Tennessee is putting schools with very low test scores and graduation rates into a state-run district, reports the New York Times. Memphis, where the vast majority of public school students are black and poor, is the “crucible of change,” aka “a veritable petri dish of practices favored by data-driven reformers across the country and fiercely criticized by teachers’ unions and some parent groups.”
Most of the schools will be run by charter operators. All will emphasize frequent testing and data analysis. Many are instituting performance pay for teachers and longer school days, and about a fifth of the new district’s recruits come from Teach for America, a program in which high-achieving college graduates work in low-income neighborhood schools. And the achievement district will not offer teachers tenure.
There are signs of progress, but also complaints about “racial sensitivity.” That is, fewer than half the new district’s teachers are black, compared to 97 percent of students.
Cornerstone Prep, a nonprofit charter group took over the prekindergarten through third grade at a public school in in a very poor Memphis neighborhood, replacing all the teachers. “More than a quarter of the new staff was hired through the Memphis Teacher Residency, a program for young college graduates, and Teach for America,” reports the Times.
Mid-year tests showed rising scores. But parents complain of strict discipline.
“They don’t understand black folk,” said Sara L. Lewis, a member of the merged Memphis and Shelby County School Board. “They don’t understand our values or events in our history.”
But Sarah Carpenter, a Memphis mother and grandmother on an advisory council to the achievement district, said students are “engaged and learning.” Children will get used to higher expectations, she said.
New achievement district school staffers are wooing parents in their boundary zones (they must take all who apply) with door-to-door visits and open houses.
Malia Oliver, a mother of a current kindergartner, was impressed. When Allison Leslie, executive director of Aspire’s Memphis operations, asked to sit in on a special-education consultation for Ms. Oliver’s autistic son, “that just meant so much to me,” Ms. Oliver said.
But locals complain experienced teachers will be displaced. “A lot of our teachers are going to lose their jobs,” said Charlie Moore III, pastor of the Life Changing Church of God in Christ in Orange Mound.
Do state takeovers work? The Atlantic looks at New Jersey’s plan to take over Camden schools and potential takeovers in Ohio and Maryland.
The track record for state takeovers is shaky “probably because they don’t tend to change a whole lot,” said Michael Petrilli, vice president of the Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning education think tank in Washington, D.C. “The union contract stays in place, the bureaucracy stays in place. All that’s gone is the school board.”
That’s why districts are turning to nonprofit charter management companies to take over chronically low-performing schools.