400 Attend Nashville Rise Forum

DSC_0264After controversy and boycotts, the Nashville Rise forum was held Thursday night with an estimated crowd of over 400. There were parents, families, teachers, administrators, and elected officials in the crowd. The crowd included many non-native speakers who were receiving live translation directly to the headphones they were wearing.

In all, four candidates did not attend. Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, and Jill Speering boycotted the forum. Janette Carter, who is running against Sharon Gentry, was ill and was not able to make it.

Those who attended included: Sharon Gentry, Jane Grimes Meneely, Christiane Buggs, Miranda Christy, Corey Gathings, Erica Lanier, Jackson Miller, and Thom Druffel.

The questions for the candidates mainly came from parent members of Nashville Rise. While there are around 100 parent leaders in Nashville Rise, a few were selected to ask questions of the candidates.

“Tonight was important to inform the community on where candidates stand on issues,” said DeMica Robinson, a parent of Nashville Rise who also asked questions of the candidates. “There was also a consensus that change needs to happen now and that makes me hopeful.”

The questions asked during the forum were about traditional and charter schools collaborating, how we can best serve schools with a high ELL population, student based budgeting, retaining teachers, and closing the achievement gap. The questions allowed all the candidates to give their vision for the school board, something that would have been nice to hear from the three candidates that boycotted.

Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, and Jill Speering refused to speak to 400 community members who care about the future of Nashville’s education. The stage would have been theirs to describe why they disagree with the other candidates and state where they see the future of Nashville’s education going under their watch.

Last night, many spoke to the future of respectful collaboration with Dr. Joseph and all members of the school board. This was an incredible opportunity for all candidates to participate in a positive, collaborative exchange.

Instead, there were empty chairs with their names on it.

Nashville Rise Fights Back

Wendy Tucker of Project Renaissance, which oversees Nashville Rise, is in the Tennessean disputing the lies made from a handful of school board members. Wendy Tucker does a great job at laying down the facts around Nashville Rise and Project Renaissance.

Like I have previously written about, Tucker first discusses that one of Will Pinkston’s demands was a list of schools that the parents of Nashville Rise send their kids.

We sincerely hope Mr. Pinkston is interested in the needs of all children in his district and across Nashville, not just of those who attend schools he condones.

She then delves into the fighting back the lies that have been spread.

Hasn’t Project Renaissance/Nashville Rise hidden their funding from everyone? Not true.

When reporters asked for our Schedule of Contributors, we provided it immediately. When The Tennessean asked for our tax return, we provided that immediately as well.

Isn’t Project Renaissance funded by the Eli Broad Foundation? Not true.

Mr. Pinkston and school board member Amy Frogge have attacked the Eli Broad Foundation and continue to insist that they are funding our work. We have never requested or received funding from the Broad Foundation.

What about the allegations Project Renaissance recruited Amy Frogge’s opponent? Not true.

We have also been accused of political activity, including a claim by Ms. Frogge on her public Facebook page that we recruited her opponent. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Project Renaissance has not engaged in any political activity, including recruiting candidates or participating in political campaigns, and our organization is not endorsing or advancing the cause of any candidates in this or any election.

Doesn’t Project Renaissance support vouchers and employ lobbyists? Not true.

We are not supporting vouchers. We do not employ a lobbyist and do not engage in any lobbying at the state legislature.

Sitting school board members are to blame for this false spread of information. It’s sad that our elected officials would rather spread lies than discuss education with Nashville’s parents.

Public officials should be mindful of the irreparable harm that false accusations cause. While lively debate is a reality in the education arena, defamation takes things too far.

Wendy Tucker again extends the invitation to the forum to Pinkston, Frogge, and Jill Speering.

Are these school board members too afraid to talk to a group of diverse parents? It looks that way so far.

 

Cameron: From Lowest Performing to Reward School

Chris Reynolds, the CEO of LEAD Public Schools, is out with an editorial in the Tennessean. The editorial discusses how Cameron has been transformed from the lowest preforming school in the state with declining enrollment to a reward school for growth and a 20% growth in enrollment.

