Archives for category: Tennessee

A group funded by the notorious conservative Koch brothers will host a school choice forum in Nashville on July 22.

Here are their panelists:

“Moderating the talk will be Shaka Mitchell, who works for Rocketship Education, a California-based charter school organization with an East Nashville location set to open this summer. A second Rocketship school in Nashville has been approved to open in 2015.

“Panelists are Jonathan Butcher, education director of the Goldwater Institute; Stephanie Linn, state programs and government relations director of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice; Justin Owen, president and CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee; and Steve Perry, principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School, a Connecticut-based charter school.

“In a statement announcing the forum, the organization applauds Tennessee’s 2010 move to an outcomes-based funding formula for public universities that’s supposed to reward institutions that meet benchmarks. The group says Tennessee’s K-12 public schools, however, have some of the “most high-profile problems in its urban school districts.”

“It alludes to last year’s failed push for school vouchers that would allow public funds to be used for private schooling.”

You can be sure that the panel will not mention Rocketship’s plummeting scores, nor the fact that neither vouchers nor charters outperform public schools. And the word will be mum on recent charter scandals in Connecticut, Ohio, and Michigan.

I don’t know about you, but I am sick of the test score obsession. I think our schools need to have a prolonged testing moratorium so we can figure out what education should be about and how to reduce our dependence on testing.

But since that has not happened yet, we are compelled to look at the rise and fall of test scores. .

When Tennessee’s scores went up on NAEP last year, Arne Duncan speedily pointed to Tennesssee as a shining star of Race to the Top, and the state even got a shout out from the President in his State of the Union.

Now the state scores are in, and there won’t be any boasting. If there is, it is simply spin.

Gary Rubinstein reports that Tennessee’s state scores were flat. they were up a wee bit in math, grades 3-8, and down a bit in reading, same grades. The biggest drops were in third grade, the kids most exposed to reform magic, where the reformers should be showing big gains.

Don’t expect to hear anything about Tennessee’s state scores from Arne Duncan or the President.

I posted about a week ago about efforts by members of Teach for America to open a charter school in rural Cheatham County in Tennessee.

The Cheatham County school board voted to deny the application for the Cumberland Academy Charter School, 5-0, with one member absent.

Nashville Prep boasts some of the highest test scores in Tennessee.


Its singular goal is college preparation.


Fortunately, we can see what the school considers good instruction by looking at a video that is posted on its website.


It is called “6 Minutes with Ms. McDonalds’ 5th Grade Social Studies Class.”


Watch it and decide for yourself. Are these students being prepared to be successful in college? Will they be the thinkers, scientists, inventors, and innovators of the 21st century?


You be the judge.

Tracy O’Neill is a mom and education activist in rural Cheatham County, Tennessee. This pleasant community is now riven by a controversy, as TFA corps members seek approval to open a charter school to compete with the public schools. Aside from the financial cost to the community, the charter school will divide community support for the local schools. Tracy is running for a seat on the local school board, to be in a position to support the public schools against this effort to undermine them and set neighbor against neighbor.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 – Tracy A. O’Neill – Ashland City, TN

Cheatham County, Tennessee is a small rural community just outside of Nashville. As far as the eye can see are rolling hills and green fields. Driving down the main roads through the small towns that make up the corners of our beautiful county you find Community theaters, baseball diamonds, soccer games, and Friday night lights that fill the weeks throughout the year. One of the many benefits of living in a small country town is that we know our neighbors; we know the kids, and we are involved in our public schools.

Like many communities across the country, and the state of Tennessee, Cheatham Co has been struggling with poor leadership on our local school board and in our administration. Over the last few years, we have had a revolving door of teachers come and go for one reason or another. Due to poor decisions at the top, our lovely quiet community has become a target area for the infamous poachers of public education: Teach for America.

