Education Week - January 13, 2016 - (Page 6)

Political Winds Buffet Tenn.'s Achievement School District By Daarel Burnette II Tennessee's state-run Achievement School District, which takes over lowperforming schools and either runs them directly or hands them over to charter organizations, has run into partisan political trouble. Several Democratic state lawmakers say they will propose bills this upcoming legislative session to either shut down the turnaround district, which mostly is based in Memphis, or severely limit its authority to take over schools. Citing a recent Vanderbilt University study, the lawmakers said district-led turnaround efforts in Chattanooga, Memphis, and Nashville have academically outpaced the state's and that until the state-run district can begin to show academic progress, it shouldn't be allowed to take over more schools. "The ASD should go back to its original goal and refocus on intense intervention at a small number of schools," state Rep. Brenda Gilmore, chairwoman of the Black Caucus of State Legislators said during a press conference. Legislative Fight Democrats don't have much sway in the state's Republican-controlled legislature, and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and his appointed education commissioner Candice McQueen said recently that they still support the turnaround initiative, which was created under the state's waiver from provisions of the nowdefunct No Child Left Behind Act. Several bills were proposed last year to limit or shut down the ASD, though only one actually passed. That bill limited the ASD to tak- ing over schools that have failed to make any academic improvement. "The ASD is one of multiple strategies to reach students in our lowest-performing schools, and we have seen schools perform better the longer they're in the ASD," a statement from Haslam's office said. Across the country, several staterun initiatives to turn around mostly urban schools are facing political pressures. Michigan's Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, proposed in December an alternative school turnaround model that provides more oversight of that state's charter schools. He has previously said he's willing to consider shutting down Michigan's turnaround district if legislators adopt his plan. The district has been mired in corruption scandals. In Georgia, parents staged a protest in front of the state capitol last month to stop a proposal by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal for the state to take over several low-performing Atlanta-area schools. As in Memphis, parents are citing studies that show state-run districts are not effective in turning around schools. Local officials in Newark, N.J., are set to soon regain control of the district after the state ran the city's schools for 20 years. And there are still disputes over whether Louisiana's state-run system improved public schooling in New Orleans in the years after Hurricane Katrina, a debate that remains alive now as the city's public K-12 system has evolved into a complex landscape of independent charter schools. In Nevada and Texas, state lawmakers have laid the groundwork for turnaround districts. Protests and Pushback In Tennessee, the state-run district's takeover process has led to parking lot shouting matches and rowdy protests in several impoverished communities turnaround model, dubbed the Innovation Zone or iZone, involves replacing entire school staffs, frequent interventions for students who fall behind, and hours added onto the school day. Teachers get bonuses to work at the schools. Shelby County's staff has been more successful in coping with neighborhood poverty by deploying an expensive and time-intensive wraparound model that partly addresses students' psychological trauma and other needs, school administrators say. Other Models Swikar Patel/Education Week-File Democrats take aim at sluggish progress First grader Makayla Taylor, 6, walks to breakfast at Aspire Public Schools in Memphis, Tenn., which is part of the state's Achievement School District. on the north and south ends of Memphis. Shelby County district leaders, which operate Memphis schools, have aggressively fought to pull students from the ASD to avoid funding cuts associated with a decreased enrollment. The Shelby County school board last month signed a resolution for the legislature to, among other things, place a moratorium on the district. Enrollment at several of the 27 ASD 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 high student mobility rate. Leaders have also struggled to hire and retain high-quality and experienced teachers. The ASD's superintendent, Chris Barbic, left office in December. Just days after Vanderbilt released its study in early December comparing the state-led and district-led turnaround efforts, the state took over four more schools. Parents involved in the months-long takeover process called the ASD's efforts to include community voices in the process a "scam." The Shelby County district's own Charter Sector to Get $1 Billion Boost From Walton By Arianna Prothero A heavyweight funder in K-12 education, the Walton Family Foundation, announced it is doubling down on its investments in school choice with a $1 billion plan to help expand the charter school sector and other choice initiatives over the next five years. That investment will match what the foundation has poured into K-12 initiatives since it first started its education philanthropy 20 years ago. In a new report detailing its five-year strategic plan, the foundation identified 13 cities and states it intends to