Archives for category: Nashville

Last night, I had a Zoom talk with Amy Frogge, who has served for eight years on the Metro Nashville school board.

We talked about charters, vouchers, the Dark Money that infiltrated school board races, and the promising things happening in Nashville.

She is soon leaving the board to become executive director of Pastors for Tennessee Children.

Amy is one of the heroes featured in my book SLAYING GOLIATH. Watch our discussion and you will understand why. She has chosen a life of service and made a difference.

You can watch here.

Amy Frogge has been in the trenches in Nashville, leading the fight for better schools for all. She is a mother of children in Nashville public schools, a lawyer, and a member of the Metro Nashvillle school board.

She has been a leader in the resistance to charters and vouchers.

We will have an open Zoom chat on Wednesday.

Join us!

Let’s talk!

Amy Frogge is one of the heroes of my book SLAYING GOLIATH. A lawyer, she ran for the Metro Nashville school board with no foreknowledge of the privatization movement. She ran as a concerned citizen and a mother of children in the public schools of Nashville. The privatizers outspent her 5-1, but she won. When she got on the board, she realized that there was a sustained and well-funded campaign to replace public schools with charters. She became a truth-teller, motivated by her deep concern for the common good.

When she ran for re-election, she again faced a well-financed opponent, backed by Gates-funded Stand for Children and DFER. Frogge scored an overwhelming victory.

Amy Frogge is still fighting the fake reformers.

Every school board needs an Amy Frogge, who sees clearly and is not afraid to speak truth to power.

She recently wrote an open letter denouncing Eli Broad and his Broadies.

She wrote:

Dear Nashville (and others),

Please pay attention to those with whom you choose to align yourself on education issues. If you are supporting anyone funded or trained by California billionaire Eli Broad, you can bet you’ll end up on the wrong side of history.

Eli Broad created and funds a blog called Education Post. The folks who run it would like for you to believe they are just activists for low-income families and minority children- but in reality, they are dripping with dirty money. Education Post’s first CEO, Peter Cunningham, was paid $1 million for 2 1/2 years of blogging. Board member Chris Stewart, known online as “Citizen Stewart,” was paid $422,925 for 40 hours a week across 30 months as “outreach and external affairs director.” As author/blogger Mercedes Schneider concludes, “In ed reform, blogging pays juicy salaries.” (For the record, I have never earned a penny for any of my social media posts, of course.)

Paid Education Post leaders regularly try to infiltrate online Nashville education discussions (Nashville is a national target for charter expansion), and Education Post also pays local bloggers to write posts. Local bloggers Zack Barnes and Vesia Hawkins are both listed as network members on the Education Post blog.

Many of the big players in Tennessee were “trained” by Eli Broad through his Broad Superintendents Academy, which recruits business leaders with no background in education to be superintendents- with the purpose of privatizing schools (closing existing schools and opening more charter schools). The current Tennessee Commissioner of Education, Penny Schwinn, is a “Broadie.” Two former heads of Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District (a ploy to expand charter schools without local approval) were Broadies: Chris Barbic and Malika Anderson. Former superintendents Jim McIntyre (of Knoxville) and Shawn Joseph (of Nashville) were also affiliated with the Broad network. Shawn Joseph claimed both McIntyre and former Baltimore superintendent Dallas Dance, a member of Education Post’s network, as his mentors.

The school “reforms” pushed by Broadies all center around profit-making through public education: standardized testing (money for private test companies), computer learning (money for IT companies and cost-savings on hiring teachers), charter schools, vouchers, scripted curriculum that can be monetized, etc. Broadies typically see teachers as expendable and believe teaching can be mechanized.

Since charters and vouchers have become an increasingly unpopular cause, the latest angle is for Broadies to increase the number of (sometimes rigged) vendor contracts for programs and services, as well as consultants, with school districts. Former Baltimore superintendent Dallas Dance went to federal prison for rigging no-bid contracts in a kick-back scheme. In a similar scheme, his mentee (Nashville superintendent) Shawn Joseph was caught inflating no-bid contract prices (in violation of state law) for vendors connected with the recruiter and Broadies who placed him in Nashville through a rigged superintendent search. (See comments for further information.)

Billionaires like Eli Broad who fund school profiteering efforts like to hire/fund people of color to act as front-men for their efforts. This provides the appearance that the push for “school choice” (i.e., charters and vouchers) is grassroots. When these folks are questioned or caught in the midst of wrong-doing, they are able to cry racism. Meanwhile, everyone has their hands in the cookie jar of funding meant to serve children.

