The Call For A Charter School Moratorium Lacks Transparency

On Tuesday, the Metro Nashville School Board will vote on a charter school moratorium. The policy proposal is being brought by Will Pinkston. As of Monday morning, language of the resolution has still not been publicly shared on the MNPS website.

Will Pinkston calls for transparency for charter schools, but he should also be held to that same transparency. It’s unacceptable that the meeting is tomorrow, and the citizens of Nashville still can’t access the policy that will be discussed.

Sources within MNPS tell me there is a draft floating around, but language is still not finalized. It seems like this policy is being snuck in at the last moment so that the citizens of Nashville cannot give specific feedback before the vote. That’s not right.

If this is what Nashville wants, why does this resolution have to held in the dark?

Because of the lack of transparency, the Metro Nashville School Board should postpone voting on this moratorium until the people of Nashville can read and respond to it.

While on the issue of a moratorium, it should be noted that having a moratorium will give the State Board of Education more power. I wrote the same thing when Pinkston last tried to change charter school policy:

We know that the Nashville school board disagrees with the state being able to authorize local charter schools. If they pass this policy change, they are giving more power the the State Board of Education to overturn charter appeals

The same is true with the moratorium. A moratorium will give the State Board a bigger hand in approving charter schools in Nashville. Nashville should continue to rigorously review and approve the charter schools that best meets the needs of MNPS.

A flat out moratorium on charter schools is not in the best interest of our Nashville schools or their students.

Update: As of 1:45pm, the resolution has been posted here.  

 

 

Elissa Kim Appointed to the State Board of Education

The State Board of Education got a new member today. Elissa Kim, the former Nashville School Board member, has been appointed to the State Board of Education as the 5th congressional district representative. Elissa Kim served one term on the Nashville school board.

Elissa Kim previously worked as the Executive Vice President of Recruitment at Teach for America, and she was a teacher in New Orleans before that. Kim replaces Carolyn Pearre, whose term expired this year after serving on the board since 2002.

Welcome aboard!

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


 

Is the MNPS Charter Proposal Illegal? This State Lawyer Says Yes

We learned this past week in a committee meeting that Nashville School Board Member Will Pinkston will ask for a policy change to require charter school proposals to list their location in their application. That would add difficulty to the proposal process because it would require a charter operator to secure a location before they even know if their application is approved by the district.

Many charter schools know the area they will open, but have not secured a location because it’s left to the will of an elected body to approve or deny their application. You can’t get financing to lease or buy a facility before your proposal has been approved.

According to a tweet by Nashville Scene reporter Amanda Haggard, Metro Legal said “if MNPS denies a charter based on not having location,  that (the) state could give them appeal if they chose to.”

School Board Member Sharon Gentry brought up the same fact in the committee meeting that this requirement could result in the State Board of Education overturning the denial decisions from the district.

The State Board of Education agrees, and says that it’s illegal to require charter applicants to have a specific location in their application.

The State Board of Education’s legal counsel, Elizabeth Taylor, said this past week during a State Board meeting that Tennessee law does not require a charter school to have a facility in place when they apply to open a charter school. The law, TCA 49-13-107, lists all the requirements that a charter application must contain, and a facility is not one of those requirements. “No, an exact brick and mortar address is not required at time of application,” Taylor added.

When asked if a local district denied a charter school application because they did not provide a location, would the state board uphold that?

“That would not be legally permissible as the only reason to deny an application,” said Sara Heyburn, the State Board of Education Executive Director.

The proposal brought forth by Will Pinston passed out of committee on a 5-3 vote. The five members voting to send the proposal out: Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, Jill Speering, Anna Shepherd, and Christiane Buggs.

With 5 members voting this proposal out of committee, there is a good chance that this legislation will pass and become school board policy.

If members vote for this policy change, they are voting for a policy that is possibly illegal and will end up having charter schools approved at the state level more often because of it.

We know that the Nashville school board disagrees with the state being able to authorize local charter schools. If they pass this policy change, they are giving more power the the State Board of Education to overturn charter appeals.

This policy proposal should be voted down.

One Google Search Could Have Helped the MNPS Chair

Anna Shepherd, the chairwoman of the Nashville school board, wrote an editorial in today’s Tennessean asking the State Board of Education to reject Rocketship’s appeal to the state.

