Tennessee Catholic Schools: We Will Take Your Vouchers, But Keep Your State Tests

With all due respect, we’re not rolling like that in Tennessee.

The voucher bill targeting Memphis students on a 5-year trial basis suffered a blow (and rightfully so) from the Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission. Legislators got word that at least 24 Catholic schools are happy to take the money but are not willing to take the state test TNReady.

I don’t know many people crazy about standardized testing, but we can all agree on the need for accountability. Yet these schools agree to accept the public dollars only if they are exempt from the terms attached. The schools are not interested in how we do accountability and that, my friends, is a deal breaker. Perhaps that’s the point. Is this the kind way of saying “we really don’t want your kids?”

Read Grace Tatter’s Some Catholic schools may shun Memphis voucher program over TNReady.

 

Nashville Charter School Leaders Join Others to Oppose Budget that Helps Them, Hurt Others

A group of concerned charter school leaders from across the country submitted a letter to the editor expressing concern about the proposed federal funding cuts likely to hurt students’ prospects outside of the K-12 framework. The letter originally appeared in the Monday, March 28, 2017 issue of USA Today. See below.

I’m proud to see that many of those charter school leaders represent schools right here in Nashville. Shout out to KIPP Nashville, RePublic, Rocketship, STRIVE, and STEM Prep for showing up for ALL kids!


In the “Skinny Budget” that the White House released this month, President Donald Trump offered $168 million in new funds for charter schools. As public charter school operators, we appreciate the proposed investment in new schools like ours.

But we cannot support the President’s budget as currently proposed and we are determined to do everything in our power to work with Congress and the Administration to protect the programs that are essential to the broader needs of our students, families, and communities.

Budgets are statements of priorities, and this one sends a clear message that public education is not a top priority.

Together, we serve more than 220,000 children across 24 states. The children and families in our schools are not simply students and parents who are working hard to attain a great education, they are complete people with a range of human needs.

For our students, a fair shot at the American Dream also needs to extend beyond the classroom to the factors that affect whether all students have what they need to learn and achieve.

Every day, our community of students, families, and educators are working together, and proving together, the power of a great public education. We believe in an America where all young people have a fair shot at succeeding – where a great education, all the way from Pre-K to college, is not only accessible but affordable.

Instead, we are seeing drastic cuts to programs that are critical.

For example, Pell grants are a foundational vehicle for low-income students to afford college. Pell grants need to be protected, not redirected. Work study, so crucial to making college affordable for so many, should be enhanced, not reduced.

Americorps, which creates opportunities for tens of thousands of young Americans to serve their communities, has proven vital to our nation’s efforts to inspire a new generation of teachers. Americorps, and other teacher recruitment, training, and preparation programs, should be invested in, not abandoned.

We see charters as an important part of a much broader effort to revitalize public education in America. Already, in cities such as New York, Denver, St. Louis, and Houston, we see ourselves as partners, not competitors, with traditional school districts. These partnerships, we hope, will only grow in the future.

But to make that broader vision work, we need federal support for all schools, for all kids, not just kids in “choice” schools.

We are public charter school organizations from all across the country, including: Achievement First, Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools, Breakthrough Schools, Brooke Charter Schools, Blackstone Valley Prep, Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, DC Prep, DSST, Equitas Academy, Green Dot Public Schools, IDEA Public Schools, KIPP, RePublic Schools, Rocketship Education, STEM Preparatory Schools, STRIVE Prep, Summit Public Schools, Uncommon Schools, Uplift Education, and YES Prep Public Schools.

We realize that expressing concerns with a budget that benefits our schools may seem counter-intuitive. But we want to join with all those who are fighting to defend public education as an essential pillar of our democracy. We will advocate to Republicans and Democrats alike to reject these proposed cuts. And we will double-down in our commitment to teaching our students to value hard work, compassion, and caring for the greater good, as they develop into the future leaders our country needs.

Changing the Game: 26 NEW Rules for the Ed Reform Debate

Originally posted on Citizen Education by Citizen Contributor on March 23, 2017.

Chris Stewart of Education Post and blogger extraordinaire gives us food for thought about how to approach the ed reform debate; and it happens to fits nicely with the March 29th Volume and Light post  “They Planning for Our Future, None Of Us Involved.”

