Hillsdale pushes back ahead of charter vote

·7 min read

Good afternoon!

Welcome to School Zone, our weekly newsletter highlighting the top education stories across Tennessee.

I'm Liz Schubauer, the city editor in Nashville.

Education remains one of the busier news beats in the state, and USA TODAY Network - Tennessee journalists are covering it from all angles. Read on for their updates about new state initiatives, test scores, college housing and local school districts.

Hillsdale College mounts PR campaign

After Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn's comments disparaging teachers drew bipartisan condemnation, the school has launched a public relations campaign to push back against the criticism.

Larry Arnn
Larry Arnn

The campaign comes as Hillsdale-affiliated K-12 charter schools in Clarksville, Jackson and Murfreesboro face public hearings and a vote before the state charter commission later this year.

Local school boards in those three communities denied the charter schools on similar grounds related to concerns over how the schools would be operated and the curriculum. But the campaign appears to frame the denials differently, pushing the narrative that Hillsdale is attempting to fight the "education bureaucracy."

The website features Arnn's defense of his comments, a promotional video and links to opinion articles authored by him.

Statehouse reporters Melissa Brown and Adam Friedman will have more in the morning on the public relations campaign and the factors that will play into the charter commission's vote.

Tennessee greenlights some private schools to accept vouchers

The Tennessee Department of Education has started approving private schools to accept students through the state’s recently greenlit voucher program, a department spokesperson told Commercial Appeal reporter Laura Testino.

Of the 40 schools that applied to accept students, 26 have been approved as of Monday afternoon, Brian Blackley said. The list of approved schools is available online. About two-thirds of them are located in Shelby County, and the other third of the schools are in Davidson.

Family applications for the Education Savings Account Program have grown since last week. Despite more than 2,000 families indicating interest, just 30 had applied as of a week ago. The department has since received a total of 303 family applications, split between Shelby and Davidson counties, Blackley said. Of those, 27 from outside the counties' main two districts could be ineligible.

The department has not approved or denied any applications for families.

New state test scores show top growth ratings for Memphis, Nashville

Memphis-Shelby County Schools, Metro Nashville Public Schools and the Achievement School District, three districts which saw some of the lowest test scores during the 2020-2021 pandemic school year, each saw rebounds in test scores released earlier this summer.

On Monday, the Tennessee Department of Education released a new set of scores that measure the improvement of students in a district. The scores, called Tennessee Value Added Assessment System, or TVAAS, score a district’s growth.

The Memphis, Nashville and turnaround districts all saw Level 5 TVAAS scores, the highest growth score a district can receive. The state's TVAAS system places student scores on state assessments in the context of previous performance and the performance of a student's peers. In the case of these three districts, while many students remain behind grade level, they also scored much higher on state testing than they did last year.

The Memphis and Nashville districts each pointed to the scores to confirm the improvement they touted in test scores released earlier this year. Neither district had received a TVAAS 5 rating in several years.

Next year's scores will show whether the focus on pandemic recovery programs and resources will extend to continued growth for students.

Data shows most of the state’s 146 districts received a TVAAS score of 1, the lowest rating.

  • TVAAS 1 (lowest): 62 districts, or 42%

  • TVAAS 2: 13 districts, or 9%

  • TVAAS 3: 18 districts, or 12%

  • TVAAS 4: 12 districts, or 8%

  • TVAAS 5 (highest): 41 districts, or 28%

Nashville proposal aims to end racial disparities in AP classes

The Metro Nashville Public Schools board is set to vote next week on a resolution and policy that aim to end racial disparities in Advanced Placement classes, Nashville reporter Kenya Anderson reports.

Nashville high schools don't all offer the same number of AP classes, which leads to a disparity in the number of students of color who are able to take the classes. Even though Black and Hispanic students make up about 71% of the district’s enrollment, they are only about 47% of the students enrolled in AP classes.

The policy also aims to stop racial disparity issues for younger students as well, by offering more classes and teachers in the gifted and talented program that starts in pre-K.

The policy and resolution were developed by advocacy group Nashville Organized for Action and Hope. Bethany Rittle-Johnson, a member of NOAH’s Education Task Force, said that the task force has been working on the resolution since last fall and began focusing on the policy this spring. They've worked on the resolution and policy with board member Abigail Tylor, a former Metro elementary Encore teacher who had firsthand experience with the program.

Williamson County weighs in on controversial topics

The Williamson County Schools board weighed in on statewide education issues with three resolutions passed Monday, education reporter Anika Exum writes.

The first resolution affirms the board's support of its teachers in response to Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn’s controversial comments. It follows a similar resolution put forth by neighboring district Franklin Special School District and a statement by both districts’ leaders earlier this month.

The other resolutions request amendments to state education law concerning the retention of third- and fourth-grade students and the removal of “unnecessary requirements” on educators statewide. WCS administrators and board members hope the resolutions will inspire the Tennessee School Boards Association to consider the issues in its coming legislative agenda.

All this comes in the midst of a busy back-to-school season in which district administrators are facing two lawsuits.

The first is a suit against the district and the Tennessee Department of Education by a transgender student concerning a law prohibiting transgender students and staff from using bathrooms or locker rooms matching their gender identities.

The other continues conversations around the age-appropriateness of Wit & Wisdom, a curriculum that plaintiffs argue violates Tennessee law. According to local court documents, two initial hearings in the case take place this week and in September.

College students move in across state

College students across the state are trickling back on campus ahead of the upcoming semester, higher education reporter Becca Wright reports.

Move-in started for students at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville this weekend, and for some, they'll be moving into some unconventional living arrangements.

About 130 transfer students at UT Knoxville will be living in a hotel this year after the university ran out of space for students wanting to live on campus.

The University of Tennessee is leasing rooms for student housing in the Holiday Inn Express & Suites on Papermill Drive in West Knoxville, as seen Friday, July 29, 2022.
The University of Tennessee is leasing rooms for student housing in the Holiday Inn Express & Suites on Papermill Drive in West Knoxville, as seen Friday, July 29, 2022.

The high demand for on-campus housing is hitting Tennessee State University and University of Memphis, too. According to the Tennessee State School Bond Authority, Tennessee State University leased several hotels across Nashville to make room for students, and the University of Memphis leased 300 beds from a nearby apartment complex.

All three schools are seeking out these short-term housing solutions because of an increase in enrollment — some from first-year students, some from out-of-state students — and rising rent prices spiking demand for on-campus housing.

Support local journalism 

With that, thank you for reading! If you were forwarded this email, subscribe to this free newsletter here. School Zone will hit your inbox every Tuesday, jam-packed with some of the top education news from across the state.

Our coverage of education and children's issues wouldn't be possible without our subscribers. If you aren't already one, please consider becoming a subscriber today.

Is there anything we might have missed? We'd love to hear from you. You can reach me at lschubauer@tennessean.com.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Hillsdale pushes back ahead of charter vote