Take a Walk, ASD

That’s the message from the Frayser Neighborhood Council in response to plans by Tennessee’s Achievement School District to take over and convert to charter schools several existing schools in the Memphis neighborhood of Frayser.

Here’s the text of a letter from the Education Committee of the Frayser Neighborhood Council:

 

As members of the Frayser Neighborhood Council Education Committee and on behalf of the parents and children of Frayser we stand in support of parents at Hawkins Mills, Denver and Brook Meade Elementary Schools who choose as their parental option to keep their neighborhood schools with the Shelby County Schools system.

 It is our position that the Achievement School District should improve the education performance and outcomes in the schools they presently run and those that they have approved before considering absorbing any additional schools in Frayser.  We are asking that the ASD respect the wishes of the parents and the broader community as our parents exercise their right to choose.

 

Sincerely,

Sonya H. Smith

Marvis Rogers

Carmen White

Jessie Binion

Charles Taylor

 

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

The Data War

Blake Farmer of WPLN reported today on the “data war” between the state Achievement School District (ASD) and opponents of a plan to turn either Madison Middle or Neely’s Bend Middle over to the ASD.

According to Farmer’s report, ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic suggests that supporters or opponents can make data show whatever they want, quoting Barbic as saying:

“We can go back and forth with folks who want to do the data war,” Barbic tells WPLN. “For every data point they have, we’ve got one. The bottom line is that the schools that we’re talking about are in the bottom five percent.”

Essentially, Barbic is saying that the debate doesn’t matter, the ASD is going to takeover one of these schools because they can. He admitted as much in an earlier discussion of ASD takeovers in Memphis.

But, opponents of the takeover point to data suggesting that the ASD overall doesn’t outperform district schools and the ASD’s model is flawed.

Here’s some more information on the specific schools slated for takeover, the ASD as a whole, and the schools operated by LEAD, the charter operator named to takevover either Madison Middle or Neely’s Bend.

We’ll look at the number of students testing proficient/advanced in both reading and math

2013 Reading

ASD Average:  13.6

Brick Church Prep (LEAD): 12.8

MNPS Average: 40

Brick Church Middle:  20

Madison MS:  23.6

Neely’s Bend MS:  21.6

For 2013 in reading, note that both Neely’s Bend and Madison scored higher than the ASD average AND the score at Brick Church Prep, run by LEAD, which is the model for the takeover.

2013 Math

ASD Average:  19.6

Brick Church Prep: 24.2

MNPS Average:  42.5

Brick Church MS: 7.7

Madison MS: 15.2

Neely’s Bend MS: 25.4

For 2013 in math, Madison was below the ASD average and below the Brick Church Prep scores. Neely’s Bend was above the ASD average and also outscored Brick Church Prep.

2014 Reading

ASD Average:  17

Brick Church Prep:  37.2

MNPS Average:  40.7

Brick Church MS:  8.7

Madison MS:  24

Neely’s Bend MS:  24.3

For 2014 in reading, Brick Church Prep saw a significant bump in reading scores. But, the TVAAS data actually indicates a -3.7 in growth year over year. Here’s what that means. Brick Church Prep’s reading proficiency score bump is a result of new students added to the overall score. Madison Middle and Neely’s Bend both showed growth year over year and the growth in reading is roughly equivalent to the growth demonstrated by ASD schools as a whole.

2014 Math

ASD Average:  21.8

Brick Church Prep:  41.2

MNPS Average:  44.6

Brick Church MS:  8.7

Madison MS:  18.6

Neely’s Bend MS:  26.2

Of note here, the ASD’s average gains are similar to MNPS overall — that is, the ASD is getting gains no better than would be expected of a district school.  And, Neely’s Bend is right at that average in growth. Madison falls slightly behind in this catetory.

The bottom line: The ASD performs no better than district schools overall. Even in the case of the model, Brick Church Prep, a statistical anomaly created by a growing student population (they are adding a grade each year) creates the perception of growth, but the reality is growth scores there are no more spectacular than typical MNPS schools. For the year before Brick Church Prep grew by adding students, Madison and Neely’s Bend were on par with its performance.

If taking schools over is also designed to result in improved performance, it seems the ASD model doesn’t meet this standard.

Data war aside, I found some other interesting notes in the existing reports about tonight’s meetings at both schools.

Chalkbeat reports:

ASD chief operating officer Elliot Smalley said that a desire to have parents dominate the discussion over which school will be taken over — rather than teachers, as has been the case in Memphis — caused ASD officials  to rebrand the meetings as “parent meetings” rather than “community meetings,” which is what they called the equivalent meetings in Memphis.

