Archives for category: Tennessee

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.







Brett Bymaster, a community activist in San Jose, California, here describes the chain’s current plans to increase the number of its charter schools. Rocketship withdrew its applications for 8 schools each in Dallas and San Antonio. But it is moving forward in Nashville and D.C.

Bymaster writes:

Recently released board material from Rocketship Education indicates that the charter school corporation intends to grow significantly, tripling in size over the next 5 years. Rocketship is known for its high stakes test prep K-5 schools that minimize arts and extracurriculars, packing 650 kids on a 1.25 acre campus, running 41:1 student to teacher ratios, and elementary aged children receiving > 90 minutes of computer time in massive labs staffed by uncredentialed aids. Local and national pushback earlier this year led to Rocketship delaying school openings and committing to less aggressive growth. But board documents released last month indicate that Rocketship is ramping up growth plans again, hoping to triple in size nationwide by 2019. In the next 5 years, Rocketship hopes to double San Francisco Bay Area schools, opening 5,000 new seats, while opening 4,000 new seats in Tennessee, and around 3,500 new seats in Washington DC.

Rocketship recently announced plans for school takeovers in Tennesse through the statewide Achievement School District, with takeovers slated for August 2015. Rocketship’s executives worried that the Nashville and Memphis “community may be resistant and potentially obstructive” to school takeovers, and then stated that they intended to “aggressively build relationships and identify parent ambassadors” to mitigate the obstructive community in Tennessee. Labeling the low income minority communities that Rocketship targets as “obstructive” seems worrisome, even more so when one considers that Rockteship intends to take over the community’s local public school and replace it with a high stakes corporate charter school that is run from distant offices in Silicon Valley’s ultra-wealthy Redwood City. Rocketship’s aggressive stance in minority communities in San Jose has led, sadly, to division and rancor in communities that should be working together.

Rocketship’s newest school in Washington D.C. provides a good example of what to expect. Rocketship let Andre Agassi’s for-profit hedge fund corporation pick the site of the proposed D.C. school in the Anacostia community. Agassi chose a site adjacent to a halfway house. Rocketship’s V.P. of growth, Katy Venskus (who was convicted for felony embezzlement in 2002 working for a different non-profit) said that Rocketship did not participate in the process of selecting a school site, abdicating their responsibility to Agassi’s for-profit hedge fund. Rocketship attempted to hire a local D.C. outreach coordinator, who quit shortly after taking the job. Rocketship was unable to replace him and seems to have lost track of the project. Rocketship’s CEO Preston Smith recently told the Washington D.C. school board, “We’re really proud of our community outreach and partnership that we’ve done in other communities and it’s very clear that in D.C. we’ve still got some work to do” and then told Rocketship’s board that “during the process of approving this charter however, it became more apparent that we could do a stronger job in engaging the Washington D.C. community, especially the Anacostia neighborhood.” Agassi also just acquired another site for Rocketship in Tennessee. I have to ask the question, is Rocketship leading Agassi, or are the for-profit hedge fund managers really in charge?

The Progressive Magazine just did a special issue on Rocketsihp, with a satire video called “Profitship Learning” by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore

For more information on Rocketship’s growth plans, see:

People across America are speaking truth to power, right now on Twitter, where they are tweeting in opposition to charter takeovers in Tennessee.

The BATs’ twitter storm using the hashtags #WeBelieve2015 and #beliefgap calling out Tennessee Achievement School District superintendent Chris Barbic and his privatization agenda has gotten the attention of The Tennessean Newspaper. They’ve posted an active link to the twitter discussion on their website.

After Kevin Huffman stepped down as state commissioner in Tennessee, Governor Haslam selected Candace McQueen as his successor.

The Momma Bears of Trnnessee–the state’s parent activists—here figures out who she is, what she believes, and hopes for the best.

She is a Common Core cheerleader. The Mama Bears say poo to that.

She testified to the state legislature on behalf of Common Core and PARCC. Mama Bears say poo again.

