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Karl Dean: Never enough great schools in Nashville

by Karl Dean
The Tennessean
August 24, 2015

“When is enough enough?”

That question was posed during the Metro school board’s meeting Tuesday night before the board voted to deny KIPP Nashville’s charter applications – applications that were recommended for approval by the district’s charter review committee.

It’s a question worth considering.

When will we have enough KIPP in Nashville? When will we have enough of the tireless efforts of Randy Dowell and his devoted team of school leaders, teachers and staff members? When will we have enough schools in our city successfully getting our youngest citizens to and through college?

KIPP has been part of the fabric of Nashville for more than a decade, changing the lives of some of Nashville’s most at-risk students. Kids like LaTrya Gordon, who attended seven other public schools before finding the academic environment she needed at KIPP Nashville, where she thrived.

As is true for all KIPP students, KIPP’s commitment to LaTrya didn’t end with eighth grade. During high school, her former KIPP teachers helped her navigate challenging housing circumstances so she could support her family.

Now a rising junior at Belmont University, LaTrya drives her brother to first grade at KIPP Kirkpatrick before interning at KIPP Academy Nashville, where she dedicates her time to helping the next generation of KIPP students succeed.

LaTrya’s story is not an anomaly. Just a few months ago, Gov. Bill Haslam recognized KIPP Academy Nashville as a Reward School for once again being in the top 5 percent in growth in the state.

Their scholars posted the school’s best reading and science results ever. KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School’s students posted growth scores in English and Algebra last year that were in the top 4 percent in the state.

And all of this happened in academic environments that can only be described by anyone who has

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Newswire: May 22, 2012

Vol. 14, No. 21

A PIONEER FOR CHARTERS…that’s former Michigan Governor John Engler, who recently was honored by Central Michigan University’s renaming of their charter school center after him. Engler has never sat on the sidelines of reform. It never bothered him to ruffle feathers to put students front and center in school improvement. And, he challenged anyone, including the state’s powerful unions at the time who built barricades to thwart reform. Engler did all this not today, when the political environment is more conducive to reform. He was in the vanguard in the 1990s and put charter schools and other reform measures that highlighted the needs of children above all else. CER’s Jeanne Allen spoke at the dedication ceremonies, stressing how Engler’s accomplishments in Michigan, which went beyond charters, spread nationwide. Says Allen: He “pioneered a movement for student-centered funding and transparency for results. His commitment to that idea paved the way for one of the most successful and respected university authorizers in the nation to blossom and has resulted not only in an environment rich in choice and accountability here, but replication of strong charter laws modeled on Michigan’s around the country. It is fitting that his name will be on this center, the gold standard in university authorizers of charter schools.”

LIKE THEIR THINKING. The Washington Post upped themselves in their support for charter schools in a recent editorial by Fred Hiatt. Stating the very rational conclusion that, yes, teachers can be evaluated despite “hard-to-quantify variables,” just like other professions, Hiatt offers an even better way to “sidestep” critics – simply bypass the bureaucracy and go charter. Giving the principal real power to hire and fire staff, as well as make other key decisions for the school, unties the hands of educators to do what

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Newswire: May 1, 2012

Vol. 14, No. 18

THE BIG “E”. Yes, it’s all about the economy, but fueling any nation’s economic well-being is a robust education system, the real “Big E,” of the highest quality. Yet, nary a whisper about education during the grueling GOP campaign for president. In one of her columns during primary season, Jeanne Allen urged candidates – and reporters – to pay heed to the Big E. “In every state and community, education reform is the battle cry for those most afflicted by the nation’s 2,000 failing high schools, and for the approximately 70 percent of kids who are not learning at either national or international benchmarks,” she remarked. Allen queried why candidates don’t “seem to recognize, or discuss this. Where are the media pundits on the candidates’ positions on K-12 education? Is it fatigue? Apathy?” Almost as a follow up, Andy Rotherham recently penned his take on the lack of attention to education by the two nominees, President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov Mitt Romney. Party politics is Rotherham’s answer to Allen’s questioning of the brush-off of education. Both candidates have their own political “minefield to walk through,” an aversion to federally led solutions to national education challenges on one hand and the teacher unions on the other. Rotherham and Allen agree that the media “isn’t forcing the conversation,” as it should. For all of you who attend Presidential campaign town hall meetings or are inclined to write an op ed or letter to the editor, demand that both candidates state their goals and role in improving education for all children and that the media pepper each candidate with purposeful questions about this nation’s top issue.

POWER TO LEAD…is one of KIPP’s founding principles and the focus of an Atlantic piece by KIPP co-founder Mike

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Be Nice??

benicecookieThat’s what the union wants KIPP to be – Nice. In the opinion of the American Federation of Teachers, “nice” means giving them what they want, regardless of whether it’s good for kids. Through its NYC affiliate, the AFT has launched a campaign to pressure the leadership of KIPP AMP Academy‘s Brooklyn campus to accept the union as the leader of its teachers. KIPP hasn’t moved to recognize the union, so its leaders are striking back.

Be Nice, they say in a new PR campaign. It’s a clever turn of phrase on the motto of the Knowledge is Power Program, the nationwide network that has re-educated thousands of children nationwide who had been failed miserably by conventional public schools. But they are missing something. “Work Hard” is how the motto begins. “Work Hard, Be Nice.” The two phrases go together. Deliberately. That’s what the teachers who now want a break signed up to do – Work Hard. We wonder -is it nice to take a job in a school that you know requires long hours and arduous work, and then go behind the backs of your leadership and fellow teachers and ask a militant national union to come in and rob children of the first opportunity they’ve ever had to learn?

As in most of the charter schools that came before and since KIPP, success comes precisely because of their independence from onerous contracts and the flexibility afforded by the charter to be able to design programs without top down interference. KIPP sets an ambitious path for staff and students – 7:30 to 5:30 every weekday, Saturday work and summer requirements. That’s one key reason their students perform exceptionally well, despite their disadvantages, the same disadvantages that other

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Comments(2)

At Odds

takeoverAndy Rotherham (via Eduwonk) has some fun dissecting today’s New York Times article on the unionization process within two Brooklyn-based KIPP charter schools (“Teachers at 2 Charter Schools Plan to Join Union, Despite Notion of Incompatibility“):

First, Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform says that “A union contract is actually at odds with a charter school.”  “Actually” is the wrong word there.  The more accurate way to say that would be, “could be.”  Why?  Well one example is the unionized and highly sucessful Green Dot Public Schools, another is KIPP Bronx, which has been unionized for some time.  And there are others, good and bad.  What matters is what’s in the contract not unionization per se.

Beyond the quote as printed, what I actually said was that unions and the charter CONCEPT are at odds. Green Dot (Andy’s example) created its own contract, one that works within its model (though results in NYC will be interesting). What KIPP schools are experiencing is the equivalent of a takeover, even disguised as a restructuring, where management will no longer be able to set the tone or culture of their schools. That might work for some teachers who believe their work conditions are the most important aspect of their school, but this move puts students second. This thinking is what brought us the system failure that, to date, un-co-opted charter schools have sought to correct.

Comments(1)

Unionization = Student Achievement?

knowledge

Knowledge is power, KIPP’s moniker, might need to be more aptly applied to the parent company’s involvement and understanding of local school issues. The knowledge of what was afoot in two more of their NYC schools to convince teachers there to unionize may have helped them avert the rising mediocrity that will no doubt color this otherwise No Excuses school model. One wonders what campaign was hatched to convince so many KIPPsters that a regulatory environment would be preferable to the freedom they now enjoy.

Union leaders in NYC blogging yesterday provide some clues:

In a letter delivered to co-principals Jeff Li and Melissa Perry this morning, the teachers said that they had decided to unionize in order to secure teacher voice and respect for the work of teachers in their school. We want “to ensure that the each day,” they wrote.

The letter stressed that the decision to organize was directly connected to the teachers’ commitment to their students. “ strong and committed staff,” the teachers wrote, “is the first step to student achievement.” Unionization, the teachers believe, will help create the conditions for recruiting and retaining such a staff.

“We organized to make sure teachers had a voice, and could speak their minds on educational matters without fearing for their job,” says KIPP AMP teacher Luisa Bonifacio.

“For us,” KIPP AMP teacher Emily Fernandez explains, “unionization is ultimately all about student achievement, and the ability of teachers to best serve students at this crucial middle school time in their education.”

Mutual respect and validation?

Unionization is all about student

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