#BacktoMNPS Problems

The first day back to school is always an exciting time! But for MNPS, there are some problems lingering over it.


MNPS announced late last week that Overton High School would start two days late because construction was not completed at the school. News came out today that Overton may push back the first day again. I was at Overton late this summer, and there were literally no exterior walls on parts of the building. A plan of action should have been put into place earlier. On July 26th, someone tweeted school board member Will Pinkston about the delays at Overton. He responded, “Don’t like it, call the charters.”

Lead in the water

Friday news dumps are used to avoid the media. MNPS used a Friday news dump to let the city know about the results of the lead testing. As one would expect, there was lead found in numerous buildings across the district. Here’s part of the report:

With results in for 138 buildings, 119 buildings had no lead levels above the public drinking water standard.  Of the more than 4,000 samples taken during the past three weeks, only 38 showed lead levels above the standard of public water systems (15 parts per billion) – that is just less than one percent of the total tested. All 38 of those sample locations, which are in 19 schools, have been disconnected and taken out of service until repairs can be made and water retested.

Hunters Lane

A family filed suit last week alleging Hunters Lane violated Title IX. From The Tennessean:

According to the lawsuit, the girl was “subjected to unwelcome sexual contact by a male student” April 17 in an unlocked classroom while another student recorded it on video.

“This practice was so widespread within the Defendant’s school system that the students nicknamed the activity ‘exposing’ the individual involved,” the lawsuit says. The videos prompt ridicule as they are circulated around the school and internet, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says when the school learned of the video, it violated Title IX by suspending the 15-year-old girl and doled out no discipline intended to stop the spread of the video. The two other students involved were also suspended, according to the lawsuit.

Teacher Shortage

It’s a yearly problem felt across the country. WKRN reports that MNPS is short 140 teachers. Most of shortages are for math and special education. We need our leadership, both central office and school board, to focus on ways to retain our teachers.

Metro Schools says it has about an 80 percent retention rate. That means in a school district with about 6,000 teachers, about 1,200 teachers leave each year. Half of those teachers leave after only a year or two of teaching.

LEAD Public Schools released the news that their CEO, Chris Reynolds, was resigning days before the start of the new school year. Without missing a beat, Will Pinkston wrote an open letter attacking the school and paid for it to be advertised on Facebook. In his letter, Pinkston wrote,  “I am writing to demand a detail explanation of the reasons behind Reynold’s departure.”

Parent and blogger TC Weber had the perfect response detailing the scores of people that have left MNPS in just the past few weeks. According to Pinkston, the loss of MNPS staff is nonsense.

I agree with TC.  Let’s spend the necessary time and effort to make our school system better before we go off attacking others.

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


Pinkston: Charter Industry Unraveling

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston argues in today’s Tennessean that Nashville’s charter school industry is unraveling.

To make his case, he cites a federal class action lawsuit against RePublic charter schools, a state finding that Rocketship isn’t following the law when it comes to serving students with disabilities and English language learners, and a significant financial deficit at LEAD Public Schools.

Of Rocketship, Pinkston notes:

Despite failing to serve its current students, Rocketship routinely makes end-runs around the local school board to seek state approval of more charters. That’s because Rocketship’s growth isn’t driven by what’s best for kids but rather by its real-estate deals with Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund, a for-profit investment fund co-managed by tennis star Andre Agassi.

Taken together, Pinkston says, the problems faced by these three charter operators show an industry not living up to its hype.

Add to that the expense of charters, and Pinkston says we should exercise caution. He previously noted based on the findings of an audit of MNPS:

Briefly: The new audit acknowledges that unabated growth of charter schools does, in fact, have a fiscal impact on existing MNPS schools. The operative language in the audit relative to charter fiscal impact can be found on Page 3-16, which states: “The key question for determining fiscal impacts is whether enrollment reductions allow a district to achieve expenditure reductions commensurate with revenue reductions. Fixed costs are incurred regardless of whether students attend traditional or charter schools. The problem is that some fixed costs, such as building maintenance, computer network infrastructure, and health services do not vary based on enrollment. Therefore, teachers and their salaries are a key cost driver tied to student enrollment … However, it is not always possible to reduce teacher costs proportionate to losses in revenue. For these costs to be reduced significantly, the school would need to close altogether.”

While some call it a distraction, the charter debate is alive and well in MNPS.

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


Cameron: From Lowest Performing to Reward School

Chris Reynolds, the CEO of LEAD Public Schools, is out with an editorial in the Tennessean. The editorial discusses how Cameron has been transformed from the lowest preforming school in the state with declining enrollment to a reward school for growth and a 20% growth in enrollment.

Cameron was a Black high school in Nashville during segregation and graduated many of the Black leaders in Nashville. Thanks to the amazing partnership with MNPS, the Cameron facility just held it’s first graduation in 40 years! Every person in the graduating class was accepted to a four year college. That’s a great way to continue the legacy of Cameron.

