December 5, 2023
Last week, the Metro Nashville Public School Board voted against the interests of families who want the option of a high-quality public educational choice by denying the reauthorization of Rocketship Northeast Elementary School’s charter. The 8-1 decision, if it holds, will shutter an outstanding school serving a diverse student body in an area that desperately needs it.
While parents should absolutely expect excellence out of every public charter school that’s authorized to serve Tennessee children, there are few reasons to question that here. Instead, politically motivated board members chose to use unfair comparisons to make Rocketship’s outstanding performance look less impressive than it is.
Repeatedly in Tuesday’s meeting, board members compared Rocketship to the district as a whole, to argue the public charter school is falling short in student achievement, growth, and attendance.
Most education policy experts agree that public charter schools can only be fairly assessed in comparison to the geographically nearest traditional public school that serves a comparable student demographic—to do otherwise is both unscientific and intellectually dishonest. This is especially true with Rocketship Elementary where more than 95 percent of students are students of color.
By comparing Rocketship to MNPS in its entirety, the board stacked the deck against Rocketship by measuring it against schools in more affluent areas of Nashville with less diverse student bodies.
The board would get a much fairer comparison if it simply compared Rocketship to the five other elementary schools in the same northeast Nashville cluster, like nearby Tom Joy Elementary. Rocketship outperforms Tom Joy in nearly every metric. In overall student achievement, Rocketship surpasses its neighbor by more than 15 percent in both English and math. In year-to-year student growth, the public charter school scored at the maximum level five, while Tom Joy scored only a three.
Rocketship’s performance looks similarly strong when compared to other elementary schools in the cluster.
Make no mistake—the vote against Rocketship was a political decision from a body that has a history of prejudicial decisions towards public charter schools. MNPS leaders have increasingly shown they view high performing public charter schools as a threat to both their budget and their credibility.
This is unfortunate as providing more opportunity for student success shouldn’t be viewed as a threat to traditional public schools. Schools like Rocketship fill a vital role in their communities, giving parents greater freedom and choice in their child’s education and future. If Rocketship Northeast Elementary School closes, nearly 500 students and their families will be left with no choice but to move to another public school that may not be the best fit for them.
Perhaps even more concerning, if the MNPS school board was willing to block reauthorization from a school with such an impressive record, what’s next? How many more children attending high-quality public charter schools will find themselves at risk of having to find a new school because of unfair, politicized decisions.