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.


Vouchers in Tennessee? We Will Find Out This Week – 5 Things You Need to Know

Last week I warned you about the perils of charter school season in Nashville (‘member?). Well, this week in the Tennessee legislature, vouchers are on the docket and the battle is on. A message for those (like me) who appreciate all aspects of school choice up to and not including vouchers: you are defaulted to the voucher crowd. Whatever.

I am rehashing a portion of a post from two weeks ago offering up 5 things you need to know about vouchers. You decide.

There is little evidence proving vouchers’ effectiveness at lifting underserved students to educational excellence, so as we venture into these unknown waters, take the following five facts with you.

1. Vouchers and charters schools are two very different approaches to choice. While both serve as options for parents, vouchers send parents completely out of the public school system and, in many cases, require them to pay tuition balances that vouchers don’t cover.

Charter schools are non-traditional public schools enrolled entirely by lottery, and no exchange of money is involved for the parent.

2. Even without real evidence of student success on a large scale, Tennessee legislators are still willing to test the waters with our children. No matter which bill passes, vouchers will be available to Tennessee’s most vulnerable communities.

3. Currently, 14 states and D.C. Public Schools fund vouchers based on family income and/or students with disabilities. Each state has very specific income and/or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) requirements. Outliers: Maine and Vermont extend vouchers to students who live in an area with no operating schools. Ohio offers vouchers to every student in Cleveland school district falling under poverty line by 200%. There are other states that offer vouchers to students in schools with an ‘F’ designation.

4. Voucher legislation throughout country tends to start with small, specialized groups (poverty, IEP).

From the Washington Post:

“The political strategy that voucher supporters have used is to start off small and targeted — low-income families and special-education students — then gradually expand it to more groups,” said Douglas Harris, a Tulane University professor of economics who favors choice but has been critical of DeVos’s free-market approach. 

So, even though Tennessee’s most popular (and most likely to become law) voucher legislation targets low-income students in Shelby County, if passed, we can expect the program to grow to other counties while gradually adding other student groups.

5. If you care about accountability or the combining of church and state, then vouchers are not your thing. The taxpayer funded tuition payments will go to private schools which are not required to adhere to the state accountability standards required of the federally-funded public schools. Additionally, the government-funded tuition payments will be available to religious and parochial schools.

Tomorrow is a big day for the Senate Education Committee :


Saturday Morning reMIX: EdStories from March 13 – March 17

This week’s education landscape was all abuzz, but still took a back seat to #TrumpInNashville on March 15, 2017.  The Ides of March is still a thing.


BEWARE of Charter School Season, y’all!!!!





This Mom is The Definition of a Warrior



Knitting and Math and the Path to STEM Careers


In other news:

Should we add another year of waiting before Kindergarten?

Coffee Talk about economic integration in schools

A look at how the president’s budget proposal will hurt Black and Latinx students

More budget talk: Detroit Mom Calls Foul!

Is closing schools a tool of gentrification in Atlanta?

Check out this cool teacher-led project that helps book deserts in Nashville communities.

It’s Charter School Season in Nashville and You’d Better Watch Your Back

Or perhaps I should say, GET OUT. The political landscape gets scary around the time charter organizations submit their proposals to operate in Nashville. So, it’s not surprising to see the attacks launch a month before the application deadline. What’s troubling, though, is how charter haters are doing it.

The tactics are well-timed, comprehensively planned, and merciless, which would be just fine if the anti-charter people were attacking issues instead of people. It’s the most troubling thing in education I’ve ever witnessed. It seems we are held hostage by a few, Nashville’s tight little family, who are allowed to run roughshod over desperate families by shredding the leaders of schools that seek to fill a need in the community. The tragedy is that many recognize the ruthlessness and do nothing out of fear or silent consent. Or both.

Rules for Radicals

Since entering the throes of charter school season, I have been reminded of Saul Alinsky’s little book called Rules for Radicals, written in 1971. Alinsky was a mastermind at community organizing, deploying tactics with little to no regard for ethics. As a matter of fact, he argued “the most unethical of all means is the non-use of any means.” Everything is fair game, by any means necessary.

It is known that Hillary Clinton wrote about Rules for her senior thesis upon graduating from Wellesley. There are also rumors linking President Obama to Alinsky’s rules. I was introduced to Saul Alinsky as an undergrad, but was so stunned by his mercilessness I completely blocked it out. Since venturing onto the ed reform battlefield, I recognize the Rules and wonder if there is a secret society of anti-charter Alinsky-ites who are dead set on taking out charter leaders by any means necessary.

“Pick a Target, Freeze It, Personalize It, Polarize It”

‘Pick a target, freeze, personalize and polarize’ is far down Alinsky’s list, but it happens to be the one that is most visible in Nashville. In 2015, John Little, a charter school advocate, went head-to-head with school board member Will Pinkston in an epic battle on Facebook. John was leading a mayoral campaign at the time, and for reasons that still elude me, was pounced upon by Pinkston—who at some point had supposedly been his friend.

