Nashville school board members: If Opportunity School District follows Tennessee’s model, you’re in trouble

Two Nashville school board members say Georgia should not follow their state’s lead and approve a state takeover district.

Christiane Buggs and Will Pinkston are elected members of the local school board in Nashville, Tenn. In this piece, they urge Georgia voters to reject the Opportunity School District, which is modeled after Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

Georgia voters will be asked on Nov. 8 to approve a constitutional change — Amendment 1 on the ballot — to enable the state to assume control of local schools and the local taxes going to those schools.

First some background: Tennessee created the ASD to turn around chronically low-performing schools by taking control away from the local districts and putting most of the schools under the aegis of high quality charter management organizations. The school’s new overseers were given an ambitious target: Boost their schools into the top 25 percent of performance within five years.

The approach is not working, in part because charter management organizations took over existing schools rather than starting fresh with new schools chosen by students and families. They underestimated the challenges and resistance.

The Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation, and Development at Vanderbilt University in Nashville is charting the progress of the ASD for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and addressed these challenges in a June report, explaining, “Absent a student population whose families sought out schools that met their values and priorities, several providers struggled to engender parent buy-in and engagement.”

A charter school operator in the ASD told the researchers, “We’re the neighborhood school— if you live in our neighborhood, whether you agree with our method of instruction, you agree with our longer school day, we’re the school that you need to send your child to.”

Another leader said running an ASD school was much different from running a charter school: “I think the biggest difference [in the ASD] is that we can’t turn students away. So when I was a principal…I could say in January, we’re not going to take new students. If they came in to register they would go on the wait list for next year. …We can’t do that in neighborhood turnaround schools, even if we are full.”

A CMO leader also told the Vanderbilt team: “Kids move in and out all the time. In a traditional charter, if you’re not enrolled by September 1, you can’t come; if kids leave we don’t replace them. Here we have kids that come in February. No telling what they’ve had all year long. They don’t know your culture; they don’t know your school. They bring in their past practice, and now they’re your student and you’re responsible for making sure they grow a grade level.”

As is the case with all the Georgia schools eligible for the Opportunity School District, the schools in the ASD educate Tennessee’s poorest children. The Vanderbilt study noted:

Despite the ardent commitment of ASD leaders to create the conditions that would enable independent operators to take root and flourish in the turnaround space, the inherited rules of the game, and the stresses of an impoverished community presented even the most experienced providers with steep challenges.

With that background, here is the piece by the Nashville school board members on why they think Georgians ought to reject Amendment 1:

By Christiane Buggs and Will Pinkston

Don’t believe the hype about Georgia’s proposed Opportunity School District.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan is modeled on Tennessee’s so-called Achievement School District, which has become an unmitigated disaster in our while the effects of the ASD schools have been mainly statistically insignificant, occasionally positive, and sometimes negative depending on the subject, cohort, and academic year. state.

As members of the Nashville School Board, we are fighting the ASD’s negative effects in our community. As friends and neighbors, we are urging Georgia voters to understand what you’re voting on with the November 8 ballot measure to replicate Tennessee’s ASD.

Consider the ASD’s history. When the Tennessee General Assembly created it in 2010, state officials intended for the special school district to be a very limited arm of the state Department of Education.

In theory, the ASD would parachute into local communities, take over persistently struggling schools, make necessary changes, and then return the schools to their home school systems as soon as practicable. Under the original plan, it would take over no more than 13 schools statewide in order to establish “proof points” for successful turnaround.

Unfortunately, six years later, the ASD is not turning around public schools in Tennessee. Instead, the ASD is turning its back on public education.

Contrary to the original plan, a new governor and Legislature in 2012 turned the ASD into a controversial authorizer of charter schools. This is the vision for the proposed OSD in Georgia.

Under this hostile approach, the ASD rips schools from their communities and hands them over to charter operators that convert them into taxpayer-subsidized private schools. Rather than sticking to a limited scope with a baker’s dozen schools, as originally envisioned, the ASD now has nearly 30 schools in its purview — and it’s expanding every year in ill-advised ways.

