Archives for category: Memphis

David Pettiette is a CPA who volunteered at a KIPP elementary school in Memphis. He was shocked when two KIPP schools suddenly closed their doors and left their families scrambling for a new school.

He wrote:

In April, it was announced that KIPP Memphis Preparatory Elementary and KIPP Memphis Preparatory Middle on Corry Road would be permanently closing without notice. Between the two schools, over 650 students have been displaced without so much as a plan or opportunity to rebut the decision.

The decision to close a school in an underserved community is not uncommon. It is however a decision that is typically given six months to a year’s notice, not April of the current school year. The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) is the largest network of public charter schools in the nation, with several schools in Memphis. With that size apparently comes unprecedented autonomy considering the schools’ primary funding is local and state money.

In an effort to limit bad press, KIPP offered a Q&A conference call to address the school closures so that the community’s voices could be heard. However, this session, which did not provide any A’s or responses from KIPP, was yet another unthoughtful decision made by the organization and proved to be an unsuitable forum.

Many families had trouble accessing the call due to technical difficulties generated from the third-party conferencing system used. The call itself went just about as you’d expect. It opened with two pre-recorded statements from KIPP’s board of directors and regional team, which were both vague and painfully insincere.

The comments from parents and staff were anxious, frustrated and morose –a wide variety of emotions. While listening to the call, I couldn’t help but think that the occasion warranted a more personal approach.

In reality, KIPP gave up. They gave up on their students, families, faculty and staff after only a few years of operation. Make no mistake, this was a financial decision that is inequitable to the historic Alcy Ball community in South Memphis.

KIPP cited a “failure to fulfill academic promise” which resulted in the closures, and the only excuse provided for the late notice was that they did not want to mislead the schools’ key stakeholders regarding their future.

This was a cheap and inaccurate shot at the integrity of the teachers and faculty, who spent money out of their own pockets to make sure that their students were adequately clothed, fed and supplied.

At the end of the day this decision is not what is best for the kids, who should have been KIPP’s only focus throughout this whole process. The situation is awful, but the approach was worse. If there is anyone looking for a textbook example of institutional racism, look no further.

Last year,Tennessee passed a voucher bill targeting only two urban districts, despite the fact that their legislators opposed it. The controversial bill passed by one vote, and the vote was delayed for last-minute arm twisting. Parents from the affected districts are holding a press briefing tomorrow along with civil tights groups opposed to diversion of public funds to private schools.

MEDIA ADVISORY
February 28, 2020

Media Contact: Ashley Levett
(334) 296-0084 / ashley.levett@splcenter.org

Tennessee Parents and Advocates to Host Press Briefing on Monday

TENNESSEE – On Monday, March 2, parents and advocates of public school children in Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools will host a telephonic press briefing to announce steps to address the unlawful diversion of public school funding in Nashville and Memphis to private school vouchers.

During the call, public school parents in Nashville and Memphis will outline their concerns with the Tennessee Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher law, which passed by a single vote in May 2019 over the objections of state legislators, parents and community members in Shelby and Davidson counties – which are the counties targeted by the law.

For call-in details, please RSVP to Ashley Levett at ashley.levett@splcenter.org.

WHO: Parents of public school children in Memphis and Tennessee; the ACLU of Tennessee; pro bono by the law firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP; the Southern Poverty Law Center and Education Law Center, which collaborate on the Public Funds Public Schools (PFPS) campaign

WHAT: Telephonic press briefing to announce steps to address the unlawful diversion of public school funding in Nashville and Memphis to private school vouchers

WHEN: Monday, March 2, 2020 at 1:00 p.m. CT

WHERE: Please RSVP to Ashley Levett to receive the call-in details at ashley.levett@splcenter.org

###

 

Mercedes Schneider wrote a post about Cory Booker’s brother, Cary, who opened two charter schools in Tennessee with an ally. His application had lofty goals. He pledged that 95% of his students would score proficient on state tests. He and his partner were astonished when the state took their promise seriously. Apparently they were just engaging in marketing by making a promise they had no intention of fulfilling.

