Jeff Bryant reports here about the rapid expansion of charters in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, which seem to be ground zero for the “reform” movement, with a sympathetic conservative governor and conservative legislature.
Having been one of the first states to win a “Race to the Top” grant, Tennessee committed to hand low-performing schools over to private management.
Tennessee is also home to the “Achievement School District,” run by charter founder Chris Barbic, who has promised to turn the schools in the bottom 5% into high-performing schools in the top 25%. So far, the ASD has not met any of its goals, yet it is often cited as a national model, like New Orleans, despite Nola’s lack of success.
Bryant says: ““White kids get to go to a school with a Montessori approach while children of color get eye control.”
The far-right is in control of charter expansion, he writes:
For sure, charter schools have become a darling of conservative politicians, think tanks and advocates.
One of those powerful advocates, nationally and in Tennessee, is the influential Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing issue group started and funded by the billionaire Charles and David Koch brothers.
AFP state chapters have a history of advocating for charter schools, conducting petition campaigns and buying radio ads targeting state lawmakers to enact legislation that would increase the number of charter schools. In an AFP-sponsored policy paper from 2013, “A Nation Still at Risk: The Continuing Crisis of American Education and Its State Solution,” author Casey Given states: “The charter school movement has undoubtedly been the most successful education reform since the publication of A Nation at Risk.,” the Reagan-era document commonly cited as originating a “reform” argument that has dominated education policy discussion for over 30 years.
The Koch brothers themselves have been especially interested in public policy affairs in Tennessee generally and Nashville in particular. “Tennessee is a political test tube for the Koch brothers, ” the editors of The Tennessean news outlet write in a recent editorial. The editors cite as evidence the influence AFP had recently in convincing the Tennessee legislature to block a bus rapid transit system project in Nashville.
In July of last year, the Charles Koch Institute held an event in Nashville, “Education Opportunities: A Path Forward for Students in Tennessee,” to provide an “in-depth policy discussion” about public education and other issues.
As The Tennessean reported, the forum was advertised as “a panel talk with representatives of charter schools and conservative think tanks,” including outspoken and controversial charter school promoter Dr. Steve Perry.
Although the emphasis apparently was mostly on school vouchers, according to a different report in The Tennessean, the stage was thick with charter school advocates from Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation for Education Choice, the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute and Nashville’s Beacon Center of Tennessee.
The reporter quotes Nashville parent T.C. Weber, “who questioned the ‘end game’ of diverting funding from public schools” and said, “‘Are you looking to destroy the public system that we already have and build a new one based on your ideas?’”
Weber writes about the event on his personal blogsite: ”One of the questions asked of the panelists was what do [you] feel is the biggest obstacle … to the accepting of your vision. The reply was, ‘educating parents.’”
The presence of influential conservatives from outside the city “educating” Nashville parents about what kind of schools their children need has created resentment and suspicion in many Nashville citizens’ minds. Many fear the drive to expand charters is powered more by powerful interests outside the city than by the desires of Nashville parents and citizens.