- Tennessee state results released last week show that Memphis, a focus of state turnaround efforts since 2012, had only 43 public schools on the “priority schools” list compared to 69 in 2012, Chalkbeat reports.
- State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen credited the 2012 creation of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, which has taken over dozens of local schools, for creating a sense of urgency that spurred action, while also praising Shelby County Schools for “changing the landscape” in Memphis by closing at least 15 schools on the list and creating its own district-run "Innovation Zone," where student gains have outpaced those in the state-run district.
- If a school is included on the third priority schools list since 2012 — they're released every three years — it doesn't automatically place a school on track for state takeover, since the state is now working to be more collaborative with districts and considers that move as a last resort.
State takeovers of low-performing school districts remain a controversial strategy to turning around failing schools. Indiana and Texas have come into focus most recently for debates over state takeover efforts. In a 2016 opinion piece written for Education Week by four education analysts and consultants, the authors gave state takeover efforts a failing grade, noting that all efforts relied too heavily on standardized tests as a measure of success. However, a “fact-check” by the 74 Million points out that some state takeover efforts have made a positive impact.
The Tennessee experiments seem to reinforce the notion that the threat of state takeover often has more impact on school improvement than the takeover itself. In Memphis, state takeover efforts have evolved toward a more collaborative effort between the state and school districts. The state is encouraging district efforts, such as the creation of the Memphis Innovation Zone, which is proving more successful than state efforts. The Innovation Zone in Memphis has also inspired North Carolina in the development of its new state-run Innovative School District, which launched this year with just one school.
North Carolina has deliberately taken a slow approach to state takeover and is encouraging school districts to pursue alternative measures, such as the creation of their own district-run Innovation Zones, to avoid being placed on the list of consideration for inclusion in the state-run district. In an analysis of the North Carolina plan, the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research used the Innovation Zone in Memphis as a pattern for success. The authors of the paper noted four major lessons that can be learned from the success of the Memphis district-led effort: high-quality “human capital” is the most important element, greater flexibility in staffing and budgeting helps meet student needs, dedicated support staff make the difference, and a clear accountability system keeps all everyone on track to meeting goals.