Race to the Bottom: ASD

Earlier this month, Nashville school board member Will Pinkston released his report on Tennessee’s Race to the Top Experience. Included in his analysis was a discussion of Tennessee’s struggling Achievement School District (ASD).

Here’s more on the troubled turnaround effort:

The controversial Achievement School District, created by Race to the Top to take over and turn around persistently failing schools, saw its fortunes nosedive.

YES Prep, the Houston-based charter chain founded by ASD chief Chris Barbic, announced in March 2015 that it would not proceed with turnaround work in Memphis — based on a lack of community support for the ASD. At the same time, traditional schools in Memphis suddenly began to outperform ASD schools, calling into question the turnaround model.

That summer, Barbic threw in the towel. The soft-spoken, congenial reformer — who a year earlier, under stress, had suffered a heart attack — wrote an open letter explaining the rationale behind his departure. Understandably, his reasons for leaving included health and family. On his way out, Barbic also offered a mea culpa of sorts that earned him a little goodwill among public-education advocates and derision among his fellow reformers.

“Let’s just be real,” Barbic said in his letter. “Achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment.” He added: “As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.”

In 48 words, Barbic eviscerated a key argument by radical reformers. As it turned out, charter schools weren’t the silver-bullet solution. His simple but honest admission was a shot-heard-round-the-world in education circles. And it had the added benefit of being true.

Priority

In September 2018, Chalkbeat reported on the continued struggles of the state’s failing turnaround district:

Most of the schools that were taken over by Tennessee’s turnaround district remain on the state’s priority list six years after the intervention efforts began.

Four of the six original Memphis schools that were taken over by the state in 2012 are on the newest priority list released last week. And more than a dozen schools that were added to the district later also remain on the list.

For years, the district has fallen short of its ambitious promise to dramatically raise test scores at the schools by handing them over to charter operators — a goal that the district’s founder later acknowledged was too lofty. And researchers with the Tennessee Education Research Alliance recently concluded that schools in the state district are doing no better than other low-performing schools that received no state help.

I’ve also written extensively about the ASD’s struggles and even suggested that the real problem was mission creep:

Here’s something that should give policymakers pause: According to the most recent State Report Card, the ASD spends more than $1000 per student MORE than district schools and yet gets performance that is no better than (and sometimes worse) the district schools it replaced.

By creeping beyond its admirable mission, the ASD has become an example of good intentions gone awry. Focusing on the original goal of using highly focused effort to both improve struggling schools AND learn new strategies to help other schools would be a welcome change.

Yes, the ASD is one more example of education policy failure by Team Haslam. Bill Lee and Penny Schwinn have a big mess to clean up — if they’re up to the task.

 

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

Your support helps making writing about education policy possible.


 

 

 

Race to the Bottom: NAEP

Nashville school board member Will Pinkston released a retrospective on Tennessee’s Race to the Top experience earlier this week. The document outlines both the process involved in applying for and winning the funding and the subsequent implementation failures by the Haslam Administration.

Pinkston notes that 2013 NAEP results boosted Haslam and his misguided education policy team. Here’s more on that:

On November 7, 2013, the Haslam administration got a public reprieve of sorts. The U.S. Department of Education announced that Tennessee had become the fastest-improving state in the history the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card.

The results were impressive. Tennessee’s 4th-graders climbed from 46th to 37th in math, and 41st to 31st in reading. In terms of overall student growth, “we literally blew away the other states,” Haslam said during a celebratory news conference at West Wilson Middle School in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., outside of Nashville.

The governor failed to acknowledge that Tennessee’s Race to the Top plan, which he initially refused to endorse, actually predicted steep gains on the Nation’s Report Card following implementation of more rigorous academic standards in the 2009-10 school year. The 2010 Race to the Top plan expressly noted: “On the NAEP, we know from experience that results are harder to shift, and that we will not likely see real gains until 2013 when students have had several years under the new standards.” Someone had a crystal ball.

