374 Charter Parents: Attacks Against Our Schools Must Stop

A Tennessean editorial by 374 Nashville parents demand that attacks on charter schools stop. The editorial, which was delivered as an open letter to Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and Board Chair Anna Shepherd, includes parents from 19 charter schools in Nashville.

The signees make their intent clear:

We are coming together to say that the attacks against our schools must stop.

Many parents in Nashville exercise school choice by moving into zones of high-performing schools or by entering the lottery and hoping for seats in choice schools. As parents of students attending public charter schools, we are no different. Our zoned schools were not able to meet the needs of our children, so we found schools that do. Yet we find ourselves and our schools on the receiving end of constant accusations and attacks.

In education, we know that we must meet the individual needs of our students. The same is true for parents. They want to pick a school that meets the needs of their child and family. That could be a zoned school, charter school, magnet school, or a private school. They know what’s best for their child. We shouldn’t fault anyone for that.

We must all come together to make our district better. That includes charter schools, magnet schools, and zoned schools. All are responsible for making collaboration key for our students. I’ve even seen collaboration between private schools and MNPS.

Division may gain you retweets, but it won’t help our students. Collaboration will.

In this age when too many elected officials delight in drawing divisions rather than doing the hard work of solving problems, we hope you will reject that path and instead come together to focus on the opportunities and challenges in all of our city’s public schools.

We urge you to cease these attacks on our schools and show the city of Nashville that you are a productive, student-centered board focused on making every MNPS school excellent.

Contrary to the picture some board members paint, we are intelligent, engaged, determined parents who want a better life for our children. All parents want what is best for their children, and we are no different. Our children are thriving. They are working hard and learning every day. They are encouraged at school to dream big, and they are receiving the education they need to reach those dreams.

While each of us has a story of why we chose our public charter school instead of our zoned school, we wish every Nashville school well and are thankful for the hard work of this board and the progress you have made over the past year. We ask that you continue that progress by focusing your positive energy on all of our city’s public schools instead of singling out a few.

These 374 parents are public school parents, and they are fed up with the attacks on the schools they decided to send their kids to. We spend too much time shaming parents for picking charter schools or private schools. Shouldn’t we be asking why these families are picking private and charter schools? Let’s find that answer, and then let’s move to make the changes that are needed.

I’ve heard from parents who transferred their student with learning differences to a private school to only get shamed from their friends. The same has been heard from a parent who found that a charter school served their student with learning differences better than their zoned school. As a special education teacher, I can’t fault any parents for picking what is best for their child.

Let’s listen to all public school parents, not just those from zoned and magnet schools.

You can read the editorial and all 374 signees here.

Update (5:50pm): School board member Will Pinkston has responded to the editorial:

Let’s see: 9,718 students in Nashville charter schools. Which means there are 9,344 parents who didn’t sign on to the big letter. Sad!

When hundreds of parents come to the school board with an issue, it shouldn’t be dismissed by a school board member in a Trump-like tweet. That’s not the leadership that our city deserves.

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


 

 

Facts Not Included

Steve Cavendish at the Scene offers some insight into the Tennessean’s recent dealings with MNPS board member Will Pinkston. Specifically, Cavendish notes that key facts seem to be optional in the paper’s reporting.

He writes:

That Sunday story by Jason Gonzales, which described Pinkston as a bully, interviewed a lot of critics. It quoted a former director of schools that Pinkston stopped from getting a contract extension, an innovation director who routinely fought with Pinkston and other board members and a paid political operative working for (Jackson) Miller.

And points out that the Tennessean also endorsed Pinkston, a fact not mentioned in the Gonzalez piece.

Of course, on the same day, the Tennessean did allow Pinkston to respond.

But, as Cavendish points out, it would have been a lot easier to just include the relevant facts in the first place.

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


 

Will Pinkston Creates A Hostile Workplace

The Tennessean is out today with an article about Will Pinkston’s abusive behavior to workers of MNPS. Here’s just a taste of what the article has laid out:

  • Alan Coverstone, former Director of Charter Schools said that Pinkston “threatened me saying I had better watch myself, and eventually saying that I had better barricade myself in the office because he would come up there and get me.”
  • Former Director of Schools Jesse Register received complaints from staff about calls, emails, and in person confrontations with Will Pinkston.
  • A handful of current or former employees of MNPS were too scared to go on the record for risk of retribution from Will Pinkston. One staff member said that Will Pinkston would throw you under the bus if he didn’t get his way.
  • After Jason Egly, a MNPS teacher at the time, got into an discussion on twitter, Egly’s principal and district officials approach him to talk about it after Pinkston reported him to the central office. Egly was afraid for his job.
  • Vesia Hawkins, the former board administrator for over six years, requested another assignment because of Will Pinkston. Pinkston continued to contact Hawkins through direct messages on Twitter after she left her board administrator role. Board Chair Sharon Gentry had to tell Pinkston:“Unless you have a business reason to contact her or any MNPS employee, your contact should be with the Director of Schools.” The night after that email from Gentry, Pinkston continued to contact Hawkins.