It seems the ASD isn’t interested in a broader community discussion or in hearing too much from teachers.

ASD’s Smalley went on to say that it wasn’t about how many people showed up, but about the substance of what they said, according to Chalkbeat:

it’s about the quality of feedback from parents, not the quantity. He said officials would be listening for what parents like about their current neighborhood school and want to maintain, and what they don’t like.

It’s not clear if Smalley or the ASD have crafted a rubric in order to evaluate the quality of individual and collective feedback provided at tonight’s meetings. Will points be deducted from speakers who are teachers at the schools, but not parents?

Finally, on why these two schools, instead of others in MNPS that are lower performing, the ASD’s Barbic notes:

The ASD had 15 schools to choose from in Nashville. Early on, Barbic made it clear that it would be a middle school and that LEAD would run it. He notes that the selection process is more involved than just evaluating test scores. For instance, Jere Baxter, which was an option, is only at half capacity. Barbic says LEAD didn’t think there were enough students to work with in the building.

“You just can’t run a full, robust middle school program if there aren’t enough kids in the building to be able to do that,” Barbic says. “And when a building is half empty, it’s tough to make the case to be able do that.”

Interesting that LEAD can’t run a full, robust middle school program at Jere Baxter but can run a full, robust high school program that just graduated 43 students.

Data wars and rhetoric aside, it seems clear the ASD will move forward after tonight’s meeting and take over one of these schools. Smalley admits as much:

Although Smalley said that parent feedback would be an important factor in the officials’ final decisions, he said that in the end, the fate of Madison and Neely’s Bend will be decided by ASD officials alone.

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

On Notice

In late October, LEAD Academy’s Middle School was put “on notice” for failing to meet academic expectations. In fact, despite being rated “satisfactory” in academic performance in 2012 and 2013, the school has been on a downward trajectory in terms of student achievement. This year, they landed on the “review” category at MNPS.

This is noteworthy because LEAD is on tap to possibly take over either Madison Middle or Neely’s Bend Middle depending on what the Achievement School District decides in meetings in Nashville this week.

While LEAD’s Brick Church installment does well in both student achievement and achievement growth as measured by TVAAS, LEAD Academy’s middle school does not show these results.

Here’s a portion of the letter from Carol Swann, Coordinator of Charter Schools at the MNPS Office of Innovation:

This letter serves as formal notice that the academic performance of LEAD Middle School is significantly below expectations. Although the three year average of Lead Middle is rated “Satisfactory” (white) on the APF, the 2014 status fell into the “Review” (yellow) category. WE would like to challenge you to significantly raise that status, as a school must have a three year in the “achieving” (light green) or “excelling” (dark green) categories to be recommended for simple renewal through a streamlined process at the end of their current ten (10) year contract.

LEAD’s contract expires in 2016.

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

 

ASD on the March in Nashville

Andrea Zelinski has the story on the plans for the Achievement School District to take over a middle school in Madison.

Whether it is Madison Middle or Neelys Bend will be announced on December 12. According to the story, the ASD will talk with district leaders, teachers, and parents in the community before making the final decision.

Amid rumors that Inglewood Elementary would be handed over to the ASD, parents there rallied opposition to a takeover.

In Memphis, parents and teachers are increasingly speaking out about the ASD takeovers.

A data analysis provided earlier this year at Bluff City Ed indicates the ASD is struggling to hit its targets or even out-perform district schools.

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

Is the Achievement School District the Right Solution?

In a week that saw a group of Nashville parents actively resist state takeover of their school by the Achievement School District (ASD), MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register suggested turning more Nashville schools over to the ASD.

MNPS responded to questions about this on social media by saying that MNPS schools were likely to be taken over anyway, so they might as well work with the state on the ASD takeover.

Interestingly, Ezra Howard has an analysis of ASD schools compared to Memphis iZone schools over at Bluff City Ed.

Howard has written about the ASD before, noting that when compared to the trajectory district schools were on before ASD takeover, the ASD schools are actually doing worse now.

The most recent analysis by Howard shows that by and large, district-led school turnarounds get better results than ASD efforts.

This may because district-led efforts are less disruptive — Howard has also written about education reform buzzword “disruption” and its disastrous effects on students.

In light of more and more data suggesting ASD efforts aren’t living up to their early hype (ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic once suggested that ASD schools need to make 8-10 point gains each year), it will be interesting to see if more parent resistance to ASD school takeovers emerges.

In the meantime, take a look at Howard’s work on ASD results.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, 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

 

 

 

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