Their charters were closed.

But no worry. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy creates a sinecure for Cary Booker, again in education. The moral of the story: Deformers fail upwards.

 

Today is V-day in Tennessee. The Shelby County Board of Education (Memphis) opposes the plan, accurately protesting that the plan would divert dollars from their already underfunded schools.

Meanwhile, six charter schools in Memphis have made a deal with the Catholic church to lease space, while pledging not to teach anything contrary to Catholic teaching.

”The Compass Community Schools network signed a lease agreement that contains a clause agreeing not to teach anything that goes against the teachings of the Catholic Church….

“But one First Amendment expert said there are several potential conflicts, including standards that address contraception, and that a public school’s mere act of entering into a legal agreement with a religious entity promising to limit its educational offerings for students is unconstitutional.

“The clause could also cause a chilling effect on both students and staff and create complications of oversight of a public school by a religious organization, said Charles Haynes, founding director of the Religious Freedom Center..

“A public school is a public school,” he said. “It may not in any way be entangled with a religious group that in any way limits what it can and cannot teach. That’s clearly unconstitutional.”

“The issue also raises questions about the promised separation between the Catholic Church and the Compass schools, a network created by Catholic leaders to replace a group of closing parochial schools. “

 

 

Peter Greene writes here that the invisible hand of the market doesn’t work well for schools.

There is no magic in the market.

Shelby County in Tennessee is overwhelmed with charters and of course they want more.

He writes:

“Shelby County is running up against two of the fallacies embedded in most charter school policy.

“One is the modern charter policy lie– the notion that you can run multiple parallel school systems with the same money that used to run one system. The other is that charter systems don’t need a lot of regulation because the invisible hand of the market will take care of it all.

“Shelby County Schools in Tennessee has noticed that it has problems with both of those principles.

“The issue was raised back in August when the board considered nine more charter applications– which would have brought the grand total to 63 charter schools in the county. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson put his finger on the problem:

“No surprise, we have too many schools in Memphis,” Hopson said. “If you got 12 schools in a three-mile radius… and all of them are under-enrolled, we’re not serving kids well.”

“Shelby County is home to Memphis, one of the great early charter playgrounds in a state that has always ridden on the reformster train. About 14% of students in the county attend charter schools, and that’s enough to leave some schools feeling a financial pinch (the overhead of maintaining a building does not go down whether you lose one student or one hundred). That’s also before we count schools being run by the state in the Achievement School District (a method of state takeover of school districts with low test scores).

“Nor are the schools well-distributed. Check this map and you’ll see that some neighborhoods have clusters of charter schools, while other areas of the county have none at all. It’s almost as if market forces do not drive charter businesses to try to serve all students, but only concentrate on the markets they find attractive! Go figure. (Note: charters in Tennessee can be run by profit or non-profit organizations or, of course, non-profits that funnel all their money to for-profit businesses.)

“The problem did not happen overnight– a local television station did a story entitled “Charter Schools– Too Many? Too Fast?” back in 2017. The answer was, “Probably yes to both.” But it also included the projection that SCS would some day be all charter. It does appear that Shelby County is in danger of entering the public school death spiral, where charters drain so much money from the public system that the public system stumbles, making the charters more appealing, so more students leave the public system, meaning the public system gets less and less money, making charters more appealing, so students leave, rinse and repeat until your public system collapses.”

 

The Aspire charter chain in Memphis is in trouble and debating its future. This is one of billionaire Reed Hastings’ investments, and it is not faring well.

Facing a roughly $2 million operating deficit and lagging academic progress, a California-based charter organization that runs four schools in Memphis is reconsidering its future in the city — even floating the possibility of pulling out of the area altogether.

At a public meeting on Friday, Aspire’s national board discussed with its Memphis staff four possible scenarios for moving forward. Board chair Jonathan Garfinkel said that changes are anticipated, given the budget deficit and the fact that academic “results have not been what we’ve hoped.”

