"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Open Letter to the Tennessee State Board of Education Regarding MNPS Charter Company Appeals

Open Letter to the Tennessee State Board of Education Regarding MNPS Charter Company Appeals

On August 18, the Nashville Metro School Board voted to deny new charter applications from KIPP, Inc. and Rocketship, Inc. These companies are representative of the proliferating “No Excuses” charter chains that provide the kind of harsh, economically segregated, and paternalistic total compliance school experience that white philanthropists prefer for poor children of color.  

I strongly urge the State Board of Education to sustain the majority vote by the MNPS school board and to uphold the right of elected and local education agencies to determine the direction of public schools for the tax-paying communities they serve.

When two of the Metro school board members voted against the “no excuses” charter expansion based on what the Tennessean described as “perceived practices of the schools,” they were voting for children’s rights.  I am talking about the basic right to have a voice in school and to have resources that other public school children take for granted, rather than being forced into all-day silence, single file marching, zero tolerance discipline catechisms, constant test prep, and the behavioral straightjackets that keep “no excuses” charter children locked down at school. 

These school board members who oppose further charter expansion were voting for disadvantaged children to have a more integrated education with children of other racial and class backgrounds, rather than the kind of apartheid “no excuses” schooling that middle class parents would never, ever allow for their own children. 

They were voting for the children of poor parents to have the opportunity to participate in their education, rather than receiving it from marginally prepared and inexperienced teachers who are clueless about the many challenges and needs of children living in poverty. 

We applaud these school board members for standing up for parents who want public choices for their children, rather than the one-size-fits-nobody corporate reform schools that benefit hedge fund managers and the corporate charter school industry.

We support, too, those school board members whose votes against charter expansion are based on fiscal realism.  The present commitments to charter schools in Nashville Metro represent a massive, annualized siphoning of public resources that could be used to improve public school facilities, add science labs, re-hire librarians, improve student-teacher ratios, and to provide art and music education where none exists. 

Nashville-Metro is already underfunded in comparison to other urban districts in the South, and the district cannot possibly improve its current public school system while transferring hundreds of millions every year into the pockets of corporate charter school operators with minimal program oversight or fiscal accountability.

KIPP’s Director in Nashville, Randy Dowell, was furious following the MNPS board vote to deny his application.  He declared that KIPP had “done what the district has asked of us every single time,” and he argued further that the new applications followed the same template that KIPP had used when the Board had previously approved four KIPP schools in Nashville.  Dowell went on to protest that the Board’s recent vote to deny KIPP’s expansion plans in Nashville had been for “ideological reasons rather than on their merits.”

I suspect that Mr. Dowell’s billion-dollar company did, indeed, cross every “t” and dot every “i” in its application for KIPP expansion in Nashville.  Having a completed application does not entitle Mr. Dowell, however, to determine the outcome of his application, as any college freshman knows. 

Having a perfect application is not enough to get even the most eager student into Yale or the University of Virginia (Mr. Dowell’s alma mater). Whether college application, job application, or charter application, sometimes those evaluating your package decide that what you bring does not fit with the mission of the organization, or that the liabilities you bring with you outweigh any potential benefit. 

I agree with Mr. Dowell, too, that the Metro Board’s rationale for rejecting KIPP expansion is based on ideology if, by “ideology,” he means, as Webster’s defines it, “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.” 

Mr. Dowell’s case is weak for this very reason, as the policies of Nashville Metro Schools are intended to benefit first and foremost the taxpayers’ and the voters’ interests, along with the interests of our community’s children.  These are the same Nashville voters and taxpayers who decided most recently to turn down recent ballot appeals paid for by hedge fund managers, real estate moguls, and billionaire philanthropists. 

In short, I think the majority of Nashville citizens believe that the “no excuses” charter schools are not a good fit, and they introduce liabilities that far outweigh any claimed benefit.

Just a few days ago the national research firm, Mathematica, released the final part of an eight-year study that concluded that KIPP’s impact on test scores has dropped steadily since 2007, and that its brutal, dehumanizing practices do nothing to improve any of those behaviors or traits that KIPP has largely based its reputation: 

"Across grade levels, we generally find no impacts of KIPP schools on measures of students’ motivation, engagement, educational aspirations, or behavior. . . . At all three grade levels, KIPP did not significantly affect measures of motivation and engagement related to student self-control, academic motivation, academic confidence, grit, school engagement, or effort in school, including student reports of the time spent on homework" (p. xxii)
Finally, I think it is prudent for anyone hearing the “no excuses” charter appeals to keep in mind the sound reasoning by Board member, Jo Ann Brannon, who voted against corporate charter expansion for the most pragmatic of reasons.  How can anyone disagree with her when she points out that the District needs to “come up with a plan for charters before approving additional operators.”

Thank you for your kind attention.

Jim Horn, PhD

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