Is Nashville Copying Denver?

TC Weber seems to think so. He outlines the Denver-Nashville connection in his latest post. According to his analysis, the move to a Community Superintendent model in MNPS is strikingly similar to what’s happening in Denver.

Here’s what he has to say:

Now here is where it gets even trickier. As part of its “Denver Plan,” DPS has set a goal of 80% of all students attending a high quality school by 2020. In order to do that within the next three years, they don’t have a lot of time to wait for schools to improve. So Denver employs an aggressive policy of closing schools and replacing them. Replacing means they keep the school buildings, but rehire all new staff and administrators, refocus the curriculum, and then open new schools. Since 2005, they have closed or replaced 48 schools and opened more than 70 new ones, the majority of them charter schools and right now, due to the Trump presidency and the new tone in Washington, charter chains are seeing an opportunity.

Think about some of Nashville’s chronically underachieving schools and then apply the Denver Plan to them. It’s important to remember as well that demographics play a role in performance. Attract the right kids and the school appears to perform better. With parents having a choice between schools in the enrollment zones or the community zones, competition will become even more heated than it is now. And it’s hard to predict who the “losers” will be.

Read more from TC about Nashville, Denver, charter schools, and distractions.

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


 

 

Rocketship Down?

A visit to the Rocketship Nashville Northeast Elementary revealed the school was not adequately serving English language learners, students with disabilities, and homeless students, according to a report on WSMV:

According to the Metro Schools letter, Rocketship is not providing services to children with special learning needs, like English language learners and students with disabilities.

The notice was sent from Metro Nashville Public School’s top administrators after a monitoring team with the Tennessee Department of Education came in to conduct a routine audit of special services, primarily programs adhering to The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The letter from MNPS notes a plan of improvement for Rocketship.

In response to the findings, Rocketship’s principal, Shaka Mitchell, cited test score results and then said:

We are proud of the results Rocketship achieved in its first few years but are always striving to improve. We appreciate and value the constructive input from our colleagues at MNPS and the state. We worked with the District as recently as yesterday and today, and continue to collaborate to resolve the technical issues noted in the most recent monitoring visit

rocketship image

Rocketship has faced difficulty with the state and MNPS in the past, as in two consecutive years it sought to expand its presence in Nashville only to be denied by both the MNPS school board and the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Here’s what the MNPS charter review team had to say last year when Rocketship appealed the board’s decision to deny expansion:

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.

As was noted in the WSMV story, the problems identified at Rocketship are not acceptable at any school, regardless of what kind of scores they are posting. Mitchell and his colleagues should work quickly to deliver on the promise of resolving these issues and striving for continuous improvement.

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


 

Charter School Smack Down

TC Weber attended last week’s National Charter School Convention in Nashville and offers this first report of what he saw and heard.

First, he wasn’t sure if he was at an education conference or WWE Smack Down:

Entering the main area for the morning speeches was like entering a high-end disco. The room was lit up like the set to WWE Smack Down, with two giant video monitors flanking the stage, loud music, and ever changing lighting. I half expected the Rock to bound on the stage and holler, “Can you smell what the Rock is cooking!?” The music selection that was being pumped loudly through the room induced a bit of a chuckle. “1999,” “Centerfield,” and “Life is a Highway” were among the tunes meant to pump up the crowd and convey a sense of being on the cusp of greatness.

After being pumped up, Weber notes that some speakers framed the charter movement as a sort of war:

Next up was journalist Roland Martin, who was also broadcasting from the convention. If I had any notions of this being a welcoming, feel good, we entertain all kinds of ideas type of convention, they went screaming out the window once Martin began speaking. He made it clear from the get go that we are in a war, and he had no time to be nice, no time to entertain alternate opinions because this was a fight. Martin issued a warning to any who opposed charter schools: “We will fight you until hell freezes over, and then we will fight you on the ice.” What made things even more disturbing was the thundering applause in response to his remarks.

Read more of TC’s take on the charter convention and stay tuned for further dispatches from his time there.

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

 

 

TREE Takes on Charter Expansion

As the State Board of Education considers overruling the MNPS School Board and possibly approving charter schools for Nashville originally denied at the local level, grassroots advocacy group TREE is calling on citizens to take action.

From the inbox:

Attention Nashville and Tennessee Education Advocates! We need you to write the Tennessee State Board of Education TODAY! Be a voice for local control. Metro Schools recently approved two of fourteen charter applications.  Among the ten who were denied were KIPP, Rocketship and The International Academy of Excellence.

The International Academy of Excellence filled out an incorrect form and should have not been considered at all but was for legal reasons. These three charter companies are asking the State Board of Education to overrule the Nashville school board and divert funds from the Metro Schools budget to pay for opening their six proposed charter schools.

