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


 

#BacktoMNPS Problems

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

Overton

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.


 

Weber, Hawkins, & Rogen Take On The Charter Debate

I wanted to highlight three good blog posts about charter schools that came out this weekend from those for and against charter schools.

This weekend the Tennessean posted an article about how two charter schools acquired bonds from the Nashville government to help fund the cost of renovating or building new schools. Seeing how MNPS does not give money for charter facilities, charter schools have to find ways to fund remodels, expansions, etc. As the Tennessean previously reported, the city of Nashville is spending millions for renovations and land for new buildings for traditional MNPS schools.

  • $46 million for the renovation of Hillsboro High School, the second part of an $86 million makeover
  • $10.2 million for land acquisition for Hillwood High School’s relocation to Bellevue
  • $9 million for land acquisition for a new school of the arts

Charter schools don’t have the luxury of the Mayor funding new buildings for them, and many traditional schools have to wait years and years to get renovated or a new school. Two charter schools used perfectly legal measures to gain bonds from the city of Nashville, and that made some anti-charter elected officials upset because they didn’t know it took place.

This was just another attack on charter schools that blogger Vesia Hawkins calls the “Summertime Strategy.”

The grand plan to dismantle charter schools is becoming more clear, particularly with the partnership with certain reporters, asinine accusations resulting from “intense scrutiny” of lease agreements (somehow there’s time for this), and let’s not forget the targeted personal attacks on certain charter school leaders—so far, only on those of color. See my recent post about Shaka Mitchell (who, as of last week, is no longer with Rocketship), Ravi Gupta, and John Little.

I mean, Rocketship attacks have been on repeat for a year now, so no surprises there, but Purpose Prep? Purpose Prep, the elementary school that intentionally seeks out students from the North Nashville area and operates with the expectation that every child will be eligible for Martin Luther King, Jr. magnet high school and, ultimately, the college of their choice. Purpose Prep, a school in its third year of existence with a student population comprised of 98% students of color, 74% economically disadvantaged and nearly every child is reading at or above grade level. So, what’s the problem here? (Shout out to Lagra Newman and her team!)

TC Weber, who is no fan of charter schools, wants to know how this latest attack solves the problem of families flocking to charters:

My position on charter schools is well documented. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of public education as a cornerstone of our democracy. But, I am baffled by people who can recognize the futility of the drug wars and its basis in attacks on the suppliers who fail to see the paralles playing out in the fight for public education. Repeatedly attacking suppliers while ignoring why there is demand is a strategy that has demonstrably failed to achieve success in the drug war and offers a preview of what to expect if we employ the same strategy in the fight against charter school proliferation. If we don’t address demand, parents will continue to search out alternatives regardless of how had we try and paint that alternative.

Earlier in the year, several hundred Antioch HS students staged a walkout over conditions in their school. An action that was never oppenly addressed by the school board.

Last week I recieved documentation that shows over 60 teachers have left Antioch HS this year and that the Principal non-renewed 10 more. I’m told that they have roughly 115 teachers total. After the student walkout Dr. Joseph held a restorative justice circle with the teachers. They told him that if he didn’t do something about the principal he was going to lose a lot of teachers. Joseph’s reported response was that the principals was not going anywhere and the teachers could either get on the bus or get run over by the bus. Antioch HS is not the only school in the district facing huge teacher turnover – Sylvan Park, Warner, Overton, Joelton, to name a few. I ask you, which story, charter school building finance or high teacher turnover,  do you think has greater impact on student outcomes?  Which story has the ability to affect charter growth? If I’m a parent in a school with that kind of teacher turnover and my only choice is enrolling in a school that appears more stable but uses dubious means to fund its capital investments, where do you think I’m going?

We need to be asking why parents are heading to charter schools and make changes so that parents don’t want to leave their zoned school. Teacher and blogger Josh Rogen addresses this very issue in his latest blog post. Josh does a great job graphing numbers to show a clear picture of why some families decide to leave a traditional school. He breaks down the achievement of schools based on the percentage of students of color in the school.

The answer is clear. If you are a Black, Hispanic, or Native American parent, and your zoned option is predominantly Black, Hispanic, or Native American, your best option is to send your child to a charter school if you value their overall growth, excellence, and the culture of the building they are being educated in.

In fact, if you are sending your child to a school with 80%+ Black, Hispanic, or Native American, you can basically throw a dart at any charter school in Nashville and be confident that you are doing much better than your zoned option. (That bottom one is Smithson Craighead, which is getting shut down. Closing bad schools…an interesting idea.)