As a result, Aspire could cease to oversee its four Memphis schools, which serve some 1,600 students in total. This wouldn’t mean the schools would close, but that the governance of the school would change. A task force — composed of board members, Aspire staff in Memphis and consultants — came up with the following four possible paths forward, though Garfinkel said more possibilities could be considered.

Memphis remains an Aspire region with additional supports and a plan to close the financial gap.

Memphis becomes an Aspire “franchise,” keeping the name and core approach and receiving some supports, like curriculum and coaching, but operates as a separate nonprofit with significantly more autonomy.

The four Memphis schools become a standalone charter network with their own central office and fundraising function.

The four schools team up with one or more existing local school district or charter network.

If any changes are made, they wouldn’t go into place until after this school year. Garfinkel emphasized that no decisions have been made, and the task force would use Friday’s conversation to steer its board recommendations, slated for January.

Guess they are not “saving poor kids in failing schools.”

Wonder if Reed Hastings will rethink his grand plan to privatize every public school? I’m guessing not. Being a billionaire means never saying you made a mistake.

You read it here first, straight from Gary Rubinstein’s superb blog (or, if you subscribe to Gary’s blog, you read it there first. The much-hyped Achievement School District in Tennessee is a flop. The same ASD that several red states have copied, not waiting for evidence or results.

Now Chalkbeat’s Tennessee outpost covers the story, and it isn’t pretty.

“Most of the schools that were taken over by Tennessee’s turnaround district remain on the state’s priority list six years after the intervention efforts began.

Four of the six original Memphis schools that were taken over by the state in 2012 are on the newest priority list released last week. And more than a dozen schools that were added to the district later also remain on the list.

Four of six original ASD schools remain on list…

Brick Church College Prep

Corning Achievement

Frayser Achievement

Westside Achievement

For years, the district has fallen short of its ambitious promise to dramatically raise test scores at the schools by handing them over to charter operators — a goal that the district’s founder later acknowledged was too lofty. And researchers with the Tennessee Education Research Alliance recently concluded that schools in the state district are doing no better than other low-performing schools that received no state help…

Of the 34 schools that have ever been part of the Achievement School District, 17 are on the new priority list, and four have closed. Thirteen schools are not on the new list.

In contrast, Memphis’ Innovation Zone, an improvement initiative from the local district, saw more of its schools move upward: 16 out of 25 schools absorbed into the iZone improved enough to exit the list.

One thing is clear: the charter schools that took over the low-performing schools did not have a secret sauce.

For some unknown reason, the state sees a silver lining in this failed effort to vault the lowest-performing schools into the top of the state’s rankings.

“Still, the state says the Achievement School District has had a positive influence that might not be reflected in its own school’s scores. Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently praised Shelby County Schools’ progress, giving partial credit to the state’s own Achievement School District for creating a sense of urgency in Memphis.”

The schools may have failed to keep their promise but they created “a sense of urgency” in Memphis, where most are located.

Yes, there must be a sense of angst, like, what do we do now that the magic bullet failed?

Is reality replacing magical thinking?

The article links to one posted by Chalkbeat in August which did a “deep dive” into the dismal results of the $100 Million spent on the ASD.

“Six years after the state took over six of Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools, all of those schools continue to struggle, new state test results show…

“Of the schools in the original state-run district, four of the six had fewer than 10 percent of students testing at or above grade level in math or English during the 2017-2018 academic year, according to TNReady test results released last week. Meanwhile, Cornerstone Prep Lester Elementary School in Memphis performed better than its counterparts with 11.5 percent of students at grade level in English and 20 percent of students at grade level in math. Frayser Achievement Elementary had 12 percent of students at grade level in English, but just 9 percent at grade level in math.

“As a point of comparison, statewide averages for grades 3-8 had 33.9 percent of Tennessee students at grade level in English and 37.3 percent at grade level in math.”

