Archives for category: Nashville


Investigative journalist Jeff Bryant has published a bombshell article about entrepreneurs who operate superintendent searches, then call on their Superintendents to buy professional development, technology, training, and other services. The conflicts of interest and self-dealing are shocking. Districts lose millions of dollars and buy services they don’t need, while the search service continues to pay them.

Most of us are familiar with the case of Barbara Byrd-Bennett, former Superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, who is currently serving a jail sentence for taking kickbacks.  But the web of corruption has involved many superintendents and school districts.

Bryant writes:

In July 2013, the education world was rocked when a breaking story by Chicago independent journalist Sarah Karp reported that district CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett had pushed through a no-bid $20 million contract to provide professional development to administrators with a private, for-profit company called SUPES Academy, which she had worked for a year before the deal transpired. Byrd-Bennett was also listed as a senior associate for PROACT Search, a superintendent search firm run by the same individuals who led SUPES.

By 2015, federal investigators looked into the deal and found reason to charge Byrd-Bennett for accepting bribes and kickbacks from the company that ran SUPES and PROACT. A year-and-a-half later, the story made national headlines when Byrd-Bennett was convicted and sentenced to prison for those charges. But anyone who thought this story was an anomaly would be mistaken. Similar conflicts of interest among private superintendent search firms, their associated consulting companies, and their handpicked school leaders have plagued multiple school districts across the country.

In an extensive examination, Our Schools has discovered an intricate web of businesses that reap lucrative school contracts funded by public tax dollars. These businesses are often able to place their handpicked candidates in school leadership positions who then help make the purchasing decision for the same businesses’ other products and services, which often include professional development, strategic planning, computer-based services, or data analytics. The deals are often brokered in secrecy or presented to local school boards in ways that make insider schemes appear legitimate.

As in the Byrd-Bennett scandal, school officials who get caught in this web risk public humiliation, criminal investigation, and potential jail time, while the businesses that perpetuate this hidden arrangement continue to flourish and grow.

The results of these scandals are often disastrous. School policies and personnel are steered toward products that reward private companies rather than toward research-proven methods for supporting student learning and teacher performance. School governance becomes geared to the interests of well-connected individuals rather than the desires of teachers and voters. And when insider schemes become public, whole communities are thrown into chaos, sometimes for years, resulting in wasted education dollars and increased disillusionment with school systems and local governance.

Bryant lays out the evidence of collusion, corruption, and conflicts of interest. He reviews districts in Illinois, Maryland, and elsewhere. The evidence is devastating.

Nashville was victimized by entrepreneurs who manipulated the district and the process.

One of the first school districts to become entangled in the conglomeration of firms Wise and Sundstrom assembled was Nashville, which in 2016 chose Jim Huge and Associates to help with hiring a new superintendent. The following year the board hired Shawn Joseph, whom Huge had recommended.

Shortly after Joseph arrived in Nashville, according to local News Channel 5 investigative reporter Phil Williams, he began pushing the district to give $1.8 million in no-bid contracts to Performance Matters, a Utah-based technology company that sells “software solutions” to school districts.

Williams found Joseph had spoken at the company’s conference and he had touted the company’s software products in promotional materials while he was employed in his previous job in Maryland. Williams also unearthed emails showing Joseph began contract talks with Performance Matters two weeks before he formally took office in Nashville. What also struck Williams as odd was that despite the considerable cost of the contract, district employees were not required to use the software.

In addition to pushing Performance Matters, Williams reported, Joseph gave an “inside track” to Discovery Education, a textbook and digital curriculum provider and another company he and his team had ties to from their work in Maryland. With Joseph’s backing, Discovery Education received an $11.4 million contract to provide a new science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) program even though a smaller company came in with a bid that was a fraction of what Discovery proposed.

By June 2018, Nashville school board member Amy Frogge was questioning Joseph about possible connections these vendors might have to ERDI. A district audit would confirm that ERDI’s affiliated companies—including Performance Matters, Discovery Education, and six other companies—had signed contracts totaling more than $17 million with the district since Joseph had been hired.

Frogge also came to realize that all these enterprises were connected to the firm who had been instrumental in hiring Joseph—Jim Huge and Associates.

“The search that brought Shawn Joseph to Nashville was clearly manipulated,” Frogge told Our Schools in an email, “and the school board was kept in the dark about Joseph’s previous tenure in Maryland and his relationships with vendor companies.”

