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Tennessee Students, ‘Fastest Improving’ at Making Money for Venture Capitalists

In the article, “Venture Capitalists Are Poised to ‘Disrupt’ Everything About the Education Market,” Lee Fang raises the following two questions, “What kind of influence will the for-profit education sector attempt to exert over education policy? and, “If school reform is crafted to maximize the potential for investor profit, will students benefit, as boosters claim—or will they suffer?”

These questions are relevant and timely considering the current educational climate in the state of Tennessee, which, according to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, and Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, is currently the “fastest improving” state in the nation. While these so-called ed-reformers would have us believe that Tennessee is making great gains in the testing arena, in actuality, we are making great gains FOR testing companies, Charter schools, and corporations, NOT our students.

In Tennessee, the “ influence….exerted over education policy ” is being exercised by the strong arm of the Achievement School District, or ASD (modeled after the failing Recovery School District in New Orleans ) which took over Memphis City Schools last year in a controversial merger with Shelby County, and which has recently gained entrance to Nashville through a vote backed by the local school board. According to the ASD website, the ASD “... is both an operator of schools and an authorizer of high quality public charter schools.” Obviously, “high quality” is open to interpretation as the ASD is modeled after a school system that, instead of “recovering” the community and students it serves, has destroyed and failed them miserably.

This year, there will be 22 ASD-run “high quality” public Charter schools in Memphis and one in Nashville. The ASD is intent on controlling public education in Tennessee and selling Tennessee students, schools, and their data to the highest bidders: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the British-owned company, Pearson Publishing, Inc.

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Why would the ASD choose to take over Tennessee schools and sell our children to these non-profits and corporate giants? The answer lies in the ASD’s mission statement: “The Achievement School District was created to catapult the bottom 5% of schools in Tennessee straight to the top 25% in the state. In doing so, we dramatically expand our students’ life and career options, engage parents and community members in new and exciting ways, and ensure a bright future for the state of Tennessee.” The “bright future” of Tennessee students is in the hands of a corporation making money off children - not educating them. There is no mention of education in the ASD’s mission statement. How then, will the ASD take over public schools? By using TVASS test score data.


Ironically, according to the Tennessee Dept. of Education Charter Schools Annual Report from February of 2014, all Charter Schools in Tennessee are performing at a noticeably lower level than their public school counterparts (see table)

If data is truly driving decisions regarding public education in Tennessee, then the State and the ASD need to be held accountable for their scores. How does this data support the claim that Tennessee is the “fastest improving” state in the nation? The data published by the Tennessee Department of Education, rather than warranting its claim, refutes it. What the data DOES show however, is the success of the corporate venture capitalists in Tennessee, who are successfully “disrupting the education market” and making money hand over fist at the expense of Tennessee schools.

Students are suffering under the yoke of testing duress forced upon them by, as Fang so succinctly states the “for-profit firms salivating over the $788.7 billion market in K-12 education.”


Lucianna M. Sanson and Lee-Ann P. Nolan

Lucianna M. Sanson (right) and Lee-Ann P. Nolan are public school teachers in Tennessee.