Jul 15 2012
09:05 am

Buried in yesterday's KNS is this article reporting that the Knox County School System has issued a Request for Proposals seeking charter school applications for both new and "converted" charter schools.

According to the article:

"We want to make sure if a charter school applicant puts forth a proposal for a charter school that … it isn't a boilerplate from another application they did in Ohio or Indiana," McIntyre said. "But that it's an application and a proposal that is very specific to meeting the educational needs of students in Knox County."

Which is curious, because the RFP (found here) looks almost exactly like the one used by the Nashville school system, which appears to be in the process of outsourcing public education over there.

Anyway, why don't the charter school goals and requirements stated in the RFP already apply to public schools?

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Sent to KNS publisher Patrick Birmingham, editor Jack McElroy, editorial page editor Scott Barker, local editior John North, education reporter Lydia McCoy:

Knowing that other Tennessee school districts are now issuing Requests for Proposals (RFPs) from charter school applicants, I have been expecting an action of this sort from Knox County Schools (KCS), too.

It was no surprise to me, then, to note your newspaper’s story on the subject last Saturday.

It was no surprise to me, either, that I once again had numerous objections to the utter and complete lack of curiosity on this compelling topic harbored by your newspaper and demonstrated by your account of this latest development in so-called “education reform” underway in Tennessee and across the nation.

That KNS gave this important story the innocuous headline "District changes charter school application process" foretold the shallow and inadequate report that was to follow.

The KNS article failed to define for readers what is meant by a "request for proposal (RFP) process," i.e., that it is an active solicitation on the part of KCS, in this case for charter school applicants.

As to soliciting applications for new charter schools, the KNS article failed to report who serves on this Charter School Review Committee, how they came to serve there, how and/or when the composition of the Committee might be altered in the future, or by what impetus the Committee might be altered.

The KNS article failed to report that the RFP solicits proposals to convert existing schools to charters, too (pdf page 4 in the RFP).

As to soliciting applications to convert our existing schools into charters, the KNS article also failed to report that the RFP allows the Director of Schools to make decisions on such conversion applications independent of the school board (also pdf page 4, same).

The KNS article also failed to report that the just approved written policy guiding the formation of charter schools applies only to “newly created” charter schools, not to such conversion applications. Neither did the KNS article link that limited written policy.

The KNS article failed to report any details whatsoever as to how, in the absence of any written policy, the Director of Schools might go about exercising all by his lonesome this new power to convert our existing schools to charters.

This KNS article also passed on an excellent opportunity to spell out for readers which for-profit Education Management Organizations (EMOs) already deliver services to existing Tennessee charter schools, as is allowable under state law.

Jack et al, I am someone who has always declined to seek news from our broadcast media, primarily because of their propensity to reduce complicated issues into three-sentences-and-a-sound-bite and leave me scrambling to find the answers to other of my questions on the Internet.

In the past, I have therefore relied heavily on the Knoxville News-Sentinel to give me a more complete understanding of complicated issues, and to offer me convenient links to the source documents on which your reports rely.

On the compelling issue of so-called “education reform” efforts underway regionally and nationally, though—so rife with opportunity for private profiteering--you folks flat aren’t giving me the information I need.

And the only reason I know you’re not is because I seem to already have more information than you do.

Unless you’re just sitting on information?

So I have to ask you straight out: Is the KNS reporting I’m reading on this topic inept or is it insidious?

Tamara Shepherd
(Home address and phone)

fischbobber's picture

Great letter!

You go girl! If anyone at the Sentinel had half a brain you would be the paid education/political reporter.

Pam Strickland's picture

No, she couldn't be the staff

No, she couldn't be the staff education reporter because she has an agenda. You can't do that in straight news.

fischbobber's picture


Clearly you haven't been following the Sentinel's coverage of the mayor lately.

dolittle's picture

As a contract employee of the

As a contract employee of the News Sentinel, what is your agenda?

Pam Strickland's picture

You and I have a disagreement

You and I have a disagreement reguarding the KNS coverage of the county mayor, as we have discussed else where. And you aren't able to see that objectively because of your friendship with him.

fischbobber's picture


We have a disagreement over the KNS coverage based on my own hearing the secret source's views on campaign funds and the mayor's direct response.

No one at the Sentinel has the ethical standing to pull this high and mighty ethical crap.

And Tamara's coverage has far exceeded any other coverage of education in this town.

The paper is doing a shitty job covering the mayor and it's doing a shitty job covering education.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


What's my agenda, Pam?