Frogge said some of the manipulation occurred when the search firm told school board members that disputes among current board members—over charter schools, school finances, and other issues—indicated the district was “‘too dysfunctional’ to hire top-level superintendents and therefore needed to hire a less experienced candidate.”

But previous investigations of school leadership search firms conducted by Our Schools have found companies like these frequently forego background checks of prospective candidates they recommend, promote favored candidates regardless of their experience or track record, and push board members to keep the entire search process, including the final candidates, confidential from public scrutiny.

“Too often, national search firms are also driven by money-making motives and/or connections with those seeking profit,” Frogge contended. That conflict of interest is a concern not only in Nashville but also in other districts where school leaders with deep ties to education vendors and consultants have resulted in huge scandals that traumatized communities and cost taxpayers millions…

Frogge noted school boards have alternatives to using private search firms that promote tainted candidates willing to feed the search firms’ side businesses.

“School board members need to become better informed and more savvy about profit motives and organizations that seek to influence their selection,” she wrote. “School boards can instead opt to hire a local school boards association (for example, the Tennessee School Boards Association) or a local recruiter with a reputation for personal integrity to conduct a search. They can also choose to hire from within.”


Clifford Wallace and Leigh Wallace, a father-daughter team of professional educators, lambaste state officials for their relentless attacks on the state’s public school teachers. 

They begin:

Leadership matters. It has the potential to influence student outcomes. Clearly, there is a lack of leadership in Frankfort. Kentucky State Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis is taking pages from the flawed and unsuccessful playbooks of his neoliberal, pro-privatization counterparts in Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin. From no longer requiring master’s degrees for teachers to maintain certification to promoting privatized for profit “charter schools” as the panacea to save the “failing public schools” – our “commissioner” is helping dismantle our public schools – and the teaching profession – in Kentucky.

Lewis continues to disparage professionally prepared – and experienced – educators through diminishing the significance of the complex work they do on a daily basis, insulting their commitment and expertise, threatening their pensions, and cutting programs and budgets. Recently, in addition to painting a negative narrative around our public schools and the professionals that work in them, he proposed a “pay for performance” incentive for Kentucky Public School teachers as a means to motivate them to “work harder” and ensure every student has access to a “quality public school.” While this may sound promising on the surface – especially if you have not read the numerous studies conducted by scholars on this practice over the past 30+ years – it is a failed solution.

Lewis’s proposal for merit pay or performance bonuses is absurd. It has been tried repeatedly and failed everywhere. It was tried in Nashville, with a bonus of $15,000 for middle school math teachers who raised test scores. It failed. It has been tried again and again over the past 100 years and has NEVER worked.
Lewis is no “Reformer.” He is being paid to demoralize professional educators and find excuses to privatize public schools. This is not “leadership.” This is Disruption.
The teachers and students of Kentucky deserve better leaders who are dedicated to improving conditionsof teaching and learning.


Nashville leaders were surprised to learn that its own lobbyists were working to push vouchers at a time when the votes in the legislature for vouchers were very close. 

The voucher bill targets only Nashville and Shelby County (Memphis).

Nashville’s lobbying firm is coming under fire from the Metro Council because it also advocates for school vouchers — an issue one councilman says puts the lobbyists at odds with the city’s interests.

According to state records, Adams & Reese managing partner Gif Thornton and three other firm employees are registered to represent both Nashville city government and a prominent pro-voucher group TennesseeCAN, once known as StudentsFirst Tennessee.

Councilman Dave Rosenberg said the city hamstrung itself by hiring lobbyists that can’t represent the city’s opposition to vouchers, particularly because the issue has dominated the legislative session this year.

“That’s something that they should be lobbying against on our behalf,” Rosenberg said. “At least they should not be lobbying in direct opposition to the city.”

TennesseeCAN is funded by the usual billionaires, but was launched by opioid king Jonathan Sackler. Michelle Rhee started StudentsFirst.

Nashville got taken to the cleaners with the help of its own lobbyists.



The New Vision Academy in Nashville is in trouble for violating the fire code andquestionable financial practices. 

“The Nashville charter school New Vision Academy has been violating city fire code by enrolling more students than the capacity allowed at the south Nashville church building where it rents space.

