Speaking Out on State’s New A-F Grades for Schools

New policy punishes schools for poverty, state’s lack of funding

In yet another push to privatize the state’s system of public schools, the Lee Administration this week released its A-F letter grades for schools. Each public school in the state was assigned a grade of A-F based on criteria that heavily emphasizes the results of state testing.

Schools receiving D and F grades may be subject to audits or called before a state committee to discuss corrective action.

Of course, that corrective action is not likely to include an investment of state funds. Tennessee continues to be in the bottom 10 in the country in school funding and underfunds schools by nearly $2 billion annually.

While the policy was passed in 2016, it is going into effect this year – just ahead of Lee’s push for a program of universal school vouchers.

As the scores were released, opponents of the effort spoke out.

Senate Democratic Leader Raumesh Akbari and the Tennessee Education Association both raised concerns about the implications of the policy.

“These letter grades don’t help students, and they don’t provide clear and concise information that is useful to parents,” said TEA President Tanya Coats.

“These flawed letter grades will never define a school, their students and families, or their teachers and staff. What these letter grades do show is the consequences of bottom 10 in the nation student funding and a failure by the state to move resources to the students who need them most.”

I wrote several years ago about the correlation between the state’s TCAP testing scores and poverty rates.

The A-F scores tell us which schools may need more help – and they tell us that we’ve not done a great job of adequately funding public education. They also tell us that the state allows poverty to persist – in spite of having billions of dollars in various reserve funds.

Oh, and since the grades are based on the results of state tests, it’s worth noting that Tennessee’s track record of testing is abysmal.

A Tale of Two Charter Policies

Kentucky has zero charter schools, Tennessee has many but what does it mean?

Tennessee has moved aggressively to privatize-by-charter since a state law allowing charter schools was first passed back in 2002.

The past decade has seen a particular focus on charter schools as a way to provide opportunities for students from low income backgrounds.

Kentucky, however, has zero charter schools and a judge there recently found that charter schools do not meet the definition of “public schools” for the purpose of state education funding.

The states have taken different approaches – and the results suggest that Tennessee just might be on the wrong track.

What’s happened in the intervening 10 years? Has Tennessee closed the gap with Kentucky when it comes to economically disadvantaged kids?

Actually, no.

In both 8th-grade math and reading, the gap with Kentucky has expanded. Tennessee trailed Kentucky by 2 points in 8th-grade math in 2013 but now trails by 7. In reading, Kentucky went from being 2 points ahead to being 6 points ahead.

In 4th grade in both math and reading, the gap between the states remained the same (+3 for Kentucky in math, +8 for Kentucky in reading).

Turns out, another decade of pushing for privatization has not helped those Tennessee kids most in need of help.

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Candidate Announces for Williamson County School Board

Tony Caudill files to run in District 11

An Independent (nonpartisan) candidate has filed to run for Williamson County School Board from District 11 (Franklin, Thompson’s Station).

Tony Caudill announced this week that he will run in the election to be held on August 1, 2024.

“Williamson County Schools are among the best public schools in the nation and have played a significant role in attracting families and businesses to our area. I believe the Board should work on opportunities for continuous improvement and focus on the very real issues that accompany rapid population growth, such as staffing, transportation, student safety, and adequate funding, which impact our students and staff members on a daily basis,” says Caudill. “My commitment will always be to strive to do what is best for all of our students, their teachers, and their collective success.”

For more information on Caudill’s campaign, check out his website.

Hillsdale’s Got Trouble in Ohio

A Hillsdale-affiliated charter school caught just making stuff up

Cincinnati Classical Academy, a charter school affiliated with Hillsdale College, has some problems.

CCA “borrowed” the demographics from Cincinnati Public Schools in weaving a tale of serving low-income and minority students. As a result of their promise to serve underserved students, the school was awarded nearly $2 million in federal education funding.

The reality is that the school is located in a Cincinnati suburb and essentially operates as a free, private, Christian school for predominantly middle- to high-income white students.

The school’s $2 million federal grant received as a result of the application is now under scrutiny:

The Network for Public Education sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona protesting the grant and asking that it be rescinded. It was signed by Phillis’s coalition, along with U.S. Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio), five state legislators who represent the area, the Ohio PTA, both state teachers unions, the Cincinnati NAACP, and more than a dozen public education, civil rights, local teacher associations and advocacy groups.

Hillsdale, of course, is in partnership with American Classical Education, the charter operator opening two schools in Tennessee next year. ACE has plans to open as many as 50 charter schools in the state. If that number is reached, local taxpayers will be on the hook for charter school funding to the tune of $350 million.

A TN School District Offers Free Meals for All

Unicoi County to offer pilot program in 2024

One Tennessee school district is taking advantage of a federal reimbursement program to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students starting in January.

Unicoi County Schools will use the Community Eligibility Provision of the USDA’s school meal program to offer meals at no cost to all students with no application required.

The move comes in a state were policymakers have considered and rejected the idea of providing free school meals to all students on multiple occasions.

It also comes in a state that has a massive budget surplus and can afford to invest more in schools – including ensuring all children at school are fed. Instead, it seems Gov. Lee and his allies will spend surplus dollars on creating a new voucher scheme.

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