The Achievement School District (ASD) represents an unprecedented effort to improve public education opportunities for Tennessee students and families. Created with bi-partisan legislation as part of Tennessee’s successful application for Race to the Top funding, The ASD is a statewide organization dedicated to taking schools currently in the bottom 5% of academic performance and within 5 years transforming them to perform in the top 25%. Approximately 85 schools are currently eligible for transformation, 69 of which are located in Memphis.

Ultimately, we will be judged on the achievement of our students. We have extremely high expectations for ourselves and for our students. In the coming years, we will create a system of schools that perform among the top 25% of schools in the state and we will do this in communities where students have been zoned to or currently attend schools performing in the bottom 5%. To build the kind of capacity and urgency we need to effect immediate and sustainable change, the Achievement School District (ASD) will work as both a school operator and a school authorizer.

On one dimension of our work, we will find creative ways to start or expand excellent school operators and hold them accountable. These school operators will take various forms ranging from existing charter management organizations (networks of charter schools), single campus charter school operators and non-profit organizations working within schools to improve student achievement. The ASD authorized three local operating groups (Gestalt Community Schools and Cornerstone Prep in Memphis and LEAD Public Schools in Nashville) to expand through the ASD beginning in the fall of 2012. These three operators have a proven track record of success with students from low-income communities and we were excited to help them expand their influence in their respective communities. On April 3rd, we will announce the the organizations that have applied for school openings for the 2013 and 2014 school years. We have some outstanding organizations that have already applied.

On the other dimension, we will work as a school operator. The ASD will increase student achievement and provide transformational educational opportunities for students to create proof points of what is possible in public education in Tennessee. Next year, Frayser Elementary, Corning Elementary and Westside Middle School are joining the ASD. All of these schools are in Memphis and all are currently performing in the bottom 5% of schools in the state. Our decision to work in these schools next year was a thoughtful and strategic one:

  • We are intentional about building community. We are using a “feeder pattern approach.” Our Achievement schools are in the Frayser/Trezvent High School feeder pattern in the Frayser neighborhood of Memphis. There are 14 schools in this feeder pattern. 11 of these schools fall in the bottom 5%. This represents the highest concentration of bottom 5% schools in the state.
  • We are intentionally starting small. With three Achievement schools in our first year, we can focus our efforts, develop systems and build our teams effectively. Proving that we can add value to these schools, we will look at ways to grow in the future, but are committed to quality over quantity.
  • We are intentionally starting young. Of our three schools, two are elementary schools and the other is a middle school. The No Child Left Behind waiver allowed us to categorize low-performing schools into primary and secondary schools. Previously, all schools falling in the bottom 5% were high schools, representing the culmination of a failed educational experience where achievement gaps are at the widest. High schools improve when students are prepared for rigorous college preparatory curriculum in the 9th grade. That means ensuring that students receive rigorous and relevant instruction throughout elementary and middle school. Students should be able to read by 3rd grade and 8th grade students should be prepared to take Algebra.

In five years, Frayser Elementary, Corning Elementary and Westside Middle Schools will all be performing among the best schools in the state. Moving these schools from the bottom 5% of schools to the top 25% of schools in Tennessee will no doubt be difficult work, but it will not be impossible. With incremental double-digit gains each year, our schools will be performing in the top quartile and we will continue to show the nation that Tennessee is a leader in the education reform movement.