Archives for category: Tennessee

Rocketship Charters are planning to open in Nashville and Memphis, but there have been a few problems along the way.

Lisa Fingeroot of the Nashville Ledger writes that the for-profit corporation,which relies on computers to cut costs, has experienced a dramatic decline in its test scores in the past few years. Once hailed as the “next big thing” because of its high scores, that reputation has melted away, as this article shows.


Fingeroot writes:


Rocketship opened its first elementary school in California in 2008 and earned a national reputation for success with a “blended” learning model in which students spend a part of the day learning online while supervised by an aide instead of a certified teacher. The rest of the students’ day takes place in a traditional classroom.
The online learning program allows a 50-to-one student-teacher ratio, has come under fire from educators and has contributed to a drop in test scores for Rocketship students, documents show.
Even though California-based Rocketship will abandon the online program, Kristoffer Haines, senior vice president of growth and development, is accusing critics of distorting company goals by wrongly claiming the online program was designed simply to cut costs so more money could be syphoned from each individual school and used to fuel company expansion into more states.
Rocketship’s learning model has found support among many of the nation’s education reform spokesmen, including former Florida Gov. and potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who promote the use of computers as a method to individualize student instruction.
But Rocketship took a public relations hit earlier this year when the California Department of Education released test scores showing a steady decline in student test scores between the 2008-09 and 2012-13 school years. During that period, the company grew from one to seven schools and also implemented the higher student-teacher ratio pilot.
The test scores, calculated at the request of Education Week, a national trade magazine for educators, show a correlation between growth of the company and incremental drops in test scores.
But Rocketship officials downplay the scores and blame the drop on the online pilot program, which they say will be nixed before the Nashville school opens for the 2014-15 school year.


The company spokesmen boast of “phenomenal results,” but “the results calculated by California officials for Education Week show the percentage of Rocketship students who scored proficient or better in English/language arts dropped by 30 percentage points in five years, and the number scoring that well in math dropped by more than 14 percentage points.”


In another article, Fingeroot disclosed that Rocketship had been siphoning funds from charters in one state to finance the opening of new charters in other states.


She writes:


A national charter school group tapped to open schools in both Nashville and Memphis is dumping plans to syphon money from its schools here and in California to finance expansion into other states, a company official says.

The plan by Rocketship Education to use tax dollars collected in one state to finance the opening of schools in another state has elected officials and charter school observers questioning whether the move is legal.

But that plan has been scrapped and will be replaced in May with a similar business model that shows money will not be moved from state to state, says Kristoffer Haines, senior vice president of growth and development.

Revenues generated at a Nashville school, however, could be used to help jumpstart another Rocketship school in Nashville, he adds.

Even that kind of money movement isn’t winning points from Metro Nashville school board member Will Pinkston, a vocal opponent of unrestricted charter school growth.

“Any charter operator needs to be keeping those dollars in the school and not using them to fund growth inside or outside the community,” Pinkston says.

The Metro school board has approved one Rocketship charter school, but the company has plans to ask for at least one more in Nashville.

Rocketship does not need local approval, though, because it has state approval to take over failing schools in both Nashville and Memphis through the Achievement School District established to improve Tennessee schools performing in the bottom five percent of all schools.

The Rocketship plan to fuel growth through local schools called for cutting staff to save money, and taking an additional $200,000 per year from each of the company’s existing schools to use as seed money.

“It’s called ‘cross subsidization,’ and whether it is legal or not is very questionable,” says Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University whose research includes the monitoring of more than 300 charter schools around the United States.

“Why would taxpayers in Tennessee want to pay for schools in another state,” he asks.

The plan was first found on the company’s website, but was removed when it became ammunition in a California neighborhood fight over whether Rocketship would be allowed to open a second school in the community.

Haines accuses critics of distorting the information and called the plan “outdated” because much of it was based on an old 2010 plan that was meant only for California schools and only to fund additional California schools, he explains.

In yet a third article, Fingeroot shows how “nonprofit” charter chains are very profitable through real estate transactions and high salaries.

