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?