The ASD was based on the Recovery School District in New Orleans. The research czar in New Orleans, Douglas Harris of Tulane, says that the Tennessee ASD should have been more aggressive in turning over low-performing charters to other charter operators. That would be almost every school in the ASD. Surely there mus5 be charter operators who have cracked the code of raising test scores. But then, Memphis didn’t have a natural disaster to drive out a substantial portion of its poorest families.

The bottom line in Tennessee is that none of the ASD charters was catapulted from the bottom 5% to the Top 25%. None even cracked the top 90%.

Time for fresh thinking?

Sad.

Seven charter schools are closing due to poor performance on tests.

These are schools that were supposed to “save” poor kids from their “failingpublic schools.”

Who will save the students from “failed charter schools?”

Seven Shelby County charter schools are being forced to close at the end of this school year due to low performance.

The seven schools were listed as “Priority Schools,” meaning they were the most in need of support and improvement.

The State Department of Education designates schools Priority Schools for one of two reasons:

Being in the bottom 5 percent in 2015-16 and 2016-17 AND not meeting the TVAAS safe harbor, which allows schools to not be identified if they are showing high growth.

Having a graduation rate of less than 67 percent in 2017-18.

State law requires that a public charter school agreement shall be revoked or denied renewal if the school is identified as a Priority School for 2017 and beyond.

There were 27 schools placed on the Priority list, including 18 SCS-managed schools. Most will be given time to improve.

Unfortunately, the seven charter schools will have to close.

The seven charter schools that are set to close are as follows:

City University School Girls Preparatory

DuBois ES of Arts Technology

DuBois MS of Leadership and Public Policy

DuBois MS of Arts and Technology

Granville T. Woods Academy of Innovation

Memphis Delta Preparatory Charter

The Excel Center

The DuBois High School of Leadership and Public Policy and DuBois High Schools of Arts and Technology had already closed at the end of the last school year.

Its not “unfortunate” that they are closing. It’s unfortunate that the people of Shelby County were sold a bill of goods.

Will Bill Gates and his billionaire friends be accountable?

No.

Tennessee has one of the most intrusive, micromanaging, incompetent state education departments in the nation. So says the Knoxville school board, and so agrees the school boards of Memphis and Nashville.

The problem right now is the state’s failed teacher evaluation program, but there are many reasons to lose trust in the State Education Department.

Problems with pre-K and kindergarten teacher portfolio evaluations became the issue that pushed board Chairwoman Patti Bounds to say the department “still takes no ownership” of its mistakes. Portfolios are used to evaluate educators who teach pre-K, kindergarten, and subjects not included in TNReady standardized testing. Portfolios can include videos showing student progress during the year.

Earlier this week, the superintendents of the state’s two largest districts, Memphis and Nashville, wrote to Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to pause state testing until after the election because “educator and public trust in TNReady has fallen to irretrievably low levels.”

Tennessee has taken pride in the progress of its students on national tests and has toughened up its requirements for student learning and evaluating teachers. But the foundation for its analysis, the state’s new online test, TNReady, has been fraught with technical setbacks since it was introduced in 2016.

State lawmakers were so concerned about the problems with TNReady that they passed legislation ensuring the scores would not be used to negatively impact teachers, students, or schools. School-level scores could be released as early as late next week.

Some Knoxville board members wanted to echo the sentiment of Memphis and Nashville superintendents about TNReady, but settled on highlighting the more timely portfolio issue, Bounds said.

“The portfolio system is a mess,” she told Chalkbeat. “The Department of Education has had multiple years of failure.”

The board will likely meet Tuesday in a special meeting to approve a letter, she said.

First-year problems for the teacher portfolios have resulted in error messages or questionable low scores for teachers. It is unclear how many teachers across the state are affected, but a spokeswoman for the department said about 7 percent got the lowest overall score. The state department attributed the problems to user error while one of the state’s teacher organizations blamed a system glitch.

