School board considers criteria for new charter school applicants

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 11:10pm

After months of tension over the denial of a specific charter school, Metro school board members are questioning what they want from new charter applicants and how to find it.

District officials said they have an opportunity to attract charter schools that could meet Metro Nashville Public Schools’ specific needs but faced questions over whether the district could be more proactive in seeking out schools they will want to approve.

"I'm really tired of the them-versus-us mentality, and that's got to stop," Cheryl Mayes, the school board chairwoman, told the board Tuesday night at its regular workshop meeting.

The district is coming off months of debate about its decision to deny Phoenix-based Great Hearts Academies’ application last summer over diversity concerns. Beginning next week, the school district will begin taking a head count on this year’s round of charter school applicants, which will be vetted then recommended to the school board by June.

“We have been open to charters all along, but when we deny one is when we get some negativism,” said Jo Ann Brannon, a school board member. “It’s not that we are anti-charter, but we want to do it in a correct manner.”

Nashville is now home to 14 operating charters. One is set to close at the end of the school year and as many as five new schools will open come fall. Meanwhile, one in four MNPS students are attending their choice of public schools outside of their zone school.

The district is in a unique position to think ahead about its needs and seek out specific charter authorizers to fill them, said Alan Coverstone, executive director of the MNPS’s Office of Innovation to review charter proposals. For example, students attending the soon-to-be-closed Smithson Craighead Middle School will now be displaced, the population is booming in the southern part of Davidson County, and the district still has a sizable achievement gap between students of different ethnicities and socioeconomic situations.

Those needs could all be addressed with the help of charter schools, said Coverstone, although board member Will Pinkston challenged that the district could do more to officially request proposals for schools to fill those needs. Coverstone and Director of Schools Jesse Register said they now advertise those needs by word of mouth and are hesitant to officially ask for a slew of requests in fear the state law would put the district in a “straightjacket,” tying its hands if it wants to approve only one of several qualified charter school to fill one specific slot.

Mayes said she finds herself skeptical of charter schools still, but said it’s because she doesn’t understand why the district isn’t taking good practices from high-performing charter schools and implementing them in traditional ones.

Register, who is expected to announce a slew of changes to MNPS’s central office during a press conference Wednesday, hinted that he is finding ways to plug those practices in. The district’s central office was the subject of hard criticism from Tribal Group, a U.K.-based firm hired to improve 34 of the district’s low-performing schools. The group found management too centralized in central office bureaucracy and Register promised to shed staff and free-up school level leaders.

16 Comments on this post:

By: kellyfretz on 1/23/13 at 9:51

Charter schools are not going to fix what is wrong in our school district. We need to take what we have and make it work for our children. I agree with Cheryl Mayes, take the good stuff that is out there and implement it into the existing schools. We need to remember that most charter schools are "for profit" organizations and the money will always be most important.

We CAN fix what we have, we just need a school board that is strong enough to stand up to the pressure that is being applied by those people that are trying to push their own agenda. We also need parents, students and teachers to work together. Parental involvement goes a long way to the success of any school.

By: KENW on 1/23/13 at 10:27

I think we can all agree that we want our schools to perform better. I also think we would all agree that those kids that are in disadvantaged situations should be given special attention. But what seems to happen is that needs and opportunities for the other kids are pushed aside in an effort to bring the low performing factors up.

Right now something like 50% of qualified applicants for the academic magnet schools are turned away because there isn't room. The parents and students want the opportunity, are wiling to provide their own transportation, but they are denied. If the school board isn't going to provide more of these opportunities, why not allow charter schools to fill this demand?

The problem with the school board deciding what charter schools they'll allow in is like asking WalMart to decide what other retailers should be allowed to operate in its territory.

We need an impartial, fair policy that focuses on the quality of education for ALL students, not just a select few.