Cameron was a Black high school in Nashville during segregation and graduated many of the Black leaders in Nashville. Thanks to the amazing partnership with MNPS, the Cameron facility just held it’s first graduation in 40 years! Every person in the graduating class was accepted to a four year college. That’s a great way to continue the legacy of Cameron.

Here’s a small portion of the editorial:

In just five years, Cameron has been transformed, and we have learned a great deal about what it takes to engineer such a successful turnaround. We have learned that our vision of success for all students works. Cameron serves a high number of students with special needs, extraordinarily high numbers of English language learners, and accepts all students at all times of the year, just like any other school does. No one is turned away, yet our expectations remain high. Cameron (like three other LEAD campuses) has now become a top 5 percent Reward School for growth. In addition, the transformation has brought nearly 20 percent more enrollment back to the neighborhood school, reducing the number of students who had once been opting out for other schools.

Our families are thrilled that Cameron has been restored as the reliable educational asset it once was, and we are honored to be able to serve our community in this way. Our teachers and staff have done truly special work that is a lighthouse for what the future can hold for all students. We have learned that partnership is not always easy, but is the best path to sustained success. We have also learned a great deal about what students and families in the most vulnerable of circumstances face and how to support them.

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

The Slippery Slope of the Nashville Rise Pullout

This morning, School Board Member Amy Frogge released a statement about Project Renaissance/Nashville Rise on her Facebook page in response to a video that was released by Phil Williams that reveals the funding behind the organizations. Phil Williams reports the Scarlett Foundation as a major funder for Project Renaissance.

Amy Frogge states in her Facebook post, “… we do know that the group is funded in part by the Scarlett Foundation, a pro-charter/voucher group that is tied to the Beacon Center and the American Legislative Exchange Council.”

Additionally, Amy Frogge, without any evidence whatsoever, threw out another baseless allegation that her opponent, Thom Druffel, was recruited by Project Renaissance.

First, Project Renaissance/Nashville Rise is a 501 c3 organization. By definition, they cannot contribute money on any election activities. They are only focusing on parent engagement, including hosting forums to get parents engaged. As a matter of fact, it was the parents of Nashville Rise that voted to do the forum, not Project Renaissance.

Amy Frogge, Will Pinkston, and Jill Speering are not attending this event. Don’t let Amy Frogge’s post make you think it was this Phil Williams report that caused them to drop out. These decisions were already made before this piece was released.

The Investigation

In fact, we see that this “investigation” by Phil Williams came at the request of Will Pinkston, to whom Phil Williams only referred to as “an unnamed board member” in his piece. Emails obtained by Tennessee Education Report show Will Pinkston added 13 members of the press to his emails with Nashville Rise on June 9th.

Before Pinkston decided to attend the event, he wanted Nashville Rise to answer a variety of questions, including, “Of those parents who are part of the coalition, how many are residents of my School Board District 7 and what schools do their children attend?”

I find it strange that Will Pinkston wants to know the specific schools parents send their children to. He is a representative of all District 7, not just parents who send their children to schools he approves of. Does Will Pinkston treat parents differently if they send their students to JT Moore, Valor, or Harpeth Hall? If so, he does not deserve to be an elected official.

When reached by Tennessee Education Report, Nashville Rise released the following statement:

“On May 10th, we invited all school board candidates on the August 2016 ballot to participate in a city-wide, parent-led forum. Our hope was to have all candidates in attendance, so that parents could engage with them and make informed decisions about the race. We gave candidates a deadline for notifying us of participation. That deadline was June 13th at noon. Prior to the deadline, every candidate with the exception of Will Pinkston had responded. Jill Speering, who initially RSVPd that she planned to participate, notified us prior to the deadline that she would now be out of town. Amy Frogge declined our invitation. All other candidates, with the exception of Mr. Pinkston, plan to participate.”

Slippery Slope

If school board candidates start down the path of not attending events because of the organization’s funding, they will not be able to attend any events by the organizations listed below.

In the same 990 that shows that the Scarlett Foundation gave $250,000 to Project Renaissance, it also shows that they gave to many other organizations including Metro Nashville Public Schools, Conexion Americas, Communities in Schools, and United Way for the Read to Succeed program.

