Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Facebook Rumble: School board member Will Pinkston and Charter School leader Ravi Gupta make news.

If you read this morning's Tennessean or The City Paper on Saturday, you may have noticed a story that reported that School board member Will Pinkston and  charter school leader Ravi Gupta had engaged in a heated Facebook name calling exchange. This is what is behind it all:  

It started with an attack on charter schools by board member Amy Frogge. Frogge is the School board member's leading opponent of charter schools who earlier this year let the fight to defy the State Board of Education by denying Great Hearts a charter which resulted in the State withholding $3.4 million from Metro Schools.
In a recent attack on charter schools she said she had had, “an evolution in her thinking” on the problems that plague the school district  which she said are  too many standardized tests, a “culture of fear” among school personnel and unhappy teachers and administrators.

“Over the course of a year in office," she said, "I have come to put a name on these problems, and that name is the national ‘reform’ movement.”  She said most parents don’t realize that this movement is “heavily funded and driven by people who want to make profits from our children.” This is her complete post:
 If you have followed my posts since my election, you have witnessed an evolution in my thinking. I ran for office recognizing that something was not quite right, but I did not understand the full scope of the problem. What I knew was that we have too many standardized tests, that our teachers and school administrators are unhappy, that there is a culture of fear in our schools, that there seemed to be a disconnect between education policy makers and the people who actually run our schools, and that my own neighborhood school, where my children have thrived, seemed severely underfunded and under attack.

Over the course of a year in office, I have come to put a name on these problems, and that name is the national “reform” movement. I initially believed that perhaps those who speak out loudly against the movement are a bit too conspiracy-minded and that perhaps the truth is really somewhere in the middle. I no longer believe this.

What most parents don’t understand is that this movement is heavily funded and driven by people who want to make profits from our children. (I should clarify that not every person who buys into parts of the reform movement has ill intentions or is motivated by profits. That certainly is not true.) Parents don’t understand that the insane numbers of standardized tests our children undergo are also linked to charter school expansion, vouchers and persecuting our teachers and neighborhood schools. Because the national “reform” movement is so well funded, groups that promote reform have fantastic PR. To get what they want from politicians (less regulation, less accountability, and more opportunities to profit), these groups quickly marginalize anyone who speaks out against their measures as “defenders of the status quo” or “enemies of innovation”- ludicrous language indeed. The rhetoric is so convincing that even those who don’t fully understand what is happening unwittingly adopt this language and buy the absurd idea that market-based “reform” is the only way to improve our schools.

Here is what I want my fellow parents and community members to understand: What is happening in TN is happening around the country, and ultimately, it HURTS KIDS. Parts of the reform movement may help a few children, but overall, the school “reform” movement is BAD FOR SCHOOLS. Don’t fall prey to the fancy rhetoric and expensive PR ploys.
Amy Frogge accusing someone of being a tool of special interest having loyalties other than what is best for children is like the pot calling the kettle "black."  Amy is the candidate of the SEIU.  On the SEIU webpage, they praise her and take credit for her election (link)
Many people were outraged over Amy's attack on charter schools and the school reform movement. One of those was Ravi Gupta. Ravi Gupta is the Founder and Executive Director for Nashville Prep. He has been a leader of the school choice and the school reform movement. Mr. Gupta, like Frogge and Pinkston, is a liberal with impeccable liberal credentials. He was a speech writer and Special Assistant to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and had previously spent two years working for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.  He responded to Amy Frogge's attack on the charter school movement by this post:
I was struck by this post from our School Board member, Amy Frogge.
The corner of the ed reform movement I’m around is full of community volunteers who serve on nonprofit school boards, hard-working teachers who have different ideas about how to educate kids, and parents of all income levels who send their kids to schools that set high expectations, hire great teachers, and hold themselves accountable. These are owners of coffee shops, TSU professors, barbers, cupcake chefs, technicians on the Music City Center, police men and women, prison guards, homeless families and even great-grandmothers like Francis Jones.

We need better schools, yes, but we need to get beyond the ALL CAPS Facebook posts blaming vague, profit-driven conspiracies and demonizing those (except you folks in the parentheses, not you) who have a different perspective on how to educate kids.
I’m sure there are consultants and companies trying to make money off of charter schools.  Some of them will succeed.  I know this because I have watched many of those same companies rip off school districts for decades with expensive, unaligned textbooks, high priced consultants, and redundant data systems.

The reform I know involves long-neglected communities raising expectations for their schools, working to ensure their children get the education they need and deserve.  When results come in, no matter how imperfect the measure, our families need someone to communicate the way forward.  Let’s stop throwing tomatoes and start taking responsibility.
Then school board member Will Pinkston weighted in attacking Ravi Gupta. I thought Gupta's remarks was quite moderate and a resonalble response, but Pinkston thought Gupta was out of line in expressing an opinion and told him so. Pinkston takes the position that only elected school board members should be allowed to express an opinion about education policy. It went down hill form there with Raji calling Pinkston's comments "a drunken rage." Below are excerpts from the Facebook post on Pinkstons site:
Will Pinkston shared a link. Friday near Nashville. Disappointed in Ravi Gupta. Just one month after my Nashville School Board colleague Amy Murrell Frogge voted to green-light Nashville Prep's second charter school, Ravi now is publicly criticizing Amy's widely shared views on public education reform. My advice to charter and traditional principals: Be educators, or be activists. But don't try to be both.

