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
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.
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
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.
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 | www.edweek.org
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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