The ploys used in school profiteering are particularly nasty- the worst of dirty politics. The goal is usually to smear, humiliate, shame and discredit anyone who is an effective critic of the school privatization agenda. Lots of money is spent on PR for this purpose. (I’ve even been attacked on this Facebook page by a paid “social media specialist” for my opposition to charter schools.)

You’ll notice that the atmosphere tends to become particularly dysfunctional and circus-like when Broadies are in charge or involved. You’ll also notice that Broadies like to push the narrative that locally-elected school boards are too dysfunctional to lead (even when the Broadie in charge is causing all the dysfunction!). This is because Eli Broad and those affiliated with him want no public oversight of public education spending.

So- when you witness education conversations on social media, be sure to figure out who is funding those claiming to promote “school choice” or to advocate for children in poverty. Follow the money, y’all. Always!

I am late with this news. I missed the email informing me. Too many emails. It happened at the end of April. But it’s important because the Disrupters have targeted Nashville as one of their prime targets for privatization.

So it’s big news that the Metro Nashville school board turned down five applications for new charter schools.

At a time of fiscal austerity, the board recognized that it can’t afford to maintain two separate school systems.

The Metro Nashville Public Schools board denied five charter school applications Tuesday as the school district braces for the possibility of deep budget cuts and little new money for next year.

In addition to pointing to the need for fiscal belt-tightening, board members raised concerns that none of the applications before them fully met the district’s expectations for charter schools.

“Our budgetary future is uncertain,” said Amy Frogge, the board’s vice chair and a longtime charter school critic. “We have to prioritize where those funds go. We can chose to open charter seats or we can chose to pay our teachers and our staff members and really that’s what it comes down to.”

The mayor of Nashville has asked the board to find $100 million in budget cuts.

Critics say charter schools, which receive public money but are operated independently, pull students, money and resources away from zoned schools. Proponents have said they allow choices for parents and alleviate needs at some schools.

Nashville now is projected to spend $139 million on the city’s 28 charter schools, which enroll nearly 13,000 students.

Bill Lee, the governor of Tennessee, is a DeVos acolyte. He plans to create a new charter commission with the power to overturn local decisions. You can bet that every member he appoints will be a charter zealot.

Nashville doesn’t need any new charter schools.

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

###

 

Valerie Strauss posted an excerpt from SLAYING GOLIATH about one of its heroes.

SLAYING GOLIATH contains many true stories of individuals and groups who took a stand to defend their schools against the assault of well-funded privatizers. Amy Frogge is a lawyer and a public school parent. She decided to run for the Metro Nashville school board. She had no agenda other than to do her part as a citizen. She was outspent 5-1, but she won. She quickly learned about the struggle for control of the future of the public schools.

 

Amy Frogge is a member of the elected school board in Metro Nashville. She is a parent activist and a lawyer. She is also one of the heroes of my new book SLAYING GOLIATH: THE PASSIONATE RESISTANCE TO PRIVATIZATION AND THE FIGHT TO SAVE AMERICA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS (Knopf), which will be published January 21.

When Amy ran for the school board, the Disruption movement funded her opponents. Groups like Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children poured money into the race to beat her, and she won. They outspent her, but she had troops, volunteers, parents as passionate as she was.

Amy recently spoke to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce about public education in Nashville.

This is what she told them:

Good morning. I would like to start out this morning with a confession, speaking only on my own behalf: Since I was first elected, I’ve bristled at the very idea of the business community grading the school system with a yearly report card. If I, as a school board member, decided to “grade” the Nashville Chamber for the dismal state of Metro’s finances and offered suggestions as to how you might better conduct your business dealings to avoid such poor outcomes, I’d wager that you would take offense. You would likely respond that I’m not qualified to make such an assessment, since I have no background in business, and you’d be right.

 

This is how our educators feel. Our teachers and public schools are continually scapegoated for the societal ills that impact student learning. Our schools and teachers are often labeled as “failing,” which destroys morale and is an entirely inaccurate statement. They are faced with a constant barrage of new policies, procedures, assessments, and ratings tools crafted by those with no real expertise in education- by politicians, by lawyers (like me), and by business leaders. The metrics used to assess our teachers and students are often deeply flawed and ever-changing. We must begin to respect our teachers, grant them the autonomy they need to succeed, and pay them handsomely. They are our true experts. Our school staff members best understand how to reach students and how to help them grow academically. They often give of their own limited resources to ensure that our children have what they need- food, clothing, shoes, supplies, etc., and even the love and care many do not receive at home.

