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The Atlantic on the ASD’s challenge in working with the local Memphis community

This week, the Hechinger Report published a story in partnership with The Atlantic, taking a big-picture look at the Achievement School District’s experience in Memphis. Here’s a look at the story’s takeaways.

What to Know:

  • Of the 16 schools pulled into the Achievement District so far, 15 of them are in Memphis.
  • The Memphis landscape epitomizes what a growing number of educators and public officials describe as portfolio management: when an array of operators—a traditional district, the state, charter operators, community groups—run some of a city’s schools instead of a single entity maintaining control. Schools’ very existence hinges on test-score gains. Those that underperform are, like weak stocks, transferred, repackaged, or dropped outright.
  • The story focuses on one ASD school in particular — Cornerstone Prep. Chris Barbic, the superintendent of the Achievement District, said that initially Cornerstone’s leaders were “so focused on getting the academic and school part right that they had blinders on to the fact that there was a whole community there that didn’t know who they were.”
  • In many cities, parents select charters based on an interest in their educational approach or past results. But the charters that open in the Achievement District inherit the students from the neighborhood schools they replace.

Why It’s Important:The Hechinger story represents the latest case of a national publication to profile the Achievement School District model, following on a recent story in Education Week. Like previous coverage in the New York Times, this story highlights the challenge of getting communities to support the ASD’s changes.

One argument that reporter Sarah Carr raises is the role of teacher departures in the community’s sometimes negative reactions to school closures. She quotes a teacher named Amanda Montgomery, who reapplied for her job at Hanley Elementary School in Orange Mound when the Aspire charter network took it over as part of the ASD:

Although Montgomery is pleased with Aspire’s leadership at the school so far, she regrets the loss of some of her more seasoned colleagues, many of them with deep roots in the historically black neighborhood surrounding the school, known as Orange Mound. There were a lot of teachers who grew up in Orange Mound and live in Orange Mound, said Montgomery, who grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. They brought a lot to the table in terms of their experience living and working in Orange Mound. It was really sad to see them go.

All of this attention comes, of course, as the ASD is at the beginning of a major expansion. The district took over 16 schools this year and plans to take over 22 more next school year.

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