Thursday, June 28, 2012

WSJ on Great Hearts' Denial: "Segregation Fear Sinks Charter School"

Posted By on Thu, Jun 28, 2012 at 12:39 PM

While lacking some depth, nuance and knowledge of the players involved, the Wall Street Journal published an account of Tuesday's contentious meeting of the Nashville school board that frames it as part of a nationwide charter-school debate:

Nashville school officials have rejected a proposal to open a charter school in a middle-class part of the city, highlighting a broader national battle over efforts by operators of such publicly financed, privately run schools to expand into more affluent areas.

The Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools board voted 7-2 Tuesday night to reject an application by Great Hearts Academies, a nonprofit that operates prep-school-like charter schools, for five new establishments.

The Arizona-based group planned to open its first Tennessee school in a middle- to upper-middle class area in west Nashville, after being invited by parents who either were unhappy with local public schools or said they favored choice in education.

The board denied the application because members worried that low-income parents wouldn't be able to easily transport their children across town to a school on the west side, meaning the plan could effectively cause "segregated schools," said Olivia Brown, spokeswoman for the district.

The WSJ story scratches the surface of the drama surrounding the application of Great Hearts Academies, and leaves out some of the rationales that factored into Great Hearts' denial. In the meeting, critics such as director of MNPS' Innovation School Zone/"Charter Czar" Alan Coverstone and board member Ed Kindall detailed perceived shortcomings that didn't make the WSJ's cut: the charter operator's poorer-performing, largely non-white Teleos academy in Phoenix; the "cosmetic" transportation plan; hiring criteria incompatible with state standards; and student demographics far below current levels for EL and special needs students.

When City Paper reporter Joey Garrison tweeted that a "national media outlet" was rumored to cover the meeting, one hoped for a big-picture perspective that would command a view above the smoldering fray, much as the New York Times managed in its coverage of the fairgrounds flap. But a broader examination of how the Nashville debate raises for critics the "ugly side" of charter schools won't be found in the WSJ piece.

The article is still worth reading for an outsider's perspective — including Great Hearts CEO Dan Scoggin's telling comment that the decision was "really sad and depressing." For further study, here's a video of the meeting. Judge for yourself whose arguments carried more merit. Take special note of board member Kay Simmons' plea, "This is an educational issue, this [does not have] anything to do with race," which garnered a round of applause and a rebuttal from Kindall.

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