Elvis’s Alma Mater Closes | Aspiring Toward Graceland | Where School Communities Take Control of Their Destinies

Good day, CharterFolk.

I start with a programming note. I’m going to take a spring break to see some Premier League games with my son in the UK next week. Before I go, Andy and I will get out a WonkyFolk recording, and we will have a great Contributor Column coming to you end of week. I’ll be back with my next post on the 7th.

Meanwhile, there was lots of talk last week about Elvis’s alma mater closing.

This general topic can be a sensitive one for us.

I’ll try my best love me tender here.

The sad truth is that Tennessee’s Achievement School District has not achieved what was hoped for …

… and that gives charter school critics another pretext for claiming we ain’t nothing but a hound dog.

For quite a while, I have been wanting to put more focus on the public education story in Memphis.

Part of it grows out of my awareness that some of our most extraordinary Folk are doing great work there …

… and are now spreading into other areas in the south.

Part of it is informed by an understanding that Memphis has experienced as much education unfairness as any community in this country.

Part of it grows out of an awareness that we have an Amelia Bedelia problem …

… and are drawing wrong conclusions about what happened with the ASD.

This report, for example …

… identifies a host of little-appreciated restrictions that were imposed upon the operators in the ASD, limiting their ability to succeed as other charter schools do.

Other conclusions about large-scale turnaround efforts that have happened elsewhere in the country …

… are being drawn by parties …

… with patently obvious conflicts of interest …

… leaving more impartial observers …

… with rightfully suspicious minds.

Council President Kenyatta Johnson gave no reason for delaying the vote on Wilkerson, and did not speak with reporters after the hearing concluded. But based on council members’ questions and comments, several members seemed to want to send a message regarding the board’s charter school policies.

They apparently focused on Wilkerson since she led the board from 2018 until 2022; during that period, no new charter schools were approved. She was also chair of the School Reform Commission for two years before that when the district was still under state control.

Having a deep understanding of what is actually happening in turnarounds and other kinds of charter school conversions is, in my opinion, very important. To this day, we see policy makers look to charter schools to be a solution for “failing schools.”

And that’s okay.

But the details about how these schools operate really matters.

And if they’re going to be hemmed in to doing things in almost exactly the same way they did when they were district schools, we shouldn’t be surprised when we don’t see much change in results.

Perhaps one of the most important details is whether school communities voluntarily embrace charterness.

The person who inspired me to make CharterFolk in the first place

… himself led a high profile conversion effort in San Diego.

That school is still open to this day, generating greatly improved outcomes with students …

… and other positive changes that continue to confound.

Under NCLB, the school district had the legal right to force a turnaround on Gompers. But Brian and his posse all insisted that the conversion would only go forward if stakeholders at the school voted in support of it.

Because they knew that an ideal conversion is not one where chartering “gets done” to a community, but is one where the community itself does the chartering.

Discusses, debates, plans, and then ultimately decides whether they wish to take control of their own destiny.

It’s why, of any conclusions I see being wrongly drawn in Charterland these days, perhaps the one that bothers me most is the suggestion that the voting results in Newberry Florida last week were in some way a “failure.”

Yes, protectors of the status quo including the local teacher union may be presenting themselves as satisfied with the results and may be claiming that they had “not needed the stress” of considering how to fundamentally improve public education in their community.

Brandy Oldman, a board member of Save Our Schools Newberry, said she was pleased with the voting results.

“I’m happy,” Oldman said. “We didn’t need any of the stress, so I’m happy for it maybe to be over.”

But, CharterFolk, that’s exactly an outcome we want!

A public confirmation of the Establishment’s indifference and complacency in the face of parent and teacher urgency to improve.

And this thing is anything but over.

Look at the results more closely:

One of the three schools had a clear majority of parents vote in support, and the teacher vote hovers on the cusp of majority support depending on how a disputed last ballot gets counted.

Another school had a clear majority of parents and teachers vote in opposition.

But the third one had two-thirds of the teachers support the conversion, but it was held back because only 40% of parents voted in support. Do you think that a circumstance likely to endure? Two thirds of teachers wanting to take try something bold and new ultimately not winning over the few additional parents they need?

It’s why supporters are vowing to continue on with their push, meaning the headlines …

… we’ve been seeing for months …

… look likely to continue for the foreseeable future …

… underscoring a reality we want elevated over and over across this entire country:

Which is that large numbers of parents and teachers in this country want to become Folk.

And their overarching message to an indifferent, complacent status quo, is don’t be cruel.

One of the best ways we give parents and teachers the opportunity to broadcast that tune over and over is to have as many conversion efforts going as we can.

School communities making their way toward a new circumstance in public education where parents and educators voluntarily come together to take control of their own destinies such that students are fundamentally better served.

Call it Graceland.