charter chatter

Here’s who wants to open charter schools in Memphis in 2018

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Memphis has more charter schools than any other Tennessee city, and now 14 groups are vying to add to the growing sector through Shelby County Schools.

This year’s crop of applicants wants to open schools that range from an all-girls program to a sports academy to several focused on science, technology, engineering and math.

All but one operator are locally based, and two are trying again after being turned down last year. Half already run charter schools through the Memphis district.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools with private governance and the autonomy to innovate in an effort to drive up the quality of education. In this year’s invitation to open charter schools in the fall of 2018, the district asked applicants to focus on literacy and college readiness.

The district already oversees 45 charter schools that educate about 12 percent of its students, many of whom are black and live in poverty. Last year, the board approved seven of 13 applicants, while one that was rejected appealed to the state and won.

The Memphis district has been grappling with how to better manage its burgeoning charter sector and has committed to supporting high achievers and closing low performers.

These applicants will learn by the end of August whether they’ll get the green light from Shelby County’s school board:

  • The 100 Black Men of Memphis Inc. wants to add fifth grade to its middle school campus in Raleigh at Memphis Academy of Health Sciences.
  • Believe Memphis Academy, a college preparatory school with a focus on literacy, would serve students in grades 4-8 in the city’s medical district. It would be directed by Danny Song, a fellow at Building Excellent Schools, who has held administrative positions with several charter operators and alternative teacher preparation programs.
  • The Destiny House seeks to open an all-girls Rich ED Academy of Leaders, or REAL, to serve grades 6-9 in downtown, Uptown and Harbor Town with a focus on project-based learning and leadership in government and business. It would be directed by LaShundra Richmond, a pastor at Covenant Church Memphis and lead instructor at HopeWorks with a background in teaching, community organizing and education consulting.
  • Empowerment Academy Inc. wants to open an elementary school with a STEM focus in Hickory Hill and would be led by Brenshevia Baker, now a paralegal at Collierville Law Firm.
  • Frayser Community Schools proposes to open Coretta Scott King Middle School, which would be its third school in Memphis but its first under Shelby County Schools. The Frayser school would have gender-specific classrooms led by Marcus Shead, now assistant principal at the high school operated by Frayser under the state-run Achievement School District.
  • Freedom Preparatory Academy seeks to open Freedom Preparatory Academy Charter School, eventually serving grades 6-12 in the Whitehaven and Nonconnah areas as a college preparatory school under the leadership of Larry Thompson, now dean of STEM academics for the charter operator.
  • Glory Tabernacle Christian Church is a repeat applicant seeking to open “The” Academy All Girls Charter elementary school in midtown or northeast Memphis with an emphasis on literacy. It would be led by Clarice Loggins, now a second-grade teacher at Rozelle Elementary School.
  • Golden Gate Development Corp. seeks to open STAR Academy College Preparatory Middle School as the operator’s second school. It would be based in Raleigh/Frayser with a focus on project-based learning in STEM subjects.
  • Learn4Life seeks to open Flex High School of Tennessee as an alternative school based in North Memphis. It would be the first Tennessee school for the California-based operator. With individualized flexible scheduling, the focus would be on students ages 17 to 19 who have an average reading level at or below sixth grade.
  • The LeFlore Foundation is a repeat applicant seeking to open The Gentleman and Ladies Academy School in Cordova to serve grades K-5 with an emphasis on STEM. The foundation already operates a pre-K and after-school program.
  • Love Fellowship Ministries Inc. seeks to open Pride Academy-School of Professional Development elementary school in Germantown with a focus on financial education and leadership based on the LEAD Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
  • Perea Elementary School Inc. seeks to open an elementary school that would be fed by its pre-K program housed at Klondike Elementary, which soon will be closed by the Achievement School District. The school would focus on social-emotional learning and include a parenting center.
  • Read Foundation seeks to open three schools: an elementary, middle and high school in Raleigh focused on STEM education. They would become the north campus of Memphis School of Excellence.
  • Supremacy Sports Inc. seeks to open Supremacy Sports Academy in Raleigh to focus on sports management, marketing and medicine for grades 6-8, expanding eventually through grade 12. It would be led by DePaula A. Glover Ross, currently at Methodist Le Bonheur.

Reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this report.

Correction: April 25, 2017: A previous version of this story misidentified which district has previously authorized schools operated by Frayser Community Schools.

study up

Do community schools and wraparound services boost academics? Here’s what we know.

At Gompers Elementary Middle School in Detroit, where the city health department and the Vision To Learn nonprofit announced a partnership to provide free eye exams to 5,000 children in 2016. (Photo: Detroit Public Schools Community District)

New York City has been trying to help struggling schools by partnering them with nonprofits that provide counseling and health services. A Detroit school recently added a washing machine to make sure students have clean clothes. A Tennessee superintendent just petitioned the state for more funding to offer similar help to students and families.