By: Knofler on 1/23/13 at 10:34

Look, none of these useless idiots know the first thing about education. If they did Davidson County Schools would not perform as horribly as they do. And the Mayor is just fine with it, as he would rather build worthless monuments to himself, i.e. Convention Center, 5th Ave lighting and now a 5th Ave Statue. That money would have been better served cleaning out the scum in the system and getting new blood that will reform the system, rather than keep regurgitating the same drivel

By: JeffF on 1/23/13 at 10:45

"We need to remember that most charter schools are "for profit" organizations and the money will always be most important."

Please, please become informed rather than repeating this same lie over and over again. Not one Metro charter is run by a for-profit company. I have challenged this over and over again on this site, it gets ignored, and this BS keeps getting repeated.

By: jonw on 1/23/13 at 11:49

" . . . and the district still has a sizable achievement gap between students of different ethnicities and socioeconomic situations."

Yes, that is true in most systems. The only way to fix the gap is to bring down the scores of the better students. Too many public schools (including Nashville) are more concerned with social engineering than education.

By: jonw on 1/23/13 at 11:55

Kelly wrote: "We need to remember that most charter schools are "for profit" organizations and the money will always be most important".

Please name one charter school in Nashville that is "for profit".

By: GoodieTwoShoes on 1/23/13 at 3:28

I believe what Kelly is writing about are the charters that are waiting to see how these new rules shake out. In Nashville we have good charter schools. But I have not heard much about them pushing for vouchers, a statewide authorizer or anything like that. great hearts, was the foot in the door for this plan. The fallicy is that all public schools are failing and charters and vouchers represent more parent choice. There is choice already. Instead of being so anxious to send more of our tax dollars out of state, why not open more magnet schools? At least we know that idea works.

By: ChrisMoth on 1/23/13 at 4:43

Yes, we are entering a new phase of Charter School management - that is clear. In the first phase, we threw different schools at the wall - and we've observed what falls off, and what sticks.

Let's now do more of what works, and less of what doesn't - proactively - with recruitment of Charter firms at the fore of this new phase . The current model, where any Tom, Dick, or Harry showing up at the doorstep with a tiny petition list of parents asking for money (with NO regard for what we NEED city-wide), then crying foul to the state when they don't get it - is nonsensical at best.

Of course, we can't move into this phase if the State takes over Charter authorization and keeps us mired in Tom, Dick, and Harry mode. Let's make it clear to Governor Haslam and his puppet state board that Nashville is absolutely moving ahead - and must not be held back.

Chris Moth, 2020 Overhill Dr

By: ChrisMoth on 1/23/13 at 4:53

A couple of folks are commenting that magnets are a "solution" to something. What something? I believe the lotteries for Meigs and Hume-Fogg are oversubscribed (and I think it is 6:1 not 1:1) because we don't provide parent-understandable academic trajectories for our kids in nearby neighborhood schools. I do not believe these magnet schools offer ANYTHING to our kids but an escape from being in the same building as kids in poverty. As long as most other parents are convinced otherwise, that Meigs and Hume Fogg do in fact "offer something," (and MNPS marketing message clear screams that these two schools are "THE CLUB YOU WANT TO BE IN"), the angst of Nashville's families cannot possibly be reduced - no matter how many magnets we open - and how far we demand folks drive across town to get away from local schools. I wish we could all figure out a way to make our neighborhood schools our first choice! What does that take? Is there any hope? Can't we ask ourselves, seriously, Why does Williamson have neither lotteries nor magnets nor charters - and parents seem to like their schools OK?

Chris Moth, 2020 Overhill Dr

By: GoodieTwoShoes on 1/23/13 at 6:03

With the lottery, every metro student that applies has an equal chance to get in. Yes, the schools you mention are top schools, but it wasn't testing that did it; it was the students and teachers. Dedicated, certified teachers. Every student that applies has to meet the academic criteria. Then the lottery. There is a very diverse body of students in the magnet schools. Not only are there magnets, but there are design centers and enhanced option and others. And also, metro already has charters. Most of these school offer open enrollment. Check them out. Yes, you have to get your child to the school. Are not charters going to make that same demand? Charters are not a replacement for neighborhood schools. What is this with comparison with Williamson county?