A few years ago, a new Director of Schools- who was bought out after one year – brought Teach for America corps members ( TFA ) to fill the “hard to fill teaching positions,” yet core subjects in the High Schools, like math, were left unfilled for months at a time. I find it ironic, and disgraceful that the Cheatham county Board of Education continues to push highly qualified, experienced educators out the door, yet continue to offer two-year contracts to unlicensed TFA recruits that have only five weeks training. What I want to know is the rationale behind this decision?

Apparently, the “solution” is being offered by two TFA Corps members who, in April, submitted an application for a Charter School to open in little ole’ Cheatham County. On June 10, 2014, a newly comprised committee appointed by the school board hosted a public meeting to ask questions of the applicants and their board members. Ironically, but not really surprisingly, 3 of the 6 members sitting at the table for the new Cumberland Academy are from Teach for America. (Jimmy Hopper, Johnny Gersten and Brian Gilmore are all TFA alums). Hopper has been teaching in our High School for the past two years on a transitional license and Gersten, also transitional, taught at the Middle School for a short period a year or so ago. Most Cheatham County parents don’t know about Teach for America. They believed Hopper and Gersten were two of the many dedicated teachers in our school system. Now, we learn Hopper and Gersten have been teaching here with a goal to open Cumberland Academy, which will be, according to the Charter Board, the first model for rural charters across the entire country

Neither Gersten, nor Hopper, were licensed teachers in Tennessee. In fact, the lead guy, Jimmy Hopper, worked in DC Politics for one of the major parties before coming to the Cheatham County classroom and these two young men are slated to be the operators of this new school. Neither of them have a professional administrator’s license, yet Hopper will assume the role similar to an Executive Director, and Gersten….Well HE’S the “Director of CULTURE,” whatever the heck THAT dubious job description means.

Cheatham County has an ever-shrinking tax base and limited financial resources. This school is targeting students from the Ashland City and East Cheatham Elementary schools. Our county is wide and separated by the Cumberland River. The likelihood of students traveling to Ashland City from Pegram, Kingston Springs or Pleasant View to attend this school is slim. Therefore, logic would dictate that those students will be pulled from ONE middle school.

The Charter school will begin with 90 5th graders and add a higher grade each year. Now, that doesn’t sound like much. However, when you consider our average total class sizes range from 130-150 students, it’s HUGE! That’s over 50% of ONE class! Add another grade each year and they will decimate student enrollment at our middle school and severely limit our budget. We may have to lay off more teachers…we may have to combine classes…we may have to eliminate classes. Our local leaders may have to look to raise property taxes on struggling homeowners and landowners to make up for the loss. Parents and citizens need to understand what it means to allow a Charter School operation in a local community, especially one classified as rural, because contrary to self serving propaganda, this is NOT about school choice. It’s about MONEY.

In the neighboring City of Nashville, all available new revenue for Metro-Nashville Public Schools is going to charter schools, which currently serve only 5% of their students. The average annual growth in cash outlays for charter schools has exceeded 50% since 2008, versus only 4% for the rest of the district. Memphis is $157 million in debt, but must continue to pony up charter school funds. In 2003, the charter school budget was $1.9 million. Now it’s $82.9 million and even that’s up from $57.8 million last year. That’s over a $20 million increase in ONE YEAR! EIGHTY MILLION in just 10 years!

The Charter committee said they will target Cheatham County’s low income families, and homeschoolers, and are preparing a mass mail out with those families they have identified as prospects. The proposed operation site is in a local shopping center in between the Tractor Supply and the Food Lion grocery store. Where is the play ground for the kids? The parking lot? They have no plans to have a kitchen or onsite cafeteria services, but will find a contractor to give the kids some kind of food.

When asked by the committee why they haven’t provided a commitment letter for annual funding, Board member and venture capitalist Landon Gibbs replied, “none of these people want us to use their names.” Well, I find that to be a bit disconcerting. Who’s hiding what here?