work in-a decision it says was driven by growing demand for new schools and research showing academic gains among some charter school students. "When we look at charter performance in the urban core, in parts of the country that have the most perniciously unfixable academic outcomes in the country, we see exciting breakthroughs of charter schools at scale," said Marc Sternberg, the director of the foundation's K-12 education program. "It's a combination of results and a surge in demand that conveyed to us that there's a real opportunity to have impact." A June study from Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that students in charter schools in 41 cities significantly outperform their district counterparts in reading and math, while the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools estimates that more than 1 million students are currently on waiting lists for charters. Big Footprint The Walton Family Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Walmart founder Sam Walton's heirs and long has been a major supporter of school choice. (The Walton Family Foundation provides grant support for Education Week's coverage of school choice and parent-empowerment issues.) One can hardly turn around in the charter school sector without bumping into a benefactor of the Walton Family Foundation. 6 | EDUCATION WEEK | January 13, 2016 | Nearly one-quarter of all charter schools nationally have received startup funds from it, according to the report. In addition to charters, the foundation supports private school choice and regular school districts willing to dip their toes into school choice. This newest round of funding will focus on expanding school choice options in lowincome communities in cities such as Los Angeles, and New Orleans, developing teachers and school leaders, and supporting strategies to help parents navigate school choice. The Walton Family Foundation was among the first major K-12 philanthropists to invest in charter schools, and has helped shape the sector as it is today. "They've played a real role in pushing for the growth of the charter management sector and networks of charter schools in order to prioritize going to scale, as they like to refer to it," said Jeffrey R. Henig, a political science and education professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and co-editor of the book Unlike the state-run effort, the Shelby district's model does not involve charter operators. To pay for the effort, which costs around $8 million annually, district leaders have scraped together money from the federal School Improvement Grant program, local philanthropists, and general funds. That financial model is not sustainable, district leaders have complained. Shelby County Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said despite the state's academic results, he still sees the ASD as a partner and said its presence in the city has created "healthy competition." Almost all of the district's worst-performing schools are undergoing some sort of intervention, he pointed out. "The state is a very important institution in setting the tone for what's going on here," he said. "They've created the conditions for the iZone to thrive." But Kevin Woods, a Shelby County board member, was a little more blunt about the future of the state-run efforts. "We want the state to put resources behind the iZone," he said. "If they want to grow the pot to fund both the ASD and the iZone, that's fine. But the last thing we want to do is rob Peter, to save Paul." The New Education Philanthropy. But the foundation's investment strategy is changing. Initially, it focused on creating competition in K-12 to improve the overall system. The foundation's latest report says it has learned that's not enough. Parents need help in choosing schools-such as citywide enrollment systems, said Sternberg. "Families need access to real-time information. Families need easy transportation options. We need government to do its job and authorize high-quality schools," he said. "We now know that there are some key enablers outside of the school that have to be in place." But the $1 billion announcement has not come without its critics. Among them: the American Federation of Teachers, which released a report last June saying Walton's investments in charters are irresponsible. "This is not about public charters ... or about ensuring parents have great choices for their kids," AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement. "This is about the fundamentally flawed Walmart model that destabilizes and diminishes public education."

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 13, 2016

Education Week - January 13, 2016
Education Still Struggling for Traction as Campaign Issue
School Revenue Squeezed in Oil, Coal States
Feds to K-12: Ensure Safety For Muslims
Report Roundup
News in Brief
Political Winds Buffet Tenn.’s Achievement School District
Charter Sector to Get $1 Billion Boost From Walton
In the ‘Chess Capital’ of St. Louis, Game Takes Root in Poor Districts
Blogs of the Week
Education Week Launches Premium Site for K-12 Companies
The Slowest Internet in Mississippi
Rural Schools, Telecoms Battle Over Internet Pricing
‘Washington Gave Us Leverage’
Amid Its Own Changes, Research Office Gears Up for New ESSA Duties
Education Department Begins to Scope Out ESSA-Era Role
Blogs of the Week
Own the ‘Messy Dress’ of Scholarship
Stick to the Truth
Embrace the ‘Hurly Burly’
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Edu-Scholars and the Public Square: What Is Our Responsibility?

Education Week - January 13, 2016