She writes:



Even though a plan to allow for-profit charter school management companies in Tennessee is dead for the current legislative session, the “Educational Industrial Complex” is still cranking out profits, says the professor who coined the phrase.


“There’s not much difference in profit and nonprofits,” says Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University and a member of the National Education Policy Center in Colorado who studies and monitors charter schools.
“At the end of the year they can clear profits by putting it into salaries and bonuses for executives,’’ he explains.


Funds also can be moved or paid into a web of for-profit sister companies that have contracts with the nonprofit charter school.
“It’s really a scam,” Miron says of the many different scenarios that can be used. “To really follow the money, you would have to really understand the facilities companies.”
Miron is particularly wary of the real estate deals like those currently being seen in Nashville and Memphis.


In Nashville, the new Rocketship Education school building on Dickerson Pike is being built by a hedge fund company owned by tennis star Andre Agassi. Investors in the company provide financing for construction, and the company acts as a mortgage holder.


Each Rocketship school pays between 12 and 20 percent of its budget to the main Rocketship company for a facilities fee. The money is then used for the mortgage payment, says Kristoffer Haines, senior vice president of growth and development.


For the company’s California schools, the fee is about 18 percent. He anticipates a facilities fee in the high teens for the new Nashville school.


In the end, Rocketship will own the building and “the taxpayer’s interest is not protected,” Miron says. If the charter school closes, the building is still owned by the company, even though it was paid for with tax dollars via facilities fees.


“We’re seeing more and more of this,” Miron adds.


Nationally, the charter school failure rate is estimated to be about 15 percent.


For investing in a school project, investors are given tax credits as high as 39 percent, which allows them to double their money within seven years, says Metro Nashville school board member Amy Frogge, an active opponent of for-profit charter schools.


It’s an attractive enticement for hedge fund managers, who have begun flocking to Memphis charter schools to get their share, she adds.


The question is whether taxpayers expect their tax money to reduce class size and pay for art teachers, social workers, school nurses, and other kinds of direct school enrichment, or whether they know they are enriching hedge fund managers, investors, and executives of charter chains.






Audrey Amrein Beardsley has been studying William Sanders’ value-added assessment system for a decade or so, and she is no fan of his methodology.

Here she explains why.

William Sanders has argued that his methodology is not volatile, but Beardsley and other critics say otherwise.

TVAAS or EVAAS is highly controversial, yet Arne Duncan praised it and claimed that Tennessee made great strides because it uses Sanders’ methods.

Beardsley makes the following observations (she has many more links, and I can’t copy them all, so I urge you to read her article and follow the links to understand the evidence she cites):


Sanders and others (including state leaders and even U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan) have lauded Tennessee’s use of accountability instruments, like the TVAAS, for Tennessee’s large gains on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) outcomes. Others, however, have cautioned against this celebration because 1) the results mask the expanding achievement gap in Tennessee; 2) the state’s lowest socioeconomic students continue to perform poorly on the test; 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 make similar gains (I should add that Kentucky’s achievement gap is also narrowing and their lowest socioeconomic students have made significant gains). Claiming that NAEP scores increased because of TVAAS-use and other stringent accountability policies is completely unwarranted (see also this article in Education Week).


This is an unintentionally hilarious
story about Common Core
in Tennessee. Dr. Candace McQueen
has been dean of Lipscomb College’s school of education and also
the state’s’s chief cheerleader for Common Core. However, she was
named headmistress of private Lipscomb Academy, and guess what? She
will not have the school adopt the Common Core! Go figure.

The Tennessee State Senate passed a bill based on ALEC model legislation to minimize local control.

ALEC is more dedicated to privatization and to the destruction of public sector agencies than to local control.

ALEC’s agenda is not conservative; it is extremist.

Under this bill, those who wish to open a privately managed charter school may apply to a state authorizing board if the local board turns them down.

This guts local control.

The legislation applies only to 5 of the state’s 95 districts, because the charters want to expand in the urban districts, especially Memphis and Nashville.