I don’t want to discuss Rocketship in this post, but I do want to talk about her inaccuracies about the State Board of Education.

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-12-20-05-pmThe nine members of State Board of Education are appointed by the Governor, approved by the General Assembly, and serve five year terms. Each member represents their congressional district. Nashville is part of the 5th congressional district (Jim Cooper’s seat).

In the editorial, Shepherd says,

Gov. Bill Haslam appoints members to the state board. The only state board member who nominally represents Nashville is Wendy Tucker, co-CEO of Project Renaissance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the number of charter schools in Tennessee.

Except that’s not the case. Wendy Tucker represents the 7th congressional district (Marsha Blackburn’s seat), which does not include Davidson County or Metro Nashville Public Schools. She’s not Nashville’s representative on the board. It’s right there on the state’s website if you google it.

Shepherd goes on to say that no board members live in Nashville.

Hopefully, the appointed members of the state board — none of whom live in Nashville — will see through Rocketship’s ruse and uphold the judgment of the local elected school board.

Again, not the case. Carolyn Pearre, the Vice Chair of the State Board of Education who is currently serving her 14th year on board, lives in Nashville, TN (according to the Tennessee Education Association) and represents the 5th congressional district.

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-12-28-54-pm

Maybe it’s time for our school board to actually meet Nashville’s representative on the State Board. She’s only been there 14 years.

As chair of the Nashville school board, you need to know who actually represents you at the state level.

Blame the state board for a lot of things, but don’t blame them for not representing Nashville because you didn’t look it up.

Facts matter. Google helps.

Rocketship Claims MNPS Took Too Long To Act on Appeal and Schools Should Have Been Automatically Approved

Rocketship Tennessee is appealing to the State Board of Education to open a new charter school in Nashville after Metro Nashville Public Schools denied their application on appeal earlier this month in an 8-1 vote.

But in a letter to the State Board of Education, Rocketship Tennessee claims that Metro Nashville Public Schools took longer than the 30 day period to act on the appeal, which would mean the two schools should have been automatically approved. The Tennessee Public Charter School Act of 2002 clearly explains how the appeal works.

The local board of education shall have thirty (30) days either to deny or to approve the amended application. Should the local board of education fail to either approve or deny the amended application within thirty (30) days, the amended application shall be deemed approved.

Rocketship Tennessee claims they submitted their amended application on July 7th. Based on the 30 day rule, Rocketship Tennessee says the Metro Nashville School Board had until August 8th to deny or approve the appeal. The school board did not meet until August 10th, outside of the 30 day time limit, which Rocketship says should mean both of their applications should have been approved.

That is just a small portion of the appeal to the State Board of Education. Rocketship Tennessee currently has over 1,100 students in their two Nashville locations. Unlike most charter schools, Rocketship opened a full K-4 school at once instead of the grade by grade expansion that other charter schools do. Rocketship Tennessee has a waitlist of over 200 students for their Nashville schools.

With the lack of TNReady assessment data, Rocketship is providing their own normative assessment data to show that the school should be approved.


Our confidence in our Rocketeers’ continued growth is grounded in their performance on the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment, a nationally norm-referenced exam that evaluates both math and reading/language arts proficiency. On MAP last year, 63% of our students moved up one or more quartiles (or remained in the top quartile). Our first-year Rocketeers in Nashville grew 1.5 years in math and 1.4 years in reading.

This is powerful proof that our personalized learning model is meeting the unique needs of each and every student. By meeting students where they are academically, we are putting them on the gap-closing path.

This is the second time that Rocketship Tennessee has appealed to the State Board of Education, with the original appeal being rejected in October 2015.

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


 

Ready to Pay

This week, the Murfreesboro City School Board discussed the possibility of refusing to administer Phase II of the TNReady test.

Board members cited frustration with the rollout of TNReady and the subsequent lost instructional time. Additionally, some members noted this year’s TNReady challenges have caused increased stress for teachers and students.

All of this prompted speculation about what would happen if an entire district refused to administer the state-mandated test.

Here’s the short answer: Money. The district would be “fined” by having a portion of its BEP allocation withheld as allowed in state law.

