Archives for category: Tennessee

Have you noticed that national commissions and panels of “experts” often have no working teachers? Consequently, there is a lot of grumbling about the lack of “teacher voice” in decisions affecting the classroom. Now a group of teachers has decided to do something about it instead of just grumbling.


They created a new organization called CAPE (Coalition Advocating for Public Education). They attend board meetings and represent the teacher voice. Silent no more! What if teachers did this in every school district? This is an example of the power of organized voices. They don’t need to sign up every teacher in Nashville. They just need a few teachers who are dedicated, articulated, and fearless. And they need to follow through. They will make a difference.


Here is their inaugural press release from last week:
Nine teachers will be using their teacher voices to speak before the Metro Nashville Public Schools board of education on Tuesday, Nov. 10. Their topic will be the impact of high-stakes testing on their classrooms.
The teachers are a part of a campaign recently launched by the Middle Tennessee Coalition Advocating for Public Education (CAPE).
“When you tell teachers to ‘use their teacher voice’, it means to speak loudly and clearly, with the kind of authority that brings immediate order to a chaotic classroom,” said Amanda Kail, an English as a second language teacher at Margaret Allen Middle Prep and one of the founders of CAPE. “As teachers, we deal with the consequences of chaos brought into our profession by the so-called reform movement. Many people are talking about the best way to fix schools, but our policy-makers need to remember that we are the experts in education, and it is time to voice that expertise for our profession, our students, and our communities.”
The coalition was started by a handful of public school teachers and regional organizations who advocate for public schools, teachers, and students. CAPE is planning to recruit more teachers to speak at the school board meetings every month. They are also planning other events, such as a panel exploring the impact of “Zero Tolerance Discipline” on November 17.



Mercedes Schneider received an email sent by the Walton Family Foundation to its many friends and admirers, touting the success of a school that is part of the Achievement School District in Tennessee. Being the careful researcher that she is, she gave the email a close reading and discovered that it was pure propaganda, signed by the WFF director of education, Marc Sternberg.

The email boasts about a young man who graduated from a high school in Tennessee and now returns to the low-performing school as its principal. Cue the violins, as we know he is sure to succeed. This school is one of the lucky schools that is part of the Achievement School District, which will surely lift the lowest 5% of schools in the state (mostly in Memphis with a few in Nashville) to the top 25%, in a mere five years.

Mercedes notes that the school has been in the ASD for only one year. Why the confidence that it will be transformed?

She points out what Walton’s propaganda machine failed to mention: Of the schools that have been part of the ASD the longest, four of the six are still in the bottom 5%, and the other two are in the bottom 6%. (She credits Gary Rubinstein with the original research demonstrating the failure of the ASD.) Why is Walton pretending that the ASD is a grand success?

She writes:

So, if ASD dramatically improves schools, why feature a school that has been in ASD for only a single year? Why not feature schools that have been in ASD for years and have therefore (surely) shown evidence of *dramatic improvement*?

Easy answer:

ASD has no schools that have *dramatically improved.*

Still, the Waltons want to sell ASD as a solution for those “bottom 5 percent” of Tennessee schools. They email subscribers with a feel-good story of a man who graduated from the “bottom 5 percent” school and who became a success anyway when the school was not in the bottom 5 percent– and without any detailed consideration of the factors that might have contributed to the school’s now having “fallen” into the bottom 5 percent based on test scores.

Converting the school to a charter led by an alum of the school surely will allow (Frasyer High) MLK Charter to climb on the backs of some other, less fortunate Tennessee schools and exit that bottom 5 percent.

The first superintendent of the ASD, Chris Barbic, pledged to achieve his goal in five years. After four years, he had a heart attack. He failed. He quit.

The ASD continues to post its boast on its website, even though it has been a flop.

No data-driven policy here. Just propaganda.

Reader J.C. Grim forwarded this commentary from Tennessee’s SCORE (State Collaborative on Reforming Education).

It is very important for SCORE to claim that great progress is being made. At the 2013 release of NAEP scores, Secretary Duncan saluted Tennessee for its gains and held the state up as proof that the Race to the Top was working.

In 2015, however, Tennessee’s scores in math and reading were flat, for both fourth and eighth grade students.

The statement actually mis-states where Tennessee ranks among the states. For example, it says that Tennessee went from  being 41st in the nation in 8th grade reading to 30th, but the report says it is 36th in the nation. If you count the Department of Defense schools, then Tennessee is number 37. If we all aspire to be at the national average, we should follow Tennessee’s lead.

So, the response from reformers is to claim success because the gains from 2013 didn’t disappear. Not a word about flat scores; not a word about no gains.

Well, that’s one way to make progress. I guess the claim is, at least we stood still and didn’t go backwards.

Kentucky, which has no charter schools (unlike Tennessee), placed #9 in the nation. What can Tennessee learn from Kentucky?

John Thompson, historian and teacher, explains why corporate reformers are in a bad mood. Nothing seems to be working out as planned. The word is getting out that Néw Orleans was not a miracle. Worse, black communities are angry at the white elites who took control of their schools.

Thompson writes:

“It has been quite a year for school reform anniversaries. This is the fifth year of the $500 million Tennessee Race to the Top, the prime funder of the $44 million Memphis Achievement School District, and the $200 million One Newark; the tenth anniversary of Katrina and the mass charterization of New Orleans; and the 15-year anniversary of the man-made Katrina launched by the Gates Foundation.

“The corporate reformers’ top-dollar public relations gurus must have anticipated a series of lavish celebrations of their market-driven reforms. But, reality intruded. It’s a safe bet there will not be ten-year and 15-year victory laps for those prohibitively expensive urban experiments that produced underwhelming results. If the Gates Foundation stays its course, even its education division may not be around for a 20-year birthday party.

“The reason why this was supposed to be the great reform victory lap of 2015 was that the incoming Duncan administration, heavily staffed by former Gates officials, rammed through the entire corporate reform agenda all at once. In 2009 and 2010, the contemporary school reform movement became the dog that caught the bus it was chasing. The wish list of market-driven reformers, test-driven reformers, and even the most ideological anti-union, teacher-bashers, became the law (in part or in totality) in more than 3/4ths of the states. Due to the Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants, and other innovations, competition-driven reformers were given the gifts and contracts that they claimed would reverse the educational effects of poverty.

“So, how did they do?

“The year that was supposed to be triumph at the top became the year of reckoning for accountability-driven reformers. Or should I say it became the year of the Billionaires Boys Club’s non-reckoning and avoidance of accountability?

“The anniversaries began with excuses over the disappointing outcomes in Memphis, as well as the Tennessee Race to the Top. True believer Chris Barbic worked himself into a heart attack and resigned as superintendent of the ASD. The money was spent, and instead of a series of victorious public relations events, reformers found themselves explaining away the outcomes. In the wake of falling test scores, the previous spring, Barbic told Chalkbeat TN’s Daarel Burnette, “I think that the depth of the generational poverty and what our kids bring into school every day makes it even harder than we initially expected. … We underestimated that.”

“The refusal to listen to people who understand extreme poverty is almost certainly one reason why Memphis is now first in the nation in young persons out of school and without a job.

“Barbic’s parting excuse was:

“Let’s just be real: achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment. I have seen this firsthand at YES Prep and now as the superintendent of the ASD. 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.

“Then came Dale Russakoff’s The Prize. It would have been more difficult for Newark to have proclaimed victory after the decline of Governor Chris Christies’s political fortunes, the election of Ras Baraka as mayor on an anti-One Newark platform, and the removal of Cami Anderson as the state-appointed superintendent. But, Russakoff’s best-selling account of the battle over “Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?” made it impossible to spin the corporate reform experiment as anything but an embarrassment. Russakoff revealed, “For four years, the reformers never really tried to have a conversation with the people of Newark. Their target audience was always somewhere else.” Elite reformers were seeking “a national proof point” which would demonstrate how they could provide incentives and disincentives to solve society’s problems.

“Partially because of their refusal to tolerate dissent and to learn from the people who best knew Newark schools, One Newark actually drove down student performance in its high-challenge Renew schools. And tellingly, Russakoff cites the creator of the growth model that was inappropriately imposed on teacher evaluations. He said that simply focusing on teachers and growth is “pretty obviously myopic” and “a lot of high-stakes accountability has become self-defeating.” But, reformers ignored such advice, so “nonetheless, test-based teacher accountability for student performance remained a primary goal of the reform movement.”

“Third, whether it was a tribute to the sincerity or the hubris of New Orleans reformers, they broke tradition and invited scholars and educators representing multiple perspectives to their ten-year celebration. In contrast to the opaqueness of the financial statements typically issued by charter school chains, NOLA reformers acknowledged that during the early years of their experiment an additional $8000 per student was invested, and a decade later it still receives an extra thousand dollars per student. The most prominent result of all that spending is that it turned much or most of the New Orleans African-American community against the do-gooders who came down to save them.

“True believers in mass charterization proclaimed large gains in test scores. But the conference featured panels of scholars who were very articulate in questioning whether those metrics reflect actual learning. Moreover, experts noted that the gains must be seen in terms of NOLA’s shamefully low pre-Katrina starting point; post-Katrina demographic shifts; curriculum narrowing, a focus on test prep and remediation that doesn’t prepare kids for college or life; and the nation’s 3rd highest rate of young people out of school without a job.