While the Bredesen Administration team correctly predicted the 2013 growth, it’s also worth noting that some critics with at least a vague familiarity with statistics urged caution in getting too excited about the results. More specifically, I wrote at the time:

Yes, Tennessee should celebrate its growth.  But policymakers should use caution when seeing the results from the last 2 years as a validation of any particular policy.  Long-term trends indicate that big gains are usually followed by steady maintenance. And, even with the improvement, Tennessee has a long way to go to be competitive with our peers. Additionally, education leaders should be concerned about the troubling widening of the rich/poor achievement gap  – an outcome at odds with stated policy goals and the fundamental principle of equal opportunity.

Turns out, I was correct — not that I’m bragging, anyone with a familiarity with how statistics actually work (meaning no one at the DOE at the time) would know that this type of bragging was misplaced. Of course, urging caution based on statistical reality isn’t good for the politics of oppression, but, let’s look at what had happened by 2017, years into the Haslam Administration’s incompetent management of state education policy:

First, notice that between 2009 and 2011, Tennessee saw drops in 4th and 8th grade reading and 8th grade math. That helps explain the “big gains” seen in 2013. Next, note that in 4th and 8th grade reading and 4th grade math, our 2017 scores are lower than the 2013 scores. There’s that leveling off I suggested was likely. Finally, note that in 4th and 8th grade reading, the 2017 scores are very close to the 2009 scores. So much for “fastest-improving.”

Tennessee is four points below the national average in both 4th and 8th grade math. When it comes to reading, we are 3 points behind the national average in 4th grade and 5 points behind in 8th grade.

All of this to say: You can’t say you’re the fastest-improving state on NAEP based on one testing cycle. You also shouldn’t make long-term policy decisions based on seemingly fabulous results in one testing cycle. Since 2013, Tennessee has doubled down on reforms with what now appears to be little positive result.

Did Haslam apologize for Candice McQueen’s failures or fire her? No. He doubled down on failed policy in spite of evidence. Students suffered through years of TNReady being not even close to ready. Now, that same Bill Haslam is poised to make a run for U.S. Senate. No thanks. We don’t need someone who can’t be honest about how his policies failed Tennessee’s kids.

 

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

Your support keeps the news coming!


 

 

 

Race to the Bottom: Testing

Nashville school board member Will Pinkston released an analysis of the Race to the Top experience in Tennessee yesterday. The document highlights the failures of the Haslam Administration to effectively implement the program as had been envisioned.

Pinkston references testing and TNReady as among the ways Team Haslam failed our students and schools. Specifically, in Chapter 18:

TNReady, the $30-million standardized testing system a blogger once dubbed “Haslam’s Hindenburg,” still isn’t ready for prime time. A new assessment vendor, Questar, managed to deploy tests in spring 2017, but mostly in paper form versus the comprehensive online platform promised in Race to the Top seven years earlier. In a ham-handed attempt to boost students’ spirits ahead of testing season, Gov. Haslam mailed out Number Two pencils to kids across the state. The blog Tennessee Education Report derided him in a headline — “Haslam to Kids: Be Ready Even Though TN Hasn’t Been.”

In 2018, TNReady actually fared worse. Hiccups included problems with students and teachers logging into the online test as well as a severed fiber cable delivering internet service to schools. Candice McQueen, the education commissioner, even brought in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the state Office of Homeland Security to investigate a supposed cyber-attack. But she ended up with egg on her face again after state officials determined that Questar caused TNReady’s problems by making unauthorized changes in the testing system. Later, state auditors acknowledged that McQueen’s oversight of test administration “fell short of expectations.”

Thankfully, new Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn has promised to make TNReady her top priority. If she were making students her top priority, she’d propose taking at least a year off of testing altogether and re-evaluating how Tennessee assesses student progress.

Not surprisingly, the failed Haslam education team left Schwinn a mess to clean up:

With just months to go before a company is supposed to take over Tennessee’s troubled assessment program, the state has yet to release its request for proposals, potentially putting its next vendor on course for another rushed timeline to testing.

The state’s education department had aimed to solicit proposals by December, receive bids by February, and make a decision by April. Now officials are looking at February to unveil the document that will outline Tennessee’s testing requirements after three straight years of headaches under two different companies.

Will Tennessee keep on moving in this direction? Racing to the bottom? Will we continue taking pride in our status as the “one glaring exception” among states shifting to online testing?

While lots of states are moving to online testing, one expert says Tennessee is unique:

“I’m not aware of a state that has had a more troubled transition” to online testing, said Douglas A. Levin of the consulting group EdTech Strategies.