It got ugly, y’all. We all watched Pinkston unleash personal attacks and served up private information about John. We watched while John’s years of hard work take hit after hit by a privileged elected official with tons of political capital on a mission to erase him.
Now, two years later, the target is Shaka Mitchell, leader of two Rocketship charter schools in Nashville. It seems this all began when Rocketship applied to open a third Nashville public school last year. After the school board denied the application, Mitchell and his team appealed and were denied a second time. So Mitchell took his case to the state board of education, but received a third denial.

Wait… Rewind… Let’s not forget the 2013 bloody battles on Twitter and Facebook between Pinkston and Ravi Gupta, founder of the Nashville Prep charter school. Legendary.

Fair enough, some people don’t want more charters. But just because these school leaders want to reach more kids and families, that shouldn’t make them a target for trolling and personal attacks.

Not to Play the Race Card, But…

Maybe I’ve experienced too many stories as of late about the black man in America. The movie “Get Out” and the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” are at the top of the list. The killing of Jocques Clemmons in East Nashville running from Nashville police also comes to mind. Or maybe it’s because I’m married to one and gave birth to another. But I see a disturbing pattern in this targeting men of color, in general, and black men, in particular.

Hey, maybe it has little to do with the fact John and Shaka are black males. To be honest, I hope like hell I’m wrong about it. But here’s what I know, what I’ve seen countless times—Nashville’s black voices again are silent or silenced. And a brilliant political strategist like Pinkston understands this and, no doubt, uses it to his advantage. After all, “ridicule is man’s most potent weapon” (yes, Alinsky). And those who lack loud representation are positioned to be the perfect scapegoats for a political axe-grinding.

‘Silence is Betrayal’

Conventional wisdom says never go to a gunfight with a knife. I suppose the safe thing would be to keep my thoughts to myself. Eighty-six the rabble-rousing. But check this: I’ve spent my entire adult life silently sitting on the sidelines watching injustices slide; so damn scared, too scared to breathe. I’ve been making myself too invisible to be someone’s target. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

So, it’s charter school season and the games have begun. If you’re not against them, you’re with them. Take cover.

Coffee Talk:”Integrated Schools Raise Achievement That Fuels Social Mobility”


Coffee Talk with Peter Cunningham, executive director of Education Post and Richard Kahlenberg of The Century Foundation. Originally posted on Education Post 3/16/17.

Screenshot 2017-03-16 at 2.26.50 PMRichard Kahlenberg is perhaps the nation’s leading proponent of the idea that for kids to succeed, schools must be places where families of all economic backgrounds come together. A senior fellow at The Century Foundation, he is also a leading authority on many other aspects of K-12 and higher education.

His most recent book, co-authored with Halley Potter, “A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education,” examines two myth-busting strategies in a small but growing number of charter schools: promoting economic diversity in enrollment and amplifying teacher voice. He talked with us about innovative ways schools of all kinds can increase economic diversity in their schools and why that’s important for children in poverty.

Are you a tea or coffee drinker? How do you take it?

Even with a new testosterone-driven administration in power, I’m not afraid to say I drink tea with sugar.

You’ve focused a lot of your recent work on economic integration of public schools. Why is it important, where is it happening and how does it work?

The 1966 Coleman Report—the granddaddy of education studies—found that the biggest predictor of academic achievement is the socioeconomic status of the family a child comes from and the second biggest predictor is the socioeconomic status of the school she attends. Low-income students given a chance to attend middle class schools are as much as two years ahead of low-income students stuck in high-poverty schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in math. Sophisticated studies using random assignment find very powerful positive effects on student achievement when low-income students attend middle-class schools.

What’s frustrated me is that while there is a social science consensus that poverty concentrations are bad for education, there is also an outdated political consensus that there is nothing we can do about it. We’ve learned a lot about how to integrate schools since the days of compulsory busing for racial desegregation that fostered such a backlash.

Today, most districts use choice and incentives—like non-selective magnet schools—to promote diversity. And the trend is to emphasize socio-economic as well as racial diversity because using economic status avoids the legal problems associated with using race and because social science research suggests it is the economic status of classmates that most powerfully correlates with academic achievement.

Today, 100 school districts and charter schools in 32 states have adopted conscious plans to allow rich and poor kids to go to school together and learn from one another. In places like Cambridge, Massachusetts, which uses choice to achieve economic diversity in its schools, graduation rates for low-income, Black and Hispanic students are as much as 20 percentage points higher than for comparable groups in nearby Boston. And White students do better in Cambridge, too. Indeed, a growing body of research suggests middle-class and White students benefit because diverse learning environments make us all smarter.