Ravi Gupta. I get it. Vote for our school and you get to say and advocate for whatever you want. Friday at 9:06pm via mobile · Like · 1

Will Pinkston Wrong. Get elected by Davidson County voters and you get to express your opinion. Fancy that. Who elected you? Friday at 9:09pm via mobile · Like · 5

Ravi Gupta. No one. Didn't realize getting elected was the only path to communication Friday at 9:10pm via mobile · Like

Will Pinkston Communicate all you want. Just make clear what's most important: Educating kids or staking out your political positions. Friday at 9:13pm via mobile · Like · 1

Ravi Gupta Right back at you brother Friday at 9:15pm via mobile · Like

Will Pinkston Are you seriously questioning my commitment to public education? Friday at 9:19pm via mobile · Like

Ravi Gupta Are questioning mine? Friday at 9:27pm via mobile · Like

Will Pinkston Yes. Every minute you spend on policy debates is a minute you're not spending focused on the kids of Nashville Prep. Everybody has a role to play. Is your role running a school? Or playing politics? Friday at 9:30pm via mobile · Like · 1

Ravi Gupta False Choice. I don't think you or I have stayed out of policy debates prior to election.. That's what civic life is all about. Strange position. Friday at 9:39pm via mobile · Like

Will Pinkston You are a school leader. Lead your school. I am a school board member. I'll work on policy and stay out of the school buildings. If you want to trade places, then let's talk with the voters. In the meantime, let's recognize our unique roles and get to work. Friday at 9:41pm via mobile · Like · 2

Ravi Gupta Seems like a very top down way to view policy debate. You lead.
We follow. Ps. I don't live in your district. Friday at 9:44pm via mobile · Like

Will Pinkston Ravi: Good. I'm not asking for your vote. You report to your board and Bransford. I've been grinding it out in the reform trenches in TN for more than a decade. I don't need or want your support. The only thing I regret is that I accidentally created an environment for arrogant people like you to swoop in and lecture everyone else about the path forward. I think we've got it figured out. Welcome to Nashville. Friday at 9:51pm via mobile · Like · 2

Ravi Gupta Great, Will. I speak for many (reporters, politicians, parents and citizens) when i say that there is nothing scary about your drunk rage Friday at 9:55pm via mobile · Like

Ravi Gupta You have tried to intimidate your way through this town, and your sloppy finger pointing is tired Friday at 9:55pm via mobile · Like

Ravi Gupta No one is scared any more Friday at 9:56pm via mobile · Like

Will Pinkston Ravi: I think you've overstepped in multiple ways tonight. Attacking a school board member for a legitimate policy views. Attacking another school board member with libelous claims. You should seriously consider whether you belong in this community. Officially, I regret having served on the board of Nashville Prep and regret having helped hired you to. Friday at 10:12pm via mobile · Like · 7

Will Pinkston shepherd the school Friday at 10:13pm via mobile · Like · 1

Rich Richards With or without Frogge, our second school passes. What have you done for a child or teacher today in Nashville? What makes you an expert in creating opportunities for our kids? Stand proud of our scholars, stand proud of our staff-- Nashville Prep is a beacon of hope for North Nashville and for the state of Tennessee. Our scholars will make dramatic gains and reach college, regardless of your tentative stance. I wish you all the best and look forward to the day that you thank Ravi Gupta for revolutionizing education in the city that you were elected to serve. Friday at 10:23pm · Edited · Like · 1

Will Pinkston Rich: I helped create the education reform atmosphere in Tennessee that allows charter schools like Nashville Prep to exist. Without my support, your second school may or may not have passed. What's clear to me now is: The Nashville Prep crowd has no respect for the Nashville School Board and that we need to be more introspective before approving new schools or growth in existing schools. Friday at 10:38pm via mobile · Like · 5

Francie Hunt Oh my. Well, this is bound to make the news. Friday at 10:48pm via mobile · Like · 4

Thomas Weber I just want to make one last statement. Mr Gupta, your comments are indicative of the reform movement as a whole. It's bred a certain arrogance. Think about the really quality teachers that you know. They are usually a humble lot with the majority of their focus on their students and their daily gains. No matter how small. The reformer movement has created an environment of go big or go home. We need to shift our focus back to the students and their progress, no matter how small or large it is and remember that we are public servants. Friday at 11:11pm via mobile · Like · 3

Krissa Smith Barclay Ravi, you have crossed a line you will soon regret. My condolences to you. Friday at 11:11pm via mobile · Like · 3

Will Pinkston I'm proud of the work Nashville Prep has done to advance student achievement. But I'm ashamed of the arrogant attitudes of Ravi Gupta and others. Collaboration is the hallmark of reform. We can't achieve scalable reform without broad-based commitment to improvement. Saturday at 12:07am via mobile · Like · 1

