Charter School Hard Sell

Some well-heeled parents in Nashville are alarmed at the sudden hard-sell they’re receiving from an Arizona-based charter school company trying to worm its way into Metro Nashville. Parents of several Metro students received this personal unsolicited e-mail from Great Hearts Academies:

Rightfully so, parents are angry that their private e-mail addresses were released to this group, and puzzled why they’re being asked to lobby for them to show the school board some non-existent “overwhelming demand.” They’re even being asked to sign an online petition and directed to social media sites. Parents want to know how this breach of private information happened and I don’t blame them; I’d be pissed off, too.

It’s also been revealed that Great Hearts has hired PR agency The Calvert Street Group to help grease the skids. You remember them: they’re the people behind the fake grassroots efforts to save the fairgrounds and kill the new convention center. Ah, is that the sweet perfume of merde wafting my way?

Whenever I see an outside group barge their way into town with heavy-handed tactics like obtaining peoples’ private e-mail addresses and hiring high-powered PR agencies, my bullshit detector goes into overdrive. And then there’s this about The Calvert Street Group:

Copeland, a former Democratic Party operative, has a history of engaging in contentious land-use issues in Nashville. Before founding The Calvert Street Group, Copeland worked for Saint Consulting Group, a company that “specializes in winning zoning and land-use battles,” according to the company’s website. In 2009, Saint Consulting worked on behalf of the developers of the controversial May Town Center, a mixed-use development proposed for the rural Bells Bend community that drew the ire of neighbors before the Metro Planning Commission defeated it.

Looks to me like Great Hearts rode into town loaded for bear. You don’t hire an agency known for ginning up divisive, bitter, community battles if you weren’t planning to wage war. Divide and conquer, works all the time.

Frankly, I find the letter they sent Nashville parents a little disingenuous. Saying Nashville parents have few choices is bullshit; they have plenty of choices. If they don’t like the public school where they’re zoned and their kid doesn’t make the magnet school cut, there are a gazillion private schools, both religious and secular. Heck, I know a group of parents who started their own “school” under a homeschool model. They pooled their money and paid a teacher three hours a day to teach 10 kids.

Oh, you say you don’t think you should pay for private school? Why is that, exactly? Because you pay taxes? Well suck it up. Lots of us taxpayers don’t have any kids at all. We still pay for the schools, and why shouldn’t we? It helps us when the city’s kids are educated, in school, and off the streets. We reap the community benefit, even if we don’t have kids enrolled.

These charter schools aren’t setting up shop in the inner city, they’re hitting Nashville’s wealthy neighborhoods. They’re sucking the students with all of the best advantages out of the system, leaving public schools for the families with few resources and opportunities. Robbing a cash-strapped Peter to pay wealthy Paul doesn’t help Peter’s kids one bit, it just further isolates them. I just don’t buy the argument. As this letter writer observed, operations like Great Hearts are just a way for parents to get their kids into private school on the public dime.

I don’t know much about Great Hearts except that the president of their board of directors is Jay Heiler, one of those right wing wackadoodles of the Barry Goldwater/Joe McCarthy mold. He’s on the record for making intolerant statements about immigrants and gays, which didn’t stop Arizona Gov. Jan (Finger Wag) Brewer from recently appointing him to the Arizona Board of Regents. This prompted much wailing and gnashing of teeth out in Arizona (you can read some of it here).

So, this is who wants to come to Nashville and open schools and teach your kids about hating gays and immigrants. Expect the schools to be predominantly white and in upper class neighborhoods — not exactly the communities underserved in the education department, but big shocker there. And they’ve come in, guns a-blazin’, with the hard-sell and the fancy PR firm and the online petitions.

If it kinda feels like this thing is being rammed down our throats, well, there’s a reason: it is.


Filed under education, Nashville

20 responses to “Charter School Hard Sell

  1. It’s working so well in Phoenix that they’re going three or four states to the east instead of right next door in CA,UT,CO or NM? Something smells funny.

    • Tennessee is viewed as wingnutty as Arizona, that’s what it is. Nashville, however, is not as crazy as the rest of the state. Guess they don’t know that.

