In Memphis, we're having a lot of discussions about schools that are in the bottom 5% of the 1,700 schools in Tennessee. The state, since it won the Race to the Top grant, has decided that they way to "fix" the problem of the bottom 5% schools is to select a few and either operate those schools from the state level or farm out those schools to charter operations. So that's the Achievement School District plan.
Because charter schools are the answer to lifting schools out of the bottom 5%?
Well, except for the three failing charter schools that have landed in the bottom 5%. It turns out that the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering, Memphis Consortium of Business and Law, and Memphis School of Excellence have moved around some of the deck chairs on the Titanic. Until this year, only children from low-performing schools or low-performing children were eligible to enroll in charter schools. So after attracting students from a number of Title I MCS schools, these charter operators have succeeded in becoming failing schools themselves.
The Tennesse Charter Schools Association lists 29 charter schools in operation Memphis and Shelby County (Shelby County really only has 1) for the 2012-13 school year. This article states that of the 41 charter schools in Tennessee, 25 of them were in Memphis during the 2011-12 school year.
Of the 25 charter schools operating in Memphis last year, 3 are failing - that means over 10% of charter schools in Memphis are failing - and are eligible for takeover by the state or other charter operators. This should be shocking.
Now comes news of intellectual honesty from the head of the ASD. Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman recruited fellow TFA-alum Chris Barbic from heading a charter school district in Houston (which he founded) to head up the newly-forming Achievement School District.
These three failing charters have come to Mr. Barbic's attention since they fall into the bottom 5%. And he thinks something should be done about it! Jane Roberts writes, "Because the schools are in the bottom 5 percent, 'the district needs to take a strong look at closing these schools,' Barbic said." So it's not just traditional public schools in the bottom 5% that should be closed, the same rule should apply to charters in that group.
Mr. Barbic even has some advice - the Shelby County School Board should close the schools over next summer, but make the decision early enough that the kids can find their places in other schools (meeting optional school deadlines, charter/private schools admission deadlines, etc.).
We know that the state will grant any and all appeals of charter school application denials by local schools boards, but if a state government education official tells you that the state will not fight you if you try to close failing charter schools - do it! This is a financial stewardship issue - that has to do with the unwise transfer of public funds to private entities that are not able to fulfill their obligation to the taxpayer. This is also an issue of moral obligation to the children that these charters claimed they could serve better than traditional public schools.
Last night, Mr. Barbic told a room of parents that he could make the case that the bottom 5% of schools in Tennessee are among the worst in the country. Today, the paper reports his statement that the state government will not prevent the Shelby County School Board from taking direct action on these three failing charter schools. Time for direct action, Shelby County School Board.