TC Talks Chattanooga

Nashville-based education blogger TC Weber takes some time to explain a bit more about what’s happening with Chattanooga and the state’s Achievement School District in a recent post.

Here’s how he explains what’s happening since the threat of an ASD expansion team in Hamilton County became more real:

Let’s take a quick trip down to Chattanooga where last night a historic vote took place. The Hamilton County School Board voted 7 -2 to continue the conversation about creating a partnership zone with the Tennessee Department of Education. In case you are not familiar with the Partnership Zone plan, it’s the latest quick fix scheme developed by the TNDOE because people have started to catch on to the dumpster fire that is the Achievement School District. Under the Partnership Zone plan, both the county and the state would work together to improve underperforming schools in the district.

The plan calls for the a creation of an appointed board that would oversee the Partner Zone. This creates a bit of a conundrum. Under current law, schools governing boards can only be elected entities. So this would require a change in legislation. A change that could open a virtual pandora’s box because what’s to stop other districts from switching to an all appointed board, a hybrid, or turn control over to the mayor or other appointed officials?

The term partner is a little bit of a misnomer. The state is making it perfectly clear who wears the pants in this relationship right from the out set. The HCS Board was told that they could choose not to pursue the “Partnership Zone” but if they didn’t State Superintendent Candice McQueen would take all 5 of the priority schools plus two more schools and dump them in the Achievement District. If this is in fact a threat she was prepared to follow through with, it’s a little troubling and a clear sign that she’s willing to play politics with kids. The ASD is an unmitigated failure that should be ended this legislative session not used a stick to ensure district compliance.

As Weber points out, McQueen is using the threat of aggressive state action (takeovers, fines) to attempt to get her way lately. So far, that has not resulted in yielding in Nashville or Memphis. It will be interesting to see how the Partnership Zone plays out in Chattanooga.

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


 

New Franchise

I’ve written before about the state’s Achievement School District eyeing Chattanooga for an expansion of it’s reach.

Now, it seems the speculation is nearing an end and Chattanooga will see some form of state intervention. Will it be the major league of the ASD? What seems more likely is a minor league effort, a “partnership zone.”

More from Chalkbeat on how that might work:

In a partnership zone, clusters of schools are essentially turned into mini-school districts that are freed from many local rules and governed jointly by local and state officials. Local leaders get to experiment the same way that charter schools can, but they continue to have a say in how their schools are run. State officials get to push for needed improvements, but they aren’t solely responsible for strong results — something that has proven elusive so far for them.

The partnership zone idea originated in Springfield, Massachusetts, where an “Empowerment Zone” is finishing its second year. There, educators and community leaders who might oppose school takeovers — or be displaced by them — have embraced the zone, which has nine schools and is set to grow. As a result, people there say, changes in schools are gaining traction.

This would mark a change in approach from the ASD’s top-down, low communication, high confrontation efforts in Memphis and Nashville. I’ve previously noted that the ASD is being reined-in after years of an aggressive approach that won the district plenty of enemies while failing to generate measurable results.

Time will tell if the state’s new approach and developmental league effort will be more well-received and/or more successful than the ASD.

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


 

Chattanooga in Talks for Expansion Team

The state’s fourth-largest school district will soon be in talks to become the next location of an expansion franchise in the school takeover league known as the Achievement School District (ASD). With 33 schools under its control, the ASD is considered the major league in the school takeover world.

Laura Faith Kebede reports on this development at Chalkbeat:

Leaders of the Achievement School District will begin talks with district and community leaders in Hamilton County in the coming months, according to Robert S. White, the ASD’s chief of external affairs.

The development comes despite a lack of current data due to the failure of this year’s administration of TNReady.

League leaders say a lack of data won’t slow them down as they aggressively pursue expansion in 2018 and beyond:

The ASD’s next steps have been made more challenging by the lack of test score data across Tennessee due the state’s late-spring cancellation of most of its TNReady tests. But after the hiatus year, White said he expects the state-run district to continue to take control of priority schools, even as the state rolls out a new assessment by a new test maker this coming year.