Buckle up.
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The narrative of people who oppose ‘school choice’ is well documented. The same talking points are brought up again and again and usually dominate the conversation.  It’s time to re-frame the narrative, get real about the misinformation being spread and lead these conversations with a children-first line of thought. Here are Citizen Stewart‘s 26 new rules for the education reform debate:

 

1. If you’ve never agonized about selecting a school for your kid, don’t oppose choice.

2. If you aren’t currently responsible for closing the achievement gap, shut up about those who are – you are not an expert. Just listen.

3. If you don’t believe that poor children and children of color can learn at high levels, don’t teach in their schools.

4. If you benefited from a private school education, don’t come up with fancy reasons to deny others the same.

5. If your only experience in teaching low-income students is bad experience, don’t write a book about education.

6. Do not oppose School Reform until you are willing to put your child in the worst performing school in your city.

7. On Twitter, don’t start none, won’t be none.

8. If your public school is so exclusive that it might as well be private, don’t rail about privatization in education.

9. If you’ve never raised a black child, don’t argue with black parents about what’s best for black children.

10. There are no experts on teaching black students in America. At best you are all students of teaching black students.

11. Don’t exchange studies written by people who have failed schools in their past.

12. If your doctorate is in Amazonian trees with an focus on intersectionality, don’t argue with economists about education statistics.

13. Union funding is as suspicious as any funding. You are not pure and neither is your agenda. Don’t be a tool.

14. Great instruction, great teachers, and great schools make a difference. All children can learn.

15. There is nothing liberal about demanding historically oppressed people to turn their children over to the state to be educated.

16. Only a damn fool looks to their enemy for ideas about educating their own children.

17. Public education and public schooling are two different concepts

18. There is nothing Democratic about selecting education leaders through low-turnout elections overwhelmed by public worker money.

19. Any meeting of education professionals that doesn’t touch on student outcomes is the wrong meeting.

20. An employee occupies a classroom. To call your self an “educator,” you must have observable results.

21. Stop hoping for one-best-system to educate “all kids.” It sounds like a compassionate goal, but given the unique needs of kids it’s not

22. Yes, poverty matters, which is why you should teach your ass off, or quit.

23. The revolution will be literate and numerate. Test scores matter.

24. Black achievement is not dependent on proximity to whiteness. Integration is not a panacea, and sometimes it’s social suicide.

25. America has thousands of half-empty urban schools. Let’s not “talk” about integration or evil school closures. Solve both, enroll now.

26. Concerned about schools “choosing their students”? Call your Congress members and ask for a ban on using addresses to enroll students.

“They Planning For Our Future, None Of Our People Involved” – A Reminder From A Tribe Called Quest

Education advocacy–and I’m talking mainly about the debate on charter schools, vouchers, and tracking school progress (aka accountability)–deserves your attention. It doesn’t matter what you’ve heard or what you think you know, sit back and take a look at what’s happening nationally and in your own backyard. Too many people get their information from one side of the debate or the other. I am not without bias, but will try to lay out the facts.  

Education reform (known as ed reform) is a movement led by a small group of people focused on creating non-traditional educational options in high needs school districts. Too often, the people who are affected the most aren’t even in the room as decisions are being made.  

Charter schools are non-traditional public schools. Non-traditional in the sense that these schools have their own board and oftentimes have programs that are available in traditional schools.  

Vouchers are actual checks that follow students to a private school of choice. This concept is virtually new to Tennessee and is currently offered to students with special needs.

And we track school progress by looking at things like student test scores, graduation rates, and how much students are growing academically. For the purposes of this post, I will focus on charters and vouchers as these offsprings of choice create a lot of noise in Nashville and throughout the country.

The Fight Around Us

imgresThere is a ferocious education battle in every major city in America and I have expended a lot of space to the Battle at School Choice between the anti-charter crowd and ed reformers in Nashville. As best I can tell, the core of the fight (as seen on Twitter) is money. Those against charters are opposed to money leaving traditional public schools to go to schools that are both publicly and privately funded.

Meanwhile, ed reformers seek out opportunities to launch a school, generally in urban districts with failing schools. As in Nashville’s case, these reformers mostly come from other places and set up shop, using resources (time, people, money) to deploy marketing tactics (digital and door-to-door campaigns) to recruit families.

What’s most interesting about the debate is the demographics of the debaters in comparison to the demographics of the intended targets. Most of the anti-charter traffic (again, on Twitter) come from white, middle/upper class, and well-educated women and men with children in public schools. Nashville ed reformers are generally white, well-educated out-of-towners. The group for which they are fighting are children and families of color and in poverty.

