Philly’s Schools Phuture?
During the research for my book, one of the most interesting and depressing tidbits I uncovered was that the handful of high-performing, high-poverty traditional public schools described in No Excuses had not been grown by their districts. The central recommendation of my book is that the “four principles of chartering” should be applied across all three sectors; that includes growing great schools of all types (charter, private, and district). Charter growth has been happening via CMOs for more than a decade now, but the Philadelphia Schools Partnership has found a number of district schools to expand. Interesting development.
Addressing Non-urban Poverty
It appears that, slowly but surely, the education-reform community is paying more and more attention to the needs of low-income kids in rural areas (more on this from Bellwether soon). For years now, the primary focus has been on America’s cities. Maybe it should come as no surprise that Teach for America is stepping forward; TFA has long had a number of non-urban outposts. Its new program is designed to train TFA alum for school leadership positions in rural America. This is a tiny program, at least initially, but it’s a start. Good luck, and well done.
Impervious to Competition?
Probably the bitterest pill I’ve had to swallow as a conservative ed reformer is that competition (from charters and choice programs) has had a positive but negligible influence on
Tennessee’s Achievement Schools District is the latest character to enter the stage in the most important and interesting act of contemporary education reform: structural-institutional changes in the running and governing of public schools.
For eons, the plot was the same: a district owns and operates all of the public schools in a geographic area. The subplot, if you were in urban America, was that the district-run schools serving most of your community’s kids did so quite badly.
Chartering, entering stage right in 1991, subtly but revolutionarily, showed that other entities could run public schools. A few years later, Michigan and Massachusetts, adding dimension to the character, showed that non-district entities could also authorize (approve, monitor, renew, close) public schools.
The district’s proprietary grip on public education was broken.
Over the course of the 1990s, chartered schools slowly got more and more stage time, growing to capture larger market shares in America’s cities: 10, 15, 20, 30% in some areas.
The plot developed with a new strand: more and more state departments of education were empowered to take over individual schools and entire districts.
In hindsight, this was the play’s most unfortunate interlude—the jump-the-shark scene, the add-a-precocious-child-to-the-cast strategy, the second season of Friday Night Lights. SEAs, like a dog who chased and caught a car, didn’t know
Over the past few years, Tennessee has taken important steps to improve public education. With a focus on higher standards, great teaching, turning around low-performing schools, and using data in new and important ways, Tennessee has made significant progress. Even with student achievement improving, there is still a lot of work left to do before every student graduates high school prepared for college and the workforce.
One important way Tennessee has worked to raise student achievement is through initiatives aimed at turning around low-performing schools. Redefining the School District in Tennessee helps to illuminate this work by examining the development, implementation, and ongoing efforts of the Achievement School District (ASD). The ASD is a special statewide district that acts as both as school operator and charter authorizer that steps in to take over and support the lowest performing 5 percent of schools in the state.
Author Nelson Smith highlights key aspects of Tennessee’s turnaround work that other states can learn from, including the importance of community support and buy-in. As Smith notes, “People hate for their schools to be closed and taken over,” and states should consider options that allow communities to participate in and contribute to the decision-making process. It’s important for the ASD to understand local community needs so that they can
As the challenges of education governance loom ever larger and the dysfunction and incapacity of the traditional K–12 system reveal themselves as major roadblocks to urgently needed reforms across that system, many have asked, “What’s the alternative?”
Part of the answer is the “recovery school district,” a new state-created entity that has the potential to turn around schools that have—often for decades—produced dreadful results under district control.
Nelson Smith investigates the Volunteer State’s Achievement School District (ASD) by analyzing the ASD’s history, politics, and moving parts in the new policy report Redefining the School District in Tennessee.
Smith offers concrete advice to other states thinking of creating similar “recovery school districts.”
- Due Diligence: Because there aren’t enough high-quality national charter and turnaround networks to fill the demand created by large-scale reform efforts, states need to look for homegrown solutions.
- Destination: States must consider how to make schools slated for turnaround attractive places to work for high-quality teachers, administrators, and leaders.
- Expectations: What is an acceptable level of success, and at what point should legislators get the information they need to make further decisions? States must consider how to define “good enough” in turnaround measures.
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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