The strategy, often referred to as the “community schools” model or “wraparound services,” has been embraced by districts across the country. It also makes intuitive sense to help kids in class by directly dealing with out-of-school factors, like poverty, that affect learning.

So do school-based efforts to counter the harmful effects of poverty lead to measurable academic gains?

Here’s what we know: Research shows that these efforts often do help learning, but in a number of cases they don’t seem to have any effect — and it’s not clear why efforts sometimes succeed and sometimes don’t.

The impact on academics is promising

Child Trends, a research group, recently compiled and analyzed the results of 19 rigorous studies that tried to isolate the effects of efforts to improve students’ mental and physical health, offer counseling services, add after-school programs, provide direct social services to families in need, and other similar programs.

Examples include the national Communities in Schools and Boston’s City Connects programs, which place site coordinators in schools to connect students and families to those resources.

When looking at the effect of wraparound services on grades and test scores, those 19 studies come to a mix of positive and inconclusive findings. Results were a bit more positive in math than in English, which is common in education research.

There was also variation within programs, like Communities in Schools, which has become the most evaluated wraparound-style initiative. Separate studies have shown that the program produced test score gains in Chicago and Wichita, but not Austin or Jacksonville. A recent national evaluation focusing on Texas and North Carolina found a mix of outcomes.

One notable finding: across the 19 studies, there are virtually no cases where students appear to do worse thanks to the programs, the review notes. The researchers conclude that the approach is “promising but not yet proven.”

Not included in the review were a few initial evaluations of New York City’s community schools-based turnaround program, which included extending the school day. One analysis found that the program actually seemed to reduce high school graduation rates relative to similar schools that did not participate, and had no effects on elementary or middle school test scores. But another study using a different approach found that the initiative did lead to moderate test score gains.

The impact on attendance, behavior, and other outcomes is inconsistent

One surprising aspect of the research on these wraparound services: there aren’t consistent findings about how the programs affect things other than academics.

In a handful of studies in the Child Trends that examined other outcomes, most found no effects on students’ attendance, behavior, engagement in school, or social-emotional outcomes. Still, a few studies found positive effects and, again, negative ones were quite rare.

One recent paper, not included in the Child Trends review, found that a wraparound initiative in Massachusetts led to substantial gains in students’ math and English test scores. That program made no apparent impact on students’ attendance, their likelihood of being held back a grade, or suspension rates, though.

What makes a program work?

Frustratingly for policymakers, it’s not clear.

The Child Trends report suggests providing community schools with substantial resources over several years is most likely to lead to success. But it concludes that there’s a “lack of evidence regarding the concrete elements that make different models successful or how they must be implemented.”

Meanwhile, there appears to be stronger evidence for the academic benefits of direct anti-poverty programs that are separate from schools. The earned income tax credit, health insurance, child tax credit, food stamps, and simply giving cash to low-income families have all been linked to better outcomes in schools for children.

Finally, many would argue these sorts of wraparound services and anti-poverty programs are worthwhile regardless of students’ short-term academic gains.

Elaine Weiss, who led a group that supported wraparound services, previously told Chalkbeat that the approaches have intrinsic value.

“Don’t we all agree that having kids who have access to mental and physical health care, regular nutritious meals, and quality, safe after-school and summer programs is inherently a good thing?” she asked.

Hello Again

Debora Scheffel chosen by acclamation to fill State Board of Ed vacancy

State Board of Education member Debora Scheffel at a campaign event in 2016. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

A Republican vacancy committee unanimously selected Debora Scheffel to fill the opening left by Pam Mazanec on the State Board of Education.

Mazanec, a staunch defender of parental rights and school choice who represented the 4th Congressional District, resigned at the end of January to focus on her other obligations. Scheffel previously represented the 6th Congressional District on the board but lost that seat in 2016 to Democrat Rebecca McClellan.

McClellan’s narrow victory gave control of the board to Democrats for the first time in 46 years. Scheffel, who serves as dean of education at Colorado Christian University, moved to Douglas County, and ran unsuccessfully for school board there in 2017.

Scheffel’s selection does not change the balance of power on the state board because she replaces another Republican. Scheffel faced no opposition at the vacancy committee meeting, which took place Saturday in Limon.

Scheffel has said she wants to continue Mazanec’s work on behalf of rural schools and in support of parent and student choice, as well as work to protect student data privacy, a cause she previously championed on the board.

The district takes in all of the eastern Plains, as well as the cities of Longmont, Greeley, and Castle Rock.