shot down

Effort to roll back A-F grading plan dies in Tennessee legislature

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Sen. Dolores Gresham chairs the Senate Education Committee that on Wednesday killed a bill that would roll back Tennessee's soon-to-be implemented school grading policy.

Tennessee will move ahead with its plan to give schools a single letter grade after lawmakers shot down an effort on Wednesday to roll back the requirement.

With a 4-4 split and one pass, a proposal to replace letter grades with terms like “priority school” effectively died in the Senate Education Committee after a successful run through all House committees.

That means that debate will rage on over whether school quality can be summed up by a single letter grade. It also means that Tennessee will start a grading system in 2018 just as the idea is falling out of favor in many of the 18 states that have instituted them in recent years.

Last year, a bill requiring all schools to get an A-F grade sailed through the legislature. Supporters said parents needed an easy tool to understand how their child’s school is performing, even as critics — including many educators — argued that one letter grade would oversimplify school performance.

The bill would have given schools an overall rating ranging from “exemplary” to “priority.” It also would have given schools multiple letter grades highlighting how much students’ test scores improved, how high the scores were, and other measures “deemed appropriate” by the State Department of Education.

The bill was drafted by the state’s superintendent organization, whose members asked for a revised grading system that would illuminate where schools are struggling and to highlight successes. They compared the current grading system to giving students a single grade on their report cards, rather than separate grades for each subject.

“I just don’t think it gives a fair picture,” said Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, who sponsored the bill to change the current policy.

But committee chairwoman Dolores Gresham spoke passionately about the need for simplicity, saying that revising the system would be “a mistake.”

“Parents are not looking for nuance; they are looking for clarity. The bill in front of us will take us backwards by replacing A-F with a series of words full of nuance and words,” said the Somerville Republican. “The average parent doesn’t understand ‘priority school’ but they understand an F when they see it.”

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”