“Finally, the announcement was made that the heir to the throne would be… Dr. Candice McQueen! A woman! A mom! A person who spent 5 years as a real teacher! We knew a little bit already about her from writing a past Momma Bear blog, but we researched her even more. There wasn’t much new to learn. We were disheartened to see that she has been a tireless cheerleader for Common Core. She testified to the TN legislature in support of the Common Core and the high-stakes PARCC test. Pooey. She is serving on the board of SCORE (the organization funded by Bill Gates to support Common Core and reformy stuff). Double pooey. She’s also served on boards that profit from Common Core (like the Ayers Foundation who received a huge chunk of the Race to the Top prize money to develop Common Core videos). Triple pooey. She’s involved with Pearson (a British mega-corporation) through Pearson’s EDTPA program that grants teaching licenses to people who can pass Pearson’s tests. Quadruple pooey. That’s a whole lot of poo, people!”

“On the other hand, her own private school, Lipscomb, was not doing Common Core; Lipscomb’s three private schools have their OWN standards. In fact, there was nearly a parent revolt at Lipscomb when the private school parents thought their little darlings would be doing the same Common Core standards as public school darlings… but Candice wiggled her way out of that one, assuring them there is no way in H-E-double-hockey sticks that Common Core has been adopted at Lipscomb and there are no plans for Common Core ever at Lipscomb, saying, “We make decisions about what’s going to be best within the context of our community. I would say that’s absolutely what we’re going to do now and for the future.” (insert applause from the Momma Bear gallery).”

The Mama Bears also read her doctoral dissertation on parent involvement.

Their conclusion is a home run:

Momma Bears have a whole bunch of questions that nobody will know the answers to for a few years:

Will she be the Governor’s puppet?

Will she still be a champion for the Common Core initiative? Will she defend and strengthen the battered teaching profession? Will she be an advocate for children or for business interests? Will she listen to parents when we tell her the testing is excessive? Will she understand and act wisely upon what she hears? Will she see parents as the enemies as Kevin Huffman did? Will she truly listen?

If we could ask her some literal questions, we’d like to know:

What were McQueen’s TVAAS scores were when she taught? Was she a level 5?

Why didn’t she teach longer? 2 years at one private school + 3 years at a public elementary school don’t seem to be very long at all. That’s not even long enough to gain tenure. Why did she quit so soon?

What happened to the 5th grade student she wrote about in her dissertation who was frustrated to tears over math homework? Would Sue Dugger, the student’s mother, rate McQueen as an excellent or poor teacher?

Does McQueen keep in touch with any of her former public school students? (we’re not talking about the adult students in her grad programs, but want to know about the children she taught because teaching is a lot about building relationships) Did her students feel valued, respected, and did they enjoy learning?

Where do her own children attend school? Is she involved as a parent there? Does she volunteer with the PTO/PTA?

What does parental involvement mean to her? Private schools often have different expectations than public schools.

What would she do if her own child was overwhelmed with testing and/or homework?

Would McQueen support suspending TCAP testing for 2015, or at least make it a no-consequences test since it is not aligned with the standards that are in limbo?

Would McQueen support throwing the secretive TVAAS formula and evaluation system out?

Will McQueen push the Governor for increasing teacher pay in Tennessee as he promised to do years ago?

Will she advocate for smaller class sizes and more support staff in schools?

Will she be a supporter of Art, Music, and sports in every school in TN?

Will she respect a parent’s choice to opt-out of standardized testing for their child?

Will she get rid of all these expensive benchmark assessments and screener tests that are eating up instructional time and recess for our children?
Will she take an honest look at the new RTI2 program mandated in TN? Is it really helping students, or is it helping the testing companies? Is it hurting students with disabilities and special needs?

Will she hire qualified, experienced people within the Tennessee Department of Education, or will she favor young, inexperienced Teach For America yes-man types like Huffman did?

Will she strengthen our locally elected school boards or seek to further revoke their power?

Will she favor charter schools over public schools?

Will she have the guts to close failing or corrupt charter schools, including the online K12 virtual school that is making so much money for its owner and for politicians’ campaigns?

Will she get rid of the ASD and give failing, poor schools the support they desperately need to help their students succeed?