Pam Strickland's picture

You have a stated opinion on

You have a stated opinion on charter schools, which is fine. But you couldn't have that opinion and be a straight news reporter. You also have stated opinions against McIntyre and against the state Education Secretary. Again, as a citizen that's fine. But as a newspaper reporter, it wouldn't be acceptable. The folks who report the news should be neutral on all things.

I was only responding to the suggestion that you should be the staff reporter coverinflated education and why that wouldn't be a good idea.

R. Neal's picture

Does that include Jamie

Does that include Jamie Satterfield?

Anyway, reporters are people, and people have opinions. Professionals are able to put those aside and report the facts. Or, hopefully, the truth.

Pam Strickland's picture

In my opinion, it should

In my opinion, it should include Jamie and every other reporter on staff at KNS.

Professionals who have lobbied for a cause would be in appropriate to suddenly be reporting on that same issue. Yes, reporters have opinions, but they don't share them publicly. It's inappropriate. And if they feel restricted by that then they need to change jobs.

It's very freeing for me to be writing opinions instead of straight news. And I can name some reporters who perhaps should consider doing the same. I think the smartest thing Donilla ever did was stop his blog because he was writing opinion while also writing news. It's a dangerous mix.

I'm shut up now. I didn't mean to get on a soap box. It is something that I feel strongly about. And that I have had several private conversations about with Jack McElroy.

Right now it's my afternoon to volunteer at the church. Later.

R. Neal's picture

(No subject)

The folks who report the news should be neutral on all things.

I was only responding to the above remark. Sure they should be "neutral" (but not really) on all things in their reporting. Actually, they should be "objective" and report truth, not the "balanced" one side/other side we get today where one "side" is usually full of BS.

But nobody is "neutral on all things." It's not humanly possible. Just saying professional journalists are able to put that aside when they report.

And Jamie Satterfield is clearly not "neutral." She reports from a "law and order" point of view, which most of the time is righteous.

Pam Strickland's picture

Yes, objective would have

Yes, objective would have been a better word choice and, yes, of course, I mean in their reporting. I'm certainly not talking about in how they like their eggs. And I agree that the balanced, one side and then the other is not always the best way to be objective.

And I didn't make my statements to get into a conversation about a specific reporter. I was making a quick observation to show that an emotional statement made by Bob was not reasonable in the real world.

fischbobber's picture

Fact and Opinion

If a person says that they don't see the harm in skimming off the top of campaign funds is o.k. because everyone does it, and a political figure corrects them publicly in front of a constituent whom he's also had a relationship with from that constituent's days as a journalist who was getting both local and national scoops, it's not an emotional statement, it's a statement of fact. The Sentinel did not vet their source and they did a shitty job on this story. The fact that you are sticking up for these clowns by continuing to take cheap shots at me would incline me to believe that you are about as believable as Greg Johnson and that may be why your columns are posted next to each other.

But don't let facts get in the way of your opinions. It's not like liberals don't have enough problems to begin with.

Pam Strickland's picture

I think you may be a little

I think you may be a little too personally vested in the entire situation, Bob. Which I don't understand unless you have some first-hand knowledge of the campaign's finances that you haven't revealed.

Trashing my column over the story isn't appropriate, however, given that I haven't written the first word about it. All I've done is defend Donila's work here. There's a considerable difference. But then I don't spend hours and hours obsessing over every word that's written here. I mostly just live my life.

fischbobber's picture

What you said

Trashing my column over the story isn't appropriate,

What I said,

The fact that you are sticking up for these clowns by continuing to take cheap shots at me would incline me to believe that you are about as believable as Greg Johnson

What you said,

All I've done is defend Donila's work here.

What I said,

The Sentinel did not vet their source and they did a shitty job on this story.

What you said,

I think you may be a little too personally vested in the entire situation, Bob.

The issue of whoring myself out to anyone who will give me column inches or airtime is a part of my past. So are the arguments over my bosses idiot agendas. The hardest part of being a truth seeker by nature is finding an employment niche in one's hometown. Thankfully, this blog allows me the freedom to live and report and simply speak truth without payment or prerequisite ass-kissing. As writing gigs go, even non-paying writing gigs, it's a good one. I do enjoy writing on a regular basis, however, my life precludes obsessing over you or George Korda, your conservative counterpart. I've got a bit going on, don't you see. I would submit that were you actually out in the community at large, living a more vibrant life, you would know that my position on this issue was accurate, and that even in the best case scenario, the Sentinel is doing nothing more than advancing an agenda for a future ex-wife of a local politico that is in direct contrast to her own words and actions.