The Charter Board members touted their recruitment to the committee stating they have had approximately 50 supportive parents at their public meetings. Cheatham County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ann Thomson followed up with, “How many of those 50 parents are (in your designated) low income target area?” The “I don’t know” response was stifling. Board of Education Instruction Supervisor, Stacey Brinkley asked the Charter Board their procedure for hiring highly qualified teachers. Brain Gilmore advised the board that they plan to use many avenues but intend to focus on TFA Alum to fill their classrooms.

Cheatham County’s Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Tara Watson asked the members why a “public charter?” With the name dropping of the Walton Foundation and all the infinite resources they seem to have available, “Why not open a private school?” she asked. TFA’s Gersten replied, “Our funders are very excited about The Cumberland Academy… They are not excited about funding another private school.” My question is, why not? If they truly believe they are innovators of education, then they need to put their money where their mouth is and fund this “public” school without our tax dollars. There is no law prohibiting a privately funded school from being open to the public. Colleges and Universities do it all the time.

As much information as I’ve written, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of this proposal. I believe this Charter school will cost us far more than it will contribute. Charter schools, whether labeled “public” or “private” are entities managed by private corporations that operate outside the purview of the law and outside the spirit in which they were originally designed and Cheatham County simply can’t afford another liability.

The Cheatham County School Board will be voting on the application to open The Cumberland Academy, June 24th, 2014. The meeting begins at 6:00 pm at the Annex Building in Ashland City. A public forum will be opened before they take up the application. Considering TFA people intend to use Cumberland Academy as their testing ground for a national model for rural charters, I strongly encourage every person possible to be at this meeting, because a TFA rural Charter just might be coming to your back yard next.

Space is VERY limited, so plan to arrive early if you want a seat.

Tracy A. O’Neill
Ashland City, TN
Cheatham County

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, one of our nation’s pre-eminent experts on value-added assessment, here reviews a TED-X talk by Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, boasting of the tremendous growth in test scores as a result of his policies. Beardsley points out the curious fact that Tennessee started using VAM in the 1990s with little to show for it. But, there were those Tennessee NAEP scores, proof positive, according to both Huffman and Se rotary of Education Arne Duncan that Race to the Top–or Huffman’s personal presence–was creating strong results. Nd in the end, results (test scores) are what matter most, right?

But what about those NAEP results that Huffman and Duncan tout?

Beardsley writes:

“While [William] Sanders (the TVAAS developer who first convinced the state legislature to adopt his model for high-stakes accountability purposes in the 1990s) and others (including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan) also claimed that Tennessee’s use of accountability instruments caused Tennessee’s NAEP gains (besides the fact that the purported gains were over two decades delayed), others have since spoiled the celebration because 1) the results also demonstrated an expanding achievement gap in Tennessee; 2) the state’s lowest socioeconomic students continue to perform poorly, despite Huffman’s claims; 3) Tennessee didn’t make gains significantly different than many other states; and 4) other states with similar accountability instruments and policies (e.g., Colorado, Louisiana) did not make similar gains, while states without such instruments and policies (e.g., Kentucky, Iowa, Washington) did. I should add that Kentucky’s achievement gap is also narrowing and their lowest socioeconomic students have made significant gains. This is important to note as Huffman repeatedly compares his state to theirs.”

Read the post. It is a very good demonstration of how data get used and misused for political purposes.

From a parent in East Nashville:

“Oh, yes, I know all too well about TFA buying, I mean winnng, seats on BOEs. I live in Nashville, TN, where a seat on our local board in my district was “won” by Elissa Kim in 2012. She took her seat from the former board chair and long-time dedicated community member, Gracie Porter. From the City Paper: “With her $81,414 fundraising mark, Kim outpaced Porter, the board chair, in the District 5 race by margin of more than 4 to 1.” Elissa Kim “shattered previous fundraising records for school board races in Nashville”. “30 percent of her dollars from individuals who don’t live in Tennessee, including a handful employed at high-profile private equity firms.”

“My district (where Kim won) in located in East Nashville, an urban neighborhood. Not long after she won, Elissa Kim moved to the suburbs.

