Charters on the March?

Charter schools have not gained much ground outside of Memphis and Nashville, but that doesn’t mean potential charter operators and the Tennessee Charter School Center aren’t trying. Just a few years ago, there was quite a fight over a proposed charter school in Cheatham County. That application was ultimately denied.

Yesterday, the Clarksville Rotary Club hosted charter school lobbyist Emily Lilley to talk about charter schools and the process of creating one.

Of course, Clarksville residents might not be too eager to “think outside the box” as their current public schools appear to be performing quite well.

Where else are charter proponents planning to expand?

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


 

Nashville RISE Enters School Board Fray

Nashville RISE, a political engagement project of Project Renaissance, has entered the MNPS School Board Race with an ad touting an upcoming candidate forum.

RISE says their vision is to:

We will build a network of empowered parents through training and leadership development, collaborating to influence and increase high quality in schools for children in all of Davidson County.

As advocates for effective instruction for all students, and in an effort to close the achievement gap, we will focus on giving cultural diversity importance in building parent-staff relationships. Recognizing that every student and family has different needs, we will strive to help schools to care for students and families holistically by bridging the connection with outside resources and programs for success.

The rhetoric around “high-quality” seats in Nashville schools echoes that of the Tennessee Charter School Center’s analysis of “quality seats” in MNPS. That analysis came under scrutiny from Board Member Amy Frogge.

Additionally, Nashville RISE previously listed (until earlier today) among its upcoming events a “Day of Action” with Stand for Children, an organization with a PAC that recently released a list of endorsements in the School Board races.

Here’s a screenshot of the Day of Action which is no longer included on the Nashville RISE or Project Renaissance pages:

IMG_0874.PNG (1)

Because of RISE’s non-profit status, it is not obligated to disclose its donors.

On its website, the organization pledges: “Let’s bring stronger educational options to the city of Nashville. Our children deserve it.”

The implication being that more options need to be brought in, rather than built-up from within the system. Coupled with the co-opting of the Charter Center language around quality seats, RISE appears to be advocating a rather specific solution.

Worth watching as RISE moves forward will be how it frames issues related to schools and the solutions, if any, it proposes to improve public education in Nashville.

Here’s the ad:


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

 

Silencing the Opposition

Joey Garrison has the story about some legislators who wish that local school boards didn’t hire lobbyists to represent their interests before the legislature.

To that end, they’ve filed legislation that would allow County Commissions to revise a School Board’s budget as it relates to lobbying expenses (HB 229/SB 2525).

Many school boards in the state are members of the Tennessee School Boards Association, which hires a lobbyist to represent the interests of school boards at the General Assembly. Additionally, some local boards hire contract firms and/or in-house government relations specialists to monitor state policy.

Of course, many County Commissioners are members of the Tennessee County Commissioners Organization, which employs a lobbyist to represent the interests of County Commissions at the General Assembly.  And many local government bodies also contract for or hire government relations specialists.

And of course, if local citizens don’t like how their School Board spends money, they can speak out at public meetings, talk to Board members directly, or even vote in new Board members.

None of this seems to matter to sponsors Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin and Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville.

This legislation would give County Commissions unprecedented authority over School Board budgets.  In districts that hire in-house lobbyists, the Commission would theoretically have staffing authority over that position.

In Tennessee, School Boards propose budgets and determine how funds are spent, County Commissions either fund all or part of the proposed budget.  But, Commissions have no authority over how school dollars are spent.  Their only recourse is to reject a budget and suggest amendments or improvements – which the School Board can adopt or not.

However, it seems likely that resistance to recent reform efforts by School Boards is at the root of this issue.  Recently, groups like TSBA and some prominent local School Boards have been vocally opposed to school vouchers, a state charter authorizer, and even portions of the state’s new teacher evaluation plan.

And, outside groups like StudentsFirst and the deceptively-named Tennessee Federation for Children have been spending significantly to push a pro-reform agenda.

From Garrison’s story:

Out-of-state organizations StudentsFirst and the Tennessee Federation for Children — both of which want a voucher system to let public dollars go toward private schooling — have ramped up lobbying again this fiscal yearafter spending some $235,000 to $455,000 in lobbying-related efforts the year before. The Tennessee Charter School Center is armed with eight lobbyists this session.

So it seems that rather than looking out for local taxpayers, Durham and Bell are looking out for outside special interest groups seeking to influence how local tax dollars are spent in Tennessee.

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

Amy Frogge on “High Quality” Seats

Yesterday, we linked to Andrea Zelinski’s story on the Tennessee Charter School Center’s analysis of “seat quality” in Metro Nashville Public schools. In the story, I noted 5 key takeaways, among them that the Center is calling for closing low-performing charter schools and that there does seem to be common ground possible in terms of moving toward expanding charter schools as growth dictates.  Both closing low performing charters and allowing expansion in a smart way offer a path forward from what has been a rather messy debate in recent years.

School Board member Amy Frogge has weighed-in on the “quality seat” discussion and offers this analysis on her campaign Facebook page:

The Great Hoax of the “High Quality Seat”:
We’ve been hearing this phrase a lot lately, but what does it actually mean? Those who use it are referring to standardized test scores. The higher the score, the higher the “quality” of the seat and therefore the school, according to these folks.
Here’s the problem. Looking at standardized test scores tells us only a little about a school. If anything,… test scores primarily reflect the types of students a school serves. Children in poverty, children who don’t speak English, and children with special needs struggle with standardized tests- for reasons entirely beyond their control. It’s not that these children are incapable of learning. It’s that they need extra support to succeed. All children hold immense promise, and standardized test scores often don’t reflect a child’s true capability. Tests are just a snapshot of what children can do in certain subject areas in a very specific format on one particular day (or a few days) of the school year.
Are we to assume that magnet schools have better “seats” because they serve children selected for their academic abilities? Are we to assume choice schools have better “seats,” even though the selection of these schools is made by parents engaged enough to know how to enter the lottery? (Research shows that children of engaged parents perform better in school.) Are we to assume that zoned schools that take any child who walks into the doors at any time during the year (no matter how great the child’s academic needs) have lesser quality “seats” because of the scores these children make?
In summary, then, the “quality” of a seat, according to the definition of those who prefer this phrase, has more to do with the child sitting in that seat (and the challenges that he or she faces) than the quality of instruction at a school. To presume otherwise assumes a level playing field, and in comparing schools, we are comparing children, not quality-checking mass-produced, assembly line items. Certainly, scores can help us judge how well a school performs, but it’s not the entire story. Anyone who fails to consider student population in determining the “quality” of a school just isn’t digging deep enough.
If the Charter School Center hoped to continue a conversation, they’ve certainly raised some points to ponder.  Frogge has engaged, addressing directly the “quality seat” issue without dismissing the call to close low performing schools or arguing that current limits on charter geography need to stay in place forever.
For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow us @TNEdReport

MNPS, Charter Schools, and “Quality Seats”

So the Tennessee Charter School Center has a new report out about the “quality” of seats in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Andrea Zelinski has a solid report on the report over at the Nashville Scene.

A couple of takeaways:

1) The Charter Center wants to open more charters than the recent MNPS resolution would seem to allow (not surprising, really).

2) Nearly 1/3 of all Charter seats are deemed “low quality” by the Center’s own report

3) The Center is advocating closing low quality charters — a step in the right direction

4) It seems reasonable that as other clusters become more crowded due to growth, the MNPS resolution should be expanded to include those clusters for future charters

5) In spite of constant battling between the Board and the Charter Center, there is some common ground:  Close low-performing charters (the center could help by taking the lead on recommending schools to be closed) and allow new charters in more clusters as growth dictates.

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