Live away.

Barker's picture

what a post

Let's see. A person using a pseudonym recounts an incident in which an unidentified "person" says something later corrected by an unidentified "political figure" in front of an unidentified "constituent." And said poster has the audacity to state that this vague, unattributed anecdote is "fact." Yet this same person accuses the Sentinel of not vetting the records reproduced for its readership, records that have not been disputed by anyone involved in the story. I am chuckling all the way to the parking garage where I'm supposed to meet up with Deep Throat.

fischbobber's picture


Just think. It all started when one of your "writers" got all pissy over this compliment to one of our own over this:

You go girl! If anyone at the Sentinel had half a brain you would be the paid education/political reporter.

By the way, my name is Bob Fischer and I've posted that virtually every time someone's posted that I'm too chickenshit to post under my real name. Bob Fischer...... Fischbobber, get it?

I thought this whole mayor thing was the equivalent of the Pentagon Papers, not Watergate.

Pam Strickland's picture

Again, I wasn't being pissy.

Again, I wasn't being pissy. I was just making an observation. You really need to take a chill pill, Bob.

fischbobber's picture

Being pissy

"No, she couldn't be the staff education reporter because she has an agenda. You can't do that in straight news."

That's being pissy.

Pam Strickland's picture

Nope, that's just expressing

Nope, that's just expressing an opinion. It's simply and to the point. I din't dwell on it, simply stated my observation and went about my business.

Being pissy, which by the way is a word that I don't usually use, is what you're doing by dwelling on the matter and calling me names and bring in other matters outside of the thread -- the Burchett campaign finance report issue and my column. You're arguing like a middle schooler. Really, be a grown-up. I expressed an opinion, nothing more.

Again, I have a life to live. Enjoy yours.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


I asked: "What's my agenda, Pam?"

Pam responded: "You have a stated opinion on charter schools..."

That is not my agenda. My agenda is that the conversation in which the subject of charter schools has arisen assumes--erroneously and in contradiction to the facts--that a situation of "failing schools" necessitates charter schools.

Again, it is this erroneous assumption that our public schools are "failing" that is my agenda.

International test data confirm unequivocally that our public schools are the best in the world for the vast majority of our students. The BEST in the world.

The only population for which our public schools are not the best in the world is that population existing within public schools that serve an inordinate percentage of children living in poverty.

Q: If our public schools are serving the vast majority of our students in such a way that these students generate the highest international test scores in the world, should we then dismantle that public school system, OR should we address this root problem in America of our having an inordinate number of children living in poverty?

A: ???

Pam, anyone citing a need for "school improvement" or "education reform" has failed to understand where our problem lies.

It appears that many people on our local board of education, in our state department of education, or in our federal department of education fail to understand where our problem lies.

It is alarming that so many of them are being hoodwinked by parties intent not on addressing our problem, but on exacerbating it.

The U. S. Chamber of Commerce is no friend of public education.

Pam Strickland's picture

Again, I didn't make the

Again, I didn't make the statement to get into a debate. And I wasn't making a detailed analysis of your educational writing. If so I might have responded to your agenda question differently. Off the top of my head, that was my response. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't carry around all the things in my head that some of the rest of you do. I need notes and to refer back to things, and today I don't have time for all that.

Nonetheless, Tamara, while you are an excellent researcher and can examine the finer points of most subjects, you have well-stated firm opinions about education and I personally do not believe that you would be able to be an objective reporter of education news. That was my only point. The thing that came to mind regarding this particular situation is that you have strong opinions about charter schools. In order to report on that for a newspaper you would have to be able to put those aside and report objectively. I don't think you could do that.

Again, I have other things to do so I'm going to do them. Debating the finer points of this discussion aren't a priority for me today.

Average Guy's picture

McIntyre, the Chamber and the

McIntyre, the Chamber and the KNS have advocated a idealogical position.

Ms. Shepherd has presented facts and data contrary to that position, which may appear to some as advocacy because it puts her on an opposing "side".

Still, one is just dealing with an idea, while the other is dealing in fact supported by data.

SnM's picture

Editorial board position

Not that I'm likely to be believed but, while the KNS editorial board may take a specific position, that position doesn't affect what happens in the newsroom.

Barker's picture


The newsroom's position is easy to sum up: Fill the paper with news and get it out today. That's it. Reporters and news editors don't have time to fool with ideology.

The editorial board sure has a position. We need to improve education in this county. Our students need to go to school in decent classrooms. Our teachers need better pay and more resources. Our schools need to find ways to reach out to impoverished neighborhoods where parental involvement is lacking. I'm not ashamed of that agenda.

R. Neal's picture

The editorial board sure has

The editorial board sure has a position. We need to improve education in this county.

So is it the position of the News Sentinel that the way to do that is to bust up the teachers' union, do away with tenure, install an unquantifiable "merit" pay system, and turn the keys to public schools over to corporate private interests then suspend the rules?

GSD's picture

Thanks, R Neal. From a

Thanks, R Neal. From a teacher. I'd have asked that EXACT same question myself but, ya know, we teachers aren't supposed to be saying things like that.

Barker's picture


I don't think you read the rest of the paragraph. I want Knox County to pay its teachers more. A lot more. I would think KEA and others who support teachers would want that too. I personally think a combination of across-the-board increases and a merit pay component is reasonable but can support either one alone. I don't advocate turning over the schools to private interests; I advocate spending more money on education - putting more resources into teachers' hands and upgrading substandard school buildings - to improve the school system so that charter schools and vouchers and such are taken off the table. As Tamara has pointed out, the biggest challenge for underperforming schools is the poverty of the families whose students attend them. I refuse to give up on those students. The community schools concept is one way schools can get parents and others in the community to come to the campuses and hopefully get involved in the education of their children. As a community, we must do more.

R. Neal's picture

Good for you. Agree with all

Good for you. Agree with all that. But is that your opinion or the KNS position? Seems to be a disconnect with regards to the candidates your paper endorses.

(This is where you are supposed to remind us that charter schools are a centerpiece of "our guy" Obama's education policy.)

Barker's picture


That's pretty much our editorial board position. Did you not read any of our editorials during the school budget debate?

As a board, for example, we think charter schools can be an option for failing schools. But we would prefer that the public school system improve its underperforming schools so charter schools aren't considered. You could think of charter schools as the stick and better funding as the carrot.

Regarding our endorsements, one of the criteria we used and wrote about in our endorsements for Knox County School Board was an understanding of the need to invest more into the classrooms. We endorsed Tim Burchett but opposed him on the schools budget. That's OK. That doesn't mean he wasn't the best candidate in the race.

I'm definitely not going to get into Obama's policies. The Knox County Board of Education and Knox County Commission are much more important when it comes to Knox County Schools.

R. Neal's picture

Was thinking more about the

Was thinking more about the state level, where the laws and policy are made.

Barker's picture


We can talk about our state endorsements, if you want, but I don't necessarily buy your premise.

Oak Ridge Schools outperform Anderson County Schools not because of state policies and regulations but because Oak Ridge taxpayers fund their schools at a higher level than their county counterparts. Same goes for Maryville and Alcoa vis a vis Blount County Schools.

Average Guy's picture

You made mention above to the

You made mention above to the role of socioeconomics. I'll not deny the extra funding of the three you cited, but I'd guess the parental affluence and parental involvement of those three play a larger role.

Case in point would be Farragut.

Barker's picture


In Farragut, you have relatively affluent, involved parents, which obviously helps student achievement. When you look at underperforming schools, they are most often in impoverished areas where parents are less likely to be involved (this is true in the inner cities of metropolitan areas and in poor rural communities as well). We could throw up our hands and say, that's the way the world is. Or we can try to do something about it.

One idea that has been tried at Pond Gap Elementary is the community schools concept. Basically, that involves placing community services unrelated with education in the school buildings. Some of this can be done during school hours, some of it after hours. The point is to get adults in the community (hopefully a good number of them parents of students) to get accustomed to the school as a community center. It demystifies the school and hopefully gets these parents and other adults involved in the educational aspect of school. It seems to be working in Cincinnati and at Pond Gap. There might be other ideas, too, and I'm open to them. But giving up is inviting in other remedies such as charter schools and vouchers. They might work too, but I like the community approach.

