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

 

Arne Duncan Visits Tennessee

This is one teacher’s account of Arne Duncan’s visit to Memphis this past week. I’ve edited to include the key highlights of Duncan’s visit.

When asked about large Kindergarten classes and how to handle the added stress, Duncan reportedly told the audience that the answer was to work with faith-based organizations to find tutoring and support for the students.

Chris Barbic, Superintendent of the Achievement School District (ASD), which has come under fire recently for low performance, was asked about taking over the bottom 5% of schools. According to this report, he claimed there will not always be a takeover of the bottom 5% of schools (a group which changes year to year).

Barbic was then asked about the low performance of the ASD. His response was that the low performance could be attributed to the quality of teachers and that more needed to be done to improve teacher quality in the ASD. Apparently, offering free drinks isn’t working.

That was Memphis.

And in Chattanooga, columnist David Cook had a few words for Duncan as well.

Cook’s chief complaint? That Duncan didn’t visit a Hamilton County public school while he was in town. Here’s what Cook had to say:

Was there no public school you’d want to see? No Hamilton County classroom to tell the rest of America about?

Let me tell you what you’re missing.

“Lots of discontent. Resignation. Depression. Many teachers will leave this year, including me,” one teacher recently told me.

Mr. Secretary, our public schools are on the verge of something quite awful, a ground zero of this perfect storm — sorry funding, broken-hearted employees and warped policy — that’s just about to make landfall.

So, while Duncan’s visit to Tennessee created plenty of nice photo ops, it also was a chance for some to show discontent. In both Memphis and Chattanooga, there were voices expressing displeasure at the policies put forth by Duncan. Policies like support for school takeovers by the Achievement School District. And David Cook raises a fair point: If the education secretary comes to town, shouldn’t he visit a local public school and see first hand what’s working (and what’s not)?

Maybe next time.

 

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

Resisting the ASD

After learning that their school has been placed on the “Priority” list as a result of its TCAP scores, some parents at Inglewood Elementary School in Nashville are pushing to prevent the school from being handed over to the Achievement School District (ASD). The PTO has posted a letter from a parent pointing out the positive changes made at the school over the past three years. The parent suggests that with more time, Inglewood will show steady improvement.

A recent analysis of ASD results indicates parents are right to be skeptical. The analysis, published in full over at Bluff City Ed, indicates that the ASD did not no better than district schools in English/Language Arts (ELA) and actually performed worse in Math. So, if Inglewood becomes a part of the ASD, parents might expect the same results — that is, no real improvement from where they are now or, worse, a falling behind.  That’s a difficult pill to swallow for parents who have seen evidence that their school is turning around.

Here’s the Inglewood letter:

 

Inglewood Parent Letter -- ASD

 

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

 

 

 

Is the ASD Working?

That’s the question at the heart of this analysis by Ezra Howard over at Bluff City Ed.

Howard performs a longitudinal analysis of the performance of schools in the Achievement School District both before and after they were in the ASD to determine growth patterns.

Turns out, ASD is not doing so well at improving growth (the stated goal of ASD).

Howard does a great job of explaining his methods and outlining the case that “it’s fair to say that the Achievement School District has been a disappointment in the last two years. In terms of achievement, the results have been moderate at best (Math) and regressive at worst (ELA).”

The entire piece is worth a read, but I’m going to hit some highlights here.

Math

When comparing two years of growth under each district, the gains made by the LEA are actually greater than the ASD by almost 2%, 7.75% compared to 5.84%. Chart 2 illustrates the rate of growth for these schools since 2010. In summary, achievement gains have not hastened under the ASD; indeed, they continue to follow a trend that was already established in the two years before the ASD took over.

ELA

Once again, the LEA exceeded the ASD. Much discussion has been given to the regression of ELA scores in the first year of the ASD. But in examining the total growth of the same schools under the two different districts, it’s readily apparent that the LEA outperformed the ASD by over 4%, 4.64% total gains in P/A compared to 1.44%. Even the level of growth in the last year under the ASD, 3.40% in 2014, is less than that with the last year of the LEA before ASD takeover, 3.71% in 2012. Chart 2 exhibits the trend of growth for ELA, illustrating that the ASD failed to capitalize on the LEA’s momentum of increasing P/A rates in the same way that they were able to with math scores.

Policy Implications

Howard raises some important questions and addresses the policy implications of this analysis. First among them being can the ASD reach its stated goal? Howard writes:

 First, can the ASD reach 55% P/A in order to be in the top quartile? Maybe. In order to reach that magic number of 55% P/A in all three of these subjects, the ASD would have to average 11.07% gains in Math and 12.67% gains in ELA over a 5 year period. However, in the last two years, the ASD has averaged 2.92% gains in Math and 0.72% gains in ELA.

Second, is the money being spent on ASD a worthwhile investment. Howard notes:

an exorbitant amount is spent on results that are, at best, no different than what the data suggests we could have expected had these schools not been taken over by the ASD.