Will she sign a multi-million dollar no-bid contract with Teach For America with our tax dollars?

Goodness, that’s a whole lot of unanswered questions!

and a whole lot of poo!!!

Momma Bears will be watching…

EduShyster’s guest columnist is Andy Spears, who writes regularly about school politics in Tennessee. In this post, he describes the barbaric choices forced on public schools, as they compete for survival. One will be turned into a charter school, regardless of the wishes of the parents, students, and local community, and the other will remain a public school, at least until next year, when the same game will be played again.


Spears explains the “Thunderdome” concept:


Education reformers everywhere are looking to Tennessee for the newest way to blow up the system and disrupt the status quo. The new approach comes via Nashville, where both the local school system and the state’s Achievement School District are busy handing over *priority schools* to charter operators. The new twist is that two schools compete to determine which will be converted to a charter. Think the education reform equivalent of Thunderdome: two schools enter, only one leaves.

Two schools enter, one school leaves
Tennesee’s version of Thunderdome kicked off when Metro Nashville Director of Schools, Jesse Register, suggested that KIPP be given an elementary school in East Nashville. When parents at Inglewood Elementary resisted the KIPPing of their school, Register introduced the Thunderdome concept. KIPP would get a school, but it would be EITHER Inglewood or Kirkpatrick Elementary.


A deadline was set, and with no clear criteria for deciding which school would survive, parents were left to determine on their own what tactics might help their school escape KIPP’s clutches. Inglewood parents entered Thunderdome in full force, aligning with a new parent-led movement, East Nashville United, to resist plans to turn all of East Nashville into an *all-choice* school zone. NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia even stopped by, telling those gathered at Inglewood that she was on their side.


So, who won round one? Well, KIPP, of course. They got a school! And, since it was Kirkpatrick, Inglewood parents can take a break from worrying about next year and start worrying about the year after that. Because the game must be played again and Inglewood may yet again find itself in the education reform equivalent of a fight to the death.


Spears describes how parents in both Memphis and Nashville have tried to fight back. But who cares what they think?


He also drops the hint that Chris Barbic, who runs the so-called Achievement School District (which has promised to turn the state’s lowest-performing schools into the top 25% of the state’s schools through the miracle of chartering), has been rumored to be a successor to the leader of the Metro Nashville public schools, which would give him a free hand to turn all the schools in the system over to private charter operators. Or possibly, Spears says, he might be a successor to John King as state commissioner in New York. If he moves on, would the ASD still have to meet its five-year target? Or would it just become an unstoppable machine for chartering all the urban public schools in Tennessee?



As a parent in Nashville, the blogger called Dad Gone Wild attended a meeting called by the state’s “Achievement School District” (ASD) to persuade parents that their community public school is a failure and needs to be turned into a charter school run by the ASD.

Dad concluded that the state officials were “gaslighting” the parents–misleading them, frightening them with false data, slandering their school.

This is no failing school, he wrote. The teachers were greeted like rock stars. Failing school?

“This description doesn’t fit any of the schools I’ve been in. In each of them I’ve been hit by an overwhelming wave of community. Last night teachers from the school were introduced at the beginning of the meeting and they were greeted like they were the Rolling Stones taking the stage. So wait a minute, you mean the community loves the very people that are robbing their children of their future? How is that possible? In fact the crowd was so anti-ASD that if I was them I would have packed my stuff and gone home, but I don’t have a savior complex.

“It was interesting that when the opposition spoke there was an energy in the room, but when the ASD representative spoke the room felt heavier, the shuffling louder, and the sound of side conversations increased. Looking around I see a well kept school. Examples of student work litter the halls. Teachers move about interacting with students and their families. They obviously have formed strong bonds. Trust me, I know failing and this didn’t look like it.”

The reformers won’t stop labeling children, teachers, and schools as failures. That’s their bread and butter.