“If I, as the parent of an elementary student in the public school system here in Davidson County, ever need any support or have a question, I always go to a board member from another district. I don’t trust her.

“Here is the link to an article explaining more about the 2012 election in Nashville:”

Today I came across a letter from a Tennessee parent that went viral. The theme, quite simply, is: Parents know best.

In it, this parent explains why she is opting her child out of state testing. Please click on the link so that Alicia Maynard and other Tennessee parents know you support them in their determination to end the testing madness.


“Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?” – Jane Nelsen, author of the Positive Discipline Series

“Dear Gov. Haslam,

“I am writing to let you know that my fourth-grader will not be taking the TCAP test. This is unfortunate for her school because she scores in the advanced range every time.

“Auria is in fourth grade at Northfield elementary in Murfreesboro, TN. This is our fourth year at this school, and between her and her sister, I have fallen in love with numerous teachers there. Murfreesboro has the best school system in the state (according to Google), and I have been highly impressed with the people and their level of care for my children.

“Third grade changed, though. My highly-intelligent, confident kid became a wreck – early in the year – over the pressure associated with the TCAP. I was confused, as I took the TCAP every year as a child and have nothing but fond memories of bubbling in the little circles. I started to notice the growing intensity leading up to the test, and I became a little disgusted. That was last year. This year it was worse. The teachers I have had the pleasure of working with are so wound up that I feel sorry for them. The teachers, the staff, the administration…everybody.

“These are obviously brilliant and creative people, and this test has taken over like a life-sucking monster. Teaching isn’t an exact science, just like parenting. Every child is different, and this terrible system is stifling all the joy and creativity that is required to really make an impact.

“Now, if I love this school and staff so much, and I know her test scores would attribute to an average boost ($$$), why would I pull her from this? She wants to be a teacher when she grows up. These teachers are already being grossly underpaid for such an important role.

“Pearson is America’s largest corporate maker of standardized testing. It has a multiyear contract with our Department of Education: For creating and implementing the TCAP and the end-of-course tests for high schoolers, we pay more than $150 million. (That’s three times what it would have cost to give Tennessee teachers a 2 percent raise.) The deepest cut of all? Teachers aren’t able to preview the test. They are neither editor nor author of the single most influential test of the whole year. It’s the educational equivalent of a slap in the face.”

- David Cook (Times Free Press)

“Auria can already make better decisions than this.

“My child’s job is to learn. The teacher’s job is to teach. But my role as her parent is more complicated. I also have to teach her when standing up for something is necessary. This system is stupid and unfair. She will be accepting a 0 as 15% of her grade for the year. But she will also be standing up for teachers and students all over the state. She will be taking steps toward bettering her future right now, and I think that’s better than just a memory of all those bubbles.

“Thank you for your time reviewing this matter,

Alicia Maynard
Murfreesboro, TN”

The above letter has been shared on Facebook over 1,140 times in the past 48 hours. Here are some of the many comments on it:


“As a teacher in metro, I love you!

“Wow! Seems I’m not alone about my TCAP feelings! Kuddos to this mom!!!

“The pressure for students, teachers, and parents is so unfair. It makes me so sad.

“This is so beautiful. It’s a must read for all parents and students.

“Maybe more parents should jump on this bandwagon!!! I would love to shake her hand and meet her in person!

“Incredible parent and letter! Hope someone listens! Something to think about where we are heading for the future of education for the little ones. Lets put Common Sense back in Education and worry bout the little ones not which pocket is getting thicker!!!!

“How many letters like this will it take to change things?

“Simply the truth. I am forbidden by law from seeing, asking or being told what is on the test my kids take. Ever. We never see the old tests. We cannot challenge bad questions…and trust me, the practice tests have bad questions. Parents can also never see the tests. Just try and ask, even after it is given. I have yet to have a teacher’s edition grammar book that did not have a wrong answer or horribly confusing practices. It happens, but now who is double checking? My kids will do well…they always do me proud in a pinch, but this is beyond ridiculous. Pearson controls education in Tennessee. Get over the outrage over the feds/Common Core (for now) and ask why in the Hell a private company gets to determine kids’ grades and teachers’ fates with ZERO oversight.

