MASE – A Success Story for Students and the Community

 

Five years ago, I helped open Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering (MASE), Tennessee’s first Charter School.  The goal was simple: Create the best math and science preparatory school in the state to help drive economic growth of the downtown medical center.  We are well on our way to achieving this. This year, MASE will graduate its first senior class.  The entire 68-student senior class is on track to graduate on time.   

 

This success is not possible without the support of the community.  Like all charter schools in Tennessee, MASE takes students from schools that are failing to make adequate yearly progress and students that are failing from any school.  The school’s charter relies on our ability to significantly increase our students’ academic performance.  If we don’t get results, we close the school. It’s that simple.

 

Without a doubt, the students at MASE are making significant improvements.  MASE has higher than average TCAP scores despite the fact that these students came from poorly performing institutions.  Students entering MASE in the 6th grade had 42 percent proficiency on the standardized TCAP test and by 8th grade averaged 94 percent proficiency. Compared to Memphis City Schools, 6th graders average 60-65 percent proficiency and little if any change in the 8th grade, MASE students are excelling. The focus MASE has on providing students with exceptional math and science skills helps prepare them for a future career in a variety of different disciplines.  Each of our graduating seniors is in a position to continue on to further education in the form of universities, community colleges or apprenticeships.  As knowledgeable and talented members of the workforce, former MASE students will play a vital role in filling the positions that will be created in the UT-Baptist Research Park and in providing a talent pool that new biotech companies will consider when relocating to Memphis.   

 

The support from businesses and professionals is an integral part of what makes MASE successful.   Without their donations of time, money and services, MASE would not be able to provide students with such an innovative curriculum, learning environment and internships.  But the support of local businesses and the community needs to go even further.

 

This year was a pivotal year for Tennessee charter schools.  The authorization allowing charter schools in Tennessee had a “sunset clause” that was up in June.  If the legislature hadn’t extended the clause until 2015, then charter school authorization would have expired, profoundly affecting the educational opportunities for students.  Fortunately for the students here in Memphis, the Tennessee legislature recognized the benefits of charter schools like MASE and extended the sunset clause to 2015.   

 

There are many other children in grades 6 and above who would like to participate in the extended hours and rigorous curriculum of MASE but can’t.  The State law precludes these students from attending, restricting their access to the innovative curriculum found in charter schools. When we started MASE in 2003, charter schools could recruit from 144 schools in the Memphis region.  Now, we are restricted to just 31, not because students are performing better in the system, but because the system is learning to lower state standards and reduce choices to students. Furthermore, less than 70% of the funds spent in Memphis schools are allocated to charter school students, placing these same disadvantaged students that charter schools must recruit at a further disadvantage. 

 

Tennessee’s state charter law is the most restrictive and onerous in the country. Despite the challenges imposed by the system, charter schools like MASE are getting results.  Imagine the benefit if these restrictions were to be removed from schools like MASE; local educational boards and the Tennessee Board of Education could take advantage of the innovative approaches to education and raise the standard of performance across the entire system.  This is the basis of real economic development.

 

I am proud of our students at MASE and I look forward to seeing our 68 seniors graduate in May.  Their futures will be bright with possibilities that would not have been there for them if it wasn’t for the support of our community and the freedom to choose. We are still at a crossroads with MASE and charter schools in general. We need the community to take action, to get involved and to support the school. These students will become the bioscience backbone of the research park and of the bioscience companies that are brought into the Memphis area. The community and businesses in Memphis must provide time, internships, financial backing and make their voice heard in the State legislature to continue the work that is being done at MASE.

 

Further information on the efforts being done by the Memphis Bioworks Foundation and the “Success for Public Charter Schools Association” can be directed to Beth Flanagan at bethflan@aol.com

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