The Washington Post

Tennessee punishing Nashville for refusing to open charter school

Kevin Huffman (Erik Schelzig/AP)

So much for the local school control that state officials say they want.

(Gov. Bill Haslam declared last year during a school visit: “It’s always impressive to hear students who care passionately about their school and it’s why local school control makes so much sense and makes such a difference.” Huffman, the former husband of Michelle Rhee who was Teach for America’s executive vice president of public affairs before the Tennessee job, was with him at the time, reported.)

Tennessee officials are saying that Nashville violated state law when it voted 5-4 against approving an application by the Arizona-based Great Hearts Academies charter organization to open a school there. The board says that it didn’t violate any law.

Great Hearts, which runs 12 charter schools in Arizona, wanted to open a school in a wealthy neighborhood in Nashville and later open four more in the city. (Actually it first wanted to open five schools at once but was told it couldn’t. ) Nashville board members were concerned that the first school would appeal to affluent white families from around the city rather than attract a diverse student body.

In July, the state Board of Education told the Metro Nashville School Board that it was wrong to have rejected Great Hearts’ application twice earlier and that it should approve it if specific conditions were met. Those conditions included the use of certified teachers and the creation of a diversity plan in line with ones other charter schools had to develop.

The Nashville board said it did not feel the school had met the stipulations. Great Hearts then said it was withdrawing its application, but Huffman, as avid a supporter of charter schools as you will find, still got angry at Nashville.

Now Huffman’s department is giving the $3.4 million being withheld from Nashville to other school districts who haven’t gotten him angry, er, using the state funding formula the way that he likes.

The Tennessean reported that the money being taken away from Nashville will come from non-classroom administrative funds. But state officials are delusional if they think students won’t be affected. The money is coming from funds that affect student transportation, utilites and classroom maintenance

It’s all about the kids, huh?

Education historian Diane Ravitch notes that this move by Huffman is just the latest in which reformers are insisting that school systems do things their way — whether or not they have research to back up the approach. For example, charter schools overall aren’t any more successful than traditional public schools, at least according to the standardized test scores that reformers love to use for accountability purposes.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has used federal funds to win the reforms that he favors in many states, including the expansion of charter schools and accountability systems that use standardized test scores of students to evaluate teacher effectiveness.

“One begins to suspect, that the reform movement is anti-democratic to its core,” Ravitch wrote on her blog.


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Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.


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