 

Why is Tennessee in the unique position of having the worst online testing transition in the country?

The reality is that Tennessee’s online-testing mess has left everyone in a difficult position, said Chad Aldeman, a principal at Bellwether Education Partners, a consulting organization.

“The state has not [made] stability a key priority in their testing vendors,” Aldeman said.

 

So, here we are. 2019, a new commissioner, and a huge mess. That’s just testing. As Pinkston notes, there’s much more.

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

Your support helps keep the education news flowing!


 

Sorry

Chalkbeat has the story of Nashville school board member Will Pinkston’s essay on Tennessee’s Race to the Top experience and his role in the application process.

I’ll dig into the essay and provide thoughts and analysis soon, but here’s a key part of the introduction Chalkbeat highlighted:

I see in retrospect the mistake that I made while working on Race to the Top. I feel equal parts guilty and sad about it. In my view, the problem isn’t that Race to the Top’s fundamentals were flawed. No one can argue with the need for rigorous K-12 academic standards and aligned tests, effective school turnaround strategies and a focus on great teachers and school leaders. But Race to the Top jumped the rails when a cast of radical reformers hijacked the agenda during political transitions. Bad actors began working overtime to dismantle public schools. Here in Tennessee, our largest school systems — in Memphis and Nashville — became part of ground zero in the country’s civil war over public education, joining embattled school systems in cities like Los Angeles, Milwaukee and New Orleans.

Pinkston is highly critical of the Haslam Administration and failed education commissioners Kevin Huffman (who couldn’t resist attacking teachers) and Candice McQueen (who couldn’t get a handle on the state’s testing system).

 

 

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

Your support keeps us going!


 

A Warning

Nashville School Board members Amy Frogge and Will Pinkston took to the blog Seattle Education to issue a warning about the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) housed at the University of Washington Bothell.

Here’s some of what they had to say:

CRPE’s list of “senior research affiliates” reads like a Who’s Who of special interests determined to tear down public schools and replace them with publicly funded, privately run charter schools. As members of the local school board in Nashville who are fighting against the devastating effects of school privatization, we are writing this column to advise Washington public education advocates — including the leadership and faculty at UW Bothell — that you have an enemy in your midst.

Here’s how they describe the CRPE’s role in recent Nashville education battles:

Political and business interests aligned with the charter movement seized on the CRPE compact to attempt a wholesale privatization of Nashville’s public school system. Some even shamefully referred to their plan as “New Orleans without the hurricane” — a reference to the charterization of Crescent City schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. CRPE, led by pro-privatization director Robin Lake, cheered the effort.

Fortunately, the voters of Nashville ultimately rejected CRPE and Lake’s agenda by overwhelmingly electing and re-electing a strong pro-public education contingent to the Nashville school board. Yet the well-funded CRPE threat persists, in our city and elsewhere in the U.S.

The post goes on to alert Washingtonians of what Frogge and Pinkston describe as a clear threat to public education. The warning is well worth a read. 

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.


 

Pinkston: Charter Compact Led to Turmoil

Submitted by MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston

Back in 2010, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a national charter school think tank, convened an elite group of Nashvillians and charter school leaders to ink a “collaboration compact” with Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS). The heart of the compact seemed reasonable: “Collaborate as partners in the city-wide effort to provide an excellent education for all students.”

 

What happened next didn’t resemble collaboration at all, but rather outright hostility. As it turns out, many of those who signed on didn’t really care about public schools. Their sole focus: Expanding the taxpayer-funded private schools known as charters.

 

For example, just two years after signing the compact, then-mayor Karl Dean, who’s now running for governor of Tennessee, roamed the halls of the legislature pitching lawmakers on a bill to strip local elected school boards in Memphis and Nashville of our ability to reject charters, which drain resources from existing schools. Dean’s legislation, which became law, instead gave the appointed State Board of Education the final say-so on charters – even though, here in Nashville, local taxpayers fund two-thirds of K-12 public education and the state is a minority investor.

 

Later, Dean went on to launch Project Renaissance, an anti-public education group funded by backers of charters and private-school vouchers, which would further drain our public-school system of finite resources. In 2016, Dean’s group tried but failed to defeat incumbent Nashville School Board members at the polls – less than three months after the board hired an energetic new director of schools who articulated a big vision.

