Epic Recruiting

An Oklahoma virtual charter school used shady (though legal) tactics to recruit teachers … and there’s more. The Enid News & Eagle reports:

Davis never signed up with Epic for any emails, and he had never given them his home address. Turns out, Epic had acquired his contact information, and that of thousands of other certified public school teachers across the state, through different means.

On April 5, Epic spokeswoman Shelly Hickman sent an open records request to the Oklahoma State Department of Education asking for physical addresses of every person certified to teach in the state of Oklahoma. 

Why might this matter to Tennessee? Because Governor Bill Lee was successful in securing passage of legislation creating an independent state charter authorizer. It’s the type of body that could enable groups like Epic to engage in the same sort of aggressive recruiting tactics. Additionally, current lawsuits in Tennessee seem likely to end up forcing Nashville and Memphis to turn over student data to charter operators.

Here’s more about Epic:

Last week Oklahoma Watch published a story in which “at least seven former teachers” claimed Epic administrators had been “allowing, encouraging or pressuring” teachers to withdraw poor-performing students in order to boost employee bonus pay. The school, in a response written by two former journalists who’ve been hired by Epic to teach journalism, denied the allegations. Oklahoma Watch executive editor David Fritze published a note on Monday saying the organization stands by its reporting.


Some students were allegedly enrolled at Epic and various private schools simultaneously, something that could violate the law as public funds cannot be used to aid private schools. Epic receives tens of millions of dollars each year in state funds. It is operated by Epic Youth Services, a for-profit that collects a 10 percent cut of the school’s revenues each year.

Here you have a virtual charter school set up as a non-profit and being used as a conduit to funnel state dollars to a private entity. This scenario should be cause for concern for Tennessee policymakers and school boards alike.

The bottom line: Entities like Epic not only carry significant cost to local districts, but they also work to turn public money into private profits.

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Kelsey, White Named Co-Conspirators in Lee’s Assault on Local School Boards

It should come as no surprise that Governor Bill Lee is pursuing an aggressive agenda of school privatization complete with a fast-growing voucher program, additional money for charter schools, and a way for charter operators to bypass the accountability of local school boards. Now, however, it seems Lee has enlisted co-conspirators from the school district likely to be most negatively impacted by his agenda.

Senator Brian Kelsey and Rep. Mark White have agreed to carry Lee’s legislation creating a state charter authorizer. It’s a bill some critics are calling the worst charter legislation in the nation.

The Daily Memphian has more:

State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican, and State Rep. Mark White, a Memphis Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, are carrying Senate Bill 796 and House Bill 940, one of the signature pieces of Gov. Bill Lee’s K-12 education initiative.

White didn’t want to use the word “bypass” but acknowledged the legislation would remove the step for charter applicants to go to the Tennessee Board of Education if turned down by local boards.

“But basically, yeah, you would come to the state without going through that process,” White said.

The change is significant because current law requires a charter operator to first apply to the local board of education to determine if the proposed charter is a good fit for the district. The case of Rocketship in Nashville is a good example:

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.

If Governor Lee’s proposal is successful, schools like Rocketship will now be able to circumvent local input altogether. In this case, MNPS identified key problems with Rocketship and decided an expansion was not in the best interests of the students of the district.

It’s not yet clear whether there is broad support for circumventing local school boards. The legislation did pass a hurdle today, clearing a House subcommittee and moving forward in the process.

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Is Disruption the Answer for Education Policy?

Ezra Howard over at Bluff City Ed has some thoughts on whether disruption ought to be the goal of education reformers.  In short, the answer is no.  But, here are some more of Howard’s thoughts from his recent article:

Disruption Commodifies Children:

Disruption is a term largely borrowed from economics and market theory. I personally don’t like applying market theory to education. It lends itself to the commodification of children, perceiving communities as markets, and turning families into consumers. In short, it dehumanizes the very personal and communal experience of teaching and learning. As a result, when disruption is applied to education it often has a very different and negative effect on students and communities than that seen in free market business.

Disruption Has Been Problematic in Tennessee:

At the local level we’ve seen several cases of disruption run amok here in Tennessee, the most prominent example being the disastrous results of virtual charters run by K12 Inc.,a for-profit out-of-state company. And this isn’t limited to virtual schools; it’s starting to happen in brick-and-mortar schools, most notably with the California-based Rocketship Education. Rocketship advertises the blended learning model of instruction proposed by Horn. Rocketship rotates students between computer-based lessons monitored by non-certified instructors and direct instruction led by certified teachers at a 30+ student-to-teacher ratio. While arguing their approach is cost effective, the charter company has come under fire in Nashville for its questionable business practices and its test scores, which since its decision to expand have dropped . It is also experiencing a steady decline in achievement that is directly correlated with its expansion, from 80.5% proficiency in ELA to 51.0% and 91.3% proficiency in Math to 76.7%.

An Alternative to Disruption

I argue for an alternative business model to disruption, known as sustaining innovation. It’s used predominantly to discuss the strategies of established enterprises seeking to remain current by evolving their services and products. Emphasizing sustainability, local school districts can provide innovative approaches to instruction that are intentional, results-oriented, and research-based. Local school districts should expand upon initiatives proven to increase not only students’ long-term achievement but also their quality of life. Some examples are Pre-K, instruction in the arts, early and persistent instruction on foreign languages, and participation in after-school programs and extra-curricular activities


Howard’s arguments are sound — when we experiment on kids, and the experiment fails, kids don’t get those years of school or life back.  When we disrupt a community by altering or eliminating its school, we forever change the face of that community.

And, the solutions proposed are sensible — sustaining (and sustainable) innovation make sense for schools.  Thinking of education policy in the long-term — 10 to 20 years — makes sense.  Focused, incremental results over time better serve communities than short-term gains that are not sustainable.  Or, worse, short-term experiments that fail, leaving kids and communities behind.

For all of Howard’s thoughts on disruption, read here.


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