“Finally, the Gates Foundation ordinarily seems to be allergic to learning from others, but it certainly conducted its 15-year anniversary in a way that was cognizant of the New Orleans conference experience. The clear lesson was that scholars and educators with differing views should not be invited. As the Hechinger Report’s Meredith Kolodner reported, the event was presented to “a hand-picked audience.” Moreover, as Alexander Russo notes, the interview with the USDOE’s Ted Mitchell was closed to the press (due to a request by the USDOE), and the second day’s presentations were not live-streamed. If they were anything like the first day sessions, I doubt there would have been much of an audience anyway. The events I watched were merely infomercials.

“The Gates Foundation has spent about $4 billion on K-12 education since 1999 with nearly a billion of it going to its teacher effectiveness campaign. It still lacks a plausible scenario where its support of high stakes testing and charters will not damage the poorest children of color as in Memphis, Newark, and New Orleans.

“One would think that they would ask the same question as those who pushed the Memphis ASD, the federal RttT, and the Newark and NOLA experiments should ask. Why would the supposed beneficiaries of their largess be so livid, demanding that corporate reformers go home? If billions of dollars of test, sort, reward, and punish regimes were actually doing more good than harm, why would there be such a rejection of their programs?

“Even Bill Gates acknowledges, “Test scores in this country are not going up,” while taking solace in what he has been told are a few bright spots. He admits that a decade from now his teacher evaluation system may still be unwelcome by teachers. I doubt we will have to wait anywhere near that long before it is rejected. As Larry Cuban predicts, Gates’s value-added evaluations and other reformers’ panaceas will be “like tissue-paper reforms of the past … that have been crumpled up and tossed away.”

“Melinda and Bill Gates both seem perplexed as to why educators and patrons reject their gifts. Melinda remarked about how difficult it can be to persuade parents to accept their innovations. Bill said, “Nobody votes to un-invent our malaria vaccine.”

“Of course, Gates was criticizing the opponents of corporate reforms, not the reforms themselves. It’s a shame that he doesn’t seem to get an opportunity to be asked the seemingly obvious question. How is the malaria vaccine different than his education policies? The malaria vaccine works. Why not consider the possibility that educators and patrons oppose his education schemes because they don’t work?”

Okay, I am late to the party on this one, but glad to discover and report that Megan Barry was elected Mayor of Nashville in mid-September. Her opponent, David Fox, was a former hedge funder who favored charter schools. Barry is not only Nashville’s first female mayor, but also a Democrat and a progressive in a state where Democrats have been struggling to win elections.

Since Tennessee has been one of the Race to the Top’s poster children, it will be interesting to see what happens with Megan Barry as Mayor. The failed Achievement School District has thus far concentrated on Memphis, but has expanded into Nashville.

Keep your eye on Tennessee. And on Megan Barry.

You may recall a few recent posts about Nashville Prep, a no-excuses charter school that boasts of its high test scores. This is the school that assigned a book called “City of Thieves” to seventh graders and caused local consternation. The founder of the school insisted that the school was actually using a bowdlerized version of the book, with the salacious passages removed. The National Coalition Against Censorship criticized the school for using a “censored” copy of the book.

This is also the same school that posted videos on its website about its practices; one was called “Six Minutes in Ms. McDonald’s Fifth Grade Social Studies Class,” and it showed children responding robotically and chanting answers to the teacher’s questions. As soon as the video was mentioned on this blog, the school blocked access to viewers.

Guess what? The U.S. Department of Education has just awarded $9.6 million to RePublic Schools, the sponsor of Nashville Prep, to spread its model throughout the South.

The Department’s press release says:

The U.S. Department of Education announced today a grant totaling $9,599,599 million to RePublic Schools. This five year grant under the Charter Schools Program (CSP) will enable RePublic to replicate its school model to serve more students and families and expand its computer science education initiatives across the South. With this investment, RePublic will grow from serving 1,335 students in 2015-2016 to 7,215 students each year by 2022.

With the combined millions of the federal government and foundations, the RePublic model will open more schools in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

More of your taxpayers dollars going to compete with and undermine public education.

Faculty members at the University of Memphis are fighting any partnership between the university and the Relay “Graduate School of Education.”

The student newspaper writes:

“Can Relay Graduate School of Education produce quality educators after a one-year teaching residency in one of Memphis’ charter schools?

“The University of Memphis is reconsidering this question after faculty senate members have asked university president David M. Rudd to reevaluate the potential impact of a proposed partnership between the university, Relay, and Shelby County Schools/ Achievement School District.

“The proposed program is drawing concern from faculty members and people in the community, where charter schools already use young teachers who obtain teaching certification from other non-traditional programs such as Teach for America or Memphis Teacher Residency.