In response to a question on this issue, the Tennessee Department of Education issued the following statement:

Under both state law and State Board of Education rules, the commissioner of education is charged with ensuring compliance with all education laws and rules. T.C.A. 49-3-353 authorizes the commissioner to withhold a portion or all of the Tennessee BEP funds that a school system is otherwise eligible to receive to enforce education laws and State Board of Education rules.

In addition, the State Board states that the department shall impose sanctions on school systems, which may include withholding part or all of state school funding to the non-approved system.

An entire school system refusing to participate in state mandated testing would be a major violation of state law and rule, and the school system could be considered a non-approved system subject to sanctions, including the loss of state funding.

The department has a responsibility to ensure that all students are on track to be college and career ready, which it monitors in part through annual assessments. We take that responsibility seriously and expect districts and schools to do the same. We want to work with all our school systems, including Murfreesboro City, as we continue to administer and improve our state assessments and ultimately ensure that all our students are receiving a high-quality education. The department has been working with Dr. Gilbert and the district on this issue and will continue conversations with her team as we work toward this goal.

It Means Lost Money

So, while not specifying the level of impact, the DOE is making clear that the violation would be “major” and that funds would be withheld. A recent example of the DOE using its authority to withhold funds can be found in the “Great Hearts Controversy” in Nashville. When MNPS failed to authorize a charter school the State Board found should have been authorized, Commissioner Kevin Huffman fined the district $3.4 million.

For now, no action has been taken by Murfreesboro City Schools or any other district in terms of refusing to administer TNReady.

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

 

An Interview with Allison Chancey

Allison Chancey is the 3rd District Representative on the Tennessee State Board of Education (SBE). She is the only member on the state board who also is a classroom teacher. Mrs. Chancey is a 2nd grade teacher in Bradley County, and is a member of Professional Educators of Tennessee. This article originally appeared in TREND (http://www.trendtn.com), a publication of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

LEADERS IN EDUCATION: ALLISON CHANCEY
Q: On behalf of our members, we thank you for taking time to share with our educators today. Tennessee’s SBOE develops policy and regulation on a wide variety of education topics. How does that work?

A: The State Board of Education meets at least four times a year. Often, we meet more than that as the need arises. We have a well-qualified staff that works hard and presents us with research they have done on current policies and educational topics on our agenda. Their findings are sent to us a week or two before each meeting for us to study and review. Before each board meeting we have a workshop where given items are discussed and questioned as needed. We are very fortunate to have the hardworking staff that we have. The nine board members bring different fields of experience that gives us a broad spectrum of educational needs. As a teacher, I get to present how things are from the front lines of the classroom.

Q: You are currently the only member of the state board of education that has actual classroom teaching experience – how has that experience helped you on the state board?

A: I believe our vice chair, Ms. Carolyn Pearre, at one time was also a classroom teacher. Currently I am the only board member to be teaching in the classroom. As a classroom teacher, I am able to tell how policies and regulations are affecting not only the teachers, but the administrations, students and parents. There are times when an item looks great on paper, although in reality it isn’t in the best interest to those directly involved. An example would be having TVASS scores tie in with teacher licenses. While in theory this looks great, in reality it is not fair to any teacher. I also know how our new standards are affecting our students as well as the parents involved. I basically am able to report firsthand how decisions we make are affecting the classroom.

Q: We made quite a few changes in public education in Tennessee the last decade. Some needed. Some debatable. What are we doing right?

A: We are raising standards and doing a better job of preparing students to be college and career ready. Job expectations are at an all time high, and it is our responsibility to prepare Tennessee students to meet the challenges facing them after high school. Tennessee education is meeting this challenge through the hard work of students, teachers, administrators, and parents. We have done this by adopting higher academic standards, holding teachers more accountable, and requiring students to meet academic gains. I am proud to be a part of the Tennessee team that is raising the bar and showing the nation that Tennessee students are second to none.

Q: In your opinion, what is the top 3 challenges still facing education in Tennessee?

