Thursday, March 31, 2011

Doing it for the kids (the bling ain't bad either)

I received copies of emails that crossed between Mayor Karl Dean's office and officials of Building Excellent Schools, the contractor selected and paid $250,000 to start two charter schools in Nashville. I loaded these emails on Google Docs and you can view them or download them after the jump.

A number of questions arise from these emails:
  • Why is the Mayor spending $250,000 on BES for two single, young adults (BES Fellows) from outside of Nashville to start charter schools?
  • Did any of the $250,000 go to BES for writing charter applications for the Fellows? If the BES Fellows are not writing their applications, does Alan Coverstone or the school board know it?
  • The influence of these charter management companies on Metro government is growing. Is the Dean charter school program an attempt to check public unions? Will independent charter schools have a level playing field to compete with the BES charters?
  • Were the BES applications given extra time last year? Did the Metro department overseeing the selection process show favoritism to BES?
  • How much money does Linda Brown at BES make? Is BES committed to non-profit transparency?
  • Why wasn't the charter incubator open to all applicants? Are there no qualified leaders in Nashville?
  • How will Metro insure that BES Fellows do not artificially produce higher test scores by getting rid of underperforming students and drilling others?
  • Why did Alan Coverstone move to get the BES schools in quickly? How were the local applicants judged against the BES Fellows?

Regardless of these questions, one of the BES Fellows was already selecting students in North Nashville last week:

If Metro government has not been transparent about the selection process for these BES Fellows, will it be open about how many of these kids actually achieve the learning goals of privatized public education?


  1. I've always found the charter school concept a bit confusing. Perhaps I haven't paid enough attention. Hopefully someone can enlighten me.

    I thought charter schools were privately funded, or at least partially. Can somebody explain the "funding route" to me?

    Are charter schools "semi-public" schools if they indeed receive gov funding? Or "private" schools with gov funding?

    I'm assuming, from the above post, that some form of gov funding is given to charter schools.

    Question: Why don't charter school proponents just start a private school, with private funding (like the many Catholic schools I grew up with in St. Louis).

    It seems to me, that this is merely a form of privatization (like CCA prisons). Yeah, they may provide a better education than a public school, but it seems quite a bit of money is being made by the folks who found and run them.

    And like CCA, the money is primarily coming from the government.

    Lastly, is the entire "charter school" idea a bunch of spin (claiming that the free market is the best and only answer?)

    I plead partial ignorance on this. Any insight would be appreciated.

  2. BES--Brought to you by the Walton family foundation--ensuring every child is a potential Wal-Mart employee.

    Seriously, though, this Ravi Gupta guy appears to have little background in education (his resume is in the attached docs). He's no doubt smart (most Yale law grads are very smart, very connected, or both), but it looks like his main credentials are working in areas that have nothing to do with education as a profession. I didn't realize working for David Axelrod and the UN and having top secret clearance qualifies you to run a school for inner city youth, but maybe I just run in the wrong circles.

    That doesn't mean he won't do a good job, but it's like everyone hears "Obama" and their eyes glaze over from the oozing prestige. It stinks of cronyism and secrecy, and I agree that there are plenty of very talented locals who could have filled the position without evoking questions of outsider meddling. I also agree that if this is the way they are going to be running the charter school experiments, accountability will be a problem. Many experts argue that accountability and strict charter laws are what help separate good and bad charter schools. If that is true, this doesn't bode well generally.

    Also, it's convenient that TN gets an Obama crony to run the numbers game at one of their schools when TN is one of the model states for Obama/Arne Duncan's education initiative. I can just hear Obama in the runup to 2012: "Well in TN the numbers worked out great for my education initiative." Never mind that his lackey is running the school and reporting the numbers without significant oversight.

    My two cents.

  3. I like your "eyes glaze over" comment.

    I think half of Metro Council suffers the same ailment when it comes to Karl Dean.

    For many of them, it is purely selfish - they think jumping on the Dean train will help them with their political or personal ambitions.

    I speak of a certain At Large council member.

    This particular person is out of touch. If she had done her due diligence, she would have seen that the fairgrounds and raceway were something she should have supported.

    I voted for her because I know she is capable, driven and smart. She can be a U.S. Senator some day.

    But, she needs to be in touch with real people.

    She is not.

    She needs to get out more.

    Like I said. Go pay your electric bill at NES on Church. Then drive to Ed's Fish and Pizza for lunch. Then walk over to the the historic cemetary which is nearby.

    The charter schools, the fairgrounds and any decisions you make regarding anything require that you know what is going on.

    There is a world beyond 37212 and the people who give you money. You told me via email, "I must listen to the people I represent in my district."

    Well, honey, it is time to get real.

    As a human, you represent everyone.

    Get to it.

    Or just be selfish.