By Sally Absher

By Sally Absher

It is said that as California goes, so goes the nation. What is it with the migration of bad policies from west to east? In Tennessee, one might say as Memphis goes, so goes the state. Regarding education, that is alarming.

One of the fundamental policies of the education reform movement, as explained in the ‘four assurances’ of Race to the Top, is turning over ‘failing schools’ to privately run charter schools. As The Focus has pointed out previously, charter schools started out with good intentions. But cronyism and corporate greed has taken over, and now charter schools are little more than a way to funnel public tax dollars into the pockets of corporate investors.

Memphis’ Achievement School District (ASD), headed by Broad Academy graduate Chris Barbic, was considering taking over two Nashville schools to turn them into charter schools. The state announced last Friday that Neely’s Bend Middle School will be taken over by the ASD. Also under consideration was Madison Middle School, but the slightly higher performing Neely’s Bend was selected based on “parent response” according to state officials.

Nashville Metro Public School Board of Education member Amy Frogge said, “although the ASD was originally conceived as something very different, it has become a way for state officials to hand over public schools to their charter school pals, who stand to gain financially from these deals.”

She adds, “The most outrageous part of this, however, is the fact that Neely’s Bend outperforms the ASD! And the ASD underperforms the Memphis public schools that it is attempting to convert to charters. If this doesn’t confirm to you that none of this is about the best interests of children, I don’t know what will.”

This is all perfectly legal, and was laid out in detail in Tennessee’s Race to the Top application. The U.S. Department of Education requires the Tennessee accountability system to identify three types of schools: Priority, Focus, and Reward schools.

Priority schools are the lowest 5% of schools across the state in terms of overall performance. Focus schools are those with the biggest achievement gaps between groups of students, regardless of overall performance, and Reward schools are the top 5% of schools in overall performance and progress.

The ASD has the legal authority to take over any Tennessee school on the priority list. ASD controls 28 schools in Memphis, and now, two in Nashville.

In 2012, the first year of the Priority List, Knox County had one school (Sarah Moore Greene) on the list. Memphis had 68 schools, and Nashville and Chattanooga each had 6 schools. As of 2014, Memphis has 59, Nashville has 15, Chattanooga has 5, and Knoxville hasn4 priority schools. Sarah Moore Greene was joined by Greene Magnet Elementary, Vine Magnet Middle, and Lonsdale Elementary.

So much for the much acclaimed A+ in Achievement. But education reform isn’t really about educating students. More than $7 million is available from the state to help districts turn around these lowest performing schools. And according to the state department of education, most of this money will go towards a competitive planning grant for districts that have priority schools.

Districts with Priority schools have one year to plan before the schools receive ‘mandatory intervention,’ such as inclusion in the ASD or a district-led “innovation zone.” The state is also building an “intensive, regional support team” to help Focus schools close achievement gaps. A total of 9 Knox County schools are on the Focus schools list.

You may remember that the 2020 Knox County Schools Strategic Plan (the one passed by an “emergency vote”) references the “Regional Support Structure.”

Despite a two month respite from a McIntyre rubber-stamp board, the election of Traci Sanger has again tipped the board toward supporting the corporate education ‘reform’ policies promoted by Eli Broad, Bill Gates, and Jeb Bush. And Governor Bill Haslam, whose family members contributed $15,000 to Sanger’s campaign. Follow the money.

McIntyre, like the ASD’s Barbic, is a Broad Academy graduate. Broad graduates are trained to lie to the public. In California Eli Broad himself was the secret money behind stopping a tax hike to help fund public schools. His hope: for schools to lack funding so they continue to struggle, allowing charters to take over. Broad graduates across the country are carrying out this assault, deceit and deception on the public.

The ASD has been very clear about their intentions. They desire to eventually take over all public schools in the state. A funny thing about statistics – there will always be a bottom 5%. As more and more schools in Memphis and Nashville get sucked into the ASD, it creates more opportunities for Knoxville schools to be in the bottom 5%.

The state should not have the power to override our local school board, but with passage in the last legislative session of the “charter authorizer” bill, that is exactly what is happening. Even the threat of this was enough to sway 8 of 9 KCS board members last June to approve the Emerald Academy Charter, thereby letting the proverbial camel get its nose under the tent. It is critical that citizens continue to watch and speak out at board of education meetings. And remind our board members: you work for us.