The ASD has already spent $18 million in Race to the Top funds in addition to other resources from the district and outside sources. But, according to Howard’s analysis, the gains are minimal at best and appear to be no better than what would have happened had the schools been left in the care of their district.

Howard then raises the question of whether or not the ASD will end up being a long-term approach to school turnarounds based on its results.

Again, all of what Howard writes is insightful and his approach to the data is solid. It is well worth a close read.

To read more from Ezra Howard or learn more about education policy and its impact on Memphis, follow @BluffCityEd

Tennessee BATs Attend DC Rally

The Badass Teachers Association (BATs) is a nationwide group of teachers who aggressively argue against the status quo in education — that is, the current education reform agenda. Recently, the BATs held a national rally in Washington, DC and even had a chance to meet with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. A group of BATs from Tennessee joined the national event and TN Ed Report interviewed two of them about the experience.

Lauren Hopson is a teacher in Knox County and Lucianna Sanson is a teacher in Franklin County.  Here’s what they had to say:

1)      Why do you choose to affiliate with the BATs?

Hopson: I discovered the BATS purely by accident when I was checking to see who was posting the video of my October 2013 school board speech. I have always been a bit of a rebel, so the name fit me. At the time, I had no idea how seriously BATs took advocating for our students. Realizing that only solidifies my desire to be part of this group.

Sanson: BATs is a grassroots organization that is a support network for public schools across the nation. In TN, teachers from all areas of the state are able to network and communicate with each other about reforms that are taking place in the state of TN. This is a difficult time for public schools, teachers and students. BATs not only discuss the injustices taking place on the state level, BATs also address these issues and actively seek for positive ways to problem solve and make our public schools better for all students.

 

2)      What was the purpose of the DC BAT Rally?

Hopson: There were several purposes for the rally. Of course, the main purpose was to get the attention of the Department of Education and draw national attention to the destructive nature of current educational reform efforts. However, it also set up a place and time for educators across the country to network and share the experiences with ed reform in their own states.

Sanson: The purpose was multi-faceted. The National BATs Association wrote and delivered specific demands to the DOE and Secretary Arne Duncan- chief among them were demands to stop the over-use of Standardized testing and to halt the privatization and spread of Charter Schools across the United States.

3)      What did you learn from other BATs around the country while you were in DC?

Hopson: Surprisingly, I learned what an appreciation and admiration teachers in other states have for the TN BATs. Along with the Washington, Chicago and New York groups, we have been some of the most vocal and active BATs in the entire country during the last year. I think our own Secretary of Education’s close relationship with Arne Duncan has caused us to feel the effects of education reform more immediately than other states. However, I also think we just have a strong group of vocal teachers who have the Southern backbone to fight these destructive policies.

Sanson:  I learned that TN is not the only state that is going through these same types of reforms. I also learned that racism and socioeconomics play a large role in the take-over of our urban school systems. Basically, the suspicion that re-segregation is happening via Charter school take-overs, “parent trigger laws,” “school choice,” and “Vouchers,” was confirmed by speaking with other BATs across the country. Memphis, and the takeover of their schools by the Achievement School District (ASD), is especially troubling since it is patterned after the New Orleans Recovery School District. I learned that there are only five Public Schools left in the city of New Orleans, and, according to the Fordham Institute, Memphis is directly patterned after New Orleans.

 

4) What were the highlights of your trip to the rally?

Hopson: Singing “Lean on Me” with hundreds of teachers arm in arm in the DOE courtyard was an emotional experience. However, getting to watch my friend and our own legislator, Representative Gloria Johnson, speak during the rally about the positive effects of the “community schools” initiative was a seminal moment. She was able to share the details of a bill she is sponsoring dealing with this concept with educators from across the country who were excited to take this idea back to their home states. It even received interest during the meeting our delegation had with DOE officials at the end of the day.

Sanson: The highlight, for me, was finally meeting all of the people I have been collaborating with on a daily basis for over a year and watching our plans unfold. The Rally on Monday was a true celebration of our students and our public schools, complete with music and dancing, student performance, and spoken word. It was a visual representation of what BATs symbolizes: a holistic approach to learning and the assertion that school should be student-centered and FUN, not testing-centered and a CHORE.

 

5) Do you feel the rally and associated events accomplished anything for teachers? If so, what?

Hopson:  We did get to send in a small delegation to meet with officials in the DOE, and even briefly with Arne Duncan himself. It remains to be seen whether the ideas shared in that meeting will be taken seriously, although TN Teacher Larry Proffitt who was a part of the delegation, seemed optimistic. I do think we drew attention to the plight of students and teachers in America, and at least in my community, I heard from lots of teachers who wish they had been a part of it. Hopefully, this will lead to greater numbers at the next rally. For those of us that did go, we got to feel a sense of connection to a larger power which instilled a new sense of commitment and determination in us all.

Sanson: Yes. On Monday, the all-day celebration for public education ended with a committee meeting inside the U.S. DOE with Secretary Arne Duncan and his team. Our BATs team- which consisted of six members- one of them Larry Proffitt from TN, outlined our concerns and were heard by the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and his team. The BATs have another meeting at the U.S. DOE scheduled for later this fall. We look forward to continued dialogue and discourse with the U.S.DOE.

