The “Approval of a Services Agreement with The New Teacher Project Inc. (TNTP) to perform a literacy diagnostic at West Hills Elementary School at no cost to KCS” listed on Wednesday’s consent agenda generated some interesting discussion at last week’s Board meetings. Dr. McIntyre almost snuck it past the school board, but some quick research by several BOE members exposed the players behind TNTP, which is described as a “revenue generating non-profit organization.”
Bounds first raised concerns about TNTP at the work session meeting on Monday, citing connections to Teach for America, KIPP Charter Schools, the Broad Foundation, and others. Lauren Hopson, speaking in Public Forum on Wednesday, listed additional connections to Boston Public Schools and the Gates Foundation. TNTP’s founder and CEO is Michelle Rhee, who was Director of Schools in Washington D.C. at the time the cheating scandal in that system was exposed.
The request for approval of this agreement was retroactive. Dr. McIntyre explained that this item was listed under ratification of executive committee actions because the administration only learned of the “opportunity” after the October meeting, and needed to approve the service agreement before the November regular board meeting.
But Hopson had a copy of an email dated September 29 sent to West Hills teachers informing them of the literacy diagnostic. She had another email stating the diagnostic was scheduled for October 6. While the service agreement is not technically a “grant,” Hopson compared the process to the latest Broad Academy grant, which was submitted for approval after the fact. This project was known about in September. It could have been put on the agenda for the October 5 and 7 Board meetings.
“That borders on malfeasance of office, and that is something we need to take seriously being that the Superintendent’s contract is up for extension next month,” Hopson said.
McIntyre defended the agreement, saying that the state had identified West Hills as a place where they saw outstanding instructional practices around literacy and reading, and wanted to send in a contractor to observe and spread those outstanding practices across the state. “It is quite a compliment and honor.”
“This does not feel like an honor to the teachers who will have to do additional work,” Bounds said. She and several other Board members, along with Hopson, had been contacted by concerned West Hills teachers, about a dozen of whom attended the BOE meeting
And interestingly, the West Hills 2015 TVAAS composite score was 1 in all areas including literacy. 53% of students in grades 3-5 scored basic or below basic in reading/language arts on the TCAP. According to tn.gov/education/topic/report-card, West Hills’ literacy achievement and TVAAS scores have declined for the past three years.
Rountree added that Michelle Rhee’s ex-husband is former TN Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, and that from 2011 through 2013, TNTP received a contract from Tennessee totaling over $5M. She said “I hope that folks at home, folks here in the audience wake up and pay attention, because education is being bought and sold all over the country.”
Mike McMillan said, “This is connected to some of the same people who brought us the Parthenon Project – it was pretty much a disaster, and wasted Knox County’s money.” He asked, “Why, when this was discussed on Monday, did no one mention that this had already taken place?”
Terry Hill asked if the project was over. Millicent Smith responded that as far as she knows, it was a one day visit to collect data. Hill replied that she had concerns about diagnostics, observations, focus groups, data collection… adding, “I caution us that we have to protect our teachers.”
Hopson later remarked, “In the past, these studies have occasionally resulted in disastrous results for schools. I just don’t think Michelle Rhee has any place being involved in our school system…ever!”
In a roll call vote, Deathridge, Fugatge, Carson and Harris voted to approve the retroactive agreement, while Hill, Bounds, McMillan and Rountree voted no.