  2. I know very little about charter schools/ Are those privately run ( not by the state), but paid for by the state?

    • Yes, privately run but paid for by the public.

      • Jim

        Charter Schools get the same per pupil funding as the local public schools but get to operate outside of the local school board’s authority. They get to hire their own staff and teachers and set their own curriculum and schedule. It used to be limited on which children were eligible to transfer to a charter school (it was based on being low income and in a failing school – i don’t remember the exact requirements), but recent law changes have opened it up to any student that desires it can transfer to a charter school. I believe that charter schools are still required to take students on a first come first served basis and cannot have any sort of testing requirements to gain admission. The charter schools have to show adequate yearly progress via the state standardized testing or they can have their charters revoked and the schools closed.

        My wife works for a charter school that has locations nationwide (not GHA). Her particular charter school focuses on taking low income children that are at least 1 grade year behind in their standardized testing. They have good results in bringing these children up to grade level and beyond. There are a couple of other good charter schools here in Memphis that have a reputation of exceeding the average performance of the local public schools.

  3. If these Charter schools are based on the GWB model contained in his No Child Left Behind mess, they worked on this model:
    They are FOR PROFIT schools where they claim to address “over crowded public schools” but do NOT provide quality education, teachers are not trained to meet even basic educational standards, and they first beg for public education dollars that get their schools ‘started’ with their private schools criteria. Most use a ‘voucher’ model, entice families to apply by giving poor, low income children to use these ‘vouchers for admittance FOR a short time…then at the end of this time, they inform the parents that the children are “just not achieving” or that the families must come up with thousands of dollars (tuition) to keep the children enrolled. and I have seen notes in the Tennessean that some have already failed and closed in the Nashville area. It is basically another rip off of tax payers, providing no real benefit to the community while cheating children and their parents out of a decent education

    • Jim

      Mary – I believe charter schools are required to be run by non profit organizatons. Additionally, the charter schools that I know of do not charge tuition above what they receive from the local school district on a per student basis and I am not even sure if this is allowed here in TN. The charter’s are monitored by the local school district and must meet the yearly adequate progress guidelines of the state or they face closure. Some charters have failed and been closed and I am fine with that. However, what are we doing about the local public schools that fail on a constant basis? Nobody is closing those schools.

      • Jessie Walters

        What are YOU doing about the local public schools?
        Do you volunteer? Do you help to raise awareness of the needs of some of the local public schools? Do you help to raise awareness of the needs of some of the underprivileged children in some of the districts? Are you raising money to buy coats for those children who come to school in the winter without them. Are you trying to get government to pay teachers better so that they want to remain teachers?
        It sounds to me like you and your wife have bought in to the charter school madness and , therefore, need to continue to support it.

  4. This bit:

    “If we alter our curriculum, we will have to expend
    thousands of dollars on different textbooks and instructional materials. We will have to
    redeploy teachers. Already, this issue has impacted teacher recruitment at Mesa Prep,
    which will open next year with just grades 7-8, where because of the uncertainty over this
    issue we were forced, with added expense and difficulty, to hire teachers who have
    experience in American History in addition to Ancient and Medieval History.”

    is from here (

    It appears, as least to me, that Greedy Hearts is not interested in doing what public schools do, just gettin’ the benjamins.

    And, speaking of Heiler (another of the Hitlereaganjugend), here’s a little more background:

    It appears that Greedy Hearts is affiliated (without mentioning it to anyone) with some militant Cath-O-Licks in Phoenix.

    It’s also interesting to note that they have no admission requirements. I’m sure that their Phoenix Campi demographics match up nicely with the rest of the Phoenix student population–NOT.

    • It’s also interesting to note that they have no admission requirements.

      Don’t know but would guess this is a requirement to get public $. Of course, based on their other schools there IS an admission requirement: that you’re white and live in an upper middle class neighborhood.

      These people do not impress me. When they start opening schools in the inner city and caring about the folks who can’t afford private schools, then call me.

  5. The financiials that I looked at on this pdf. ( don’t really mean much to me, since I don’t have time to figure per student expenditures v those for the rest of the real public school system. I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out that they are getting the cream of the academic crop. REAL public schools are for the untermenschen.

