Archives for category: Tennessee

When the charter industry decides to expand in your district or state, one thing is certain: Bitter divisiveness will follow, as the night follows the day.

The school board elections become pitched battles between friends of charters and friends of public schools. Parents fight over who goes to charter schools and over resources taken away from public schools to fund charter schools.

One of the most heated school board races this fall will take place in Nashville, where the charter industrial complex has targeted board members who support public schools. The money is pouring in from wealthy contributors to knock out Amy Frogge (a hero of this blog), Will Pinkston, and Jill Speering, all of whom have fought to keep the charter zealots from destroying public education.

The parasitic Stand On Children is handing out big bucks to candidates who prefer charter schools. Rich corporate leaders and right-wingers are funding the charteristas.

The model campaign last time was run by Amy Frogge, a lawyer and public school parent who was elected despite her opponent’s 5-1 war chest advantage.

Tired of seeing the board led by supporters of public education, the privatizers are making a move to defeat the board members who have stood in their way.

If you care about education in Tennessee, do what you can to support the friends of public schools.

Chalkbeat Tennessee has an excellent report on Tennessee’s testing fiasco. State officials knew that the testing company was in deep trouble before the testing began, yet they plunged ahead, wasting millions of dollars.

Grace Tatter describes Tennessee’s “worst case scenario”:

Tennessee education officials allowed students and teachers to go ahead with a new online testing system that had failed repeatedly in classrooms across the state, according to emails obtained by Chalkbeat.

After local districts spent millions of dollars on new computers, iPads, and upgraded internet service, teachers and students practiced for months taking the tests using MIST, an online testing system run by North Carolina-based test maker Measurement Inc.
They encountered myriad problems: Sometimes, the test questions took three minutes each to load, or wouldn’t load at all. At other times, the test wouldn’t work on iPads. And in some cases, the system even saved the wrong answers.

When students in McMinnville, a town southeast of Nashville, logged on to take their practice tests, they found some questions already filled in — incorrectly — and that they couldn’t change the answers. The unsettling implication: Even if students could take the exam, the scores would not reflect their skills.

“That is a HUGE issue to me,” Warren County High School assistant principal Penny Shockley wrote to Measurement Inc.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with reporters in February about technical problems with the state’s new online assessment.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with reporters in February about technical problems with the state’s new online assessment.

The emails contain numerous alarming reports about practice tests gone awry. They also show that miscommunication between officials with the Tennessee Department of Education and Measurement Inc. made it difficult to fix problems in time for launch.

And they suggest that even as problems continued to emerge as the test date neared, state officials either failed to understand or downplayed the widespread nature of the problems to schools. As a result, district leaders who could have chosen to have students take the test on paper instead moved forward with the online system.

The messages span from October until Feb. 10, two days after the online test’s debut and cancellation hours later. Together, they offer a peek into how Tennessee wound up with a worst-case scenario: countless hours wasted by teachers and students preparing for tests that could not be taken.

TC Weber is a parent blogger in Nashville. He writes here about the testing chaos in Tennessee.


When the contractor didn’t deliver the tests in time, testing was canceled. Then came part two, the tests were delayed again, but eventually many kids took the tests. Tennessee fired the contractor, forced students to take the tests, then gave Pearson a contract for $18.5 million just to score the tests.



Just for scoring tests! How great is that! Way to go, Pearson!


Maybe some of the details are wrong. Read TC’s post.


Bottom line: Tennessee is squandering millions of dollars for useless tests. Wake up! End the nightmare!

Gary Rubinstein has been watching Tennessee’s “Achievement School District” since it started. The original promise was that the ASD would gather the lowest performing schools in the state–from the bottom 5%–and lift them to the top 25% in the state in five years. They are nowhere near that goal.


The state data was recently released, and it showed that five of the six schools in the first cohort are still in the bottom 5%. The sixth school is in the bottom 7%.


This matters a lot because several states are now planning to create similar districts, based on the model of Tennessee’s ASD. The planning is underway in Georgia, North Carolina, and Nevada. There may be more.


