by Anne-Marie Farmer
in the Voter from Nashville League of Women Voters
In response to the Nashville school board’s denial of the Great Hearts Academies charter application, the Tennessee legislature passed the state charter authorizer law, which gave the State Board of Education (SBOE) the power to authorize and oversee a potential charter school whose application was rejected by the local school board. Last year, the SBOE used this authority for the first time, overriding a decision by local officials in Nashville to deny the application for an additional KIPP charter school. That means that, while the funding for the additional KIPP school will come primarily from local funds, the school will not be under the supervision and authority of the local school district, but instead be accountable only to the SBOE. Another charter appeal, currently pending before the SBOE, will test whether the SBOE intends to expand its role in opening charter schools over the objection of the local school district. This is an important test.
The appeal at issue is from Rocketship Education. Rocketship currently runs two charter elementary schools in Nashville, which were locally authorized. It applied to open a third elementary school, but this application was denied. The Metro Schools charter review committee twice recommended rejecting the Rocketship application, and the local board voted 8-1 to deny. Only one of Rocketship’s Nashville schools has been around long enough to have student achievement data for review, and it has no track record of success, according to the state’s system of assessing schools. In fact, Rocketship students are among the lowest achieving elementary school students not only in Nashville, but in the state. The school’s poor performance which means unless something quickly changes, it will be eligible for potential takeover by the state’s Achievement School District.
According to an op-ed published in the Tennessean from new Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph, “Of the two schools Rocketship currently operates, only one has state achievement data, and the results from that school place it in the bottom 3 percent of all public schools statewide. For perspective, it ranks below many of our district’s priority schools in reading and math, and it is by far the worst performing charter school in our system. This is not a school that deserves to be replicated. Our board believed that when it voted 8-1 to deny the school’s application. In fact, the one vote in favor of that application has since reconsidered and would not do it again if asked.” http://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/09/15/uphold-denial-rocketship-charter-school-application/90365722/
Rocketship has asked that, rather than being evaluated on the state assessments, the SBOE consider its own, internally given assessments, which present its performance in a more favorable light. Metro Schools refused to consider the data chosen by Rocketship, because the selected assessment are not given across all schools in Tennessee or even Nashville, and it is impossible to compare its performance on those assessments to other schools. Further, there was no external monitoring of the conditions under which Rocketship’s preferred assessments were given. It will be interesting to see whether the SBOE will allow this individual school to be evaluated and considered based on scores from its own selected tests, rather than the state assessments under which all other schools are reviewed.
The hearing before the SBOE is set for September 15, 2016, and a decision should be rendered at the board’s October meeting. Whether or not the SBOE decides to force the opening of this additional Rocketship school, its expansion in Nashville will remain in the spotlight, as the Tennessee Achievement School District (a separate body from the SBOE) has already stated that it plans to authorize several more new Rocketship schools in Nashville. Given Rocketship’s lack of any history of student achievement, those school openings, and the local dollars that will pay for them, will certainly be a subject of controversy. If you would like to express your opinion to the SBOE regarding the Rocketship appeal, you can submit your comments to the SBOE at firstname.lastname@example.org and to Governor Haslam at Bill.email@example.com.