These are just the few brave people who spoke on the record about their experiences with Will Pinkston. I have heard from other teachers and staffers who are too afraid to speak out because they are afraid of losing their jobs. This isn’t bullying, this is abusive.

It’s not just bullying when Will Pinkston tells a staff member to barricade himself in an office because he is coming for him. That’s abusive.

It’s not just bullying when teachers are afraid of losing their job. That’s abusive.

It’s not just bullying when a staff member has to change jobs because of Will Pinkston. That’s abusive.

When elected officials in Nashville stand by Will Pinkston, they are enabling this abusive behavior. No one deserves this abuse.

We Need Long Term Planning for Charters

The Tennessean has an op-ed by Harry Allen, an executive with Avenue Bank and board president of Purpose Preparatory charter school. He calls for a long-term plan for the future of our district in regards to charters. I think we sometimes get lost in the details about being pro/anti charter and forget to plan for the long term.

Charter schools are here to stay in Nashville. Thousands of students are served in charter schools throughout Nashville, and if you think that all of them are magically going to disappear, you need to rethink that notion.

Mr. Allen starts out with a great opening sentence:

The most successful organizations adapt to the changing environment around them in order to overcome challenges and remain effective.

Mr. Allen goes on to discuss findings of a study that was recently released in partnership with the Tennessee Charter School Association.

The study’s key findings include:

Charter schools in 2013-14 academically outperformed district-managed schools and are funded at similar levels, which means charters yielded a higher return on investment for taxpayers and families.

Though MNPS today is a choice-based system, the MNPS infrastructure — buildings, services and associated cost structure — reflects the past for which it was designed, one with limited parental choice.

It recommends an updated system that accounts for a future that includes a mix of district- and charter-managed public schools.

The majority of district financial expenses are variable in the long term and should be adjusted to reflect anticipated shifts in enrollment.

(Yes, commenters, how dare the Tennessee Charter School Association commission a study about charter schools. I know, it’s crazy that an organization would research a topic that they work in. While I am on the topic of studies, let’s not accept with open arms the Comptroller study on the ASD while saying the Comptroller study on MNPS was conducted by biased individuals. Hint: the same people did both studies. They are both flawed or both acceptable.)

Anyways, Mr. Allen goes on to quote Dr. Register as his conclusion.

“It is clear that shifts in student enrollment will require adjustments to our budgets that can only be made over multiple years,” he (Register) recently said. “Planning for these adjustments requires a long-term and collaborative approach that is responsive to parent demand and student enrollment decisions. We should take the time and make the effort to formulate the long-range impact.”

Dr. Register is spot-on — it’s imperative that MNPS adjust to the changing times. All organizations, whether for-profit or nonprofits, must occasionally adjust their planning to remain competitive. In this case, our city’s future depends on it.

Check out the oped, and let’s do some meaningful work in this area. We can spend hours every week in a doomsday scenario, or we can spend hours every week trying to come to a solution that will help lead our district into a prosperous future.

I would rather help lead our district into a prosperous future.

Wouldn’t you?


 

Is Common Core Dead in Tennessee?

That seems to be the message Tennessee leaders are sending about the controversial Common Core State Standards.

After a legislative session which saw the House of Representatives strongly denounce Common Core and ultimately the entire General Assembly vote to delay the PARCC tests, Governor Haslam convened an Education Summit to “reset the conversation” around education policy in the state.

In Williamson County, Americans for Prosperity spent tens of thousands of dollars on School Board races to elect new members who oppose the Common Core State Standards.

Just this weekend, Scott Stroud of the Tennessean wrote:

If Common Core education standards come crashing to earth next year when the legislature reconvenes — and it looks as though they might — Gov. Bill Haslam will need to look no further than his campaign for re-election to figure out when he lost that fight.

Haslam appears now to be shifting to a conversation of why higher standards matter rather than advocating in favor of the Common Core.

And, Speaker Beth Harwell is joining him. In an interview with Chalkbeat, Harwell said:

I really think Tennessee is going to get to the point where they’ll just develop their own standards and try to make them some of the best standards in the nation.

So, it seems likely that Tennessee will shift away from Common Core. But will Tennessee policymakers use the Common Core as a guideline for new standards? And how will development of Tennessee’s own standards impact the already-issued RFP for tests aligned to the Common Core in math and reading? Will there be yet another delay in the use of assessments aligned to Tennessee standards? Will teachers be sent yet another set of standards to teach students? And how will these new standards be developed?

The shift away from the CCSS may be politically expedient, but it leaves many questions unanswered. It also presents an opportunity: To reset the conversation by involving teachers, parents, and communities in a discussion about what’s best for Tennessee.  That conversation was missing in the initial build-up to Common Core in Tennessee and it is likely among the reasons why the standards are facing challenging times now.

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