 

So much for collaboration.

 

Another compact signer, Randy Dowell, CEO of KIPP Nashville charter schools, ditched the pretense of collaboration as soon as he saw an opportunity to ramrod new charter schools through the State Board under Dean’s newly minted law. Meanwhile, this year Dowell is effectively booting 43 MNPS students from Nashville’s Kirkpatrick Elementary School because they don’t fit in his business plan for a gradual conversion of the former public school.

 

Speaking of Kirkpatrick: Marsha Edwards, another compact signer and CEO of a pro-charter nonprofit group, somehow managed – after zero collaboration with the school board – to secure federal funds to build a new charter school right next door to Kirkpatrick. This will have a destabilizing effect on both schools. Last year, Edwards put her organization’s federal tax-exempt status at risk by partnering with Stand for Children, which has become a radical reform group, in failed efforts to upend local school board elections.

 

Jeremy Kane, a politician who finished last in Nashville’s 2015 mayor’s race, also signed on to the compact. Kane founded the local LEAD charter chain, which later declared war on MNPS when it sidled up to the failing state-run Achievement School District, which engineered a hostile state takeover of Nashville’s Neely’s Bend Middle School – a school that already was turning around.

 

Finally, Ralph Schulz, CEO of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, was another compact signer. The business group, a longtime mouthpiece for charter special interests, supported Dean’s law to punish local school boards and has even endorsed vouchers. Schulz and the chamber enthusiastically joined last year’s failed efforts by Dean and others to blow up the school board and MNPS – so perhaps some collaboration was happening, after all.

 

These days, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which attacked the Nashville School Board in 2013, is now ideologically aligned with President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – and it’s pushing local school systems to recommit to charter compacts of the past. My view: If the turmoil of the past seven years in Nashville is any indication, I’d say we’ve had enough so-called “collaboration.” I’m guessing other school systems have had similar experiences.

 

Perhaps it’s overdue time to create a “Center on Recommitting to Public Education.” If anyone wants to learn what we’re doing in Nashville to fight the privatization agenda, email me at: will@pinkstonforschools.com

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


 

Pinkston: Charter Industry Unraveling

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston argues in today’s Tennessean that Nashville’s charter school industry is unraveling.

To make his case, he cites a federal class action lawsuit against RePublic charter schools, a state finding that Rocketship isn’t following the law when it comes to serving students with disabilities and English language learners, and a significant financial deficit at LEAD Public Schools.

Of Rocketship, Pinkston notes:

Despite failing to serve its current students, Rocketship routinely makes end-runs around the local school board to seek state approval of more charters. That’s because Rocketship’s growth isn’t driven by what’s best for kids but rather by its real-estate deals with Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund, a for-profit investment fund co-managed by tennis star Andre Agassi.

Taken together, Pinkston says, the problems faced by these three charter operators show an industry not living up to its hype.

Add to that the expense of charters, and Pinkston says we should exercise caution. He previously noted based on the findings of an audit of MNPS:

Briefly: The new audit acknowledges that unabated growth of charter schools does, in fact, have a fiscal impact on existing MNPS schools. The operative language in the audit relative to charter fiscal impact can be found on Page 3-16, which states: “The key question for determining fiscal impacts is whether enrollment reductions allow a district to achieve expenditure reductions commensurate with revenue reductions. Fixed costs are incurred regardless of whether students attend traditional or charter schools. The problem is that some fixed costs, such as building maintenance, computer network infrastructure, and health services do not vary based on enrollment. Therefore, teachers and their salaries are a key cost driver tied to student enrollment … However, it is not always possible to reduce teacher costs proportionate to losses in revenue. For these costs to be reduced significantly, the school would need to close altogether.”

While some call it a distraction, the charter debate is alive and well in MNPS.