“Because of the overcrowding issue, Metro Nashville Public Schools is forced to remove at least 64 students from the school in the coming weeks, according to a letter from the district’s charter school chief.

“It’s the latest development for a school that has been embroiled in turmoil. New Vision Academy remains under federal and state investigations related to financial irregularities, special education requirements and compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

“In a letter to school board members on Friday, MNPS Executive Officer of Charter Schools Dennis Queen said the school has been cramming 18 to 20 students into classrooms that are only allowed to hold eight to 10 students….

”Last year, a group of teachers sent the district a whistleblower’s report detailing an array of concerns at the school, including students with disabilities and English-learning students not receiving the specialized classroom time required by federal law.

“The teachers also criticized the school for financial issues, complaining they sometimes were denied requests to buy books and other classroom supplies.

“New Vision CEO Tim Malone makes $312,971 annually, and his wife LaKesha Malone makes $250,000 per year, according to New Vision’s most recent public tax documents. For context, Tim Malone’s salary is $27,000 more than MNPS Director Shawn Joseph’s salary.

“The Malones said through an attorney last year that they both worked two jobs under a single nonprofit umbrella. In addition to the school, the Malones run a social work nonprofit.

“Several of the teachers who raised the concerns about New Vision were fired on the same day The Tennessean published an investigative story detailing issues at the school. The teachers subsequently were hired for this school year by other schools.”

Will Pinkston is a member of the elected board of the Metro Nashville public schools. He has a long history of working in state and local government. He was there when Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen brought all the major education groups in the state together to apply for Race to the Top funding. He was there when optimism was high that Race to the Top would launch a new era of collaboration and progress. He was there when Bill and Melinda Gates came to congratulate the Volunteer State on winning $501 million to redesign its education system and when Arne Duncan hailed it as a state that was ready to move forward in a “dramatic and positive” direction. He heard Tennessee described as “Arne Duncan’s Show Horse.” Initially, he had high hopes.

He was there for every twist and turn in education policy in Tennessee for the past decade. He watched the meteoric rise and catastrophic fall of State Commissioner Kevin Huffman. He saw the war break out between Huffman and the state’s teachers, when Huffman ratcheted up his efforts to punish teachers when test scores didn’t go up. He was there for the disaster of the Achievement School District. He saw Michelle Rhee bring her pro-voucher crusade to Tennessee. He saw the state’s testing system turn into a fiasco. He witnessed a backlash from teachers and parents against everything associated with Race to the Top.

He saw Race to the Top turn into Race to the Bottom. The legacy of Race to the Top was divisiveness, rage, and chaos.

This is a long article, but well worth the time it takes to read.

Initially open to the promise of charter schools, he began to see that there were stripping the district of resources.

He writes:

When I ran for and got elected to the school board in 2012, I did it for what I thought were the right reasons. As a public-school parent and alumnus of Metro Nashville Public Schools, I saw an opportunity to represent the part of town where I grew up. After leaving state government, it seemed like a logical extension of public service — and a chance to see how the still-nascent Race to the Top reforms might help propel a large urban school system struggling with persistent achievement gaps. In retrospect, I was terribly naïve.

As it turned out, I ended up on the front line in the war over public education in America. In part because of Race to the Top, it would take years and countless political battles before we could begin focusing on large-scale school improvement in Nashville. The school system was, and still is, chronically underfunded. When I took office, the superintendent at that time was near the end of his career and had been operating for years with no strategic plan. Board members knew he was overwhelmed by the intensity of the reform movement.

Instead of being able to focus on academic standards, effective school turnaround strategies and other key tenets of Race to the Top, the school board faced a tidal wave of charter applications from national operators seeking to rapidly dismantle the school system. Our biggest problem: Haslam’s so-called “open-enrollment law” stripping away caps on charter schools, a rare legislative victory for the governor fueled by Race to the Top’s irrational exuberance.

As it turned out, I ended up on the front line in the war over public education in America.

Haslam’s 2011 law creating a wide-open spigot of charters came just two years after my former boss, Gov. Phil Bredesen, supported a loosening of charter caps in the run-up to Race to the Top. In a sign of Tennessee’s importance to the national reformers, then-Secretary Arne Duncan in 2009 personally lobbied Democrats in the state legislature for the loosening of caps. The eventual effect in Nashville was total chaos.