Dad Gone Wild won’t stand for that:

“When Chris Barbic as head of the ASD says “I’m just here to make a bad school better” and chooses to ignore all the factors that go into that school, that’s immoral. When teachers tell me that the ASD representatives who toured the school were more interested in the property then the actual students, that’s immoral. When you refuse to provide adequate translators to parents who are going to be affected by your actions, that’s immoral. I also believe, when you stand and preach about how every dollar goes to the child yet you draw a salary of 200k from working with kids that live in poverty, that’s immoral. The whole process is predatory and immoral.

“I’ll be honest with you. I consider quitting this fight on a daily basis. It makes me nuts. It impacts my home life. It takes time away that I could be spending with my family and truth be known, we have other options. Then on a day like today, when I go read to my child’s class at a school that because of demographics could be labeled a failing school, it becomes crystal clear again. When I look out at all those kids who are all facing their own individual challenges that reformers expect them to overcome alone or they’ll label failures, I remember. Going to this school is going to make my children better people and their presence is going to make those children better people. I owe it to my children to give them that chance.”

I spoke last week to the annual convention of the Association for Career and Technical Education in Nashville. It was a great audience, and I loved meeting so many educators who are devoting their lives to preparing young people for life after school.


The night before the CTE convention, I spoke to local activists for public education in Nashville. It was an exciting time. The state commissioner Kevin Huffman had resigned only days before. Memphis parents are in an uproar over the steady expansion of the charter sector and the loss of their public schools. Meanwhile, Nashville’s superintendent has a plan to introduce more charters, whether parents want them or not.


Here is an account of the evening and the situation by Lucianna Sanson, a BAT in Tennessee:


Lucianna writes:


This week, Nashville was honored when Diane Ravitch spoke at an event hosted by a group of local grassroots education activists: TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Education Excellence), Momma Bears (a blog run by some fierce parent activists), and the TnBATs (BadAss Teachers Association) at Vanderbilt University at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 19, 2014. Diane was in town to speak at a CTE conference, but she graciously spent her night speaking with, and to, a room full of approximately 400 teachers, parents, administrators, students, reporters, and concerned citizens.


Diane spoke at length about education reform and the venture capitalist agenda that is behind the movement. In the interest of selling this agenda, which includes privatizing public education, education reformers are fond of calling education “the civil rights issue of our time.” Ironically, they cast themselves in the mold of great civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King and the Freedom Riders. Diane Ravitch pointed out the hypocrisy of this by stating that rather than uplifting African Americans and other People of Color through community schools with wrap-around services, the Reformers promote Charters and Vouchers, which re-segregates schools rather than bringing, or keeping, diverse communities together.


Dr. Ravitch spoke about Charter schools, an issue that is particularly troubling for Tennessee because Memphis City/Shelby County has been taken over by the Achievement School District, or ASD, which is modeled after the Recovery School District, or RSD, in New Orleans. This is very troubling because New Orleans only has five public schools remaining in the city. The communities of New Orleans no longer have any ownership or say-so about their own schools. Memphis residents are aware that their schools are being taken over, not to help their students and communities, but to make corporations richer. Residents are fighting back and speaking out against Charter school takeovers.


Teachers, parents, and other invested stakeholders are attending neighborhood meetings, holding signs, and speaking to the ASD, local boards, and local leaders. They are asking for their schools to be funded, not sold to the highest bidder. While Memphis is in the eye of the storm, the ASD has reached out to Nashville and is now attempting to take over schools there. The citizens of Nashville are resisting as well, and part of that resistance has taken the form of grassroots organizations holding ed reform awareness workshops, talking with lawmakers, speaking out at BOE meetings, blogging about the truth of ed reform, and working with the local state teacher’s association to raise awareness regarding these issues.


Diane encouraged Tennesseans to continue to work together in solidarity to fight ed reform. She encouraged us, as teachers, parents, students, community leaders, and citizens, to be pro-active in speaking up and speaking out. As a teacher, and a parent, a citizen, and a local education activist, I am encouraged by her words, emboldened by them, and inspired by them. I, as well as many others in Tennessee, have become an outspoken advocate for our public schools. In that spirit, I have included the short speech I gave from the TREE, BEARs, and BATs event. It is a call to action, a call to work in solidarity, and a call for all local activists to stay strong, stay focused, and continue to work together. As Diane reminded us, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi


Lucianna’s Call to Action Speech


Hello Everyone and Good Evening. My name is Lucianna Sanson and I am a public high school teacher in Franklin County TN. As many of you may recall, two years ago, Kevin Huffman and the State Board of Education began talking about tying our teaching license to test scores. When I heard that- it was thestraw that broke the Came’l back for me.