Here’s a small portion of the editorial:

In just five years, Cameron has been transformed, and we have learned a great deal about what it takes to engineer such a successful turnaround. We have learned that our vision of success for all students works. Cameron serves a high number of students with special needs, extraordinarily high numbers of English language learners, and accepts all students at all times of the year, just like any other school does. No one is turned away, yet our expectations remain high. Cameron (like three other LEAD campuses) has now become a top 5 percent Reward School for growth. In addition, the transformation has brought nearly 20 percent more enrollment back to the neighborhood school, reducing the number of students who had once been opting out for other schools.

Our families are thrilled that Cameron has been restored as the reliable educational asset it once was, and we are honored to be able to serve our community in this way. Our teachers and staff have done truly special work that is a lighthouse for what the future can hold for all students. We have learned that partnership is not always easy, but is the best path to sustained success. We have also learned a great deal about what students and families in the most vulnerable of circumstances face and how to support them.

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

A Look at Charter Attrition Rates

After WSMV and The City Paper ran stories on charter schools losing “struggling students” to zoned schools in time for TCAP exams, outrage has ensued among parents and charter advocates. While some parents are upset that charter students are being sent back into the school system weeks before the TCAP exam, some charter advocates believe MNPS mislead the news station because “their own scores must not be that hot this year,” “data was skewed & manipulated,” and that MNPS does not care about individual students.

After I read the WSMV article, I emailed MNPS to ask for the same information they gave the WSMV reporter. I received seven documents from the communications office including attrition rates for MNPS and some individual school reports of attrition 9 weeks before the TCAP. Though, after my first communication with the schools, I was told that MNPS and the principal from KIPP Academy met and the school system sent me an updated attrition document that was changed after their meeting. The numbers were a little different, but the top attrition schools were still the same.


The first chart shows charter schools leading the way in attrition. As others have noted, if you have a smaller set of students, your percentage is higher than larger schools if a few students leave.

But, as you can see from the chart, there are a lot of people leaving all schools, zoned schools included. For Smithson Head Middle, out of an 11th day enrollment of 324, 89 students left while they have taken on 8 students throughout the year. The number of 81 for attrition equates to a -25% attrition rate. They now only enroll 243 students.

For Boys Prep, they had a smaller 11th day enrollment of 100 students. The school lost 39 students, or 39% of their student body this year. They took on 16 students for an attrition of 23 students and a -23% attrition rate. They now only enroll 77 children.

When looking at KIPP Academy, a well known charter, nationally, for it’s high standards and performance, they had an 11th day enrollment of 337. We see that 64 left while 13 came to the school during that time.

KippWDWhile looking at the school specifically, you can see that 20 students left KIPP Academy nine weeks leading up to TCAP. All but one of those 20 students that left had been suspended multiple times. Eight of those 20 are considered “special needs disability” students.





LEAD Academy lost 20 students in the nine weeks leading up to TCAP. Fourteen of those students had been suspended during the year.









Drexel had 33 students leave within the nine week period, which means that over half of the exits took place within a 9 week period.





While more charter schools are on the way, we should be looking at attrition both in charter and in zoned schools. We need to keep more kids from changing schools. As many zoned schools see a large number of students leave their schools, I believe charter schools and zoned schools are different for one main reason: Charter students are not randomly chosen. While families zoned for schools aren’t technically randomly selected for their schools, it’s the best way to describe it. For charters, you have to go out of your way to attend the schools. Parents have to agree to longer schools day, to read to their kids, or other agreements along those lines. For zoned schools, it’s the exact opposite. The parents do nothing and the kids are sent to the school they are zoned to. So while many people are leaving zoned schools, it looks strange to see that parents would go out of their way to enroll their children in a new program to only move to a different school at a later time.


I wanted to show the numbers from my high school for two reasons. One, because there are many people coming and going from zoned schools, as I said earlier. Two, to show people that I attended a school with a graduation rate of 66.9% and a dropout rate of 19.6% the year I graduated. I hear continued arguments that those families who may come from nicer areas of Nashville should not have a point of view on this topic because they go to nicer schools. First, all families should be able to voice their opinions without getting attacked for where they live. I went to a school where over half of the students are considered “Economically Disadvantaged” and hallways were lined with gangs. Does that mean my opinion matters more than those who went to (fill in the school that you always site as being better than others)? No, they don’t.

When more people, both with children in the school system and not, care about our education system, it will get better. That is everyone’s goal here. We want the education of Nashville’s children to be better, some just want to get there a different way. The goal is still the same. But when people start attacking others based on where they live or where they went to school, you are undermining your whole argument. You want to give all students a chance to learn and succeed, but you won’t give all parents a right to express their ideas.

Let’s continue to talk about issues that are facing our education system. Let’s continue to meet and talk with people whose idea’s are different. Let’s continue to exchange ideas between us. Let’s continue to improve our children’s education. But let’s not continue the harsh tones and attacks that we all are doing. The only way to fix our education system is working together.

While I have written a post that may seem “anti charter,” (hint: it’s not) it doesn’t not mean I won’t work with charter schools to see what they are doing better than zoned schools. We can all question what zoned schools are doing or what charter schools are doing. The only thing we can do to help our education system is to be involved.

Here are a few organizations you can check out to get involved in your local education system.

State Collaborative on Reforming Education

TEA Teachers – Tennessee Education Association

Professional Educators of Tennessee

Tennessee Charter Schools Association