 

That said, I want to commend you today for the general focus of this year’s Report Card: investment, equity and support. These are the true keys to success in public education. It’s become painfully obvious that Nashville schools and teachers are underfunded and that there exist vast inequities within our school system. As a city and larger community, we must ensure that every child in Nashville has access to an excellent, well-rounded education. ALL children- not just those in private schools or wealthy neighborhoods- should have access to the arts, to physical activity (recess, PE, athletics), to proper nutrition, to time in nature, to books and school libraries, to learning through play when they are young, to enrichment activities that spark their creativity and interests as they grow, and to healthy, evidence-based educational practices. So many of Nashville’s students come to school having experienced trauma and adverse childhood experiences, which impact their ability to focus on learning. That’s why the Chamber’s emphasis on social emotional learning has been so very important. We must also maintain focus on whole child education. We need more school counselors, social workers, and nurses. MNPS needs greater support and increased partnerships from our larger community.

 

But our current national fixation on ridiculous amounts of flawed standardized testing, which ultimately measures little, has impeded progress toward these goals. The number one factor impacting a child’s test scores is the socioeconomic status of the child’s family. This does not mean, of course, that children who come from impoverished backgrounds cannot succeed; it simply means that we as a community must provide the extra support to help these children thrive. School privatization efforts also impede progress toward these goals. Conversations about vouchers and charter schools are ultimately about equity- whether we want to fund the few at the expense of the many and whether we can continue to support a parallel, competing set of school systems when we cannot afford to support our existing schools. These conversations are also about accountability, the need for public regulation and transparency, the misuse of tax dollars intended for children, and school segregation- again issues of equity and fairness. Ultimately, though, these issues are a distraction from the hard work at hand- a band-aid on a much larger problem. It is a sad day when we all rally around the idea of “Adopting a Teacher” in a city as rich and thriving as Nashville. It’s embarrassing that we have come to this point.

 

I’ll close today by adding to this Report Card a few ways that you, sitting here in this room, can help MNPS succeed:

 

First, I invite each of you to tour your zoned schools before deciding where to enroll your own child. My husband and I opted to send our children to our zoned schools, and it has been an excellent choice for our family. We have utilized schools that our neighbors once warned us against, those with poor ratings on sites like greatschools.org- and yet, my children are both thriving, academically and otherwise. Their test scores are just as high as those of their friends who have attended elite private schools, and my children have benefitted from diverse learning environments. It saddens me that we in Nashville have somehow come to view our public schools as charities meant to serve only those without means. Children in our public schools shouldn’t be viewed as future worker bees for businesses, and our city’s schools are not just for other people’s children. Public schools are the very hearts of our community, and if everyone in Nashville actually utilized our public schools, we would have very different outcomes. Socioeconomic diversity, as well as racial diversity, in schools are proven drivers of success.

 

And when we all get involved in public schools, small miracles happen. When I was PTO President at our local, Title I elementary school, I helped bring in community partnerships and local support for the school. As a result, test scores went up, the school’s culture improved, and a waiting list developed at that school. This could happen throughout the whole city with your support.

 

On a related note, please do not recruit businesses to Nashville with the promise that they can live in surrounding counties and send their children to school in places like Williamson County. This increases the divide between the haves and the have-nots and paints a misleading picture of our city.     

 

Second, in addition to the suggestions you’ve made in this year’s Report Card, I hope that you will consider a greater investment in MNPS’s Community School programs, which provide wrap-around services to children and families in need. Businesses could partner with local schools to meet student needs and provide community volunteers. This would absolutely change a school’s outcomes.

 

Third, please help us advocate at the state level for our needs- increased funding, greater teacher pay and autonomy, and local control of schools so that Nashville can make the best decisions for our community.

 

Finally, I hope that you, as leaders in our business community, will put effort into advocating for larger changes in our city that will have the greatest impact on our schools and children. We need more affordable housing. Last year, over 3,400 of the children in our school system qualified as homeless. And as you are aware, our teachers and support staff desperately need better pay. Many can no longer afford to live in the New Nashville. We must stop investing in shiny things at the expense of infrastructure and community needs. When our city becomes more equitable, this will be reflected in our schools.