I decided that I had had enough. Ironically, that same week, or perhaps even that same day, I found a grassroots association of fellow teachers on FB called the BadAss Teachers Association. Well, I knew that I was a BadAss and I realized that I had found a group of people as dedicated and fed up with ed reform as I was. Soon after finding the National group, I connected with the local TN state group and became an active participant and volunteer for the group. I added my teacher voice to the others that were speaking up for public education in my state. The following words are a call to action to you, fellow teachers, parents, and citizens. Join with me and speak up about ed reform. Together we can make a difference and be heard.



We must stand up and be strong-

We must stand up and speak truth-

We must stand up,

and use our teacher voices to protect our children and our profession.

We must stand tall and proud, like the TREE,

We must be fierce and protective of our children, like the Momma Bear,

We must be brave and bold like the Bat, swooping down on those that threaten our public schools, our profession, and our students.


We must protect our children and our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness- a happiness that can not be found in Tennessee- unless we are free to learn, free to prosper, and free to work together without the yoke of national or corporate education reform inflicted upon us. If we can’t work together to educate our children, how can we work together to make a great nation?


We must protect our freedom.

We must protect our children.

We must protect them at all costs.


Our public schools are the last strongholds of our democracy.

Endless bubble tests do not train our students to be citizens in a democracy.

Endless bubble tests do not promote critical thinking and creativity!



We must be fearless warriors for truth.

We must speak truth to power.

We must be, in the infamous words of Dr. Mark Naison, the founder of the National BadAss teachers Association,

We must be BadAss!


Tennesseans, please join TREE, Momma BEARs, and TNBATs in the fight to save our schools. Our students deserve our support. Our children deserve our support. If we don’t stand up for our children no one else will.


If you would like more information on Momma Bears, TREE, and TNBATs, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter.   @Lucianna_Sanson   @MommaBears4edu   @TNExcellence

Last week, Kevin Huffman and John Ayers resigned. Huffman was state commissioner of education in Tennessee, and he employed every possible strategy to make testing a centerpiece of education policy. Ayers was director of the Cowen Institute at Tulane University in New Orleans, which was greatly embarrassed when it released–and then rescinded–a “research” report claiming amazing gains in the charter schools of New Orleans. Both were big boosters of using student test scores to judge the quality and effectiveness of teachers, a methodology referred to as VAM, or value-added-modeling.


Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, one of the nation’s expert researchers on teacher evaluation, looks at the two resignations as evidence that the VAM-mania is failing and claiming victims. There is as yet no evidence that VAM improves teaching,  improves student achievement, or correctly identifies the strengths and weaknesses of teachers. As its critics have said consistently, VAM results depend on many factors outside the control of the teacher and may vary for many different reasons. A teacher may get a high VAM rating one year, and a low VAM rating the next year. VAM ratings may change if a different test is used. Yet those who stubbornly believe that everything that matters can be measured with precision can’t let go of their data-driven mindset.


The lesson: proceed with caution with a methodology that has no record of success and that inevitably places far too much importance on standardized tests.

Kevin Huffman, state commissioner of education in Tennessee, has resigned.

According to the Bluff City blogger, Memphis parents and teachers have reached the boiling point. They are angry about the annual ritual of takeovers of their public schools. Things are not going well for the Achievement School District (ASD). It absorbed the state’s lowest performing schools and promised they would become high-performing schools within five years. The clock is ticking. Now parents, teachers, school officials and communities say they don’t want to lose their public schools. They are tired of empty promises. Even some charter operators have backed off, aware of public outrage. The blogger says it is a true revolt. Outsiders rearranging their lives and their schools, without listening to the community. Enough is enough. People don’t like pointless disruption of their communities.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 150,066 other followers