EdBuild has done some work on how economic classes are segregated by school boundaries. What would it take to have economically-integrated schools at scale? Would urban and suburban districts ever consolidate?

I’m on EdBuild’s research advisory board and I think they’re doing fabulous work exposing economic segregation. EdBuild has noted that there are glaring economic inequalities even between some jurisdictions that sit right next to one another.

TAKING ECONOMIC INTEGRATION TO SCALE, ULTIMATELY REQUIRES THAT WE MOVE BEYOND ARTIFICIALLY SET BARRIERS AND WALLSTaking economic integration to scale, ultimately requires that we move beyond artificially set barriers and walls that have been constructed between cities and suburbs in the minds of policymakers. Several metropolitan areas, including Hartford, Connecticut; St. Louis, Missouri; Boston, Massachusetts; Omaha, Nebraska; Rochester, New York and Minneapolis, Minnesota, have longstanding and successful school integration programs that reach across traditional school district lines.

Other districts, like Wake County (Raleigh), North Carolina and Louisville (Jefferson County), Kentucky, have successful school integration programs that encompass city and suburb within a single jurisdiction. We’ve heard a lot about building new walls in the election season, but we really should be knocking down artificial school district walls that separate kids by race and class.

Are public charters one tool to achieve this outcome or are they impeding economic integration? Broadly speaking, do parents need more choice in public education?

Yes, yes and yes. Charters, in theory, and sometimes in practice, can be a powerful engine for economic school integration. As my colleague Halley Potter and I note in our book, Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, proposed charter schools in 1988 as places where teachers could experiment with new ideas and where students of different backgrounds could learn from one another. His model was a school in Cologne Germany where Turkish immigrant and German native students sat side by side and both groups benefited.

Unfortunately, many charter schools today are even more segregated than traditional public schools—which is a pretty difficult thing to be. Having said that, we profile in the book a small but growing number of charter schools that are intentionally diverse—the Denver School of Science and Technology, High Tech High in San Diego, City Neighbors in Baltimore, Morris Jeff in New Orleans, Blackstone Valley Prep in Rhode Island, Capital City and E.L. Haynes in Washington, D.C., Community Roots in Brooklyn and Larchmont in Los Angeles.

There are two ways to integrate schools: through public school choice that overcomes neighborhood segregation by race and class; and through housing integration that makes neighborhood schools integrated institutions. We need to push forward on both fronts.

You’ve argued in defense of teachers unions, who have been both partners in improving schools, but also opponents of reforms like accountability and choice. On balance are unions helping more than hurting? What’s their likely posture in the Trump/DeVos era?

Teachers unions are one of the most misunderstood institutions in American society. In writing Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race and Democracy, I came to realize what life was like before unions had any real power. Teachers were even more poorly paid than they are today and had very little dignity, which was not good for students. Teachers unions changed that. The highest-quality studies suggest that achievement among students is stronger in places where teachers unions are strong.

One silver lining in the Trump/DeVos era is that progressives may finally wake up and come to realize the importance of teachers unions in standing up against the privatization of American education. There will be lots of important allies in the defense of public education—superintendents, principals, public school parents and students, civil rights groups—but only the teachers unions have the political muscle to defend the institution of public education that is so vital for our democracy.

I recently wrote a piece lamenting resegregation by race of public education and asking if it is worth the fight. School boundaries mostly align with segregated housing patterns and efforts to integrate schools—like busing—have stalled. And there’s some evidence that people of color care less about integration than educational quality. What are your thoughts about integration, especially in today’s political environment?

It’s false to suggest that educational quality and integration are disconnected ideas. Middle-class schools are 22 times as likely to be high performing as high-poverty schools, in part because disadvantaged students face extra obstacles, but in part because economic segregation has an independent, negative effect on student achievement.

INTEGRATED SCHOOLING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER.In today’s political environment, integrated schooling is more important than ever. Integrated schools make it more difficult for demagogues to run for office by scapegoating minorities. Integrated schools raise achievement that fuels social mobility.

After one of the most divisive elections in memory, we desperately need integrated schools that remind school children what they have in common as Americans.

Donald Trump will likely set back federal efforts for school integration, but the 100 school districts promoting economic diversity mostly created their plans on their own and school districts can continue to do so in the age of Trump. I worked with Michael Alves and John Brittain to help Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools develop an economic integration program for their dozens of magnet schools. The day after Trump was elected, the Charlotte School board voted 9-0 in support of a plan to move beyond “separate but equal” schooling and adopted an economic diversity program that is good for students, good for teachers and good for the community.

Progressives should seize upon the rhetoric of Trump and DeVos—that poor kids trapped in failing schools deserve something better—to advocate on behalf of public school choice that intentionally promotes integrated schools. Five decades of research suggests this approach will be far more effective in helping kids than private school voucher plans that are receiving so much attention.