The Shelby County School Board is abdicating its responsibility to hold charter schools accountable for living up to their advertising, and for educating the children they recruited. And it's attracting some national attention. Dr. Jim Horn got his Ph.D. at University of Tennesse (Knoxville) (and taught and did all of his undergraduate and graduate work in Tennessee), and is a professor in the Education Department at Cambridge College. He's a contributor on the Schools Matter blog, and has visited Memphis within the last year to see the educational lay of the land for himself. He's written twice on this failing charter school and its ultimate renewal by the School Board.
In a November post, I discussed the three charter schools failing so badly that they've landed in the bottom 5% statewide.
Spend a little time at Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering's website and you probably would have no idea that it is in the bottom 5% statewide. You also would have no indication of the well-deserved outcry against MASE's decision to send its students on a variety of non-instructional field trips while it ironed out its problems in planning for appropriate space for classrooms.
In Tennessee, charter schools are granted their charters for ten years at a time. MASE is the first charter school in Memphis to come up for renewal. Going in to the process, things did not look good for MASE. While the Achievement School District didn't show interest in absorbing these schools into its alleged "turnaround" model, ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic had a lot to say about what to do about these dismally underperforming charter schools. Jane Roberts wrote: "Because the schools are in the bottom 5 percent, 'the district needs to take a
strong look at closing these schools,' Barbic said." Mr. Barbic even had 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
Last week the School Board renewed MASE's charter for another ten years with only one dissenting vote. Back in December when the matter was first on the agenda, a number of well-dressed corporate types attended the School Board meeting and spoke in favor of renewing the charter. Some of them came back for last week's meeting, when the Board finally got to the agenda item. Dr. Cash made a strong case against MASE explaining that while MASE had managed to make some improvements after being named to the state's "high priority list," charter schools are supposed to be at the forefront of modern pedagogy. It's bad enough (and false advertising and a waste of money) when they only perform as well as traditional public schools. It should be criminal for them to be in the bottom 5% of the state.
Now that the School Board has inexplicably renewed MASE for another ten years, the first ten years can no longer be counted against it. The earliest that MASE could come up for discipline is at the second year of its new term - that would be in 2015 after the test results come out for 2014-15. Perhaps it is time for the general public to begin attending their public board meetings - MASE is one of the few charter schools to have public board meetings and post the dates, times, and location. They don't exactly update their minutes - the most recent posted minutes are from June 2012. MASE should use its next board meeting to have a moment of silence in honor of this current Shelby County School Board that was willing to give MASE another (fifth, sixth?) chance to do right by its students.
The School Board, while gnashing its teeth over its own underperforming its schools, has given its blessing to underperforming charter schools. The other two failing charter schools - I mean, the other two charter schools in the bottom 5% statewide, and I would be interested to know how many of our local charters are in the bottom half statewide - have not even made it to the School Board agenda.
The Shelby County School Board has an affirmative obligation to monitor the progress of the charter schools that it has approved. At one time, MASE was one of the best schools in Memphis. Its current improvements are not measured against the gains that it used to make. The current gains are being measured against the years where MASE actually lost ground, and its students failed to make gains. Anything is an improvement over those lost years. MASE doesn't have the heart to explain why it can no longer come close the gains its students used to make, and the School Board doesn't have the will to require an explanation.