 

Thank you for your time this morning and for your commitment to public education. I know that a lot of hard, thoughtful work goes into your Report Card each year. I will leave you with the encouragement that Dr. Battle, Mayor Cooper, and the board are already working on the issues that your Report Card Committee has identified. It’s a new day for Nashville, and I hope we can all work together in partnership to make a difference for Nashville’s children.

Jeff Bryant writes here about the billionaires who corrupted the school leadership pipeline. Chief among them, of course, is billionaire Eli Broad, who created an unaccredited training program as a fast track for urban superintendents.

Bryant has collected stories about how superintendents who passed through the Broad program hire other graduates of the program and do business with others who are part of their network. The ethical breaches are numerous. The self-dealing and the stench of corruption is powerful.

Bryant begins with the story of a phone call from Eli Broad to one of his graduates:

It’s rare when goings-on in Kansas City schools make national headlines, but in 2011 the New York Times reported on the sudden departure of the district’s superintendent John Covington, who resigned unexpectedly with only a 30-day notice. Covington, who had promised to “transform” the long-troubled district, “looked like a silver bullet” for all the district’s woes, according to the Los Angeles Times. He had, in a little more than two years, quickly set about remaking the district’s administrative staff, closing nearly half the schools, revamping curriculum, and firing teachers while hiring Teach for America recruits.

The story of Covington’s sudden departure caught the attention of coastal papers no doubt because it perpetuated a common media narrative about hard-charging school leaders becoming victims of school districts’ supposed resistance to change and the notoriously short tenures of superintendents.

Although there may be some truth to that narrative, the main reason Covington left Kansas City was not because he was pushed out by job stress or an obstinate resistance. He left because a rich man offered him a job.

Following the reporting by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times about Covington’s unexpected resignation, news emerged from the Kansas City Star that days after he resigned, he took a position as the first chancellor of the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan, a new state agency that, according to Michigan Radio, sought “radical” leadership to oversee low-performing schools in Detroit.

But at the time of Covington’s departure, it seemed no outlet could have described the exact circumstances under which he was lured away. That would come out years later in the Kansas City Star where reporter Joe Robertson described a conversation with Covington in which he admitted that squabbles with board members “had nothing to do” with his departure. What caused Covington’s exit, Robertson reported, was “a phone call from Spain.”

That call, Covington told Robertson, was what led to Covington’s departure from Kansas City—because it brought a message from billionaire philanthropist and major charter school booster Eli Broad. “John,” Broad reportedly said, “I need you to go to Detroit.”

It wasn’t the first time Covington, who was a 2008 graduate of a prestigious training academy funded through Broad’s foundation (the Broad Center), had come into contact with the billionaire’s name and clout. Broad was also the most significant private funder of the new Michigan program he summoned Covington to oversee, providing more than $6 million in funding from 2011 to 2013, according to the Detroit Free Press.

But Covington’s story is more than a single instance of a school leader doing a billionaire’s bidding. It sheds light on how decades of a school reform movement, financed by Broad and other philanthropists and embraced by politicians and policymakers of all political stripes, have shaped school leadership nationwide.

Charter advocates and funders—such as Broad, Bill Gates, some members of the Walton Family Foundation, John Chubb, and others who fought strongly for schools to adopt the management practices of private businesses—helped put into place a school leadership network whose members are very accomplished in advancing their own careers and the interests of private businesses while they rankle school boards, parents, and teachers.

Covington’s tenure at the Education Achievement Authority in Michigan was a disaster, and the EAA itself was a disaster that has been closed down.

Bryant compares the Broad superintendents to a cartel.

The actions of these leaders are often disruptive to communities, as school board members chafe at having their work undermined, teachers feel increasingly removed from decision making, and local citizens grow anxious at seeing their taxpayer dollars increasingly redirected out of schools and classrooms and into businesses whose products and services are of questionable value.

In fact, Broad superintendents have a very poor track record. They excel at disruption and alienating parents and teachers by their autocratic style. Despite their boasts, they don’t know how to improve education. They are not even skilled at management.

What they do best is advance themselves and make lucrative connections with related businesses owned by Broadie cronies.

 

The Metro Nashville School Board took the bold, brave step of rejecting a proposed Rocketship charter school.

The Nashville school board denied charter school network Rocketship Education a new school — despite receiving its first recommendation to approve an application in years.

The Metro Nashville Public Schools board bucked the district’s charter school review recommendation for the resubmitted application with seven votes to deny it. Only Gini Pupo-Walker did not vote to deny. Board member Sharon Gentry was not present on Tuesday night.