 

6) What do you see as the future for BATs in Tennessee and nationally?

Hopson:  I hope to see BATs become a driving force in changing the direction of education reform. I want to be part of a group that politicians have to take seriously if they want to get elected. BATs should also be a group they will go to for information. With TN being in the Bible Belt, I know it will be hard for the public to get past the name Badass Teachers. Hopefully, however, they will come to see the mission behind the name and realize these Brave Activist Teachers are fighting to protect their children.

Sanson: TNBATs will continue to be the state branch of the National Group. We will continue to network and align ourselves with other parent and citizen groups across the state and nation. We will continue to work with local legislators and policy makers to bring about change. We will continue to work with the Tennessee Education Association to support equality for our teachers, support staff and students.  We will continue to educate and speak truth to power about the reality of Ed Reform and the Privatization movement; we will continue to take a stand for our students and public schools. After all, BATs exists to fight for our students and public schools.

7) How would you describe the current education climate in TN?

Hopson: Toxic. We have toxic levels of testing. We have toxic levels of stress on our students and teachers. Students and teachers have been dehumanized and reduced to nothing more than numbers and data points. There is a complete lack of trust between teachers, administrators, and politicians. Using our students as pawns to further the interests of big money, big power groups is NOT the way to improve our schools.

Sanson: Current ed climate in TN: war zone

Teachers in TN are, in the words of Lauren Hopson, “tired” of not being heard and taken seriously. We are tired of being told how to do our jobs by people who have never taught and who know nothing about teaching. We are tired of seeing our students over-tested. We are tired of teaching to a test. We are tired of being treated like second-class citizens instead of highly trained professionals. We are tired of being “excessed” and replaced by inexperienced TFA green recruits who are ill-equipped with only five weeks of training. We are tired of groups like Micheel Rhee’s Students First giving money to people running for office. We are tired of Governor Haslam and his Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman, who have done nothing to help our public schools, but who have done much to sell them to the highest bidder. Most of all, we are tired of being afraid and being bullied into compliance by people threatening our livelihoods. Tired we may be, but being on the front lines and in the trenches means that you get up and go to battle every day. That is what we will continue to do for our Public Schools and our Students: Fight for Them.

 

8) Why should other teachers affiliate with BATs?

Hopson: BATs will provide a sense of community for them and a structure around which they can organize and regain their power.

While I was touring the Civil Rights section of the American History Museum in DC, I saw a quote from A. Phillip Randolph which said, “Nobody expects ten thousand Negroes to get together and march anywhere for anything at any time….In common parlance, they are supposed to be just scared and unorganizable. Is this true? I contend it is not.”

Nobody expects that of teachers either, but I think BATs will change that!

Sanson: TNBATs is a group that helps and supports teachers, parents, and public schools so that we can be better teachers for our students. We are invested in our students and schools and we are determined to bring positive change back into the TN public school systems. BATs are tough, resilient, trustworthy, caring, and willing to go the distance for our students and our profession. I think the better question should be “Why wouldn’t other teachers affiliate with BATs?”

 

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

Have a Drink on Us

If you happen to be a young, hip, TFA-type teacher.  Non-TFA types not allowed.  The video says it’s an ASD event and the video clips appear to have been filmed inside classrooms.  It’s not clear who is paying for the event or why only TFA teachers are invited to attend.

Edit: ASD took down the video, but some nice people have added it to Youtube. 

Happy Hour Welcoming TFA Teachers from Achievement School District on Vimeo.

Expect more, but not too much more…

So, all the advocates of Common Core are part of the Expect More, Achieve More coalition.  I support the general principles of Common Core. The higher standards, the expectations, the value placed on critical thinking.

I’m carefully watching the implementation, however, as Tennessee’s track record of getting education right is well, missing.

That said, the State Department of Education has been talking a lot about expectations.  About being direct and honest with students and families about their achievement.  About what it takes to demonstrate content mastery.  About grade level appropriate learning progress.

All of which sounds good.  And, if done correctly, is good.

And then, I read that the Achievement School District has released a new grading scale for some of the K-8 schools in its control.

Here it is:

ASD Grades

And here’s the explanation from ASD.

Basically, they are aligning grades with TCAP cut scores.

Which means, you can receive a passing score in school and only demonstrate knowledge/mastery of 47% of content.

Also, there’s a huge range of scores for a B.

I’m not sure that if someone goes into the workforce and gets 59% of their work done well, they’ll have a job for very long.

And doesn’t this contradict the whole concept of high expectations?

And if these grades are aligned to TCAP cut scores, maybe we should strengthen the cut scores?

What about the students who “pass” their grade level with a 48? Really? Isn’t that setting them up to fail by telling them they “passed” even though they demonstrated mastery of less than half of the material?

It’s great to reward effort.  And nice to see students grow over a year.  But high expectations means high standards.

I’d expect to see stories soon about the ASD’s improved GPAs and promotion rate.

For more education policy news, follow us @TNEdReport