Dr. Chris Emdin, associate professor at the Teachers College at Columbia University and author of For White Folks Who Teach In The Hood and The Rest of Y’all, Too, recently gave a SXSW (South by Southwest) talk. In it, Dr. Emdin imparts 50 minutes of superfood for the soul using A Tribe Called Quest’s latest project as his framework. Sharing their take on the politics of the day in the track The Space Program, Tribe says “they planning for our future, none of our people involved.” Truth.

The whole education battle is paternalistic, indeed. I’m sure most are well-meaning, but too often the debate blurs into a toxic combination of ideology and self-interest. Other times it’s a simple battle of wit – who can bitch the best in 140 characters or less. Meanwhile, there are children waiting in the margins whose outcome is dependent upon a great education.

The paternalism and borderline hypocrisy smacked me in the face just last week while sitting in a hearing room at the Tennessee legislature waiting to hear the fate of a voucher bill in the House Education Committee. Sitting amongst a group of Shelby County parents, teachers, and students adorned in blue shirts and anti-voucher stickers, I had a chance to speak with a couple of the protestors before the session.

The first person I spoke with was a white mother from Germantown, TN, a swank suburb of Memphis, who has a child enrolled at the performing arts school there. The second person I spoke with was a black mom, who is a teacher and union board member. Both women were seriously opposed to vouchers forcing me to assess the situation from a different lens.

Here were two educated middle class women (three including me), with the wherewithal to navigate the system to benefit their own children, yet speaking fervently against an option that could possibly help our most vulnerable population. Yeah, “they planning for our future, none of our people involved.”

Paternalism and the Belief Gap

af773c1312b5de1f490c188afc53e956I think about my own family members raising grandchildren amongst the most dire of circumstances and I see the challenges. Witnessing mothers and grandmothers masterfully juggling work and family with few resources. So I get that adding just one more thing that isn’t food, clothing, or shelter is too much. Still, we must believe that parents in difficult situations want the best for their child and it’s the duty of those with resources to get the information to them so they may make their own decisions.

We must believe in them to combat influential naysayers like Tennessee lawmaker Rep. John DeBerry, a black legislator representing Memphis who believes  “We’ve got people who can care less whether or not their child is educated, just as long as their child is out of the house so they can go back to bed.” 

The representative’s clumsy attempt at respectability politics perpetuates paternalism and the idea that parents living in a certain income bracket and parents of color are unconcerned about their children’s educations. Additionally, and tragically, this harmful thinking by state leaders trickles down to district and school levels widening the belief gap: the space between what students can achieve and what others believe they can achieve. (h/t Education Post)

There’s enough blame to go around, but that doesn’t help children in need of high quality education answers today. What is helpful is to actually take a trip into the lives of those for whom we are fighting. Go to the parents and grandparents whose education decisions have been made for them by where they live and through the advocacy and opposition of decisions made on their behalf.

As Charlie Friedman, Nashville Classical charter school leader recently stated, “you actually have to go ask the parents what they think.” Yeah, that’s something even A Tribe Called Quest could appreciate. 

 

Saturday Morning reMIX: EdStories from March 20 – March 24

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It’s Spring Break in Nashville and the most popular ticket in town was the voucher legislation dancing its way through the Tennessee legislature. The bill targeting Memphis families zoned to failing schools passed the House Education Committee this week. The legislation now moves to the House Government Operations Committee and is pending in the Senate’s Finance, Ways and Means Committee. And the tango continues…

Screenshot 2017-03-20 at 11.39.11 AM5 Things You Need to Know About Vouchers – You Decide

 

Listen to Rep. Johnnie Turner speak against the voucher legislation that seeks to use Memphis students “as guinea pigs.”

 

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Tennessee has been accused of possibly hiding poorly performing students, but the Every Student Succeeds Act gives districts an opportunity to make them disappear.

 

More on vouchers:

Peter Cunningham, Education Post – “What begins as a program for low-income kids could become a program for middle-income and even wealthy kids. It already has in Nevada. Public education desperately needs middle-class families in its coalition. If we lose them to vouchers, political support for traditional public education will weaken.”

 

Marilyn Anderson Rhames, parent and school administrator – “I felt that the free education my daughter was getting was just too expensive. I needed to find a school that would start filling her academic gaps while also providing culturally responsive pedagogy—with an extended-day option.”