The bill is payback against the Metro Nashville school board, which on four occasions turned down the controversial Great Hearts Academy, which wanted to open in an affluent section of Nashville with no transportation plans for children from other neighborhoods. The board rejected their proposal because it would not serve the city’s neediest children.

State Commissioner Kevin Huffman–whose only experience as an educator was his two years in TFA–fined the Nashville district $3.4 million for rejecting Great Hearts.

Great Hearts has been criticized in Arizona, where it is based, for its lack of diversity, and for conflicts of interest on its board. 

According to research by the Arizona Republic:

The 15 schools under the non-profit Great Hearts Academies offer a college-preparatory curriculum that stresses classic literature. That means students get an intensive reading regimen.

To supply the books, the schools have been making regular purchases for at least the last three years from a Tempe-based textbook company called Educational Sales Co. Daniel Sauer, the company’s president and CEO and a shareholder, is also an unpaid officer of the Great Hearts Academies non-profit.

Since July 2009, the schools have made $987,995 in purchases from the company.

Great Hearts also gives parents the option of buying books directly from the company. Six of the Great Hearts school websites feature links only to Educational Sales’ website for parents who want to buy a second set of books for use at home.

Great Hearts CEO Dan Scoggin said he doesn’t believe there is a conflict of interest because Great Hearts has no mandates on where its schools buy books. Many Great Hearts schools use several vendors based on pricing, service and availability, he said.

Great Hearts schools are exempt from state purchasing laws. Scoggin said Great Hearts doesn’t have a contract with Educational Sales because schools have choices on where they make textbook purchases.

Read more:

The Tennessee Education Association filed a second lawsuit against the use if value-added assessment (called TVAAS in Tennessee), this time including extremist Governor Haslam and ex-TFA state commissioner Huffman in their suit.

The teachers rightly say that the evaluations are unfair, a point on which most reputable researchers are in their corner.

“TEA’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of Knox County teacher Mark Taylor, an eighth grade science teacher at Farragut Middle School. Taylor was unfairly denied an APEX bonus after his TVAAS estimate was based on the standardized test scores of only 22 of his 142 students.

“Mr. Taylor teaches four upper-level physical science courses and one regular eighth grade science class,” said Richard Colbert, TEA general counsel. “The students in the upper-level course take a locally developed end-of-course test in place of the state’s TCAP assessment. As a result, those high-performing students were not included in Mr. Taylor’s TVAAS estimate.”

“While Mr. Taylor’s observation score was ‘exceeding expectations,’ his low TVAAS estimate based on only 16 percent of his students dropped his final evaluation score below the threshold to receive the APEX bonus,” Colbert said.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Taylor’s situation is not an uncommon one. Many teachers across the state – particularly at the high school level – are being unfairly evaluated on an arbitrary percentage of their students.”

Gosh, Arne Duncan only recently hailed Tennessee as one of the stars of Race to the Top. Not so much.

In one of what is likely to be a tidal wave of lawsuits, the Tennessee Education Association sued the state because a teacher was denied a bonus based on the state’s flawed evaluation system.

“The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Knox County teacher who was denied a bonus under that school system’s pay plan after Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) data for 10 of her students was unknowingly attributed to her.

“TVAAS is Tennessee’s system of measuring student growth over time. It generates data based on student test scores on TCAP and end of course tests.

“In this specific case, the teacher, Lisa Trout, was assigned TVAAS data for 10 students after being told her evaluation would be based on system-wide TVAAS data because she taught at an alternative school.

“The TEA lawsuit cites two different memos which indicated that Ms. Trout could expect an evaluation (and bonus eligibility) to be based on system-wide data. At the conclusion of the school year, Ms. Trout was informed that her overall evaluation score, including observations and TVAAS data was a 4, making her eligible for a bonus under the Knox County pay plan.”