By: Moonglow1 on 1/24/13 at 10:00

Moonglow1: Charter Schools do indeed take tax payer money and place it into the pockets of for-profit charters. I do not want my taxes to fund a for-profit entity. Strengthen our public schools.

By: pswindle on 1/24/13 at 11:11

Metro can save money and hire less teachers with Charters because all of the teachers are not certified, but teacher's aides. Dr. Register has replaced janitors with other workers, and the schools are not as clean as they should be, he has farmed out the school buses. We are going backward instead of forward. The money is going to for-profit schools and not the students. Did we not just have a property increase in taxes for the schools? Is this the way that we are spending our higher tax money for more Charters?

By: ChrisMoth on 1/25/13 at 12:13

Goodie Two Shoes:

A number of your statements need some followup.

With the lottery, every metro student that applies has an equal chance to get in.
** yes, ok

Yes, the schools you mention are top schools, but it wasn't testing that did it; it was the students and teachers. Dedicated, certified teachers.
** This is the crux of the issue. If "Dedicated, certified teachers" are what makes the difference, then why they not installed at neighborhood schools. I happen to believe that "Dedicated, certified teachers" are, in fact, installed at our neighborhood schools - and every metric I can find tells me that JT Moore students (many of whom are rejected by chance from the lottery) who are not in poverty fare just as well as those in "the magnet club" who trek across town to Meigs.

Every student that applies has to meet the academic criteria.
** Yes - this accounts for the higher test scores at end of course. Those same children will do equally well - in fact possible better due to less lifespan lost to transporation at their local schools. We have kids getting ACT scores of 35 at Hillsboro High. I don't see perofrmance oucomes improving at Hume-Fogg, or worsening at Hillsboro.

Then the lottery.
** The "lottery" itself has ZERO impact on the instructional techniques employed by the school. IT is a random number generator. If it were itself impactful, we'd put every student into a lottery and randomly distribute them all over town to boost scores :)

There is a very diverse body of students in the magnet schools.
** False. Hume Fogg and Meigs have 15 % Free and Reduced Lunch. That is MILES different from our zoned local middle and high schools which start at 30% to 40% and head upwards from there. IF you mean "racial or ethnic diversity" I am sure you are correct -= but who care about that in the 21st century. That was an issue in the 20th century where race and poverty correlated much more strongly. In the 21st century, we're much more mixed up - and we cannot be so sure of even who belongs to what race - and I surely believe we would be fools to route kids to schools to achieve some kind of "appearance" diversity.

Not only are there magnets, but there are design centers and enhanced option and others. And also, metro already has charters. Most of these school offer open enrollment. Check them out.
*** All of these may have some place - but I strongly believe they mainly create stress for children - especially when MNPS sells a small subset as "THE CLUB OF THE SUCCESSFUL" - and then randomly says 5 of 6 of our eligible children cannot join that club.

Yes, you have to get your child to the school. Are not charters going to make that same demand? Charters are not a replacement for neighborhood schools.
*** NOT YET - but there are school systems, like New Orleans, and I believe Washington DC - where no matter where you move in town, you have NO GUARNATEE of going to a local school. You must enroll in a lottery. NO affluent familes would move into a town that offers a 1 in 6 - or worse - chance of their kids getting into a school for college prap.