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


 

Will Pinkston on the Nashville Chamber Education Report Card

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston had this to say about yesterday’s release of the Nashville Chamber’s Education Report Card:

After digesting the news accounts of yesterday’s 2016 Education Report Card staged by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, I am more convinced than ever that the Chamber is an enemy of public education — and frankly, it has been for a long time. Consider this passage in Nashville Public Radio’s report, taken directly from the Chamber Report Card: “Over the past two decades, Metro Schools has launched various district reading and literacy initiatives, with no discernible impact on overall reading results.” This is true. However, this line could easily be rewritten to read: “Over the past two decades, the Chamber has meddled constantly in the affairs of Metro Nashville Public Schools, with no discernible impact on overall results.”

The reality is: The last two directors of MNPS — Jesse Register (2009-15) and Pedro Garcia (2001-08) — were the Chamber’s hand-picked superintendents who presided over stagnant growth in reading proficiency and, in Register’s case, a proliferation of struggling schools and lack of innovation to assist English learners, who represent the fastest-growing segment of our student population. I know this because I serve Nashville School Board District 7, where 43% of our students are struggling to learn English. Our lack of progress in helping these kids was a big reason why I led the charge in 2014 to exit Register from the school system and install new management that can think and act strategically.

What was the Chamber’s response? Not surprisingly, the Chamber did not step forward and agree that a leadership change was needed at MNPS. To the contrary, the Chamber and its rubber-stamp Report Card Committee instead attacked me and other board members who actually were confronting problems, versus turning a blind eye to the situation. The fact is the Chamber, through its lack of understanding of public education and lack of leadership in this community, helped to enable poor-performing superintendents for the better part of two decades — while at the same time trying, mostly ineffectively, to destabilize the school board in local elections. Adding insult to injury, the Chamber has advocated to strip the school board of local control while vigorously endorsing vouchers and the unabated growth of charter schools, which drain finite resources at a time when MNPS is now universally considered to be an under-funded school system. If the Chamber and the Report Card Committee aren’t happy with the lack of progress, perhaps they should take a look in the mirror and do some soul-searching. I daresay they won’t see any profiles in courage.

All that said: I’m optimistic that MNPS is finally headed in the right direction. This year, the school board exerted overdue independence and sidelined the Chamber during the search for our new MNPS director. In typical passive-aggressive fashion, Chamber leaders pouted throughout the months-long search process, then tried to take credit for the favorable outcome, and then attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) to oust from elected office one-third of the school board — members who played key roles in ushering in the new leadership. Our new director of schools, Dr. Shawn Joseph, now is doing yeoman’s labor getting his arms around years of problems that have been either created or exacerbated by the Chamber. Thankfully, the Mayor, the Metro Council, and the school board are finally on the same page. We’re all working together to lead public education forward, no thanks to the Chamber.

So now let me send the same message to Ralph Schulz and the Chamber that I sent to former Tennessean columnist Frank Daniels (whose sycophantic and obsequious support of the Chamber helped perpetuate some of this mess): MNPS is going to succeed despite you, not because of you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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

The Call For A Charter School Moratorium Lacks Transparency

On Tuesday, the Metro Nashville School Board will vote on a charter school moratorium. The policy proposal is being brought by Will Pinkston. As of Monday morning, language of the resolution has still not been publicly shared on the MNPS website.

Will Pinkston calls for transparency for charter schools, but he should also be held to that same transparency. It’s unacceptable that the meeting is tomorrow, and the citizens of Nashville still can’t access the policy that will be discussed.

Sources within MNPS tell me there is a draft floating around, but language is still not finalized. It seems like this policy is being snuck in at the last moment so that the citizens of Nashville cannot give specific feedback before the vote. That’s not right.

If this is what Nashville wants, why does this resolution have to held in the dark?

Because of the lack of transparency, the Metro Nashville School Board should postpone voting on this moratorium until the people of Nashville can read and respond to it.

While on the issue of a moratorium, it should be noted that having a moratorium will give the State Board of Education more power. I wrote the same thing when Pinkston last tried to change charter school policy:

We know that the Nashville school board disagrees with the state being able to authorize local charter schools. If they pass this policy change, they are giving more power the the State Board of Education to overturn charter appeals

The same is true with the moratorium. A moratorium will give the State Board a bigger hand in approving charter schools in Nashville. Nashville should continue to rigorously review and approve the charter schools that best meets the needs of MNPS.

A flat out moratorium on charter schools is not in the best interest of our Nashville schools or their students.

Update: As of 1:45pm, the resolution has been posted here.