By the way, eliminating large, crime-ridden housing projects helps nearby schools. Maynard Elementary is a much better environment for educating students now that College Homes is gone. Booker T. Washington High in Memphis saw a revolutionary increase in student performance through a combination of school system initiatives and the demolition of a nearby housing project. KCDC is doing its part. It's beginning to tackle Walter P. Taylor Homes in East Knoxville, which is the city's most notorious housing project. When we improve our communities, we improve our schools; and when we improve our schools, we improve our communities.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


By the way, eliminating large, crime-ridden housing projects helps nearby schools. Maynard Elementary is a much better environment for educating students now that College Homes is gone. Booker T. Washington High in Memphis saw a revolutionary increase in student performance through a combination of school system initiatives and the demolition of a nearby housing project. KCDC is doing its part. It's beginning to tackle Walter P. Taylor Homes in East Knoxville, which is the city's most notorious housing project. When we improve our communities, we improve our schools; and when we improve our schools, we improve our communities.

Yep, shrinking available housing stock for the poor sure does flush poor kids outta our schools. Outta our towns, too.

"Help" afforded Maynard Elementary explained here.

"Help" afforded Booker T. Washington High explained here.

Average Guy's picture

Michele Rhee and Bill Gates

Michele Rhee and Bill Gates I'm sure believe they're doing what's right.

But I think the examples you provide actually are right, just not profitable.

Which speaks to why schools and communities can't be treated like businesses.

I'd rather see this as an editorial instead of advocating the least shitty of two shitty ideas.

Pam Strickland's picture

Exactly, SnM. The editorial

Exactly, SnM. The editorial board does its thing and the news room does its thing.

I worked for newspapers that had very strong editorial boards, but they never interferred with what I did in my daily reporting. There's an invisible wall between the editorial page and the news room that newspaper people understand, and that the rest of the world would be much calmer if they would finally just accept.

R. Neal's picture

I think newspaper people know

I think newspaper people know who they work for and the people they work for know who THEY work for, too.

Anyway, I think most readers of this blog know how it's supposed to work, whether it does in practice or not.

Pam Strickland's picture

Are you implying that there's

Are you implying that there's some kind of unspoken influence going on? You've never worked for a newspaper have you? The only thing you're thinking about is getting that day's stories out. There is not conspiracy theory going on. There's no time for it. You go in, you do your stor(ies) for the day, you come back the next day and do it all over again.

Tamara Shepherd's picture

Who, what, where, why?

Um, Pam?

In my first post on this thread, I didn't take exception to an editorial, I took exception to a matter of "daily reporting."

I didn't voice in any way my personal opinions on charter schools, McIntyre, or the U. S. Department of Education.

I did voice--and pretty specifically--my objection to multiple points of information missing from this particular "daily reporting."

I implied that these errors of omission leave the reader unable to fully understand either the action to have transpired in this meeting or the implications resulting from that action, either one.

In the "who, what, where, why" every matter of "daily reporting" should touch upon, let's then start here:

Why did the school board opt to issue this request for proposals?

The explanation tendered in the article is that they did so in order to "articulate specifically what the school board is looking for in its charter schools."

However, given that KCS doesn't have any charter schools and its board has never before indicated its any interest in having any charter schools, a reasonably inquisitive reporter might therefore ask "gee, why did you elect to begin looking for charter schools?"

I don't see that the reporter asked this question or that the interviewee volunteered any answer to it, either.

Do you see in the article any explanation for why KCS is now looking for charter schools?

R. Neal's picture

I'll bet you a dollar that

I'll bet you a dollar that article came from a press release.

Barker's picture


"I'll bet you a dollar that article came from a press release."

I'll take that bet.

R. Neal's picture

I'll take that bet. OK, fine.

I'll take that bet.

OK, fine. How/where did the story originate?

(P.S. I thought there was a firewall between editorial and reporting?)

Barker's picture


There's a wall but that doesn't mean I can't ask a question. I asked the reporter. Keep your dollar.

R. Neal's picture

Oh. I was actually hoping to

Keep your dollar.

Oh. I was actually hoping to have to pay up on that bet. Thanks for asking, though.

(Oh, wait. I think you owe me a dollar? I'll let you off the hook 'cause I'm such a nice guy.)

Barker's picture


Actually, you still owe me the dollar. I just forgave the debt. Because I'm a nice guy. Magnanimous, even.

R. Neal's picture

Oh, sorry, I misunderstood.

Oh, sorry, I misunderstood. You are magnanimous.

Pam Strickland's picture

I wasn't basing my response

I wasn't basing my response on your questions. I was basing it on your known published opinions about charter schools, which lead me to believe that no matter what the paper wrote about the subject that you wouldn't be happy about it. You have that reputation, Tamara. Sorry.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


I'll bet you a dollar that article came from a press release.

I'd ask Melissa Copelan, if shd'd return my call...