For example, Nashville teachers were distraught last year when the ASD seized control of a middle school, which already was turning around, in order to bolster the ASD’s overall results. Next year, it plans to confiscate local taxpayer dollars in order to forcibly open a new charter school in Nashville with a poor-performing California-based charter chain.

Operationally, the ASD is a mess. In August, an audit found a lack of adequate controls over processes in human resources and payroll, including reimbursement of excessive travel claims and even payments for alcohol. Missteps and mounting controversies are spurring bipartisan calls for the ASD’s closure.

If the ASD actually was working, some of it might be defensible. But research by Vanderbilt University shows the ASD is failing. The online news outlet Chalkbeat recently reported that a locally led school-turnaround initiative in Memphis has “sizable positive effects on student test scores, while the ASD’s effects are marginal.”

Perhaps the most damning evidence came in a farewell message from the ASD’s founding superintendent, Chris Barbic, a former charter-school leader who resigned in 2015 after presiding over mediocre results.

“As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results,” Barbic wrote. “I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.”

Bottom line: Whether it’s the ASD or the proposed OSD, Tennesseans and Georgians must be vigilant. It’s overdue time to elevate our public schools with adequate resources, and ensure that our teachers have the tools and supports they need to get the job done.

Handing over our public schools to state officials and charter operators doesn’t work – and it’s just plain wrong. Vote “no” in November.

 

Reader Comments 0

25 comments
Stanford
Stanford

Regardless of what happens, the schools need to get their respective communities and parents more involved.  We need more than just coming to the random band performance or sporting events. Their are parents and community leaders who are willing to mentor and volunteer.  The schools are so closed in and focused on testing that they are neglecting the hands that are willing to help them. When they do ask for help, it comes last minute and too late.  Reach out to the communities and create after school programs, tutoring programs, and recreational programs to get us invested.

newsphile
newsphile

Deal's priority is to appoint every friend he has left to a well-paid state position with a fast track to retirement or to double-dip government retirements.  He has proven time after time that he will fill the most important state jobs with people who are unqualified and inexperienced to perform successfully.  Helping students has nothing to do with OSD; it's all about Deal's payback, his power, and money under-the-table. 

Kathy Toepfer Platt
Kathy Toepfer Platt

Very interesting! Rachel has been learning about 'Nashville schools in her Ed class at Vandy.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

But, but, but...in Georgia it will be DIFFERENT.  Because we are the bestest!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

My local board has just come out against it.

Gene G Johnson
Gene G Johnson

@Wascatlady Of course your local school board came out against it. The local school board is losing their power - and that is exactly why the OSD exists. School boards and school districts have a monopoly on education and that monopoly has produced failure.
I'd rather roll the dice and give anyone  the go-ahead to help these kids rather than subject these innocent kids to the same old people who fail them year after year after year with no consequences. Just empty promises.
The kids deserve better.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
I am voting YES on amendment 1.      

elementary-pal
elementary-pal

@Gene G Johnson @Wascatlady Assuming that the "same old people" who fail these kids are the teachers, then it stands to reason that the teachers are also responsible for the kids who pass at the wealthy schools, right?  So, who is responsible for the kids who FAIL at the wealthy school?  


Oh wait, it would have to be the teachers, right?  After all, they are the ones who create the budget, allot the personnel, decide the calendar, make the decision to stay with the archaic idea of the agrarian school year, create the disparity between the haves and the have-nots, write the tests, teach parents to neglect their children, etc.   - NOT.


I am not saying there are no bad teachers, but there are factors beyond the control of the school that also influence the failure or success of the school.  


I've offered my ideas several times and won't go there again.  But before you decide to sell off schools to the highest bidder, you might want to consider all the factors in becoming a failing school.  Until some of the above factors are dealt with, not much change will happen.  


Just for fun, do some reading on generational poverty from the view of Dr. Donna Beegle.   