The basic idea is that the state takes control of low-performing schools away from local districts,then hands them over to charter operators. The charters work their magic, and the schools are supposed to be transformed. But after four years, it hasn’t happened in Tennessee. Since Tennessee canceled its state tests this year due to technical problems, there won’t be a fifth year score.


When Chalkbeat reported this story recently, it said:


“The lowest 5 percent is still dominated by schools in Memphis and Nashville. Of the 84 worst-performing schools in Tennessee, nearly all are operated through Shelby County Schools, the ASD and Metro Nashville Public Schools. Chattanooga has six, Knoxville four, and Jackson two. Districts in Sevier and Fayette counties, which are primarily rural, have schools that are on a state list for the first time. As has been the case in the past, the bottom 5 percent schools are almost exclusively in low-income communities of color….


Rubinstein says this story never got the attention it deserved, and he is right. Other states would be foolish to copy this failed experiment.




Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee signed into law a bill that allows mental health professionals to refuse service to anyone based on their religious beliefs.


The American Counseling Association has announced that it may cancel its annual conference, now scheduled for April 2017, if the law is not repealed.


Governor Haslam will be the keynote speaker at a conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Education on May 17. Perhaps other participants will question him about this legislation. Perhaps Harvard President Drew Faust will chastise him in her introductory remarks for signing legislation that is unacceptable at Harvard or in Massachusetts or in most states. Apparently, other states have adopted similar laws, on the theory that a person with sincere religious beliefs should be legally permitted to refuse service to anyone who offends those beliefs.


Peter Greene commented on the law as permitting discrimination against any group that is different.


Greene wrote:


So Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee today signed a law that allows mental health counselors to refuse patients based on the therapist’s religion or personal beliefs.


That means that a Christian counselor could refuse to see a Muslim, or an atheist, or a pastafarian. That means a Southern Baptist could refuse to see a Catholic. That means an anti-abortion person could refuse to treat a woman who’s had an abortion. A staunch conservative could refuse to treat someone struggling with infidelity in their marriage. A racist can refuse to see anyone who’s not white. That means a counselor could turn away a woman who’s wearing too short a skirt, or holds down a job outside the home, or who uses birth control. That means a republican therapist could refuse to treat a democrat, or vice versa– and both could refuse to treat a socialist. And of course, anybody can refuse to see an LGBT patient.


I am imagining someone who’s hit a rough patch trying to find a counselor, looking through the yellow pages for a Jewish vegan feminist republican counselor who believes in attachment parenting. Presumably some folks, like the Green Party gay pro-gun Wiccan, would just have to drive to some other state.


One of our Tennessee readers added the following comment:


I wonder what the organizers at Harvard were thinking when they asked BIll Haslam to speak at this ‘illustrious’ summit. His accomplishments in scholarship & policy initiatives are, at best, underwhelming.


Gov.Haslam is the son of TN’s billionaire Jim (“Big Jim”) Haslam family who own Pilot Oil & Flying J Truckstops. His family control of the Republican Party bought him 3 elections – one as Mayor of Knoxville & 2 terms as Gov of TN. The family’s venture philanthropy buys the silence of critics in the local press & in higher education.


The Haslam family business is under FBI investigation for multiple counts of fraud


His legacy as governor is outsourcing public education, privatizing state workers & maintenance operations, privatizing our beautiful state parks, privatizing Dept of Children’s Services, cutting capital gains taxes, cutting the inheritance tax, passing a constitutional amendment prohibiting a state income tax, assuring TN remains the state with the highest number of workers earning minimum wage or below, and no healthcare for the poor.


He gave Tennesseans Kevin Huffman, Candice McQueen, and in a Dept of Ed staffed with TFA. Arne Duncan visited TN regularly to brag on our “progress” in edu-reform.


Thanks to Haslam, Tennesseans can carry guns on campus & in schools, our state book is the bible, we have a state gun, and a new state logo, fracking on the Plateau, cabinet advisors from Americans for Prosperity, the Milton Friedman Foundation, and The Charter School Associations.




Tennessee has canceled the second half of its state tests because the vendor didn’t deliver the testing materials on time. Rather than extend the wasted time, the state commissioner pulled the plug. The whole state is opting out!