Meanwhile, I don't know where it came from, but I have spoken at length with a school board member of whom I asked this same question--why did you vote to issue this RFP?

The SB member replied that McIntyre advised them an RFP was necessary because his staff sometimes lost time reviewing applications from applicants proposing charter schools that don't satisfy the system's needs and/or goals.

I asked why the SB couldn't just outline their criteria on their site, and maybe require of applicants at the front end this letter of intent that would confirm applicants' understanding of the criteria? Wouldn't this approach also offer McIntyre's staff an early "heads up" of any off-track proposals, and wouldn't this approach also save his staff time?

The SB member replied "well, I guess so, but no SB member suggested that."

So now the SB is to entertain reams of charter school applications it presumably didn't care to entertain???

Sounds like KNS isn't the only party failing to ask many questions...

Barker's picture

sounds reasonable

Sounds like a reasonable explanation to me. If applicants know exactly what is required (the RFP even ordains what fonts the applications can use) and respond accordingly, then the review committee doesn't have to waste its time. Sure, they could have put the criteria on the website and not called it an RFP. Instead, it's on the website and called an RFP. I just don't see what difference it makes.

I believe that state law requires local school boards to accept and review charter school applications. So, yes, most Knox County school officials seem to be indifferent or even hostile to charter schools, but they still have to consider applications.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


I also asked this SB member a question I've had for forever, namely whether either our RttT app or our more recent NCLB waiver either one requires KCS in particular to open a charter school.

The SB member said "no," neither contract specifically requires that of KCS.

Good. Let's leave the other three urban schools systems in TN to reap what they've sown.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Since Scott's now sittin' here in the room with us, I should concede to you folks that he responded to my above e-mail and did, in fact, offer a correction on one point I made, here:

I said in the e-mail: "...the KNS article also failed to report that the RFP allows the Director of Schools to make decisions on such conversion applications independent of the school board."

Scott pointed out, and I believe he's correct, that the operative word in that RFP was that the Director of Schools could initiate the conversion of an existing school into a charter school. Such a process would still culminate (or not) with approval of the school board.

However, Scott, I'll defend and repeat my protest that the KNS article did not reference in any manner how the conversion of an existing school might be initiated or culminated, either one (else I might not have erred in my attempt to find an answer to that question within the text of the RFP), the article did not reference that the RFP is nevertheless soliciting such proposals, and the article did not advise that the newly revised policy on charter schools fails to instruct in the question, either.

In fact, the SB member I spoke with at length today was quite surprised to realize that this new charter school policy fails to instruct in the matter of converting any existing school to a charter.

The SB member explained that the policy used to instruct in this regard, but doesn't any longer.

What are we to make of this, I wonder???

Barker's picture


I don't know what the policy used to say, but by approving the RFP the school system essentially set its policy for conversions. And again, state law requires them to entertain applications for conversions. But conversions would be off the table if Knox County invested more to improve its schools.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


I'm not real clear on who's talking to whom here, but...

AG, my comment about the "help" afforded schools when we shrink available housing for the poor was sarcastic, I hope you understood?

Pam, if you're asking me (?) whether I suspect someone's "influence" on KNS reporting on education issues, I'd say "not exactly."

What I sense is more aptly characterized as "acquiesence" on the the part of some KNS staffers themselves. They sometimes lack the background or context in which to understand what they're witnessing, they don't know or don't care to dig it up, and their end product reveals that.

For every objection of this sort you hear me raise on the subject of the so-called "education reform" effort, I assure you I squelch another two or three only because I grow tired. I read through posts at KNS--and sometimes even here--and just lack the stamina to jump in with my "endless citations."

Reading over my good friend Scott's posts here tonight, I could quite easily have offered him another half dozen links to dispute some of his comments, but it's 1:30 a.m., eh?

Sigh. Glad I'm outta town for a couple of days. Later.

Average Guy's picture

My reply above was to Barker.

My reply above was to Barker. The examples he put forth are effective and fiscally doable.

Just because the KNS was given two bad ideas (McIntyre's or nothing) doesn't mean they had to pick one.

Rachel's picture

What I sense is more aptly

What I sense is more aptly characterized as "acquiesence" on the the part of some KNS staffers themselves. They sometimes lack the background or context in which to understand what they're witnessing, they don't know or don't care to dig it up, and their end product reveals that.

Well.... it's true some KNS reporters don't know their beats very well. It's usually the young ones, who are new to town and have to learn.