 

More News…

Amongst my readers, it seems vocational education is a hot topic. The response from the Forbes article, Why We Desperately Need Vocational Training In Schools  proved there is strong interest in the Nashville community. Forbes

The president wants to cut after-school programs because he says they are not effective. No way, says Faces of Education blogger, Kerry-Ann Royes

What grade would you give your school? Tennessee lawmakers are considering bouncing the whole grading schools idea. Whew. Chalkbeat Tennessee

Dr. Benjamin Chavis believes the federal education law is good for students of color.

Bringing moms, dads, and grandparents into school life is challenging because there are so many other important things that their require time and energy. This is a good take on how schools can better approach parental engagement. EdLanta

ESSA: From Hiding Black Students to Making Them Disappear

Tennessee schools might be “hiding dropouts” and gaming the accountability system. That’s the finding of a recent report by the data-centric journalism group ProPublica. The report, while focused mostly on Florida, suggests schools all over the country (again, possibly in TN) may be pushing low-performing students, many of whom are black, into “alternative schools,” as a way of preventing their low test scores and graduation rates from dragging down the average.

But the potential side effect is even more disturbing. Thanks to the wording in the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, these students, who are mostly black young men, don’t need to be counted at all. We can disappear them from our state’s accountability system with no questions asked.

Alternative schools aren’t necessarily bad. They were originally created to help students who have behavioral issues, or who just don’t do well in a traditional system–some students really do need an alternative pathway. But if the motive for transferring any of these students is to put on a front, and allow schools to act like they’re doing a better job helping kids then they actually are, then that’s a problem.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot we still don’t know. There’s not enough data in the report to say whether or not it’s happening in Tennessee, though they do flag Nashville as a place that is of concern. But we’ve seen this kind of thing come up before. It was just a little over a year ago when a group of teachers raised concerns that students were being put into credit recovery programs so they would not take year end tests, which beefed-up the district’s overall testing performance. A student also filed suit (now dismissed) based on the same allegations.

So it’s worth raising the question: Is there something fishy going on in Nashville schools?

While I am not interested in stirring up a bee’s nest about the testing behavior in Nashville, I can’t help but be concerned. I can’t help but wonder if someone’s trying to pull the wool over my eyes. Or if the state is creating an environment where that’s easier to do.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states have unbelievable latitude in the definition of a school. Tennessee’s plan takes advantage of that flexibility and explicitly says in its state plan that we won’t hold ourselves accountable for alternative schools:

“ESSA requires states to meaningfully differentiate public schools on an annual basis. Tennessee will include all public schools within this framework, excluding schools that only serve K–2 students, or adult high schools, or schools that only serve students with special needs and/or disabilities, or alternative schools, or CTE schools.”

I see two problems with this. First, ESSA gives states authority to allow districts the freedom to create warehouses specifically for hiding marginal to poor performing students — free from accountability. Second, and the most chilling issue, is the notion that the students most likely to be hidden under the ESSA provision are black students in general, and young black men, in particular.

What Gets Measured, Gets Done

Based on 2015 student data, nearly every student sent to a Nashville alternative school was black. Under ESSA, students enrolled in alternative schools will not be counted. That means it’s possible that within a couple of years, we could see larger swaths of our black students dropping off the radar for states. They won’t be in schools where the state will ever try to intervene. They won’t be considered when we talk about the academic progress of black students, and they won’t be celebrated when they do make progress. Conceivably, in two years, we could experience large swaths of black males missing from the state’s accountability framework.

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For me, there’s no obvious reason why we wouldn’t count these kids. Don’t they matter too? Yet federal law allows it and states like Tennessee, and many others, are all-too-happy to jump on board. Tennessee never explains in their state plan why it’s okay. That worries me. I worry that we’re building a system that creates a big dark hiding place for certain kids so schools can keep their reputations up and keep kids who probably need our attention the most out of sight and out of mind.

 

According to Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., Federal Education Law is Good for Students of Color

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), we believe, offers African American parents more opportunities to get involved in determining the quality of education for their students at the local level.

This is an interesting take on the Every Student Succeeds Act offered by Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA).

While the law is to be commended as a bi-partisan effort taking lessons from the challenges created by No Child Left Behind Act, I am concerned about the potential effect on students of color. This concern stems from the additional authority ESSA gives to states when historically federally-issued power to states has not been favorable to people of color.

Click on the link above to read his thoughts.