James Robinson, Rocketship’s Tennessee director, said the charter school network will appeal the decision to the Tennessee State Board of Education, which hears all charter school appeals…

Newly-appointed Board Vice Chair Amy Frogge criticized the school for its computer-based learning model and the way it uses investors to pay for its property.

The model, she said, “creates fertile ground for investors to reap millions.” Frogge also cited news reports, saying the school follows an “extreme militaristic” behavioral model.

“Assuming Rocketship is producing higher test scores, I must ask at what cost,” Frogge says. She said the school is a “drill and kill” instruction model.

Board member Christiane Buggs said her reasons for denying the school were purely financial. 

“We don’t have the funding right now to outsource,” she said.

Amy Frogge is a parent activist and lawyer. She is featured as a leader of the Resistance in my new book Slaying Goliath. It will be published in January.

 

Amy Frogge was a two-term elected member of the Metro Nashville school board. She is a lawyer and a parent activist. She posted this fascinating account on her Facebook page.

Amy Frogge is one of the heroes of the Resistance who is featured in my forthcoming book Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance Against Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools (January 21, 2020).

She writes:
Nashville just got taken for a ride. Here’s how it happened:

Back in 2007, Superintendent Joseph Wise and his Chief of Staff, David Sundstrom, were fired from their jobs in Florida for “serious misconduct.” Wise is a graduate of LA billionaire Eli Broad’s “superintendents academy,” which trains business leaders as superintendents with the purpose of privatizing schools (closing existing schools and opening more charter schools). 

After losing their jobs, Wise and Sundstrom founded Atlantic Research Partners (ARP) and began making millions from Chicago schools. ARP then acquired parts of SUPES Academy, a superintendent training company, and merged with the recruiting firm, Jim Huge and Associates. SUPES Academy, however, was shut down after Chicago superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett pled guilty to federal corruption charges for steering no-bid contracts to SUPES Academy, her former firm, in exchange for financial kickbacks. Baltimore superintendent Dallas Dance was also involved in this scandal. 

Wise and Sundstrom also had their hands in other pots. They created a new entity called Education Research and Development Institute (ERDI), which charged education vendors to arrange meetings with school superintendents and simultaneously paid the same superintendents to “test out” the vendor products.

Now the story shifts to Nashville: In 2016, the Nashville Public Education Foundation pushed the school board to hire Jim Huge and Associates to perform our search for a new superintendent. The search brought us three “Broadies” (superintendents trained by or affiliated with the Broad academy), a Teach for America alum with no advanced degree and no degree in education whatsoever, and Shawn Joseph, who was planning to attend the Broad Superintendents Academy at the time he was hired. 

Jim Huge lied to the school board, telling us that the only highly qualified and experienced candidate, an African American female named Carol Johnson (who had served as superintendent of three major school systems, including Memphis and Boston), had withdrawn her name from the search. This was not true. Ultimately, the board hired Shawn Joseph.

When he arrived in Nashville, Joseph brought his friend, Dallas Dance, with him as an advisor- only about six months before Dance was sentenced to federal prison in connection with kick-backs for no-bid contracts in the SUPES Academy scandal. Joseph also brought in former Knoxville superintendent Jim McIntyre, another “Broadie” who had been ousted from his position in Knoxville amidst great acrimony, to serve as an advisor. Joseph began following a formula seen in other districts: He prohibited staff members from speaking to board members and immediately began discussion about closing schools. Like Byrd-Bennett and Dance, Joseph also began giving large, no-bid contracts to vendors and friends, some of which were never utilized. Some of the contracts were connected with ERDI, and Joseph’s Chief Academic Officer, Monique Felder, failed to disclose that she had been paid by ERDI (just like Dallas Dance, who committed perjury for failing to disclose part-time consulting work that benefitted him financially).

You can read the rest of the story- and much more- in the attached article. But the long and short of it is that the very same people who rigged our search to bring Shawn Joseph to Nashville are also the same people who stood to benefit from no-bid contracts with MNPS. These folks were also connected with illegal activities in other states. 

In the end, Nashville suffered. “Among [the] negative outcomes are increased community acrimony, wasted education funds, and career debacles for what could perhaps have been promising school leaders.

In the case of Joseph and Nashville, controversies with his leadership decisions strongly divided the city’s black community, and taxpayers were stuck with a $261,250 bill for buying out the rest of his contract. As a result of the fallout, Joseph lost his state teaching license, and he vowed never to work in the state again.”