On the other hand, middle-class white people are not touched by charter schools, and so they don’t support them. I will say that it is awfully easy to hate charter schools when you have a good zoned option. It’s a lot harder to oppose them when your child is locked into a failing school because of their zip code. A little empathy might change the conversation.

Josh hits on something about middle class people who are not touched by charter schools. I recently ran across a comment that TC Weber wrote that said,

It’s really easy to fight for public education when your kids are not the ones sitting in the seats at our poorest schools. I’d love to look around and see all these education warrior’s children’s sitting in seats next to my kids and perhaps then we could get equity.

I also saw a comment someone made that said it was a “disgusting insult to the teachers, students, and parents in the system” when someone was disparaging MNPS. If that is what some people think, the same should be true for charter school. There are students, teachers, and families that have decided to work and/or send their kids to a charter school. The conversation has now turned into one where one cannot speak ill of MNPS and one cannot speak good things about charter schools. We need to have these conversations about both of them in a more collaborative way.

Instead of spending time attacking charter schools, we should be working to improve our district so that families don’t feel the need to leave their zoned school. 374 parents sent a letter to the school board about these attacks, but the board never responded to those concerns. The silence shows that the board doesn’t want a dialogue with charter school parents. If we want to improve our district, we must communicate with all parents.

So let’s come together and figure out why parents are leaving for charters. I don’t know if it’s already been done, but each parent should fill out a short exit interview when they withdraw their student for a charter. Let’s start focus groups with these parents. Let’s do more to find the concerns, fix the concerns, and see what happens. We already know what some concerns are: literacy rates, ACT scores, and behavior. 

Let’s spend more time listening and collaborating instead of attacking. As a teacher, I want success for all students. All students includes students who attend private, home, magnet, charter, or traditional public school.

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


 

 

Fitzhugh Wins Wild Poll

TC Weber posted an early poll over at his Dad Gone Wild blog on the 2018 Tennessee Governor’s race and Craig Fitzhugh — the Democratic Leader in the House, won handily.

Here’s how Weber reported it:

Next year is an election year for governor in Tennessee and since obviously the governor has a lot of influence on the state’s education policy, I though we’d do an early straw poll. This one wasn’t that surprising. Democrat Craig Fitzhugh was the winner, claiming 42% of the responses. Fitzhugh is my personal choice and one of the things that I find most appealing about him is the fact that no matter who you talk to, Republican or Democrat, they refer to him as someone who would be good for everyone. The runner up was Republican and former state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd with 26% of the vote. I don’t know to much about Mr. Boyd but by all accounts he’s a centrist in the mold of current governor Bill Haslam. Democrat and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Republican and Franklin businessman Bill Lee were up next tied in a virtual dead heat.

Two points worth noting: Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville wasn’t in the top three and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean finished third. Both are significant in my view because TC writes primarily about issues in Nashville’s schools or that directly impact Nashville. His audience is heavily Nashville-based. But, the former Nashville Mayor finished third and the Speaker of the House from Nashville wasn’t in the top three.

Fitzhugh has not made a formal announcement, but observers expect that’s coming. He took the time to speak to the recent TEA convention and his legislative work on education is likely to be a key element of his campaign platform.

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


 

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


 

 

TC Weber has a Poll

It’s Friday, and that means another TC Weber poll.

This week, TC is asking about vouchers, teacher challenges, and how open MNPS is to teacher/parent involvement.

Take a minute and check it out and vote — TC promises to write up something interesting.

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


 

 

Are Ideology & Double Standards Harming Nashville Schools?

Is ideology holding us back from improving education in Nashville? TC Weber thinks so. In his latest post, Weber lays out his argument that we in Nashville quickly rush to our fighting corners (Charters vs No Charters) before we even really delve into an issue. We saw this take place during our last school board election in Nashville. I’m going to break down some of his thoughts with some of my own. 

People quickly fell into one camp or the other with defenders making the argument that nothing worse could befall our school district than to be taken over by private interests, while the privateers made the argument that the status quo had to go. Much to my chagrin, I must admit that I quickly grabbed a uniform and joined a team. And for that, I owe an apology to Jane Grimes-Meneely, Miranda Christy, Jackson Miller, and Thom Druffel.

