Tennessee

Tennessee’s Achievement School District ranks high on “conditions for success”

Tennessee’s state-run Achievement School District was the only entity in the country that received top marks in every category of a national education policy center’s ranking of “conditions for success” for one strategy for managing and improving school districts.

The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), at the University of Washington, coordinates a network of school districts nationally that are working to create “portfolio school districts.” It defines a portfolio district as one that is “creating more high-quality schools regardless of provider, giving schools autonomy over staff and funding, and holding all schools accountable for performance.”

The CRPE evaluated policies in place in 19 districts around the country to see how they lined up with its “best practices” for creating a portfolio school district. Those components are: Good options and choices for all families; school autonomy; pupil-based funding for all schools; talent-seeking strategy; sources of support for schools, performance-based accountability for schools; and extensive public engagement.

Here’s the CRPE’s evaluation sheet, which breaks down those components into smaller categories. (For example, “school autonomy” includes the following survey questions: “All schools control pay. All schools control budget. All schools control curriculum choice.”)

Tennessee’s state-run district was the only one of those 19 that was ranked as a “national exemplar” in every category. Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD), a state-run district that runs many schools in New Orleans, was in second place, ranking as a national exemplar in every category except sources of support for schools and public engagement.

The ASD, which was created by Tennessee’s First to the Top law in 2010, was modeled after the RSD. It is currently running 16 schools: 15 in Memphis and one in Nashville. It plans to eventually be running as many as many as 50 schools, enrolling as many as 19,000 students, within the next 3 years.

The district’s goal is to take schools that are performing in the bottom 5 percent of the state and move them to the top 25 percent. Its strategy for doing so involves turning most over to charter management organizations that the state-run district will then oversee.

Metro Nashville Public Schools was also ranked in the CRPE’s list, but was not ranked so highly: It was ranked as “much work to be done” on student funding and support for schools, and as either “in progress” or “some elements in place” on every other category. 

The merged Shelby County School District was not ranked in this CRPE effort, but is in the network for 2013.

Elliot Smalley, the ASD’s chief of staff, wrote in a blog post about the ranking that “we’re taking this in stride as a piece of very helpful data and a nod to the kinds of ingredients we’ve put into the recipe…But if we’re unable to be a ‘national exemplar’ in a version of this with an 8th column—student results—this won’t matter much.”

“Now that we’re starting to create the right kind of context, what are we going to do with it?” he wrote.

The district is in its second year running schools. Its performance has been mixed so far.

For more on the history of the district, on some of its struggle to get community buy-in, and about the strategies it’s using in schools and to recruit teachers, you can check out this paper from the Fordham Institute in Washington, which suggests that the Achievement School District could be a model for other states looking to improve low-performing schools.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.