That means Will Pinkston couldn’t hold another campaign kickoff event at Conexion Americas, Amy Frogge couldn’t attend an event about wrap around services through Communities in Schools, and Jill Speering couldn’t attend a Read to Succeed event.

Are these school board members ready to go down this slippery slope? Should people boycott all of these nonprofits? Pinkston himself has touted the incredible work of Conexion Americas, and rightfully so. Frogge has been one of the largest advocates of Communities in Schools, and rightfully so.

Will Pinkston says that these organizations below should “return the dirty money.” Is that really what we want? I hope not because returning money will hurt the students of Nashville.

As someone who has put together a mayoral forum in the past, the goal is to get a moderator who is a member of the press in order to maintain impartiality. That’s what Nashville Rise has done. In good faith, they got David Plazas to moderate. Plazas has experience moderating many forums in Nashville, including a few mayoral forums last year.

Scarlett Foundation Funders

While the Scarlett Foundation gives to plenty of charter schools, they also give to a wide variety of nonprofits in Nashville that are making a huge difference in the lives of students in Nashville.

Here are some organizations that have received funding:

Almost 70 students have received tuition scholarships from the Scarlett Foundation
Metro Nashville Public Schools – $222,566 – Support program
Conexion Americas -$100,000 – Support of Parents as Partners Programs in MNPS
Oasis Center – $150,000 – Support for Nashville College Connection
Big Brothers Big Sisters – $50,000 – Support Programs
United Way of Middle Tennessee – $312,450 – Purchase Read to Succeed Program
United Way of Middle Tennessee – $35,000 – Books for Imagination Library
Book’em – $30,000 – Purchase new books for reading is fundamental programs
Backfield in Motion – $35,000 – Support for educational supplies for tutoring program for boys ages 10-18
Girl Scouts – $15,000 – Support of college access and college tutor program
Homework Hotline – $29,250 – Cost of middle school tutoring
Junior Achievement – $30,000 – Support “company program”
Martha O’Bryan Center – $80,000 – Thrive – Top Floor Zone
Nashville Adult Literacy Council – $50,000 – Support drop-in learning center to help adults learn to read
Pencil Foundation – $6,000 – Expansion of the reading partners program
Preston Taylor Ministries – $10,000 – Support afters chool program
Communities in Schools – $50,000 – Support for site directors at MNPS schools
Nashville Public Library Foundation – $53,043 – Support full time reading specialist
American Education Assistance Foundation – $125,000 – Support for Tennessee Promise Scholarship

There are other deserving organizations that do incredible work that are funded as well, but these are just a few. Like I said, charter schools in Nashville have been funded by this organization, but it’s not just an organization that gives only to charter schools. To me, it looks like an organization that cares about students. I love that we have a grant making organization that supports organizations in Middle Tennessee.

To discredit Nashville Rise because of their association with this generous foundation is unjustified from elected officials who say they are doing what’s best for students in Nashville.

Update (6/15): Will Pinkston has responded to the post by calling me a “nitwit” and stating my attacks on him are “kind of like powder puffs or a tickle fight. 😉

Nashville Rise to Host School Board Candidate Forum

Mark your calendars, Nashville!

Nashville Rise, a grassroots group of parents who are trying to elevate the parent voice in Nashville, is hosting a school board candidate forum later this month.

Date: Thursday, June 23, 2016
Time: 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm, with doors opening at 5:30 pm
Location: Tennessee State University, Avon Williams Campus, 330 10th Ave North, Nashville, 37203
Who will be there? School board candidates from each district that is up for election this year.
Who is moderating? David Plazas, the Opinion Editor for the Tennessean will be moderating. There will also be a panel of parents there to ask the candidates questions.

Transportation to the event and interpreters will be provided. Please RSVP at info@projectrenaissancenashville.org or 629-888-9692

I love that there will be a panel of parents asking questions!

Parents involved with Nashville Rise have been going door to door to invite parents and community members to attend the forum. In preparation for the event, Nashville Rise has released a TV ad and direct mailer to invite community members to the forum.

