First pass

Memphis charter school applicants should go back to the drawing board, says staff

PHOTO: Tennessee Charter School Center
The Tennessee Charter School Center hosted its fifth annual enrollment fair in March in Memphis. Tennessee has 107 charter schools, 71 of which are in Memphis.

All 14 groups seeking to start or expand charter schools in Memphis in 2018 are getting an early icy reception from Shelby County Schools.

District administrators recommended Friday that all their applications be denied, and the school board is expected to agree when it votes on the matter later this month.

But that’s fairly common for a first vote on charter applications — and not the end of the road for this year’s crop of applicants. They would have 30 days to amend their applications before the board’s second vote in August.

Last year, the school board initially denied 11 of 13 applications and ultimately approved seven in all.

The recommendations will be discussed at next week’s school board work session.

District leaders cited unclear academic plans, missing budget documents, and sloppy writing in several applications. Other proposals need more evidence that their plans are backed by research. Fewer concerns were cited on two applications — by Believe Memphis Academy and Freedom Preparatory Academy Charter School.

“The biggest issue is to make sure the proper questions have been raised and the proper guidance has been given for the applications so we can move forward with bringing in high-quality charter schools to the district,” said Luther Mercer, Memphis advocacy director for the Tennessee Charter School Center.

The recommendations come as the office overseeing the district’s charter sector is in transition and seeking to bolster its accountability, which a national consultant said is lacking. This spring, the district hired former Indianapolis charter school principal Daphné Robinson as its new director, and she has been building her team from the ground up.

Groups vying for approval this year want 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.

In this year’s call for applications, the district invited operators to help Tennessee’s largest school system meet its Destination 2025 goals to boost early literacy and prepare students for either college or career.

Charters in Memphis have grown steadily since Tennessee lawmakers voted in 2002 to open the door to privately managed public schools.

Shelby County Schools already oversees 45 charter schools that educate about 12 percent of its students, many of whom are black and live in poverty.

on the record

Eva Moskowitz sends letter calling Success board chair’s comments ‘indefensible’ — but also defending his record

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy

In response to widespread criticism of a racial comment made by Success Academy’s chairman, the leader of the charter network, Eva Moskowitz, sent a letter Tuesday to parents, teachers and staff.

In the letter, Moskowitz used strong language to condemn Daniel Loeb’s comments. On Facebook last week, Loeb wrote that Andrea Stewart-Cousins, an African-American state senator whom he called loyal to unions, does “more damage to people of color than anyone who ever donned a hood” — an apparent reference to the Ku Klux Klan. Loeb later apologized and deleted the comment.

In today’s letter, Moskowitz called the comments “indefensible,” “insensitive” and “hurtful,” a more aggressive rebuke than her previous statement.

Yet she also defended Loeb’s track record in the letter, pointing out his commitment to Success and various social causes. A spokeswoman for Success Academy confirmed that Loeb remains the board’s chairman.

The racist violence that ensued this past weekend in Charlottesville put an even more damaging spin on his comments. At a rally Monday to support Stewart-Cousins, the Senate’s minority leader, she made the connection between her situation and the events in Charlottesville.

“That is extremely hurtful given the legacy, certainly, of people of color — my ancestors,” said Stewart-Cousins. “We all got a chance to see it in Charlottesville, what that represents.”

Moskowitz made a veiled reference to the weekend’s events in the letter, saying that engaging students is “all the more important in the face of the broader trauma and crisis we are facing as a country.”

Here is the full text of the letter:

 

polling problems

National support for charter schools has dropped sharply in last year

PHOTO: Glenn Asakaw/Denver Post
A teacher at a KIPP charter school in Denver

Public support for charter schools has declined substantially in the last year, according to a national survey released Tuesday.

The survey, conducted by the school choice-friendly journal Education Next, found that slightly more Americans support charter schools, 39 percent, than oppose them, at 36 percent. But that marks a drop from 51 percent support just last year — one of the biggest changes in public opinion seen in the long-running survey, according to Harvard professor and the magazine’s editor-in-chief Marty West.

“The sharp drop in support for charter schools constitutes the major change in the school-choice battle over the course of the past year,” wrote West and others in an accompanying essay.  

Results from the annual survey, which polls a representative sample of American adults, come as charter schools have faced a number of recent setbacks.

The NAACP and National Education Association both recently codified positions designed to restrict the growth of charter schools. Last year, charter advocates suffered a high-profile defeat at the ballot box in Massachusetts, where voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure to lift the state cap on charter schools.

At the same time, Donald Trump, a charter school backer, was elected president, and his Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has also been a strong supporter of the publicly funded but privately managed schools.

“The opinions about charter schools that matter most are the opinions of parents and students who have chosen charter schools,” said Nina Rees, the president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, in a statement. “This dip in broad public approval, as reported by Education Next, seems more reflective of the unique moment we’re in.”

But the poll finds little evidence that the fall in charter school support is related to Trump or DeVos.

For one thing, backing for private school choice programs — like vouchers or tax credit programs — generally held steady, even though the Trump administration has also praised that approach. Moreover, support for charter schools declined substantially this year among both Democrats and Republicans.

The survey also also informed one group of respondents that Trump supports charter schools and then asked their opinion; another set of people were not told Trump’s position.

Knowing Trump’s views actually led to a net increase in support for charters, with large bumps for Republicans and essentially no effect among Democrats.

It’s unclear, then, what accounts for the drop in support for charter schools. West suggested that increasingly pitched locally debates, like those in Massachusetts and elsewhere, may be part of the explanation.

And while charter school supporters might at least hope that support for charters is higher in states with a lot of them — the idea being that once voters get to know charters, they like them — there is no evidence for that, either.

In an analysis shared with Chalkbeat, West found no correlation between how many students attended a charter in a given state and support for charter schools. That mirrors the election results within Massachusetts, where the ballot initiative to lift the cap on charters lost across the state — even in cities like Boston, where many students attend charter schools.