Ahead of what education officials say is a pivotal moment for state turnaround efforts, Chalkbeat asked Tennesseans to share ideas about the Achievement School District’s future. All but one respondent said the district should no longer exist in its current form.
“End the Achievement School District, it was always a bad idea,” Marcus Pohlmann wrote in response to a Chalkbeat questionnaire, adding that the district never addressed the “main problem of poverty.” Pohlmann is an emeritus professor of political science at Rhodes College who has written extensively on Memphis schools.
State Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn’s team is coming to Memphis on Tuesday and Wednesday to seek feedback from people in and around the Achievement District, the state’s takeover district for low-performing schools. (She will also be traveling to Chattanooga, Jackson, and Nashville. For dates and times, go here).
Schwinn told Chalkbeat that she’s holding the listening tour because something has to change. “The data is clear. The current strategy isn’t leading to better outcomes from kids. So we want to hear from communities.”
While Schwinn has said the district will continue to exist, she also has warned that it may drastically change form. Seven years after its creation, the district’s third leader left last summer, and a study found the program has not improved student achievement. Schwinn has said no new schools will join the district this year school year.
Regina Dowell, who leads the Parent-Teacher-Student Association in Frayser, told Chalkbeat she feels the conversations will be important. She wants district schools that have had some success to continue to educate children.
“For the schools that are struggling … allow the schools to submit a plan of action that they think will be successful,” Dowell wrote. “The state should provide the resources stated in the plan and assign someone to closely follow the progress.”
After the listening tour, the state plans to finalize a list of metrics to hold Achievement School District charter schools accountable. That framework was supposed to be in place all along, but has been implemented inconsistently because of the district’s leadership changes.
The state is also working to answer this question: What happens to schools after they leave the Achievement School District? The 30 schools in the district were originally meant to return to local control after improving, and the charter schools that run them were given 10-year contracts.
K. Phillips, a Memphis parent, said she would “like to see a stronger accountability system” for state-run schools.
“If schools are not meeting the benchmarks, they should not be given 10 years,” Phillips said. “That is essentially crippling an entire generation of students in a community.”
Charles Seaton, a longtime Memphis educator who said he has followed the district from the beginning, said little can improve at the district without more funding from the state.
“Place more money in the targeted schools and stop expansion until you have the schools improving,” he said. “The district had a plan but changed because of bureaucracy.”
More on the state listening tour below: