Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tennessee sees increasing pushback on state-run Achievement School District

Posted By on Wed, Dec 30, 2015 at 3:35 PM


Education Week has an important story
 (access to the full article requires registration, which is free) about dissatisfaction with Tennessee's Achievement School District, the state-run entity that administers school districts taken over by the state because of low academic achievement. The ASD often awards administration of those schools to charter management organizations.

Arkansas should watch this debate closely. In 2015, an Arkansas bill that would have created a similar entity in Arkansas was pulled down by its legislative sponsor in the face of opposition from traditional public school groups and House Democrats on the Education Committee. But it won't be a surprise if HB 1733 reemerges in a future session.

The ASD has itself struggled,  says Ed Week writer Daarel Burnette, especially in Memphis (where 27 of the ASD's 29 schools are located):

Within the ASD, enrollment at several of the 27 schools has lagged, and YES Prep Public Schools, a nationally ranked charter operator based in Houston, abruptly abandoned its efforts to expand in Memphis after its leaders said they wouldn't be able to meet enrollment projections.

Academically, the district's charter operators in Memphis have struggled to cope with the city's entrenched poverty and the abnormally high mobility rate of its student body. Leaders have also struggled to hire and retain quality and experienced teachers. Its superintendent, Chris Barbic, resigned this month. 

Here's something that should be of special interest to the Little Rock School District: The traditional school district in Memphis,Shelby County Schools, has created a school turnaround model of its own that a new study from Vanderbilt University says is more effective than the state's turnaround model.

Shelby County's "Innovation Zone" (also called the "iZone") is not charter-based, but it does entail drastic measures: "replacing entire school staffs, frequent intervention for students who fall behind, and hours added onto the school day. Teachers get bonuses to work at the schools.Shelby County Schools' staff has been more successful in coping with neighborhood poverty by deploying an expensive and time-intensive wraparound model that partly addresses psychological trauma and other needs." The district is paying for these efforts with a combination of general funds, federal grants and private philanthropy.

(I've got to inject one question here, though: Without the pressure created by the ASD, would Shelby County Schools have been motivated to create such an aggressive turnaround model in the first place?)

Here's more from the Memphis Commercial Appeal on the political push to slow down the ASD among Tennesee Democrats:

Tennessee's Achievement School District shouldn't be allowed to expand because it isn't making significant progress with the schools it oversees, Rep. Brenda Gilmore, chairwoman of the Black Caucus of State Legislators, said Monday.

"The Tennessee Black Caucus stands in unity today, with the Democratic Caucus, asking that the ASD delay any further expansions until better results can be shown and substantiated," Gilmore said. "The ASD should go back to its original goal and refocus on intense intervention at a small number of schools."
The ASD, a state district authorized to take over the bottom 5 percent of low-performing schools, has recently seen backlash in Memphis after it announced a takeover Dec. 11 of four more schools in the city. The ASD oversees 29 schools, with 27 in Memphis and two in Nashville.

The community backlash caused Shelby County Schools to pass a resolution that includes a moratorium on the ASD's takeover of any more schools "until they show consistent progress in improving student academic achievement."

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