“Tennessee students may not have to take the second part of their year-end exams after all. Following multiple delays in receiving test materials, the state is cutting ties with testing vendor Measurement Inc. The company has been blamed for the bulk of glitches and delays in the first year of TNReady.

“Measurement Inc.’s performance is deeply disappointing,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement. “We will not ask districts to continue waiting on a vendor that has repeatedly failed us.”

“McQueen said the state has “exhausted every option in problem solving” to assist in getting the tests delivered.

“North Carolina-based Measurement Inc. has pinned the delays on unexpectedly having to print millions of testing packets. The rush-job followed the failure of its computer-based test in February. But Nakia Towns, an assistant commissioner in the Department of Education, says there’s no excuse.

“Right now, all of the printed materials are at Measurement Inc. The printer is not the issue,” she said at a press briefing Wednesday. “The issue is that Measurement Inc. has failed to pack and ship the materials that they have on site.”

There are three so-called achievement school districts in the nation that have some history. One in Tennessee, one in Michigan, one inNew Orleans. The three are so what different: New Orleans district is all-charter, all privatized. The other two were created by the legislature to gather the state’s lowest-scoring schools into a single district, then turn them over to charter operators.


Opinions differ about New Orleans, but no one claims that it has closed achievement gaps or left no child behind. It is not a miracle district. Some critics have called it the lowest performing district in one of the lowest performing states.


Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority has no defenders. It is a disaster.


The Tennessee Achievement District was studied by Vanderbilt researchers, who reported there was no statistically significant improvement in test scores. Gary Rubinstein looked at state data and concluded that there was virtually no improvement: the lowest performing schools are still very low performing schools.


Yet Georgia and North Carolina both plan to create achievement school districts, and now Nevada wants one too. Why? It must be ALEC model legislation.


Angie Sullivan wrote this about Nevada, where she teaches:


“This was the scary announcement yesterday in Nevada Education:


“Board of Examiners meeting Tuesday, Canavero announced the appointment of Jana Wilcox-Lavin as the superintendent-in-residence of a new Achievement School District.


“Based on similar models in Louisiana and Tennessee, the state-run district will hand over control of persistently failing schools to charter management organizations.”

“Can someone explain to me why Nevada would want to create an Achievement School District – just as other states are closing their failing achievement school districts?


“Does anyone in the Department of Education or on the Nevada State School Board have google? I strongly suggest everyone google: achievement school districts Tennessee or Lousiana.


“Does anyone do research before they make these expensive decisions?


“It is obvious that the real plan is to privatize and destroy public schools like Tennesse and Louisiana. The data is in and students did not do better after expensive achievement school districts were created there. Extreme and documented failure.


“We are hiring someone from those failures to create a Nevada failure?


“Why are we doing this?


Tennessee: Legislators Propose Closing “Achievement School District”


Gary Rubinstein Reviews the Failure of the Tennessee Achievement School District


Tennessee: Memphis School Board Calls for Moratorium for Achievement School District


Tennessee: “Achievement School District” In Search of High-Performing Students


Tennessee Dad: It’s Time to Dump the “Achievement School District”


Andy Spears: Is Tennessee Sick of the (Low) Achievement School District?


North Carolina Parents: We Don’t Want an “Achievement School District”
“Bottom line: Business does not do better at running schools. Business type reforms are not changing schools for the better.


“The same data system that kills public schools -shows that privatization and business ran schools fail too – usually worse and more expensive.


“Somehow we are supposed to only use data to kill public schools but then ignore data that suggests expensive reforms are failures?


“Doesn’t Nevada already have enough failing segregated disenfranchising charters? Why don’t we clean up the charter messes we already made -rather than import a mess maker from another state to make another mess. Why are we renewing failing charters?


“We better start thinking about kids Nevada – rather than about making some business people very rich at the expense of our kids.


“We do not need to be scammed like Lousiana and Tennessee.





Jessica Fogarty is a parent, a former teacher, and a school board member in the Tullahoma, Tennessee, school district.

She sent me this message and asks for your help:

“Shortly after my daughter experienced major anxiety taking the state’s practice MIST tests, I realized that I needed to research testing in my state.