But I would guess the biggest problem with getting better and deeper reporting from the KNS is one of resources. There's just not enough $$ to pay enough personnel to let anybody go very deep very often. And then they go and promote probably their best investigative reporter to editorial page editor! :)

Which is very sad (not the Barker part), but I don't know how you fix it.

fischbobber's picture

True you are there Rachel

But it would be only fair to point out that the phenomena you are describing is industry-wide and not just at the KNS. Even considering its faults, which do seem to get beaten to bits, I consider myself lucky to live in a town that still has a daily paper.

Essentially the journalism and teaching professions both face the same challenges, low pay, low morale, no job security, shrinking benefit and a drastically declining ability to receive even the basics of due process in the performance of their duties and professional lives (i.e. the destruction of their respective unions). Their industries have turned were once vibrant careers into a low paying, often crappy jobs. When that happens, the talent goes elsewhere.

The French fix these sorts of things by having revolutions, but they're the French.

jcgrim's picture

Corrupted public information structures

So true, Rachel. For reporters who want to dig for quality research by experts in education and educational policy here's a site from the National Education Policy Center sponsored by the University of CO, Boulder. (link...)

NEPC even has a link of think-tank claims, white papers and propaganda written for media consumption. They do honest analyses of the data. Some of the worse (but not the least) think-tanks in education are the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and The Gates Foundation. Read NEPC's Bunkum Awards given to think-tanks:

that shone through as prime exemplars of incompetent science. It is these marvels of multi-colored packaging garnished with impressive-looking footnotes, charts and appendices – these advocacy pieces cloaked in research panoply – that we illuminate with a particular type of recognition of merit: our annual Bunkum Awards.

One problem in TN is that the TN Commissioner of Education will not release their raw data for outside analyses. Many in the field question the state report cards because some of their numbers look absolutely improbable. Not to mention their gross misuse of assessment data. Same situation with the TEAM/TAP evals-all statistical phrenology. Researchers don't hide their data- it's out there for critical review. It's kind of like an academic bloodbath. Yet individuals who SHOULD maintain the integrity of educational science by making research-based policy decisions, are doing the exact opposite. They're listening to people who have NO expertise in education but are successful in other professions. The very features that lead to expertise in a particular domain leads to ignorance in many others.

The lies about the edu-reforms enacted in TN and across the country are trickling out and need to be exposed. But our information sources are terribly compromised by powerful public figures and moneyed interests. (link...)

The drastic cuts in our news industry has defiantly put reporters at a terrible disadvantage for gathering facts. Joe Strupp of Media Matters makes this point in his investigative report on the right winger/corporate strategic 'news' infrastructure.


My friend in Nashville shared more info on this ideologically driven, uninformed, and corrupted information structure:

This development (infiltrating state news) came up on our radar some years back (06-07) when an obscure group, the TN Center for Policy Research (or something like that) launched a media campaign against Al Gore because he did not have solar panels. Research about the group at the time revealed that they were run out of a duplex near Lipscomb. These young guys appeared to be students, but had fancy titles with this "institute" which appeared somehow connected to big DC think tanks (like AIM and Heritage).

After several years, these guys have now re-branded themselves:

Notice their links. Also check out who is on their board and staff. (Some local corporate heavy hitters)
Also notice their staff. At a time when newspapers are laying off like crazy, and the Tennessean has maybe 2-3 working on state government, and
they have to also cover all sorts of other stuff. Notice how much staff they have for bashing government, teachers, etc etc.

And this is just in Nashville.
They are obviously associated with TN Watchdog. And I'd guess Ben Cunningham's anti-tax group.

Barker's picture


Thanks, Rachel (I think). I truly enjoyed beat reporting and investigative reporting, and I miss it in many ways. I like to think my reporting resulted in some positive change. But I enjoy my new (well, not-so-new: I've been doing it a couple of years now) role.

It's kind of the nature of the beast that reporters move up to editing jobs and younger reporters come in. Eric Vreeland was a tenacious and indefatigable city beat reporter who wrote an insane number of articles. If a cockroach scurried across the counter in a city of Knoxville break room, he wrote about sanitation. Now he's the day city editor, and a darned good one. I was one of those who followed him on the city beat and never came close to his comprehensive coverage of city government.

That brings me to Mike Donila. I have never seen a reporter drop into Knoxville and grasp the political landscape so well in such a short period of time. He ain't from around here, but he understands Knox County politics as well as anyone. He has earned the respect of his sources, not least because he will challenge them at every turn, and I think readers can sense that in his reporting. He is a better beat reporter than I ever was, and I'm glad he landed in our wacky corner of the world.