“The faculty senate unanimously voted to independently investigate any risks that Relay might pose to current university programs. Additionally, a task force likely to include Provost Karen Weddle-West, College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences Dean Ernest Rakow, and Professor of Educational Leadership Reginald Green will be established to offer recommendations for a university partnership with SCS/ASD.

“Relay is a one-year teaching residency program available to undergraduates from any major, and while their training period is substantially longer than other alternative certification programs, some feel that it is still inadequate.

“With what they are doing, it is impossible to become a good teacher — especially if you do not have an educational background in areas like the psychology of education,” said Mate Wierdl, a U of M professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences and a faculty senate member.

“Relay’s official website outlines of their curriculum, that includes reviewing recorded classroom footage of student’s teaching interactions, as well as online tutorials. Wierdl, however, is perturbed by other concerns.

“We don’t exactly know what Relay is doing. We know that Relay is a company based in New York. We know that it is four years old. Otherwise, it has no track record whatsoever,” said Wierdl. “It’s just the strangest thing — that somehow charter school teachers can train other charter school teachers, and in New York and now in Tennessee, they can give out master’s degrees.”

Last week, Nashville school board member Amy Frogge wrote about her misgivings about Nashville Prep, a charter school with high test scores. She criticized its harsh discipline and its use of a book that contained words and situations that most people would consider inappropriate for children in seventh grade. Her article was called: WARNING! THE CONTENT OF THIS POST IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR CHILDREN!

Many comments responded to her article. This one came from a teacher in England:

“If a teacher did this in the UK, they would be sacked. No Union could support the use of such a book with 12 year-old children. The planning trail for the use of this book should be scrutinised and the person, or persons responsible, must be held to account – it is a form of child abuse and would be totally unacceptable throughout the United Kingdom. As a Foster Carer, I am amazed to read this. As a teacher, I am disgusted that it is a required text in a US Charter School. As an individual, it is a sign of how awful Education is becoming in the USA, the supposed leader of the free world. The Discipline strategies described here would see you charged with assault in the United Kingdom. What I have read beggars belief.

“Something is seriously wrong.”

“Oliver Kingsley,
Vice President,
Liverpool Division of the National Union of Teachers, United Kingdom”


This is a fascinating video. It is “Six Minutes in Ms. McDonald’s Fifth Grade Social Studies Class.”

Ms. McDonald is a teacher in Nashville Prep, a high-scoring charter school in Nashville, Tennessee.

You may have read about it here. The founder, Ravi Gupta, has plans to expand and create a chain. He already has a school in Mississippi.

Were you ever in a social studies class like this one?

No discussion, no debate. Singing and responding in unison.

In the early nineteenth century, children learned geography by singing the names of the continents, the oceans, the highest mountains.

Corporate education reform specializes in grandiose promises, hype, and spin. No reformer was bolder than Chris Barbic. Reflecting his self-confidence, he took over Tennessee’s Achievement School District and predicted he could raise the bottom 5% of the state’s schools into the top 25% in only five years.

After only four years, Barbic quit. He said that turning around neighborhood schools was harder than he expected. It is easier to have a choice school where the school chooses, although Barbic didn’t say that.

Gary Rubinstein was first to analyze the ASD data, and he found that after three years, the original six schools had not improved. Barbic’s ambitious goal was out of reach.

Rubinstein wrote:

“Four of the original six schools are still in the bottom 5% while the other two have now ‘catapulted’ to the bottom 6%. Perhaps this is one reason that Chris Barbic recently announced he is resigning at the end of the year.”

So what is the response in Tennessee?

Andy Spears writes that the ASD took over Neely’s Bend, a middle school that was improving and outperforming the ASD schools.

“Some in the Tennessee General Assembly have taken notice. More than twenty bills dealing with the ASD’s practices were filed in the 2015 legislative session. One of them passed. Ironically, that legislation would have prevented the ASD from taking over any school on the priority list that had scored a 4 or 5 on the state’s accountability indicator. Neely’s Bend’s 2015 score was a 5.

“Unlike other school districts, the ASD is not accountable to an elected School Board. The Superintendent reports directly to the Commissioner of Education. This lack of accountability is likely what prompted soon-to-be former ASD Superintendent Barbic to say, *I think it’s important to remind everyone that a lot of things we are doing are by choice. If we wanted to, we could take over all 85 schools (on the priority list) next year.*

“I think it’s safe to say that this communication strategy combined with the results at Neely’s Bend will cause the legislature to take another look at the runaway expansion of the ASD. It’s certainly not too late to both return Neely’s Bend to the community that loves it AND delay further expansion without new accountability provisions.”


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