A: The top three challenges still facing education in Tennessee? This is hard to narrow down. I could write a research paper on this! To narrow it down to three I would say time, money, and teacher morale. 1) Time. With all the wonderful updates going on in today’s education, a teacher is finding himself/herself working longer hours than ever to teach in the most effective manner possible. You will find teachers at school early, late in the evenings, and even on the weekends. Those not there you will find working crazy hours at home. We do this because we love our kids. But this has taken away from personal and family time. I don’t believe the average person has any idea how much time most teachers put into their jobs. Also, there is not a moment to spare while the students are with us in the classroom. To get the standards taught takes every second of every day for instruction. This means that time that use to be used to develop relationships with students is often lost
because of the ridged schedule. 2) Money. There never seems to be enough! How does this affect education? You find teachers that are trying to teach 21st century standards in a classroom built in the 1950’s. Technology is a key for student learning, but often is not funded adequately. Teachers who are working harder than ever may not see a pay increase for years. Schools need updating and replacing. 3) Teacher morale. As teachers, we love our jobs. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t. But we are seeing more and more students that are coming from broken homes, poverty, and abuse. They come to school hungry, tired, and worried. These children desperately need us to be not only their teachers, but someone they can trust and look up to. These kids are held at the same standard as the ones that come from nurturing homes, where parents meet their emotional and physical needs. Trying to teach these kids, worrying about test scores, evaluations, and new material creates much stress.
There is little to no support given in many cases.

Q: What are the steps the state and local districts need to take to address the challenges you identified? And what impact will that have on classroom teachers?

A: What steps need to be taken? Funding education should be the goal of every American. Our children are the future. Every city and district should make every effort to fund education as much as needed. That being said, we need to use the money wisely and be accountable for money spent. As far as time goes, districts need to recognize how hard their teachers are working. No one expects overtime pay, but a thank you could go a long way. Perhaps helping hands to aid the teacher, such as volunteers. 3. Teacher morale. Just to be respected and appreciated would go a long way. Teachers need encouragement just like everyone else. Again, a thank you could go a long way. It should also be addressed that teachers are not the only one responsible for educating a child. Parents need to be responsible in getting their children to school on time, being sure they are fed and have the adequate tools for learning, and backing a teacher up with discipline and homework assignments. The goal is
to work together for the betterment of the child.

Q: Any final thoughts you would like to share with your fellow educators across Tennessee?

A: Final thoughts? Tennessee is a great state to be in as an educator. To continue with our success, we need to work hard and never give up. Never compromise. We need to put students first and have them ready to face the challenges that await them after graduation. As the wise Alex Haley once said, “Find the good and praise it.” There is much good going on in Tennessee currently. I am proud to be a part of it.

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

Fielding Punts

State Board of Education Chair Fielding Rolston wrote last week about Tennessee’s social studies standards in light of a “controversy” ginned up by the ACLJ and latched onto by state legislators like state Representative Andy Holt and state Senator Dolores Gresham.

What’s the problem? It seems teachers across Tennessee are indoctrinating their students with Islam.

Not really, of course. And Rolston goes into some detail about the Tennessee social studies standards, the process for creating them, and the upcoming review of those standards. The review process invites feedback from any citizen and includes Tennessee educators.

Then, he punts:

Local districts determine the curriculum and instruction, adapting what classroom instruction looks like for the students and teachers.

There are no State Board of Education requirements regarding the length of time to be devoted to any topic or guidelines on how that topic is taught in the classroom. 

It is always a local decision how long a particular topic is covered in the classroom and the textbooks and curriculum employed.

These statements, while accurately describing the process, also left a door open, and the ACLJ walked right through.

Now, local school boards are responding to broad, expensive to fulfill open records requests. Legal responses will be required.

Rolston suggests that while the state’s standards should be rigorous, a local district can spend less time on topics that may be the subject of the controversy of the day.

Tennessee’s social studies teachers might have appreciated a more vigorous defense.

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

Who is Sara Heyburn?

Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed has an interview with the former teacher who is now the Executive Director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

One note that struck me in the interview was her expressed desire to hear more from teachers in the policy making process. Here’s what she had to say:

“We need to hear from teachers who are interested in policy making. Continue to persevere and look for those opportunities and find ways to make your voices heard.”

She also speaks to the strengths of existing policy outlets, and advises teachers to take part in them.

“The outlets we have now in our state are great. There are lots of opportunities for teachers to get involved.” However, she also emphasizes that teachers aren’t seeing what they want, they should work to create additional opportunities.

I absolutely agree that policymakers should look to teachers for guidance and insight on education policy decisions. Heyburn’s words sound like a welcome invitation for teachers to offer their perspective as policy is being made.

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