To put it in perspective: In 2009, Music City had just four charter schools. Following the loosening of state charter caps, the number quickly swelled to a dozen. By 2014, as a result of Haslam’s post-Race to the Top open-enrollment law, the number ballooned to 27 — a nearly seven-fold increase in just five years. During that time, cash outlays for charters by Metro Nashville Public Schools soared more than 700 percent — rising from about $9 million to more than $73 million. Within a few short years, annual cash outlays for charters would soar to more than $120 million.

As an aide to the previous governor who struggled to deal with runaway Medicaid costs a decade earlier, I knew it was impossible to grow any part of government at an unchecked rate without destabilizing the budget in other areas of government. And at a time when our existing schools were universally considered to be underfunded, I wasn’t going to feed charter growth at the expense of zoned schools.

Whistleblowers later told me that charter advocates were plotting to create what they called “New Orleans without the hurricane,” referring to the nearly wholesale charterization of the Crescent City’s school system following Hurricane Katrina. I found their plan to be reckless and shameful, not to mention fiscally and operationally unsustainable. By 2015, three years into my school board service, I stopped voting for new charter schools altogether.


Die-hard charter advocates pride themselves on using simplistic poll-tested messaging to push their agenda. I know because from 2010 to 2012 I served on the founding board of a so-called “high-performing” charter school in Nashville — an experience that led me to question the entire movement.

In the charter sector’s vernacular, the main objective is creating “high-quality seats.” Frequently, in Nashville and around the country, charter advocates accuse urban school board members of protecting “adult jobs” at the expense of kids — a swipe at teachers’ unions. They place a premium on charter schools that are “no excuses” by design and that emphasize “grit” as a top characteristic for students.

According to their world view, charters are the silver-bullet solution to improve K-12 education. What they don’t acknowledge is a growing body of evidence that proves charters, on the whole, aren’t doing better than traditional schools. They also don’t admit that charters cherry-pick in admissions in order to enroll students who are more likely to succeed, and then “counsel out” kids who aren’t making the grade. Each spring in Nashville, school board members are inundated with reports from principals complaining about charter schools sending kids back to zoned schools prior to testing season.

Even if you accept the false notion that charter schools are better than traditional schools, the financial math just doesn’t work. Because of Haslam’s ill-conceived policy, charter growth in Nashville by 2013 was consuming nearly every dime of available new revenue for the school system — leaving little new money for our underfunded traditional schools.

Each spring in Nashville, school board members are inundated with reports from principals complaining about charter schools sending kids back to zoned schools prior to testing season.

After working in and around state and local governments for nearly 20 years, I also was suspicious of the legality of charter laws relative to overall school funding. For example, in Tennessee our state constitution guarantees a “system of free public schools.” But in my view, charters were taxpayer-funded private schools.

Using my position on the Nashville School Board, I pushed for a legal analysis that found the state’s 2002 charter law imposes “increased costs on local governments with no off-setting subsidy from the State … in violation of the Tennessee Constitution.” Put differently: Charters were unconstitutional due to the negative fiscal impact on traditional schools. The legal theory hadn’t been tested in court, but I predicted it would be only a matter of time.

Rabid “charter zealots,” as I began calling them, had enough. Beginning in fall 2013, the national charter movement unleashed an army of paid political operatives and PR flacks to harass the local school board as payback for raising fiscal and legal questions. Nationally, charter advocates saw the situation in Nashville as an existential threat.

The Tennessee Charter School Center, the attack arm of charter schools in Memphis and Nashville, organized a bullhorn protest on the front lawn of Metro Nashville Public Schools’ central office to shout down school board members deemed hostile to charters. A blogger on the group’s payroll attacked the board under the blog handle “Lipstick on a Pig” — shamefully likening our majority-minority school system to a swine. Charter students, pawns in a carefully orchestrated smear campaign, earned extra-credit points by leafletting school board meetings with negative fliers attacking board members.

As a veteran of two statewide gubernatorial campaigns, I recognized the bare-knuckled political tactics. The goal of the charter zealots was to provoke school board members and other opponents into public fights in order to create distractions and draw attention to their cause. For a while, it worked. Skirmishes played out regularly in the boardroom, and spilled into the local news and social media.

When the “charter zealots” ran their own slate of candidates for the board, they targeted Pinkston, who barely squeaked through. But the other anti-charter, pro-public education candidates won, and the board was able to focus on the needs of the public schools, not just squabbles over how many charters to open.

