When Louisiana and Tennessee wanted to focus on their lowest-performing schools, they created statewide turnaround districts, which pull individual schools under state control. As detailed in The Achievement School District: Lessons from Tennessee, written by Public Impact for New Schools for New Orleans, Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD), though modeled on Louisiana’s Recovery School District, has forged its own path and offers useful insights for other states.
After Hurricane Katrina, most New Orleans schools entered the Recovery School District en masse. But the ASD has taken a more staged approach in Memphis, which has the state’s highest concentration of low-performing schools. And while New Orleans uses an all-choice, charter school enrollment system, the ASD strategy preserves the traditional public school model of community-based, neighborhood schools.
The Achievement School District: Lessons from Tennessee looks at the ASD’s strategies and implementation in Memphis in six areas:
- Public school governance. Collaboration coupled with competition has resulted in positive student outcomes for ASD schools and district-run turnaround schools in the Memphis Innovation Zone (iZone). Shelby County Schools, which encompasses Memphis, has become an urban school district where nearly one-third of schools operate autonomously from the traditional district governance model.
- Schools and operators. The ASD focused on ensuring high-quality school options for all students, using neighborhood-based enrollment—betting that autonomous schools will drive school improvement faster than traditional district efforts and show that charters can succeed with zoned enrollment. The ASD uses a diverse portfolio of local and national charter school operators within neighborhood-based school feeder patterns.
- Educator talent. The ASD has worked to increase the retention of its most effective teachers and leaders in its Achievement Schools, which it runs directly, and to recruit local leaders and operators for its charter schools. But a growing market of charter, ASD, and iZone schools is taxing the talent supply. The ASD is partnering with Shelby County Schools and local funders to develop a citywide strategy for recruiting, training, and retaining effective teachers and leaders to ensure a long-term, sustainable talent pipeline.
- Funding education reform. Aligned support between local and national funders has enhanced the ASD’s ability to carry out its work. The ASD has benefitted from partnerships between the state education agency and philanthropy to recruit charter operators and develop a sustainable talent pipeline.
- Equitable access to quality schools. The ASD relies on its increasingly diverse portfolio of neighborhood schools to ensure that all students, especially those with special needs, have equal access to high-quality schools. The ASD uses its authorizing authority to hold schools accountable for meeting the needs of all students.
- Community engagement and participation. With a core belief that community engagement must start early and be the joint responsibility of all levels—district, operator, and school—for turnaround efforts to gain traction and credibility, the ASD worked early to build trust with families and community members. It works with operators to implement strategic community engagement, and has aligned its neighborhood school selection process with its strategy for eliciting community engagement in the school selection and matching process.
Charters in the ASD show initial signs of success, but at only three years into implementation, the ASD’s full impact remains to be seen.
Though they vary widely in policy and practice, experience in the Achievement School District, the Recovery School District, and other statewide turnaround districts points to the central importance of both a sufficient and sustainable talent pipeline and clear, honest communication with students, parents, and communities affected by the changes. Tennessee also shows that statewide districts can affect district-led turnaround efforts, as seen in how Shelby County Schools have made a strong effort to address its low-performing schools.
The Achievement School District: Lessons from Tennessee was written by Public Impact’s Juli Kim, Tim Field, and Elaine Hargrave.