    Without knowing HOW they exclude the undesirables I’d be fairly certain it’s done. And, as Southern Beale says, locate the schools in wealthy suburbs and you’ve already excluded a huge fraction of the working poor’s children. Add to that having to pay for uniforms or dressing your children so that they won’t stand out from the rest is another layer of expense.

    Wonder how long it will be before we find out that they’re doin’ a little religion, but only for the students who demand it.

    Heiler is a bigoted homophobic fuck, btw.

  6. Wisconsin has led the charge for charter schools. After several years, what apples-to-apples comparisons that are released indicate that the schools on average perform no better than the public schools, and sometimes worse. Yes, there are some that do pretty well.

    The troubling part is the for-profit character of many of them, of course. Also, I’ve seen that sometimes the schools are not well thought out, and fail; when they do, the students are dumped back into the public system, disrupting their education and further impacting the public system.

  7. Jim

    Here is a link to the TN faq on charter schools:

    Note – in TN charter schools cannot be operated or sponsored by for profit organizations. Also, religious organizations cannot operate charter schools.

    As to the link Democommie posted, it looks to me like Great Hearts is a non profit company seeing as they posted their annual donations received and noted that they are covering a $1.1 million shortfall for expenses. I don’t know anything about Great Hearts other than what I read on the link provided by Democommie, but the figures posted also mentioned about 65% of the student body qualifies for free or reduced price lunches. I don’t know if that would necessarily qualify those students as being the “cream of the academic crop.” Again, I am not familiar with this charter school, so they may indeed be a bunch of creeps trying to defraud Nashville – I just didn’t see it in the report demo linked.

  8. Anne-Marie

    The document states that 65% of students on free and reduced lunch are only at the “traditionally undeserved population campus,” which is the one school call Teleos. GH has one targeted inner city campus. According to the Nashville Scene, none of the 13 other Great Hearts schools serves a single economically disadvantaged student.

  9. Anne-Marie:

    Thanks for fact checking. Jim (and we can only assume that it’s always the same “Jim” has a sort of extreme LibertRandian view of how things should work. It is pretty much par for the course for him to present some cherry picked data point to buttress such nonsensical prescriptions for curing U.S. societal problems.

    • MNPS Mom

      I don’t know much about Great Hearts either, but have just learned that Glendale Spanish Immerision is an unusual choice school in an affluent part of Nashville (Oak Hill) with very little diversity. According to MNPS website, for 2010-11 school year, Glendale only served 10.3% FRL–possibly the lowest in the entire district? They also only provide transportation for those living within their “Geographic Priority Zone.” Seems like a private-type school on the public dime but don’t hear much about that.

      • Actual MNPS mom

        If you look at Glendale Elementary’s geographic priority zone, it covers an area with a great degree of demographic diversity, extending far beyond Oak Hill and into Eighth Avenue. Transportation is provided to any student who lives in that area and chooses to attend Glendale. To the extent that concerns with diversity arise at Glendale, as with any MNPS district school, its zoning is subject to review and modification by the MNPS student assignment committee. This would not be the case with a charter school.

    • Has anyone learned how MNPS parents’ e-mails ended up in the hands of Great Hearts?

  10. Jim

    Anne – thanks for the correction. I was simply reviewing the data presented by Democommie. Sorry that I misinterpreted the data point on the student body make-up of their schools. Like I said, I am not familiar with this particular charter school, but I have worked with some of the Memphis charter schools in developing their facilities and my wife works for another charter school here in Memphis. Overall, I would say that the Charter schools have been a good success for the Memphis students served by them. A few of the local charters have failed to meet adequate yearly progress, but overall most of them have been successful with mostly inner city students.

    • MNPS Mom

      Why the “Actual” in front of MNPS Mom? Your answer was valid and understandable, but defensive at the start by adding the “Actual.” I have looked at the Glendale GPZ, and while looking at it does one thing for diversity, the numbers speak for themselves. MNPS may say they’re willing to transport children as far as Edgehill to the nearly all white Glendale Spanish Immersion, but the program is obviously one that does not attract a racial or economically diverse population. Appears to be a veiled attempt for a segrated school in a wealthy neighborhood.