“May do this next year. Zac is flipped out about TCAP.

“This sums up my feelings on standardized testing word for word!!!!!!!

“I love how you just stand up for things that are unjust without ANY hesitation and I respect the heck out of that! TCAP tests and the like are the reasons why I did not complete my certification as a secondary educator. It’s an unfair system that pigeon-holes children into measurable data. You, Alicia Maynard, are a beautiful soul and a wonderful mother. Thank you for standing up for teachers and for teaching your children to stand up for their generation of learners.

“I applaud this mother and think it would be awesome to boycott this stupid standardized testing

“There are many, many more comments just like these above. Parents are fed up, waking up, and speaking out.”

In a stunning reversal,the Tennessee Legislature overwhelmingly repealed a law to evaluate teachers by test scores, and the law was swiftly signed by Governor Haslam. On a day when Arne Duncan withdrew Washington State’s failure to enact test-based teacher valuation system, this is a remarkable turn of events.

Joey Garrison of The Tennessean reports:

“Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law a bill that will prevent student growth on tests from being used to revoke or not renew a teacher’s license — undoing a controversial education policy his administration had advanced just last summer.

“The governor’s signature, which came Tuesday, follows the Tennessee General Assembly’s overwhelming approval this month of House Bill 1375 / Senate Bill 2240, sponsored by Republicans Rep. John Forgety and Sen. Jim Tracy, which cleared the House by a unanimous 88-0 vote and the Senate by a 26-6 vote.

“That marked a major repudiation of a policy the Tennessee Board of Education in August adopted — at Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s recommendation — that would have linked license renewal and advancement to a teacher’s composite evaluation score as well as data collected from the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, which measures the learning gains of students.

“The bill to reject the policy had been pushed chiefly by the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ organization, which engineered a petition drive to encourage Haslam to sign the legislation despite it passing with large bipartisan support.

“Huge, huge win for teachers,” the TEA wrote on its Twitter page, thanking both bill sponsors as well as Haslam for “treating teachers as professionals.”

“Eyeing a 2015 implementation, the state board in January had agreed to back down from using student learning gains as the sole and overriding reason to revoke a license. Composite evaluation scores, in which 35 percent is influenced by value-added data, were to centerpiece.”

Two interesting points here: one, Duncan has been hailing Tennessee as a demonstration of the “success” of Race to the Top, in which test-based evaluation of teachers is key. What happens now?

Second, state Commissioner Kevin Huffman is so unpopular that anything he supports is likely to be rejected. His enemies hope he doesn’t leave Tennessee because whatever he recommends generates opposition, even among his allies.

Ravi Gupta is an ambitious young man who has boldly entered the booming world of charter entrepreneurship.

He may even be planning his own charter chain.

He opened one in Nashville, one of those “no excuses” charters designed especially for kids of color, with long school days and tough discipline.

And now he plans to open another in Jackson, Mississippi. In this interview, he compares the education reform debate to the “Game of Thrones.”

Apparently some folks from Mississippi think it is funny that he talks about defining “who WE are as a state and where WE want to go.”

Ravi is from Staten Island, New York.

In Nashville, Gupta has gotten into heated exchanges with two elected school board members. He blasted one on Facebook, where he claimed the school board member was in a “drunk rage” when he wrote a sharp exchange with Gupta.

In another instance, he rudely criticized board member Amy Frogge for raising the issue of attrition at charter schools; Gupta said she was out of bounds criticizing his school because she had not visited it. Gupta accused her of acting like a “birther,” making completely unsubstantiated charges.

Gupta’s angry blasts at the school board members occurred shortly after the board unanimously granted him permission to open a second charter school in Nashville.

Gupta is only 29, and has known great success in his adult life. He seems to have a short fuse.

His school should offer courses in anger management.


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