Now I’m not saying that I would have voted for them nor campaigned for them. I still have a lot of disagreements with them on issues and take exception to a lot of strategies they employed during the election. What I am saying is that I quickly grabbed onto a dogma and stopped listening. Charter schools are bad, and they supported charter schools; therefore, they are bad. I’ve since learned the hard way that the world is a much more complex and nuanced place than that, and while we are busy building the wall at the front door, the wolf can slip in the back door.

Weber goes on to discuss the problems that he sees are facing our district right now, including policy governance, transparency, and double standards. But he comes back to the point that we must all come to: We must understand why parents want to go to a charter school.

I myself have been guilty of talking past charter supporters. Interesting enough, while I’m not an overly religious person, it’s been my experience that whenever I say I would never do something, the Lord puts me in a situation that helps me understand why I just might. This school year has been such an experience. The lack of transparency and the failure of the  district to provide equitable resources has led me consider alternatives. At this point, I can say I understand why parents consider charter schools.

I think anyone who is a part of this debate knows that many of us do not sit around and discuss ideas with someone from the other side. We have all set up a hostile environment, but even those who have not set a hostile environment join in by just picking a side in the debate. The hostile environment takes place inside schools, on twitter, or at events around town.

I’ve been yelled at in hallways of my school by a teacher, I’ve had teachers tell other teachers not to talk to me, and myself and others have felt silenced in our schools because of our views. That must stop.

Having people step up to make it stop will be the hardest part. It’s hard to break the cycle that we have found ourselves in. Think of how amazing our system would be if we actually collaborated with everyone. I think it would be wonderful.

That is how ideology blinds us and hurts us. Instead of making decisions based on the merits of individual arguments, we make them based on an alignment with ideology. How many board members voted for Dr. Joseph because he wasn’t a charter person? How many failed to question his actions because they were afraid of it opening the door for charter proponents? How many would publicly protest if his actions this year were committed by the head of a charter school?

Weber says something that will get a lot of charter school fans excited (bet you didn’t think you would hear that phrase). The double standard between if a charter school did something or if a district school did the same thing is staggering. There are many times a charter school may get dragged in the mud when a district school does the same thing. Before I started teaching, I remember hearing complaints that charter schools made their students walk silently in a line around the building. I started teaching in MNPS and guess what? We all get students in a line and walk them around school quietly.

I heard that charter schools kick out misbehaving students. I then worked at school that was able to do that same thing at the end of the school year because it was a choice school.

When I mentioned that tidbit years ago on twitter, an anti-charter school board member called for an investigation on that claim and said that it must be stopped. MNPS came back and said that students can be revoked from certain schools. The reply back to that member said, “This is also done at other schools such as East, Hume Fogg, MLK, Meigs, and Lockeland and several other MNPS schools.  Any school that has an option out of zone student at their school who does not follow rules can be ‘revoked’.” They cited a school board policy, which is voted on and approved by the school board, that allows the practice. I never heard that issue brought up in publicly after that. 

If we really want to stop charter school proliferation shouldn’t we follow the leads of Dr. Mike Looney and former Maplewood principal and current director of pupil services for Maury County Ron Woodard, both who say you don’t have to worry about charter schools if you make your school the most attractive option. The only ideology they subscribe to is to make better schools and the same should be true for all of us.. Yet we still fight the same arguments over and over and MNPS becomes less and less responsive to stakeholders.

I just want what is best for students and families in Nashville. That means that I am fine with students attending zoned, magnet, charter, or private schools.

You can read Weber’s full post here.

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


 

 

Red Flags Rising

MNPS parent and blogger TC Weber has written several pieces about new Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph. His latest compares Dr. Joseph’s start to that of former MNPS Director of Schools Pedro Garcia. It’s an interesting approach and well-researched. No matter your thoughts on TC’s conclusions, the parallels are worth considering.

Here’s how he starts:

It has been an interesting couple of months here in Nashville. Back in July, we got a brand new Director of Schools, Dr. Shawn Joseph. Everybody broke their arms clapping themselves on the back because it appeared we had a found a good old fashioned champion of public education for a superintendent. While in some ways that may be true, it appears that we may have gotten something else. The jury is still out on exactly what kind of director we’ve hired, but it’s safe to say that a number of red flags have arisen.

Over the last several months, I’ve written several posts outlining these red flags that have arisen since Dr. Joseph was hired.

Read more to see the issues TC identifies as potential red flags.

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


 

Diane Ravitch Calls for the Termination of Shawn Joseph’s Contract. Do others agree?