The system, the suit alleges, is arbitrary:

“The TEA goes on to contend that Ms. Trout and similarly situated teachers for whom there is little or no specific TVAAS data are held to an arbitrary standard in violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“Specifically, the suit notes: ” … the majority of teachers in the Knox County Schools … have had their eligibility for additional compensation (under the APEX bonus system) determined on the basis of the test scores of students they do not teach and/or the test scores of their students in subjects unrelated to the subjects they teach.”

“The suit alleges that such a system violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because some teachers are evaluated and receive bonuses based on the scores of their own students while other teachers are held accountable for students they do not teach and over which they have no influence or control.

“In short, the entire system is flawed and should be discarded.”

The Momma Bears are one of the potent forces that will drive the corporate-style reformers out of business.

You see, the Momma Bears are not in it for the money or the fame or the power or the control.

They are Mamma Bears, and they don’t back down. They protect their cubs.

They don’t particularly care whether Arne Duncan calls them names or whether the Governor likes them.

They are in it for their children, and (as we say in the South) they ain’t giving up or going away.

In this post, they single out a teacher who told parents the truth about what the state was doing to their children.

They know this teacher is on their side and on the side of their children. He wants to teach, not test. Imagine that!

Who imposed all this testing on these kids? They know:

You can thank these people for this asinine TVAAS evaluation system:

  • TN Board of Education (appointed by Gov. Haslam)
  • TN Commissioner Kevin Huffman (appointed by Gov. Haslam)
  • Governor Haslam (who sent his kids to private schools that didn’t excessively test or rate teachers by test scores)
  • William Sanders (the statistician who came up with this awful system to rate agricultural growth and somehow it is now it is being used to abuse teachers)

The Mamma Bears know that all this testing doesn’t help their children.

They know that it helps Pearson!

If their child fails, guess what they get? More testing!

These are smart Mamma Bears. They will be there after the name Bill Haslam and Kevin Huffman are long forgotten.

You see, there is justice in the world.

In a startling development, the State Board of Education in Tennessee made clear at its meeting on Friday that it may eliminate or modify value-added measurement (VAM).

State Commissioner Keven Huffman was stunned.

Tennessee is the state where VAM got started, launched in the 1980s by agricultural statistician William Sanders. Based on his experience, Sanders assumed that it was possible to hold all other variables constant and attribute the rise or fall of test scores to teachers. Most social scientists understand that children are not corn, and it is impossible to hold all other variables constant. But Sanders now has a consulting business, and his methods are proprietary information, c.osely held.

In the future, if the board sticks to its guns, VAM will not play a part in deciding whether teachers may be licensed to work in the state of Tennessee. Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, an expert on VAM, celebrates that major victory here. Beardsley includes links to the three YouTube videos that the TEA shared with the board, called “The Trouble with TVAAAS.”

Given this background, the discussion at Fridays board meeting was indeed welcome to critics of test-based accountability, which has failed wherever it has been put into place.

Joey Garrison of the Tennessean reports:

” At its meeting in Nashville on Friday, the board stepped away from the new policy, promising an April rewrite eliminating learning gains as the overriding factor in whether teachers can work in Tennessee. The state’s educators claimed victory after a three-year pounding that also ended the promises of contract negotiations and annual raises, then tied their tenure to student test scores.

“Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who backed the original policy, and state education board Chairman Fielding Rolston downplayed the vote, characterizing it as a small and appropriate tweak before the policy takes effect in 2015. Education reform advocates took the same tack, pointing out that basing licenses on overall teacher evaluation scores, which include learning gains but give more weight to principal observations, is still progress….

“But the vote coincides with a bipartisan bill gaining ground in the legislature this session. The Educator Respect and Accountability Act, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, would prevent the state from yanking teachers’ licenses based on “any statistical estimate utilizing standardized test scores.”

Huffman, who is heartily disliked by both teachers and administrators (nearly half the state’s district superintendents signed a petition decrying his top-down, non-collaborative style), was clearly outraged by the board’s second thoughts but leveled his criticism at the union. (Tennessee withdrew collective bargaining rights in 2011, and the TEA is weak.)

He said “he was flummoxed to see the union withdrawing its support of any use of value-added scores in evaluations and licensing after the state received a $500 million federal Race to the Top grant in part based on it.