“You won’t see that two years in a row,” he said of the takeover hiatus.

The league also didn’t rule out an expansion in Nashville, where a contentious battle in 2014 resulted in Neely’s Bend Middle School “winning” ASD franchise status.

Despite an initial plan focused on stellar turnarounds of struggling schools, the ASD has a reputation for taking low-performing schools, handing them over to charter-operator general managers, and watching as the results are rarely better than under previous management teams.

The Memphis franchise(s) have been plagued with unrest from “fans” expecting the league to live up to its promises.

In fact, one local group has asked the league to stop looking to Memphis for new expansion teams. Due to what it considers market saturation, that’s a request the league is likely to honor in the short term.

Meanwhile, Chattanooga awaits word regarding which eligible school(s) could get the call from the school takeover major league.

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


 

Money Talks

Funny how a little thing like a BEP lawsuit asking for more than $600 million can cause Governor Haslam to propose adding a little more money to the education pot.

Yes, seven Tennessee school districts are suing over the inadequacy of the state’s education funding. And, just one week after the suit was filed, Governor Haslam suddenly “found” some $30 million to invest in funding an additional month of teacher health insurance. The state currently pays 45% of 10 months of teacher insurance, but teachers are insured for a full 12 months.

The districts are suing based on numbers provided by the BEP Review Committee, the state group tasked with annually reviewing the BEP formula and making recommendations for improvements.

The idea is that the BEP Review Committee will highlight issues that need attention and help the state avoid additional funding lawsuits.

The reality is that the BEP Review Committee reports go ignored by the legislature and most Governors until a lawsuit is filed. Twice since the original “Small Schools” suit that initially brought about the BEP the state has been sued over funding equity. Twice, the state has lost those equity lawsuits.

Governor Haslam’s administration has said that education funding is now a priority — but that wasn’t the case last year and he didn’t seem to be making any real moves this year until a lawsuit was filed.

Only seven districts are party to the current suit while others continue to debate joining in.

In Metro Nashville, some on the Board have openly suggested a more collaborative approach. I would suggest that after giving Bill Haslam four years to get serious about school funding, the time for collaboration is over. Haslam has created a duplicative BEP Task Force that has the stated goal of rearranging the slices of a pie that’s too small.

When asked about the latest threat of a suit before it became a reality, Haslam said he was committed to doing “something” about school funding, but he just didn’t know what yet.

This $30 million is a tiny olive branch, but far from a serious move toward funding schools properly. And, with legislators like House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick saying Tennessee’s schools are currently properly funded, it’s unclear how much support truly improving the funding situation will have. In fact, at today’s legislative hearing on school vouchers, McCormick took a swipe at school boards, suggesting they should focus on educating kids instead of filing lawsuits.

I would also note that for those on the MNPS Board who want to collaborate with Haslam that he has been supportive of voucher schemes that will devastate public schools, especially MNPS. Haslam’s support of dangerous voucher schemes and lack of any serious effort to improve school funding combined with his legislative leaders taking verbal swipes at school boards means he’s deserving of a serious confrontation — not a collaborative spirit.

You don’t wait around for someone who has never shown an interest in making an effort to see if they suddenly will do something good. You don’t take the coin they toss in the way of some insurance money as evidence they are finally serious about giving you what you deserve.

The bottom line is this: The BEP is broken. 

Bill Haslam has made no meaningful effort to fix it. Until a lawsuit was filed, his administration wasn’t even willing to admit there was a problem with funding for teacher insurance.

Tennessee school districts, teachers, and parents should start working together to insist that the legislature and the Governor develop serious, long-term funding solutions for our state’s schools. If the BEP problem is not fixed by legislative action, the legislature and Governor may be forced to fix it by the courts. It’s long past time for the serious work of making the BEP work for all of Tennessee.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, 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