KeeferDS
KeeferDS

@Gene G Johnson @Wascatlady Nice use of talking points.  The "monopoly" on education is there because it was written into the State Constitution.   It's a sly play on words to attach a word that typically implies large, corrupt businesses holding all the control.  However, in an actual "monopoly," voters have no power to remove the offenders.   In this case, they do - via the power to elect.  If the OSD were to pass - something much closer to a monopoly would exist by placing control in hands where the people no longer have a say.  If Gov. Deal and his writers want to be correct, they needs to say "The voters of Georgia communities have a monopoly on education."  Yes sir, we do.  And that is how it should be.  Because it is our money and our children.  

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

Bad policy is bad policy. Buying into the insanity of a failed turn-around school model is ludicrous. Invest in our schools, invest in our communities. Invest in our children, invest in evidence-based models for improvement. The desire to put our schools into the hands of a privately-run charter industry will do nothing to address the issues the students face in their lives.

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

Charters can't turn kids away.  That is illegal.  


The argument made by the person must certainly disagree with system charters then, as they supposedly are doing the same thing as proposed ... just with the district board overseeing rather than a local charter board.


I do not know any charter who does not enroll students after September 1 - it would be non-sustainable to do so.


There are 3 other interventions in the legislation.... opponents STILL have not acknowledged the district keeping the school is one of them.




L_D
L_D

@CharterStarter_Too Charter schools can turn students away at any point if the school is at capacity; neighborhood schools cannot.  Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology not only didn't take students after the first 3 weeks, but did not enroll any new students in higher grades (i.e. if you were not a student in the first 3 weeks of 9th grade, then you couldn't come into GSMST.) It all depends upon how the charter is written - charter schools can refuse students.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@CharterStarter_Too Hey Charter Starter - please defend the state run chronically failing school system hiding all spending, vendor payments, hiring, and personnel from the taxpayer - you know, the kind of stuff that real public schools do.


if the spending is PRIVATE, the school is not PUBLIC. 


We already spend  $85 million of taxpayer money on Private School Tax Credits for the wealthy that send mostly wealthy children to private school.

teachermom4
teachermom4

@L_D @CharterStarter_Too It also requires that kids have come out of middle school with essentially all gifted level courses. You could not even apply if you hadn't taken algebra already. Run-of-mill average kids need not apply.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@CharterStarter_Too

Haha Charter Starter. You are ignorant if you don't understand the ways that charter schools screen out "undesirables". 

1. You have to create an online account to even apply - see lake Oconee Academy

2. They do not adress transportation or do it in a vague way or require you to take your children to dropoff ponts

3. Allow siblings of current students to automatically gain entrance

4. Require uniforms - sometimes from Land's End

5. Do not send notices to all students in a district - just post online or depend on word of mouth.

Quit pretending that many charters are not simply a way to emulate private "just us" schools with public money.

Tim Langan
Tim Langan

Interesting comments from the charter school founder in that article. In the case of amendment 1, we need more transparency and less centralized control in government. This provides the opposite. I don't doubt that Deal has good intentions, but I am voting no to this plan.

Angela Tonn
Angela Tonn

You know what they say about good intentions… And where that leads… But seriously, I agree this is a very bad bill. Please vote no.

30303
30303

It would be easy to find school board members in districts across Tennessee who enthusiastically back passage of Georgia's Amendment 1.

But this newspaper column's solidly on the side of the teachers' unions in this and every other issue.

It's the parents who will decide, and that bodes well for reform.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@30303 The state should take over! What will be the next excuse? DingdongDeal will be long gone.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@30303 The state should require birth control. Unions pay for that in their benefits packages in the plumbing union. 

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@30303 Parents taking care of their children don't have these issues. Maybe Georgia needs a union for fools like you and the piglet!

30303
30303

@AvgGeorgian 

Indeed, no one could ever accuse you of being paid to write.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@30303 Do you get paid $5 dollars every time you post the words "teacher's unions"? I ask this because the remainder of the words in your posts are poorly formed, disjointed, lack a coherent theme, and reek of you attending a failing blog posting school. Maybe the guv can take over your posts and give them to the State Superintendent of Failing Posts.