“This is a very significant change in their position, and to be frank, I find it incredibly hypocritical that TEA would support the inclusion of value-added scores when there’s a bunch of federal money at the table and then turn around a few years later when that money is no longer going to be around,” he said.

“In a media release, the 46,000-member TEA countered that it endorsed the Race to the Top plan under former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration, but Huffman and Gov. Bill Haslam didn’t honor the agreements.

“Since Bredesen’s administration, teachers have complained of abysmal morale over the loss of union contract negotiations and use of student test data in their evaluations — even if the subjects they teach aren’t tested.”

Another way to look at the change of view of the board and the teachers is that they know now that VAM doesn’t wrk, that it is inaccurate, and they are acknowledging the realities.

The night before I addressed the Kentucky School Boards Association, I had dinner with a group of teachers and parents from Tennessee. The group included Mama Bears, BATS, and TREES.

One of the BATS was Lauren Hopson from Knox County, who teaches third grade children. She is smart, strong, experienced, and wise. She is also outspoken, as I learned by watching this video, in which she let the board know what teachers really think: They are tired of being pushed around. They are tired of an evaluation system tied to test scores. They are tired of pointless training. They are tired of foisting test after test on little children. They are tired of getting training from consultants with less experience than they have. They are tired of the charade foisted upon them by the state of Tennessee. They want to teach. What an idea!

When Lauren gave her talk, she had no idea it would be posted on YouTube. In a week, it had tens of thousands of views. Now it is over 100,000.

Help this video reach every parent and teacher. We can be the change. Social media can counter the billionaires who are trying to destroy our public schools and demoralize our teachers.

This blogger has gathered the latest wave of bad news from Tennessee, showing the emptiness of the Republican Governor Bill Haslam’s efforts to outsource everything public to whoever wants to make money.

Even though President Obama praised red-state Tennessee as a prime example of the success of Race to the Top, conveniently ignoring the other Race to the Top winners where NAEP scores stagnated, things are not going well for corporate-style reform in the Volunteer State.

Haslam and his TFA Commissioner Kevin Huffman (ex-husband of Michelle Rhee) have the support of a far-right legislature, but their plans are still in disarray.

Nearly half the superintendents bravely signed a letter protesting Huffman’s heavy-handed mandates (seems to be the custom with corporate reform superintendents, brooking no dissent from the peons). Now parents have formed a new organization to fight Haslam and Huffman’s plans to outsource as many public schools to private corporations as possible. And, of course, Chris Barbic, imported from Houston to perform a miracle, promised to gather up all the state’s lowest-performing schools and move them to the top of the state’s rankings within five years (the clock is ticking–better to make your utopian promises fuzzy, not so concrete).

Now comes Tennesseans Reclaiming Education Excellence, organized by parents across the state, and they injected an unknown quantity into educational debates in Tennessee: Facts. Facts!

….on Monday, the top-down, one-size-fits-all education policies Haslam has been pushing through the legislature met a formidable roadblock — a TREE.

As has been custom the past few years, corporate education organizations have trotted out their privatization policies at the beginning of each legislative session. Their glossy, well-funded presentations always grab headlines and typically re-affirm Republican efforts that privatize public schools, divert money from our students’ classrooms and devalue educators.

This year, however, a new group, Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence, kicked off the week with some analysis that threw cold hard facts into the discussion of reforms trumpeted by Haslam’s administration.

Several points of interest:

Elaine Weiss of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, was TREE’s featured presenter. From

“Weiss discussed recent Tennessee education policy in the context of the drivers of educational inequality. She pointed to research suggesting that poverty is a significant contributor to student outcomes and noted other research that suggests as much as 2/3 of student outcomes are predicted by factors outside of school.”

The beauty of TREE’s press conference was two fold — one; they took some media coverage away from corporate education groups, and, two; they empowered our reporters with facts that have largely been missing from the education debate in Tennessee. Hopefully this presser will pay dividends for the weeks to come.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 105,094 other followers