A Nashville Parent Shares Frustration Over School Board’s Mixed Messaging on Charter Schools and Expectations

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After learning of the Nashville school board’s decision to renew the charter of a school that has failed to meet standards for several years, parent Aidan Hoyal took to Facebook to air her frustration and we were there for it. 

We hear you, Aidan. 


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Can any of you local ed policy experts please help me understand this? The MNPS School Board on Tuesday 1/23/18 voted to renew the charter application of a school that is not meeting the District and Board’s own standards. Huh?

Full disclosure – I don’t know any more about the particular school or its leadership than what has been presented at the public school board meetings (which are recorded and posted online). But, should we need to know more about a specific school if there is a clear policy about how school charters are approved and evaluated? Perhaps. But, can we not hold all schools to the same standards? My kid attends a charter. I’m not anti-charter. The reason I felt confident in choosing our school is that Nashville has a very rigorous charter authorization and renewal process – or at least I thought we did.

At the November 28, 2017 MNPS board meeting, the district gave a lengthy presentation reviewing Smithson Craighead Academy’s performance in order to make a decision about renewing its charter after ten years in operation. The presentation slides are in the 11/28/17 agenda document here: https://static1.squarespace.com/…/15118…/11.28.17+Agenda.pdf

Dennis Queen presented all the data the district had collected about the school’s performance and financials, and Shawn Joseph recommended denying renewal of the school’s charter. Joseph cited policy EE 17: “the director shall not allow contracts to be recommended or continued if fiscal jeopardy or failure to make consistent progress toward their stated objectives is a likely outcome or is evident.” I believe this presentation was actually the second time the district recommended non-renewal, but the board had already postponed the decision until more test data became available (correct me if I’m wrong here – I haven’t gone back through all the documents to confirm that).

I encourage you to watch the intense discussion among board members about how the board makes decisions regarding approving or denying charters. You can watch the entire discussion of this presentation beginning at minute 27:18 in this video recording of the 11/28/17 meeting: https://youtu.be/Ji8gmXql22s

At the December 12, 2017 MNPS Board meeting, the Board voted unanimously to approve new policies governing School Board Operations, including policies governing Charter School Operations and Charter School Oversight. These new policies rescinded policy EE 17 (cited above). You can read those approved policies in their entirety in the 12/12/17 agenda, here: https://static1.squarespace.com/…/15131…/12.12.17+Agenda.pdf

The approved MNPS School Board “Charter School Oversight” policy (1.901) codifies the Annenberg Standards for both charter and traditional schools. This is excellent. You can read the Annenberg Standards in the link above and also here: https://www.annenberginstitute.org/…/CharterAccountabilityS… . The approved policy also states that, “Contracts shall not be continued if fiscal jeopardy is likely or there is failure to make consistent progress towards their stated objectives. In addition, the director shall ensure that existing charter schools operate in a manner that does not jeopardize the learning or wellbeing of their students.”

The policy lists specific types of information a charter school must make available in determining the above, including all kinds of financial documents and written explanations of financial discrepancies; proof of compliance with the charter contract; student achievement data; and Board information and meeting documents. These appear to be the exact kinds of documents presented as evidence in the District’s recommendation not to renew the SCA charter. The School Board voted 5-4 in favor of renewing the charter.

If the School Board is using other criteria besides those detailed in the policy to evaluate this school’s qualification for charter renewal, what are they? Are they using criteria that speak to the school’s value to kids, families and the community? If so, what are they? And what evidence supports these? Are these same criteria applied in evaluations of other schools, too? If not, why not?

Why are the most vocal charter opponents on the School Board voting to renew the charter of a school that the district asserts has not met the very standards the Board unanimously approved? At a minimum, we should all agree to hold charter schools accountable in a consistent and fair way – why is MNPS not following its own policy here? Where is the accountability?

Above I asked, “Can we not hold all schools to the same standards?” I also often ask, “Why can’t we hold all the students in the building to the same standard?” because so often schools divide up students into high- and low- performing groups, creating different expectations for different kids (and I fully participate in this system by, for example, having my kid in Encore, or applying for a spot at a magnet school). Maybe we just can’t. Maybe holding everyone to the same standard simply isn’t equitable. Perhaps we need a mix of both.

BUT, if we’re not holding all schools to the same standards, we need to be really clear and transparent about why and how those decisions are made. And we need to have everybody represented at the table in making those decisions.

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