Diane Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education and education historian, believes that the Nashville School Board should terminate the contract of Dr. Shawn Joseph just three months into his tenure.

If you need a refresher, Diane Ravitch is an anti-reformer who teaches at New York University. Although never being a K-12 teacher herself, she is a hero to many teachers around the country because of her anti-testing, anti-accountably, and anti-charter school stances.

She regularly blogs about the happenings in Nashville. In the latest blog post, she uses a post from Nashville blogger T.C. Weber, who has been featured on this blog, as proof to call for the termination of Dr. Joseph’s contract:

If the elected board can’t straighten out this mess and revise Dr. Joseph’s contract to assure that he works for the board–the board does not work for him–then it’s time to cut their losses and terminate his contract. Don’t accept excuses for his wasteful spending, his ill-advised hires, his importing of the same aides involved in the scandal in Prince George’s County. If he won’t comply, say goodbye. It’s imperative to admit it when you have made a mistake. Cut your losses sooner rather than later.

Diane Ravitch is close allies of Nashville school board members and many anti-reformers in Nashville. School Board Members Amy Frogge and Will Pinkston have regularly posted articles from Ravitch and have been featured on Ravitch’s national blog. Frogge has previously said that Ravitch “simply speakscreen-shot-2016-10-08-at-12-29-49-pms the truth.”

Here is Amy Frogge with Ravitch at an event in Nashville in 2014 that was put on by TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence—TC Weber is recording secretary of TREE), an anti-school reform organization. TREE has also put on other events where Pinkston and Frogge have attended.

It’s time we ask Pinkston & Frogge if they agree with Ravitch’s call for Joseph’s contract termination. We need to know.

Another education blogger who has been featured on this blog, Mary Holden, commented that she believes that “the board needs to admit its mistake and make it right. Now. Before it’s too late.”

While Weber doesn’t think Joseph’s contract should be terminated, he does believe other staff members should be fired because their “hirings are morally wrong.”

Do others believe that Joseph should be terminated? Vesia Hawkins, education blogger and former school board administer, believes this is just the start. On Twitter, she says, “The witch hunt to our Nashville’s first African American director of school after only 3 months on the job has gone national.”

Hawkins goes on to remind everyone that Nashville came together to hire Joseph. “The city identified the man they wanted in a director. Remember the committee? What about the community meetings? The many welcome mats?”

Those welcome mats are long gone.

I think it’s time to ask our school board members and education leaders if they think Joseph and his staff should be fired three months in. Are these the opinions of extreme bloggers or are these the represented opinions of the anti-reform crowd in Nashville? We need to know.

Three months in, are people already starting to work against our Director of Schools? This has happened before…I hope it’s not happening again.

I knew this day would come, but I didn’t think it would be so soon into Joseph’s contract when the calls for firing would start up. Nashville came together to hire an amazing new leader, so let’s give him time to show us what he can do.

But there is another person who “liked” the Diane Ravitch blog post calling for the termination of Joseph…Dr. Jay Steele. Maybe he is hoping for a second chance to become Director of Schools.

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


 

TC Weber Shares His Anger

Blogger TC Weber has some anger to share and raises some interesting and valid points about public school advocacy in his latest post.

Here are a couple highlights:

We all seem to be willing to work harder when there is a boogeyman to face. Charter schools make for a convenient boogeyman in the same way that the cartels do for the war on drugs – now before everybody loses their mind, know that I am not equating charter schools to drug cartels in any way but in their use as scapegoats. There wouldn’t be cartels in the illegal drug trade if there were no demand, and the same goes for charter schools in that there wouldn’t be charter schools if the demand wasn’t there. I do have to ask, though, what if the boogeyman is really us and our inability to provide equitable educational opportunities for all children? Case in point: have we expended as much energy in improving our schools as we have in fighting against their takeovers? Can we look at parents who are considering sending their children to a charter school and honestly say we’ve done everything to make the public option better? It is time to get beyond this single hot-button issue and focus on the inequities that exist in our schools.

Later, he adds:

It is vital that as we fight off corporate attacks on our public schools that we are not just focusing on the supply, but have an equally diligent focus on the demand. We need to make sure that we are not falling into the trap of rewarding perks to adults while children are asked to make sacrifices. We need to ensure that we are applying every possible resource to directly impact the educational opportunities for our children

Weber has done his homework, analyzing current MNPS spending trends and highlighting some disturbing inequities. Read more about why he’s so angry.

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