Ravi Gupta Will - I apologize for saying your posts above were out of drunk rage. It was a terrible thing to say, and I feel terrible for that. I still believe you are trying to bully me and others, but we can have a debate about that on the merits without me throwing ad hominems at you. Saturday at 6:33am · Like

Ravi Gupta Everyone - I am signing off of this post. Fire away. Saturday at 6:36am · Like

Will Pinkston It's clear to me now: Ravi Gupta is good for Nashville Prep, but bad for Nashville. Anyone can create a small island of excellence for a few hundred kids (and that's admirable). What's harder is to operate effectively in a larger system of public education. Ravi is a symptom of what's wrong with the charter movement. A few big egos, with a small percentage of students, that basically have turned their backs on public education. It's not just an inefficient approach to reform; it's immoral. Saturday at 7:44am via mobile · Like · 13

Thomas Weber Well said Will Saturday at 7:52am via mobile · Like · 3

Will Pinkston Let me acknowledge that Ravi, despite his self-aggrandizing personality, worked hard to keep every child in the building. Some kids make it, some don't. But as Jen points out: The difference between charter and traditional schools is ... Charters can exit kids when the going gets tough. Traditional schools - neighborhood schools - must be committed to every child, every day. Ravi should be thanking people like Amy Frogge for their commitment to scalable improvement, not responding with petty attacks. Saturday at 10:52am · Like · 3

Matt Pulle So Ravi's comments last night were inexcusable. I think we can all agree on that. But I think what he has done at Nashville Prep is laudable and has earned him the benefit of the doubt this one time. The fact is that both of you guys are smart, dedicated and hard-working and while you each play different roles, you're both major assets to the district. So I'm hoping for peace. Saturday at 11:36am · Like

Jennifer Croslin Smith I want to personally and publicly thank Will for standing up for Amy. Her views reflect those of many in Nashville and we are tired of being dismissed and marginalized every time we express an opinion that differs from those in the reform movement. We are not part of the status quo. We just happen to think change can be attained in a manner different from that proposed by those in the reform movement. There is a large group of parents who are proud of Will and have his back. And you can bet that, even though I do not live in Will's district, I will be knocking on doors for him in 3 years. Saturday at 2:21pm via mobile · Edited · Like · 4

Laura Prestwood Briggs I don't have a dog in this particular fight, but I will say this: I would worry about any leader at any school who would speak like that - calling someone's disagreement with him a "drunk rage". As an educator, I would never speak such a thing. And apologizing is all well and good, but I have to wonder: does this type of berating go on in the halls of his school? Toward the teachers? Toward the students? Once hurtful words are put out there, they can NOT be taken back. These are the types of lessons we teach at my school. I would hope that the students and staff at Nashville Prep are treated in a manner that is much more civil than what I have read here. I work at a school in the southeast part of the county, so again, I do not know this many from Adam; however, I can most assuredly say this: from this point onward, when I ever see or hear anything about Nashville Prep in the media, my immediate thought will be, "Oh, yes. They are the school with the leader who hit WAY below the belt with Will." Not a good lasting impression to leave, no matter how passionate he is in his stance. Saturday at 3:30pm via mobile · Like · 3

Will Pinkston An unnamed high-profile charter advocate just called me saying that Ravi's comments seemed focused on his own "drunk rage (Dr)." Hence, my new monicker for my former employee will be Dr. Gupta. Saturday at 4:35pm via mobile · Like · 1
Wow! I am at a loss for words. 

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1 comment:

  1. Sounds like the same old tired arguments to me. Public schools are "underfunded" while MNPS is spending over $11k per student (and we have multiple privates in my area at $6.5k).

    The charters get less money no matter how you slice it.

    Then the old "they get to pick and choose their students" argument, when only the worst districts and students are even allowed to apply to charters (that are then enrollment capped). They fein care for these kids "no one else wants", but they are the very ones the public system rids itself of via charters if and when they are allowed to exist. This same game is played all over the country.

    Will has been at this over a decade...I've really been wanting to know why he and Phil didn't crow about those great Common Core "state" Standards when they were allegedly rewriting all the math and ELA standards for every grade in 2008 at the NGA. Seems like a real PR opportunity wasted. Of course then you have that stint with McNeely Piggot and Fox lobbying for the convention center whose utility bills are twice what was expected. And then on to work for Bill Frist - who formed SCORE just in time to collect round 1 of Race to the Trough federal money (what coincidence!), which was contingent upon implementing Common Core "state" Standards - that I am still waiting for Will & Phil to take some credit for.

    These stories all tie together Rod. Amy is right that there are competing interests. Look at what the charter landscape was prior to Race to the Trough - nothing outside Memphis and Nashville. Then look after, including virtual charters (Frist, Woodson & Bennett K-12 Inc).

    Common Core, formerly known as NCLB, formerly known as Goals 2000 are all a big federal power play. I'm afraid the "privitization" charter angle used as a carrot for business opportunits as well as parents looking for a way out is really not what it would appear. The public system is already sunk. The private is now on its way.