Saturday, November 1, 2014

Update on The 10/28/14 School Board Study Session on Charter Schools



This is a very interesting meeting.  Anyone interested in education reform and the roll of charter schools should watch this meeting.

The School Board produces good agendas. To view the agenda, follow this link. The board has a very abbreviated regular meeting and  almost immediately jump into the work study session. Under discussion are two reports commissioned by the school board concerning charter schools and school reform. One is a recent study conducted by MGT of America to study the fiscal impact of charter school. To view that study follow this link: Charter School Financial Impact Model.

The other report is a two-year old study performed by the Tribal Group. I have been unable to find that report but only devoted limited time to the search. I am not sure it was ever made available to the public. At the time it was completed the press and council members could not get copies.  The Tribal Group is a foreign-owned company that was paid $6.3 million to advise the board on how to turn around Metro's failing schools. One thing the Tribal Group study concluded was that MNPS are top heavy, that there should be staff reductions and that more authority for managing schools should be given to school principals. To read more about the Tribal Group study, see this report that appeared in the Nashville Scene.

The work session starts at time stamp 0:3:38 with a discussion of the MGT report. The discussion of the Tribal Group report starts at 1:38:00

One thing to take away from this meeting is that the MGT consultant and some members of the board are opposed to charters competing with regular pubic schools in areas of the county where there is adequate capacity for the regular public schools to adsorb the students. They look at charters as a way to handle the overall capacity needs of school system rather than a tool to advance education improvement. They also continue to think of overhead and "fixed" cost as being fixed and see charters as a financial drain on the system. If they took to heart the recommendations of the Tribal group they would be cutting bureaucracy. I assume there is real fear of direct competition with charters because they know that if parents had a choice of a charter school or a regular public school in their community, parents would choose the better school. 

The data is clear that charter schools are succeeding where regular public schools are failing, but to many on the board that is not a persuasive enough factor to cause them to embrace charters. They are married to the status quo. Elissa Kim asks the right question, "what is the return on the investment?" She says all schools cost money.  The real cost to society, she says is when we don't educate children.  (see 0:24:47)  In addition to the point offer by Ms Kim about the general cost to society of failing schools, I also think any discussion of the impact of charter schools should look at the particular economic impact to the city for having bad schools.  Nashville shines and excels in many areas but many families avoid living in Davidson County because of our poor school system.  People who are deciding to either live in Davidson County or a surrounding county may be able to send their child to a public school in Williamson County but must consider the cost of private school if they choose to live in Nashville.  There is also a measurable cost associated with students who graduate unprepared for gainful employment or college. 

One interesting thing I learned from this work session is that while state and local dollars follow the student, federal dollars, such as title I money,  do not. This weakens what I think is a false argument anyway, and that is that when a child goes to a charter, the dollars that fund overhead are lost to the regular public schools and thus put regular public schools at a disadvantage. There is in the works the development of proposed state legislation that would change the funding formula so that charters will have to pay an administrative fee to the local school system or an amount less than a 100% of state and local dollars follow the student to a charter school.

I am so impressed by Elissa Kim. She is articulate and vivacious and passionate and rational in her arguments. She says "charters are only growing because people go to them." No one makes people go to charters she says.  She points out that charters are overrepresented in the top schools in Nashville.  She says we should not be trying to figure out how to tamp them down, but how to expand them. (See 1:19:00)

The Nashville Scene offers a good report on this meeting:

Five Things to Know From Last Night’s School Board Meeting, What’s Next

by Andrea Zelinski, The Nashville Scene,Wed, Oct 29, 2014 - School board members spent two and one-half hours diving deep into an outside report rekindling a years-long debate about the role of charter schools in Nashville and discerning what advice the district took from a two-year-old Tribal report. Here’s a breakdown of the major takeaways, and then some. 

1) Gentry favors a narrowed charter school policy.(link)

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