What is this with comparison with Williamson county?
*** Mayor Dean and others express great concern that affluent families are moving to Williamson in greater numbers because they perceive the schools to be higher quality. They actually are NOT - but they ARE like Meigs in havng smaller populations of impoverished students. The ONLY way Nashville will ever be able to compete with Williamson is if we can laser-iron-clad guarantee affluent parents that their kids have a clear path to college at local schools. Vouchers and Lottery Tickets to State-authorized Charter schools are shell games - that certainly save our school system a lot of work - but that are killing the perception of Nashville as a city commtited to educating all our children. We must draw the line _Somewhere_ on the silly lottery. That line is most sensibly drawn, at first, in the Hillsboro and Hillwood clusters. Parents from these clusters clog 40% of the lottery slots at Hume Fogg and Meigs. If there is reallyt "something" to Meigs and Hume-Fogg, then we ought to make sure that "something" exists at Hillwood and Hillsboro - to bring sanity back to our system and de-clog the streets.

Chris Moth, 2020 Overhill Dr

By: GoodieTwoShoes on 1/25/13 at 2:47

Thank you for your answers. Please allow me to correct something;
There are magnet schools that don't have the acedemic requirement. The two criteria are, live in the zone and apply. First preference is given to kids in that zone, but anybody can apply. Forgive me for mis-stating.
The lottery is not the only choice that metro parents have. It is not considered an exclusive "club", nor is it the only path to success in metro schools. It is just being portrayed that there is no choice for parents in metro schools(I am not saying that you said that) and that is not true. Charters in metro are part of that choice. And a lot of these schools are open enrollment.
That would be the difference between metro and new charters; The question becomes "Will the new charter have to abide by the same rules as metro schools once the new 'authorizer' is in place". Public schools take all kids with every condition. Will the charters? What programs will they have for students with disabilities? How will they handle problem kids? From my reading so far, they don't. But I am still reading.
With this push toward vouchers, new for profit charters, lower teacher standards, and pushing principals for higher TCAP numbers I just don't want the kids to get lost in another mess. Did you know that there is a study that is discounting the value of a teacher having advanced degrees? Putting instead an emphasis on standardized test scores?
I respect that almost every parent wants their child to go to college, but what about the kids that don't make it by choice or hardship? What programs will be in place to ensure that a kid can come out of high school and at least work and take care of themselves?

By: pswindle on 1/25/13 at 2:53

Money talks louder than good sense. The money that was poured into the school board race was tilled toward Charter Schools. How much money did Rhee, Huffman, and other interest parties of the Charter Schools donate to certain candidates? They should be ashamed of themselves. If this much interest and money were poured into Metro, what a difference it would malke. Gov. Bredesen would not let these hungry money people get a foothold in TN, but Haslam is another story. This is what happens when you get someone in office that gets the most votes because of the party that they belong to. We have to start electing qualified people to elected offices.

By: Ask01 on 1/26/13 at 12:31

Public schools will continue to turn out under and non acheivers until parents step up and take an interest in their children's education.

Just showing interest, praising high grades and effort, and expressing concern over problems are simple and have far reaching impact on a students perception of the importance of education.

Teachers can only accomplish so much. If parents don't care and students don't apply themselves, Stephen Hawking himself couldn't make any difference.

I've already expressed commenting on another article the problems I perceive with our education system.

On top of the disinterest of some students and parents, schools often try to teach everyone as if they are all going to college and lose many along the way who cannot keep up. These end up dropping out, usually without even the basic skills to function effectively in society.

Then, everyone is encouraged to take the SAT or ACT. The poor results from students not even close to college material drag down the average, creating an impression of an overall dumbing down of America. This spurs calls for even more money to be pumped into education while ignoring the needs of the diverse student body.

We don't need charter schools. I believe we more need a three way educational path.

One for those planning a creer in a field requiring a college degree, another for those aiming at a technical skill or trade best served with a trade or technical school, and a third for those needing a diploma and basic skills, allowing them to find employment and function in society without specific skills until they decide to pursue higher goals. Then they can go on to obtain the education if they display the prerequisite IQ. Better late than never. (I mean, I'm closer to Social Security than I ever thought I would be, and I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.)

Seriously, though, to borrow a quote from Pogo, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." We are our own worst enemy.