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I hope to see you on June 23rd!

Phase II Ready

Now that the troublesome Phase I of TNReady is over, districts in coming weeks will move to TNReady Phase II.

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has more on what Phase II means for students and schools:

The second part of TNReady features mainly multiple-choice questions (although, unlike in years past, students sometimes will be able to select several choices.) It has about 60 questions each for math and English, split up over two days. When the test originally was to be administered online, Part II also was supposed to include interactive questions in which students could use drag-and-drop tools, but those won’t be possible on the paper version.

So, multiple choice, no interactive questions, and shorter testing times for this phase.

It’s worth noting that the test is in two phases and includes significantly more total testing time than was common in years past — up to 11 hours.

Also, at least one district is seriously discussing the option of not administering Phase II at all in light of all the disruption caused by the false start on Phase I.

What do you think? Is 11 hours of testing too much for the youngest students? Should Tennessee districts skip Phase II this year and focus on instruction instead of test prep?

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

 

RTTT Had Everything to do With Charter Schools

I was sent a Facebook comment by Nashville School Board Member Will Pinkston in regards to the Race to the Top grant that Tennessee won in 2010. Pinkston claims that Race to the Top had nothing to do with charter schools. Race to the Top had everything to do with charter schools.

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Before I break down the Race to the Top application, let’s revisit the Will Pinkston of 2013 after he was elected to the school board. In 2013, Pinkston praised Kevin Huffman and Bill Haslam for their work in continuing the reform started under Bredesen. Pinkston also endorsed Haslam in 2010, around the time he worked for Bill Frist’s State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).

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Pinkston also advocated for charter schools.

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I remembered that Will Pinkston as I read through the Race to the Top application that was submitted by the state of Tennessee. Let’s remember that Will Pinkston helped write the application while he worked for Governor Phil Bredesen.

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You can read through the application here. The Race to the Top grant application mentions “charter school” 108 times. The Achievement School District was mentioned a lot in this grant application. Will Pinkston has said that he was in the room when the Achievement School District was created.

According to the grant application, the ASD would pull together an “unprecedented set of non-profits” to open charter schools in the ASD and other schools. The ASD was created, from the beginning, to partner with an unprecedented amount of charter schools.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 8.54.57 PMThe application, which Will Pinkston helped write, gushed over how great charter schools are. It also shows how Tennessee wanted to use charter schools to help in the turnaround of failing schools. The application shows Tennessee’s love of charter schools by showing that Governor Bredesen signed an updated charter school law in 2009.

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The application goes on to say that the state is actively recruiting charter school leaders to the state. While the state itself will help recruit, the ASD specifically will help charter schools find facilities in Tennessee.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 9.10.48 PMThe current landscape of Tennessee’s charter schools was mapped out years ago in this Race to the Top application. The ASD has partnered with charter schools to help turnaround school districts and state and city leaders have gone out to recruit charter school leaders. We have seen both of those items happen right here in Nashville.

If we move back to the start of the application, we see that the application is pushing for more charter schools. The application reads, “In this application, we describe how the atmosphere in the state encourages fresh ways of thinking, opens the education market to charter schools…”Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 9.54.58 PM

If the Race to the Top application had nothing to do with charters, why was so much of the application about charter schools? The state, and their grant writers, knew what they wanted. They wanted more charter schools in the state of Tennessee. They got their wish.


 

 

The Attacks on PET

Since September of last year, an anti-Professional Educators of Tennessee website has been up and running. The website, PETExposed.com, was started by Chattanooga activist Chris Brooks. I found this website after the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus shared a post from PETExposed.

Chris Brooks is a former Tennessee Education Association employee. When reached by TNEdReport, TEA responded that PETExposed “is not a TEA product. Chris Brooks no longer works at TEA, nor is he affiliated with the association.” I contacted TEA because I found Chris Brooks still listed on their website as an employee. I asked TEA when he was last affiliated with TEA because the PETExposed site was created six months ago, but they did not respond back.

The website largely attacks PET as a fake union and explicitly goes after the record of J.C. Bowman.

