. Tennessee’s ASD has also shown disappointing results, though it is only now in its third year of operation.

Among the statistics presented by Buras:

  • In 2011-12, 100% of the 15 state-run RSD schools assigned a letter grade for student achievement received a D or F
  • 79% of the 42 charter RSD schools assigned a letter grade recieved a D or F
  • RSD schools open less than three years are not assigned a letter grade
  • Studies of student achievement data have shown no impact on overall student achievement and some even show a widening of the achievement gap

Buras also noted that the RSD was used as a tool to bust the teachers’ union. The district fired some 7500 teachers and new teachers in the RSD report to charter operators. The resulting turnover means nearly 40% of the city’s teachers have been teaching for 3 years or less.

Both Royal (who was at one time on the RSD Advisory Board) and Buras noted that the RSD started with the mission of improving existing schools in New Orleans. However, like the ASD in Tennessee, the RSD began gradually acquiring new schools before data was available to indicate success.

The presentations served as a warning to parents in Nashville that while reform and innovation can be exciting, it is also important to closely monitor school takeovers and choice options to ensure they meet the community’s needs.

It’s also worth noting that the experiment in New Orleans and the ASD’s experience in Memphis on a smaller scale both indicate that just offering more choice does not solve education problems or improve student achievement. Any plan or innovation must take into account community input and feedback. Additionally, while choice plans are often sold on the perceived benefits, it is important to be mindful of potential drawbacks, including disruption and instability in communities that badlyneed stability and support.

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



ASD Faces Memphis Challenges

Bluff City Ed has the story of how Memphis teachers, parents, and students are standing up and resisting the Achievement School District.

The story chronicles recent events in summary format and demonstrates that what the ASD is selling is not being well-received. It could be because there are real questions about the effectiveness of the ASD’s work in Memphis.

From the story:

If the last few days are any indication, Memphis is close to an open revolt against the Achievement School District.

It doesn’t take much more than a cursory look at the news since the announcement of the ASD’s nine new takeovers to reach this conclusion.  The revolt is coming every quarter, both from within the schools being taken over and from those outside the schools in the community. It’s even coming from district leaders and, one can infer, from the charter operators themselves.

What make it notable is that it’s all much more intense than what we’ve seen in previous ASD takeovers. Its no longer bordering on dissent – it appears we’ve moved now into open revolt.

Read the whole story to understand the resistance and what it might mean for the ASD’s future in Memphis.

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

Experts on New Orleans Ed Reform to Speak in Nashville

As debate continues over an education reform model for Nashville’s public schools, two local groups have teamed up to offer an event that will highlight the reform experience of the Recovery School District in New Orleans.

From a press release:

As Nashville continues to reform its public school system, it must look to the successes and failures of particular reforms in other cities as a guide. Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE) and Gideon’s Army: Grassroots Army for Children have invited Karran Harper Royal and Dr. Kristen Buras to discuss the impact of education reform on the students, teachers, and schools of New Orleans, La.–the nation’s first all-charter school district.

Kristen Buras is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at Georgia State University. She is the author of Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance, which chronicles the past decade of education reform in her hometown of New Orleans.

Karran Harper Royal is an education advocate in New Orleans. She has been a public school parent for the last 23 years and has has worked with various community groups uplifting parent and community voices in public education.

“On Tuesday, October 21, the State of Louisiana released their RSD (Recovery School District) performance scores,” reports Karran Harper Royal. “While the state average rose from 88.5 in 2013 (on a 150-point scale) to 89.2 in 2014, the RSD New Orleans average dropped from 71.9 to 71.2 during this same time period.  Does Nashville really want to follow this model?”

NOTE: These results seem somewhat similar to the so-far disappointing results coming out of Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

The speaking event “Is School Choice an Empty Promise? What Nashville Can Learn from New Orleans” will be an informative discussion about the real outcomes of charter school expansion. It will also provide an opportunity for concerned community members in Nashville to raise questions about access, achievement, equity, and accountability. The chance to dialogue across cities is a unique opportunity and is well timed in light of recent proposals to create an all-choice zone in East Nashville.

The event will be held at the East Nashville Recreation Center, 700 Woodland Street, Nashville, TN 37206 on Sunday, November 2. The speakers will begin at 3 p.m. and a question and answer period will follow. This event is free and open to the public.

Seating is limited. RSVP online is recommended.

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

Struggling ASD to Takeover 9 More Memphis Schools

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports:

Nine more schools in Memphis will be taken over by the state-run Achievement School District next fall, including Wooddale Middle, Raleigh-Egypt High and South Side Middle, which have already been assigned to charter schools. Nine others — Florida-Kansas Elementary, Denver Elementary, Airways Middle, Brookmeade Elementary, American Way Middle, Hawkins Mills Elementary, LaRose Elementary, A. Maceo Walker Middle and A.B. Hill Elementary — are eligible for takeover, although only six of those will be under new management. The six to be taken over will be determined in part by a community vetting process that suggests which charter operators are best-suited to each school’s needs. The ASD will announce the final matches in December.

A recent analysis of the ASD’s performance indicates that the schools it has taken over in Shelby County would have been better off if they had remained in district hands. The ASD’s student achievement numbers have failed to meet their own ambitious targets and also failed to grow at a rate consistent with that of district schools.

An additional analysis compared schools in the iZone to ASD schools and found that the iZone model consistenly out-performs the ASD model.

When asked recently if he planned to convert iZone schools to charter schools, Shelby County Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson called the idea “absurd.”

Hopson’s statement is noteworthy because converting district schools to charters is exactly what the ASD plans to do.

While it may be fair to give the ASD more time to prove it can be effective with its existing schools, it seems irresponsible to allow the ASD to take on more schools. The leaders of the ASD would not be likely to put more students into a classroom of a teacher who failed to meet their desired student achievement targets. Why should more schools be handed over to a model that’s not only not living up to its own hype, but also failing to outperform the district schools it has taken over?

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, 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

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.


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