“Every time something fails, the Department of Education blames it on the teachers. And some of their reasons are just not valid,” Bounds told Chalkbeat.

But wait. There is more.

Year after year, state testing has been a disaster. The state has changed vendors but nothing goes write.

Governor Haslam, who is on his way out, fortunately, has been a disaster for public education.

The State Education Department has been pushing charters, trying to to override the wishes of local school boards.

The Achievement School District was a total failure, wasting $100 million and destroying community schools by handing them off to charter operators, who were unable to help the kids.

In Memphis, a whistleblower who was fired and two anonymous teachers called attention to unethical practices at a charter high school. The school is now under investigation.

“Three people who worked at a Memphis charter high school are alleging that the administration falsified grades, improperly employed uncertified teachers, gave credits for a class that did not exist, and pulled students out of class to clean the building.

“Marquez Elem, the school’s director of operations until he was terminated this month, and two former teachers made the claims against Gateway University High School in interviews with Chalkbeat. The teachers asked not to be named because they did not want to be associated with the school, and both said they were not returning to Gateway because their contracts as long-term substitutes were not renewed.

“Chalkbeat contacted Sosepriala Dede, the leader of the year-old, 100-student charter school, with a list of questions detailing the allegations. Dede’s response, sent through a public relations firm, described school efforts to ensure proper grading and stated that Gateway employed “qualified” teachers this past school year, but did not directly address all of the claims…

“Elem said he was asked by Dede to change student grades on multiple occasions without a teacher’s knowledge or against their wishes. Elem said that he did not change grades himself but did ask teachers to do so.

“One former teacher who asked not to be named said: “When I finished up my grades, I called Mr. Dede and said that kids were failing. He told me to go back in and change the grades. [I changed] all my grades so kids were passing.”

“This comes as Shelby County Schools faces multiple allegations of grade changing in its high schools. The results of a deeper probe of seven high schools with high numbers of grade changes on transcripts is expected this month…

“Elem said the school also struggled to retain certified or licensed teachers, meaning teachers that are approved by the state, hold a bachelor’s degree, and have completed an approved Tennessee teacher preparation program.

The school had to rely on long-term substitutes, some of which did not have teaching licenses, Elem and sources said. According to state law, a substitute teacher who is teaching for more than 20 consecutive days must be licensed.

“There were only three certified staff in the building,” said Elem, who added that the school had about nine full-time staff in total. “At least four more needed licenses [to do their jobs legally] and did not have them. There were six different English teachers over the course of the year, and only one was certified. Eventually, we had a long-term sub teaching English.”

“Elem provided Chalkbeat with a staff list for Gateway, and according to the state’s database of educator licenses, three of the provided names were not identified as having a license. Elem also does not have a license.

“Gateway also struggled to retain a World History teacher and eventually hired an uncertified long-term substitute for that class, according to Elem and the teachers who spoke to Chalkbeat. They claim the World History sub worked seven months, and a substitute for English worked three months…

“The two former teachers who spoke with Chalkbeat, in addition to Elem, said students were occasionally pulled out of class to help clean bathrooms, hallways, and classrooms. Elem attributed some students’ poor grades to their being pulled from classes, and asked to clean other classrooms.

“Asked to comment on allegations made by former Gateway employees that the school didn’t employ a janitorial staff, Dede said: “Gateway University’s state-of-the-art facility is maintained by building engineering experts and janitorial service providers to ensure the cleanliness of our school building. It’s also not uncommon for our students to assist in cleaning their classrooms, along with their teachers. We are a small, tight-knit school, and this affords us the opportunity to do things in a unique yet efficient way.”

“Dede did not respond to questions asking him to specify the name of the janitorial service or when the service was hired….

“Seven Gateway students were enrolled in a geometry class that was not offered, Elem said.

“Elem said the school never had a geometry teacher, so the students enrolled in a general freshman math class called geometry “received credit for a class that didn’t exist.”

Ah, the joys of deregulation and autonomy!