“My superintendent, Dan Lawson, has been extremely supportive in my efforts to appeal to the TN DOE to reduce testing and to allow our district to select an alternative to TNReady. I requested meetings with the commissioner (she finally met me the week before Part 1 was administered but despite all the facts presented and an all-out plea on my daughter’s behalf-she has continued with this tragedy of a test), I have sat on the floor outside legislators’ offices and written countless letters (our local Senator sponsored an education bill, SB 1984, but it was opposed heavily by the state and killed in committee), and I attempted to attend any feedback session offered to me (the state scheduled them in December and cancelled these sessions a week later “due to low registration numbers”).

“My district and fellow school board members have fought so hard for our students, however all the reasonable facts and pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

“I am desperate to help the teachers and students of my district and those across the state as well. With the blessing of my superintendent, I started a petition on It is titled: “Stop Part 2 of TNReady”. In 48 hours, the petition has over 500 signatures. It is the amazing comments under the petition being made by parents, teachers, and even a student that demonstrates the need for the TN DOE to respond.

“However, I have a limited social media presence. I am just a concerned mother. I am reaching out to any and all that can help spread the word. I understand that this petition is just a “statement move”, but thousands of signatures and comments will make a powerful statement. I have to know that I did everything I could possibly do to help my daughter.”

Jessica, here is my advice: Refuse the test. Your daughter doesn’t have to take it. If enough parents join you, the state will listen. Your daughter belongs to you, not the State Education Department.

Thank you,

Jessica Fogarty

Please consider making a donation to Amy Frogge, a great friend of public schools, who is running for re-election to the Metro Nashville school board. Amy is a lawyer whose children attend public schools in Nashville. She ran for school because are as a mom and a citizen, knowing nothing of corporate reform. Her opponent was well-funded and had a 5-1 advantage over Amy. Amy went door to door, and she won!


As a board member, she has fought for public schools. She has opposed privatization and high-stakes testing. She is on the honor roll of this blog for her courageoussupportfor the children of Nashville.



Amy needs our help. The “reformers” want her gone. Please donate whatever you can.






Paul Thomas of Furman University in South Carolina knows that elected officials are intrigued with the idea of “turnaround districts,” although they know surprisingly little about the research or experience associated with such districts. The idea is simple: if a school has low test scores for x number of years in a row, or if it ranks in the bottom x% of all schools in the state, fire the principal and the teachers and give the community’s public school to a private charter operator. Kind of like declaring bankruptcy, but forgetting that a school is not a business like a chain store.


Thomas points out that there are good reasons to be wary of turnaround districts. He cites research about what has happened to them.


First, advocacy for takeovers is mostly political cheerleading, and second, a growing body of research has revealed that takeovers have not achieved what advocates claim and often have replicated or even increased the exact problems they were designed to solve, such as race and class segregation and inequitable educational opportunities.


New Orleans is a low-performing district that has become even more segregated and stratified than it was before the takeover.


He writes:


Takeovers in several states—similar to embracing charter schools and Teach For America—have simply shuffled funding, wasted time, and failed to address the root causes of struggling schools: concentrated poverty and social inequity.


Yes, SC must reform our public schools, and we should shift gears to address our vulnerable populations of students first. But charter takeover approaches are yet more political faddism that our state and children cannot afford.


Continuing to double-down on accountability based on standards and high-stakes testing as well as rushing to join the political reform-of-the-moment with clever names is inexcusable since we have decades of evidence about what works, and what hasn’t.


SC must embrace a new way—one committed to social policies addressing food security for the poor, stable work throughout the state, and healthcare for all, and then a new vision for education reform built on equity.


All SC students deserve experienced and certified teachers, access to challenging courses, low class sizes, fully funded schools, safe school buildings and cultures, and equitable disciplinary policies and practices. These are reforms that must be guarantees for every public school student regardless of zip code, and they need not be part of complex but cleverly named programs.


You will want to read the post in full to gain access to its many excellent links to news and research.


Those who continue to advocate for already failed fixes are stalling, delaying the day that we must address the root causes of educational failure. They should be held accountable for their neglect of the real needs of children, families, and communities. And some day, they will.



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