Pam Strickland's picture

Donila is great. He doesn't

Donila is great. He doesn't deserve the good ole boy whining that he's gotten over the campaign finance report story.

Rachel's picture

I meant it as a compliment.

I meant it as a compliment. Although I wish there were 2 of you.

Yeah, Donila is great. I hope he sticks around for a long time. OTOH, coverage of city govt has been at best mediocre, and at times downright lousy, since the days of Hayes Hickman (although I realize Witt is new, and I cut him some slack for that).

jcgrim's picture

Advancing charter schools betrays the public trust

WHY does Knox County need charter schools if all of the INDEPENDENT research reveals they produce poor outcomes and are terrible models for replication?
Here are the facts that are not in dispute about charters (i.e, there are not 2 "sides"):
1.they increase economic and racial segregation,
2.they are exempt from IDEA regs that guarantee protections to kiddos with special needs,
3.they expel lower performing students at an exceptionally high rate,
4.mask their high attrition rates behind graduation statistics,
5.their teaching methods and curriculum are questionable and can be abusive,
6.teacher churn is higher than in public schools, resulting in,
7 higher numbers of untrained, inexperienced people working with our most vulnerable kids
8.test scores, even with a self-selected population,are no better and often times WORSE than public schools, and
9.are unaccountable to parents and public scrutiny in spite of their "choice" rhetoric,
10.public schools stay in a constant state of disruption when they must enroll children expelled by charters, resulting in
11.higher classroom sizes in receiving schools whose staff has no time to prepare for children expelled from charters

Tax money going to corporate charters comes straight out of our minimal public school money and is funneled to third parties. It's a zero sum gain for Knoxville Public Schools.

Bruce Baker at Rutgers has done some excellent analyses of charters in NJ and their performance across several dimensions. His work, and many other experts in education, is replicated yet ignored by policy makers and the media. Most of the public info on charters is disseminated by think tanks and private philanthropies advancing agendas. They purposely bypass peer review and write for inexperienced reporters and lawmakers. (TEAM/TAP anyone?)


On average, this statewide picture is actually pretty ugly. It would certainly be very hard to argue that charter school expansion across New Jersey has led to any substantive overall improvement of educational opportunities. Numerous charter schools are substantial underperformers. And overall, as the regression model indicates, the net performance is bread even.

Advancing charter schools is a betrayal of public trust. Our lawmakers, the school board, and anyone promoting charters as a solution for improving educational outcomes are either in denial, delusional, or dishonest.

Will McIntyre and the School Board be held accountable for wasting our public school dollars on charters?

Barker's picture


I don't think either the school board or the administration wants to fool with charter schools. They sure haven't made it easy for the few applicants they have had. But state law requires that local school boards consider applicants for charter schools, so they have to do it. That means they need a process for considering applications, which is what the RFP does. Doesn't mean they will approve any particular applicant. And, as I have said until I'm blue in the face, improving public schools takes away any justification for charter schools.

R. Neal's picture

I don't think either the

I don't think either the school board or the administration wants to fool with charter schools. They sure haven't made it easy for the few applicants they have had.

The second part of that is correct, as far as past charter applications which have typically been denied by school boards and those denials upheld by the state.

As to the first part, go back and read the RFP at the link provided in the original post. Note this:

The Knox County Schools seeks charter school applications to cultivate strong school capacity to provide high quality academic instruction. Proposals will be entertained both for new charter schools as well as potential conversions of existing schools to charters.

Emphasis added.

We are in a different political climate than in the past. Conservative propaganda, aided by media coverage ranging from uncurious to advocacy, has succeeded in fooling the public into thinking government intrusion in their lives by way of public education is a bad thing.

Also note that the Knox RFP is eerily similar to Nashville's, as noted in the original post (with irony that the KNS article quoted McIntyre as saying "it's an application and a proposal that is very specific to meeting the educational needs of students in Knox County.").

If Nashville is the model, everyone should read some actual reporting about what's going on over there...

SEE ALSO: More actual reporting...

bizgrrl's picture

Blount County group give us on charter school

"The board concluded that they could not move forward based on the current political climate and legislative policies,"

"the group said it is looking into the possibilities of establishing a private Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-focused academy in Blount County, [an independent, non-profit school that will be open to all, including economically disadvantaged students]"

I guess Blount County is a tough audience.

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