If you would like to see the local school board retain the ability to decide how to spend local tax dollars, and what schools should operate in Nashville, you must speak up NOW. Public comments are being received until October 7. Please copy this email list into your email recipient box:
Fielding Rolston <frolston@ecu.org>
Mike Edwards <medwards@knoxvillechamber.com>
Allison Chancey <achancey@bradleyschools.org>
Lonnie Roberts <lroberts@trh.com>
Carolyn Pearre <cpearre@comcast.net>
Lillian Hartgrove <lhartgrove@cookevillechamber.com>

It is fine to be brief. A few points you might to make:

1. Note if you are a Nashville taxpayer and/or public school parent.
2. Nashville currently has 8,112 charter school seats and will open another 8,157 over the next few years, under current approved charter contracts, effectively doubling the amount of charter school seats without ever approving another charter.
3. There is no evidence of demand for more charters and in fact there are currently many empty seats in Nashville charter schools.
4. If the state board of education overrules the local school board, it will force our city to fund a privatized public school.  A school that can not be shut down by our locally elected board if problems arise.
5. Nashville must be free to put its schools budget to the best use to improve education for ALL students. Under the law MNPS must adhere to their contract with approved charters and fully fund them.  Whatever amount is left gets divvied up among the remaining schools in the district continuing the trend of systematic underfunding which means not meeting the needs of our schools.

Thank you for your time and quick attention. Your voice is needed TODAY!
TREE

For more on the charter debate in Nashville:

The True Cost of Charters

Mary Pierce on Closing Charters

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

 

Charters: An Expensive Proposition

That’s the argument advanced by MNPS School Board member Will Pinkston in a recent column in the Tennessean.

Pinkston uses an array of figures to make his case. He essentially reiterates research that suggests that charters typically perform on par with public schools and then notes they carry significant costs to the district. So, he says, we can either have unabated charter growth OR well-funded district schools, not both. If we choose the path of charters, it will mean closing traditional public schools.

Here are some highlights:

The push to dismantle public education in Nashville is running amok. Consider that in 2010, the entire state of Tennessee had just 20 charter schools. Later this year, in Nashville alone, 27 charter schools will operate at an annual cost of $75 million.

Even if the Nashville School board approves no new charter applications, more than 5,000 additional charter seats — costing $45 million a year — will come into existence by fall 2019 under current agreements. Yet charter operators still are seeking to create another 13 schools that would drain another $75 million a year from the school system.

To put it in perspective: This spring, MNPS is proposing to grow its annual operating budget from $790 million to $813 million — a $23 million increase. Not coincidentally, the budget plan contemplates about $23 million in additional cash outlays for charter schools.

In other words: Every dime of new revenue growth is going to charters, leaving little or nothing for traditional schools. The math is dizzying and troubling.

Pinkston makes a powerful argument: Nashville has to make a choice. More charters eating the growth of the MNPS budget, or a recommitment to supporting and improving the traditional public schools.

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

Report: Charter Schools an Expensive Proposition for MNPS

A report by a third-party group commissioned by the MNPS School Board finds that the rapid growth of charter schools in Nashville is having a negative financial impact on the district.

The report, prepared by MGT of America, notes:

“… it is clear that charter schools impose a cost on MNPS – both directly and indirectly.  It is also clear … that the loss of operating funds caused by the transfer of revenue cannot likely be made up through a reduction in capital or facility costs.  Therefore, approving future charter schools does potentially meet the “bar” described in  Tennessee Code Annotated 49-13-108(b) which encourages local boards of education to consider fiscal impact in determining whether new charter schools may be “contrary to the best interest of the pupils, school district or community.”  From this analysis, new charter schools will, with nearly 100 percent certainty, have a negative fiscal impact on MNPS:    

They will continue to cause the transfer of state and local per student funds without reducing operational costs. 

They will continue to increase direct and indirect costs. 

They will continue to negatively impact deferred maintenance at leased buildings. 

They may have an offsetting impact on capital costs, if they open in areas of need for increased capacity.

The report confirms what some have suspected: Continued growth of charter schools presents higher costs to the district than operating without such growth.”

That’s not to say that the report suggest MNPS should not approve future charter schools. The report makes recommendations for handling future growth of charter schools, including encouraging such growth in areas of the school system experiencing rapid student growth. The Board adopted just such a proposal earlier this year.

The recommendations for managing future growth include: Developing a process to identify and quantify indirect costs to MNPS, such as support services; establishing a separate fund to better account for direct and indirect costs; levying depreciation charges to charter operators leasing MNPS facilities; and identifying areas of the school district where charter school growth would help offset the need for MNPS capital growth and expenditures.

The study is likely to shape future discussions at the Board level about what direction future charter growth will take.

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

MNPS Committee Recommends Charter Transparency

The Governance Committee of the Metro Nashville School Board met on Saturday and made recommendations for policy changes that will result in more financial transparency for all schools, including publicly-funded, privately run charter schools.

The changes require that private funds used to support a school be disclosed and that complaints about charter school operating procedures be handled in the same way as complaints about traditional schools are handled.

Board members who supported the change suggest that the new policy would lead to more transparency system-wide.

Board member Amy Frogge noted that the policy will allow for fiscal transparency and prevent potential financial mishaps.

For more, read Joey Garrison’s full story here.