Friday, October 25, 2019

State Board of Education overturns the decision of MNPS to revoke Knowledge Academy’s charter. Allegations not substantiated.

by Rod Williams - Knowledge Academies has three public schools in Nashville operating under charters from the Metro School Board. Charter schools are funded by taxpayers but run autonomously with their own board of directors.  Knowledge Academies have two middle schools and a high school.  Earlier this year the School Board found irregularities at the schools and voted to revoke the charters of the three schools. Alleged irregularities included unlicensed teachers and financial management issues.  The academies sometimes, it was alleged, had trouble making payroll and teachers were paid late.  It was alleged that the CEO of Knowledge Academies was running side businesses out of the schools at the same time that the schools had financial problems. Also, the complaint was that the schools were not academically performing very well.

Earlier this year when the problems came to light, the Knowledge Academies’ board took steps to address the problems.  The board fired the CEO and founder of the schools and hired the nonprofit Noble Education Initiative to run the schools. The MNPS charter schools office recommended placing Knowledge Academies on probation but instead the School Board voted to revoke the charter of the schools. Knowledge Academies appealed to the state.

The State found that MNPS was in error in revoking the charters and that many of the reasons given for revoking the charters were without merit. As to the poor academic performance, The State had this to say:

Based on the totality of the evidence presented on this allegation, I determine,while this issue is substantiated, it is not grounds to revoke the charter agreement under T.C.A. §49-13-122(b)(2). In the 2018-19 school year, Knowledge Academy achieved an Overall Composite of a Level 4 in TVAAS, meaningthat the school had achieved above expected student growth. Additionally, a February 2019 memo from the charter office to Knowledge Academywas the only evidence MNPS presented that demonstrated communication to Knowledge Academy regarding academic underperformance;in the memo, MNPS notified Knowledge Academy of underperformance in math and ELA as compared to the district,but also commended the school’s performance in science as compared to the district. Furthermore, in the 2018-19 school year, Knowledge Academy out performed the surrounding zoned middle schools in the Antioch cluster. While it is clear that Knowledge Academy has work to do to increase academic performance for its students, the academic evidence MNPS presented does not merit revocation of the charter agreement.
So, MNPS wanted to revoke the charter because of poor academic performance but Knowledge was performing better than the regular public schools in the same cluster.  MNPS was comparing Knowledge to the district average; not comparable schools.

On  the issue of teachers being paid late, that was not substantiated by the State. This is the State's findings:
Two complaints from two former staff members of Knowledge Academy is neither clear nor compelling evidence of this allegation, and Knowledge Academy presented evidence that refuted these claims by eleven teachers who were also employed at the school during the 2018-19 school year. Therefore, based on the evidence presented on both sides of this allegation, I am unable to determine that this issue is substantiated. Therefore, I cannot find evidence in this claim of financial mismanagement that merits revocation of the charter agreement.
Also, on the damning allegation that the CEO was running side businesses out of the school, that is not as bad as it at first sounds. It is hardly bad at all. In fact, the State says, "I determine that this issue is not substantiated." "From the evidence, it is clear that the former administration was seeking avenues to generate additional revenue for the school, including renting out the facilities, and the Governing Board was aware of these pursuits."

Some of the MNPS reasons stated for revoking the charter involved very petty things in which the Schools were out of compliance but working on improving.  To actually read the State's evaluation of the MNPS allegations,  follow this link.  If one had only causally observed and knew only what has been reported in the press about the issue of Knowledge Academies, one would think Knowledge was inefficient, failing to educate, mismanaged,  and corrupt. 

I am pleased that Metro does not have the final say on revoking a charter application. I am pleased that when Metro fails to approve a charter there is a means to appeal. Charter schools that are not performing as expected, or are misusing public funds, should have their charter revoked. However, I have zero confidence in the Schools Board's ability to fairly make that determination.  My view is that the MNPS Board can not be trusted to approve or judge charter schools.  They have a bias against them. The School Board does not want competition and school choice.  They are more interested in protecting their monopoly and bureaucracy than they are in educating children. I trust the school board about as far as I can throw them.

For more on this issue see link, link, link, link.

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