Bluff City Education ran a post from Bowman’s daughter to respond to the attacks from Chris Brooks.


 

 

Phil Roe: Replacing No Child Left Behind

Editor’s Note: We welcome Tennessee Congressman Phil Roe to the blog to discuss the Every Student Succeeds Act. Congressman Roe serves on the House Education and Workforce Committee.

This week, the House passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, bicameral, bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This is the first reauthorization of ESEA since No Child Left Behind was signed into law by President George W. Bush and took effect in 2002. Unfortunately, though well-intentioned, NCLB has created a maze of government bureaucracy for students, their families, educators and school administrators. ESSA includes important reforms to return control to the local level, prevent the Secretary of Education from coercing states to adopt Common Core and pave the way for educators and school administrators to get back to what they do best by eliminating bureaucracy in the education system.

I’ve served on the House Education and Workforce Committee since coming to Congress in 2009, and have visited with hundreds of educators in and around the First Congressional District. I’ve also had the opportunity to speak with students and their families and a there’s a common theme in our conversations: stop Common Core and get Washington bureaucrats out of our schools. I’m proud to say that the Every Students Succeeds Act will do those important things, all while preserving conservative education principles. In November, I was pleased to see Chairmen Kline and Alexander and Ranking Members Scott and Murray announce the framework for a compromise to reauthorize ESEA had been developed. I was asked to serve on the Conference Committee, and worked with my colleagues to find a path forward to bring this bill to the floor.

The Every Student Succeeds Act repeals the one-size-fits-all “adequate yearly progress” accountability system, a standard set by the federal government, and replaces it with a statewide accountability program. This gives each state the ability to set their own standards, and, most importantly, to identify and assist struggling schools and districts. It also preserves our commitment to student performance by ensuring we’re regularly tracking student progress, but without requiring states to opt-in to a rigorous testing system by allowing them the flexibility to offer nationally recognized local assessments as long as those assessments meet reliability, validity and comparability standards.

To ensure states have control of their education system, this bill explicitly prevents the Secretary of Education from coercing states into adopting academic standards, such as Common Core. While Common Core began as a state-led initiative, it has morphed into a quasi-federal set of standards as the Secretary has used his authority to issue waivers from certain federal mandates in exchange for the adoption of Common Core. This provision is a huge win for our students and educators. Additionally, the Every Student Succeeds Act provides greater funding flexibility to states and school districts so they can better target their resources to areas with the most needs. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for health care, and it certainly won’t work for our students. Each and every student has their own unique needs, and this bill allows education leaders to set their own priorities, ensuring students have the resources they need to be successful.

The most important thing we can do in education is to return control to the states and local school districts, and this bill does that. It’s the product of the hard work of Chairmen Kline and Alexander and Ranking Members Scott and Murray, and was done through regular order. This is how Congress is supposed to get things done for the American people, and I’m proud of this bill and what it will do for the future of this country. Our students are our future, and they deserve access to a quality education.

Rep. Roe represents Tennessee’s First Congressional District. He serves on the House Committees on Education and Workforce and Veterans Affairs, and served on the conference committee for the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Welcome Jon Alfuth

We are pleased to announce the addition of our newest writer, Jon Alfuth.

Jon is a teacher and administrator in Memphis and has done outstanding writing at Bluff City Ed. He’ll bring coverage of education issues as they impact Shelby County to Tennessee Education Report.

He’s written about the BEP and how it impacts Shelby County and he’s written about TVAAS and how misusing it can negatively impact both teachers and students. He’s done so much more in his time at Bluff City Ed and we are delighted to have him on board.

Here’s his official bio:

Jon Alfuth is a teacher and administrator at the Soulsville Charter School in Memphis, TN. He previously worked as a teacher in legacy-Memphis City Schools. Jon blogged previously at bluffcityeducation.com and contributes regularly to print and online publications including the Commercial Appeal and the Huffington Post. Jon is an alumnus of Teach for America as well as Teach Plus and SCORE’s policy fellows programs. He earned his B.S. and M.P.A from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Follow him at @jwalnuth and @bluffcityed