This is an important story that deserves a wide audience.


If you live anywhere near Nashville, please turn out to hear theeloquest Dr. Charles Foster Johnson talk about the danger of vouchers and how they threaten religious liberty.

Pastors for Tennessee Children has been expanding but needs your help to reach more ministers and faith leaders (laypeople) prior to the January session of the General Assembly. Come find out why and listen to the dynamic Rev. Charles Foster Johnson advocate for public education as part of our moral duty.

Thursday, October 4, 11:30 AM – 1 PM CT

Nashville Event Featuring Rev. Charles Foster Johnson

Belmont University, Curb Event Center, Vince Gill Room, 2000 Belmont Blvd

Building #26. Parking is available through the P7 entrance- visitors spaces are well marked. The Vince Gill Room is at the Belmont Blvd. side of the building, attached to the Arena. Signs will direct you there.
Lunch provided

To RSVP, contact

Rev. Johnson of Fort Worth is founder of Pastors for Texas Children and has inspired the Oklahoma, Kentucky and Tennessee groups He is also the promoter of similar groups in formation in ten other states. He has told us how his Texas group of more than 2,000 pastors and faith leaders has helped prevent the passage of private school vouchers in the Texas Legislature since its founding five years ago. Tennesseans hope to similarly convince our legislators to support our Tennessee schools and reject vouchers. We are starting by introducing pastors and faith leaders across the state with a speaking tour to present our positive public education message. You will hear how the voices of ministers, lay leaders, rabbis, imams, and their congregants are needed to support our public school children.

Also. please consider becoming a partner (member) of our network at (website).
Contact for more information about the other four stops on Rev. Johnson’s Tennessee speaking tour: Chattanooga (lunch, Oct. 2), Knoxville (lunch, Oct. 3), Pleasant Hill (evening of Oct. 3), and Memphis (lunch, Oct. 5),

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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.

Whistleblowers at a charter school in Nashville called for financial scrutiny of their school:

The Nashville charter school New Vision Academy is under investigation by the school district for financial irregularities and failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

New Vision Academy came under scrutiny in March after an anonymous whistleblower sent a detailed report to school board member Amy Frogge, who forwarded it to the district.

Metro Nashville Public Schools charter schools executive officer Dennis Queen confirmed the investigation is ongoing.

In addition, the whistleblower report, compiled by teachers, said English language-learning students and students with learning disabilities were not receiving required instructional time. However, on those two areas Queen said the district found New Vision to be in compliance in both of those areas.

According to the whistleblower report, students were charged for textbooks even though the school earmarked thousands of dollars for classroom supplies. The top two executives at New Vision, who are married, make a combined $562,000….

The teachers who detailed the allegations said they want New Vision, which has about 200 students, to address the issues, improve its financial management and admit its shortcomings. The Tennessean is not naming the teachers because they feared retribution from the nonprofit, which does not have a policy protecting whistleblowers.

On Monday, the four teachers who talked to The Tennessean for this story were escorted out of the school. Three were told not to return. One was allowed back into the school Tuesday to finish teaching the final three days of the school year. All four were told the school is accepting their resignations as of this week.


A Rocketship Charter in Nashville was slated to be part of the state’s failed Achievement School District  but it closed a few months after opening.

The school expected  to enroll 190 students but only 50 signed up. Demand isn’t there for a school once hailed as a national model.

To add to the woes of Rocketship charters in Nashville, the IRS filed a lien against their property because of unpaid taxes of about $19,000.. Rocketship officials said it was a clerical error.

Most of the charter schools in the failing “Achievement School District” are in Memphis. The bloom is definitely off the rose for charters in Memphis.

The State is compelling districts to turn student data over to charter schools. The Metro Nashville School Board said no. So did the school board in Memphis.

Memphis parents were asked if they would share their data with charters, and thousands of parents said no.

The state is suing the Metro Nashville School Board because it refuses to give its student data to charter recruiters. It will probably sue Memphis too. The state is more concerned about the tiny proportion of students enrolled in charters than about the 90+% enrolled in public schools. This is madness.

The charters say they need the data for their marketing.

What happened to those mythical waiting lists for charters?

If the charters want to compete and take students and resources from the public schools, why should the public schools help them?

PS: Sorry for the typo in the original title; I wrote it on my cell phone last night as I was walking the dog and could not see full title.