What was Achieved with ASD
January 10, 2017
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Comeshia Williams

When Tennessee received funds from the federal government to improve the lowest performing schools in the state, the thought was to reform and innovate.  The state created the Achievement School District for this purpose.   Across the state of Tennessee, especially in the Memphis and Shelby County areas, the ASD opened its doors and the charter schools began to take over the poorest and lowest performing schools with the promise of improving the schools.  

After four years of ASD and charter control, not much has improved.  We were told that the charters would turn schools around.  But, according to a 2015 Vanderbilt University study, schools taken over by the ASD are still performing in the bottom 5%.  I remember four years ago when the ASD came to my school district.  As an educator, I wondered what magic pill they had that would cure the “disease” of underachievement.  I personally know the struggles of working in a school with attendance issues, transient students, and low-test scores.  It is hard work and I wondered why the state did not provide the districts with additional resources or more autonomy to meet the needs of the students instead of swooping in to take over.  The ASD swooped in and four years later realized that it is more difficult than originally thought.  There has been a decrease in the on-time graduation rates and based on the 2015-16 data, the ASD had poor overall academic growth.

If the state really wants to improve student achievement and do what is best for students, it should return control to the local school districts.  Unlike the ASD, the Shelby County School district created the iZone and demonstrated success.  According to a recent Vanderbilt University report, the iZone schools in Shelby County, which are managed by the local school district, are improving faster than the ASD schools in the area.  So, the proof is in the pudding.  The ASD was not able to improve student learning as initially thought.  The local districts have a better idea of how to turn around low performing schools.   I hope the state uses this as an example for other districts.  Maybe, just maybe, the local districts know how to help their students best.

Comeshia Williams is a Title I PLC Coach at Northaven K-8 School. She has 15 years of experience as a 1st and 4th grade teacher with the Shelby County School System. She has served as a mentor, learning coach, and master teacher. A graduate from the University of Memphis, Comeshia was named 2000 Student Teacher of the Year. She holds a Masters of School Administration from Trevecca Nazarene University and an Ed.S. in Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Memphis. She received the 2015 Outstanding School Leadership Graduate Student Award. She is also a licensed Professional School Counselor. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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