Unity Group Opposes Achievement School District 2.0

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

A new proposal being pushed through the Tennessee House Education Committee is the latest saga in the long effort to takeover schools through privatization. In order to accomplish this, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the state would create the Achievement School District 2.0. The ASD has been the embattled mostly charter run district, which operates a majority of its schools in Memphis and Nashville; has been plagued by multiple executive directors; constant teacher turnover; funding irregularities; school closures; dwindling student enrollment numbers; and has failed to demonstrate substantial student academic progress as compared to their traditional counterparts. Despite a 2020 announcement that ASD schools could potentially return to their local districts, what has since developed is a replication of prior practices which are aimed at the ultimate takeover of public schools by the state.  

There are other profound problems with the Achievement School District besides the aforementioned list of systemic failures. First, according to research conducted by Vanderbilt’s Tennessee Education Research Alliance, who have longed tracked the data and adequate progress for Tennessee’s turnaround districts, the ASD has yet to outperform I-Zone schools in student proficiency or progress. In fact, in 2019 a six year evaluation of the ASD by the Alliance concluded that: “after six years of operation, we find that the ASD turnaround strategy as originally conceived and implemented has not produced positive effects.”

Another key element that this education proposal merely glosses over is the adequacy of state funding. Tennessee's primary funding mechanism for K-12 schools is the Basic Education Program. The state comptroller details that, "The BEP formula is also exceedingly complex, with 46 different components that generate funding and an equalization process that sets state and local shares of funding." 

In a March 2019 Tennessean article, Chris Henson, a longtime BEP Review Committee member, provided a frank assessment on the BEP funding and spending. He would say, “it is antiquated….The current version of it might be fully funded, but that doesn't mean the BEP funds everything that it should and at the level that it should."

The lack of adequate BEP spending and funding has been well chronicled. Educationdata.org is just one of several groups that monitors per pupil spending and funding. They concluded in an assessment on the state that:

Tennessee equally relies on state and local funding and per pupil spending rank 43rd and 45th in school funding.

Tennessee per pupil spending is slightly over spend $9,544 per pupil and equates for $9.6 billion annually.

The federal government contributes over $1.2 billion annually for per pupil spending. 

The difference between spending and funding is $1 billion annually.

Andy Spears, on the online medium Tennessee Education Report, provides a closer analysis of this funding shortfall. According to Spears, not only is a recent policy brief by the Nashville Public Education highly critical of state spending and funding, but he cites findings from the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations which suggests that the BEP underfunds schools by 1.7 billion, while a report from the Education Law Center asserts that if you account for inflation, Tennessee should be spending more than $1 billion more on public education. 

Indeed, the state's own BEP Review Committee provided the following recommendations in their 2020 Annual Report:

Hold LEA funding harmless

Continued commitment to increased teacher compensation

Increased funding for technology and accessibility

Funding the number of school counselors at a level closer to national best practices

Funding the number of school nurses at a level closer to national best practices

Increased funding for Response to Intervention and Instruction (RTI2).

It must also be noted, that within the last few weeks, the League of Women Voters TN, Tennessee Public Education Coalition and Pastors for Tennessee Children, and TEA are just some of the growing chorus of groups and individuals who have hit at the state's school funding and spending shortfalls.

Most importantly, the Achievement School District was originally conceived to be a five year plan. It now enters its second decade despite all of its systemic failures. Likewise, it has been reported by  Marta Aldrich in Chalkbeat Tennessee that there is currently a bill that would provide turnaround schools with one of three options: (1) petition to move into the State Charter Commission; (2) return to LEAs and apply for new charter contracts; (3) or remain in the Achievement School District if a wide majority of parents vote in favor. This has been done in the aftermath of calls on behalf of some legislators last year that demanded that the State Department of Education develop an exit strategy for schools that are currently under the ASD umbrella. The exit strategy minimally outlines a process and potential options a school might have to leave the ASD.

That is because the way has been paved for the privatization of schools over the progress and growth of students. We have recently witnessed an effort to pass neo-vouchers in the form of education savings accounts; a measure that gave a new charter school commission the authority to preempt LEA's determinations to deny charter applications; a push to allow for-profit charter schools; and even calls to allow virtual charter schools, in addition to this proposal that would create a bureaucratic autocracy where local superintendents and school boards can be superseded.

Unlike a phoenix, the Achievement School District 2.0 will not rise from the ashes but will be like embers charred by smoldering flames. If the legislature chooses to advance this and similar bills, they will be striking the albatross, and students and schools will be the worse for it. We are opposed to granting the commissioner of Education the authority to fire a school system’s superintendent and remove duly elected school board members from any municipality. We are opposed to the privatization of schools, be it through ESAs and neo-vouchers, virtual charter schools, or for- profit charter schools which would decimate and undermine public schools in urban and rural communities alike. We reject the negative over- reliance on high stakes testing to be the sole determinant of a student’s growth and potential when TN Ready has not been ready in five years and can’t account for career and technical education, the digital divide, or achievement gaps. 

We call for the this and similar bills to be suspended, tabled, pulled from the calendar, and for more practical and productive measures aimed at supporting public education, students and teachers to be pursued. Many of these progressive measures can be found in the report, Failing Brown v. Board: A Continuous Struggle Against Inequity in Public Education (2018), which sheds light on the challenges faced by sustaining public education today: "The fact is, public schools in black and Latino communities are not 'failing.' They have been failed. More accurately, these schools have been sabotaged for years by policy-makers who fail to fully fund them, by ideologues who choose to experiment with them, by 'entrepreneurs' who choose to extract public taxpayer dollars from education systems for their own pockets." The authors further expounded in the report, "We also know what successful, fully-resourced schools look like: They offer a culturally relevant, engaging and challenging curriculum, smaller class sizes, more experienced teachers, wrap-around emotional and academic supports, a student-centered school climate and meaningful parent and community engagement.” The legislature should give public schools the tools they need to be successful, one of those which is not the Achievement School District 2.0.

Unity Group of Chattanooga
Sherman E. Matthews Jr., Chairman
Eric Atkins, Corresponding Secretary

Butcher Vs. The Bull

Roy Exum: A Matter Of Time

Why I'm Supporting Greg Vital For State House District 29

Once again today I heard several pundits, citizens and commentators use the words non-partisan and bipartisan. Asking members of our nation’s leading political parties to ascribe to either ... (click for more)

I sensed “something evil this way comes” when, in the middle of my “Morning Readings” on Sunday I went to the Orlando Sentinel’s website to peer in on the recent surge of COVID-19 virus. There ... (click for more)

At the recent Hamilton County Commission meeting on Wednesday, July 21, much heated discussion centered around infrastructure needs of the county, specifically the condition of the roads. Most ... (click for more)


Butcher Vs. The Bull

Once again today I heard several pundits, citizens and commentators use the words non-partisan and bipartisan. Asking members of our nation’s leading political parties to ascribe to either of these approaches is like asking a bull and butcher to come to an agreement about hamburger. I suppose it is possible for the cow to convince the butcher to mimic his vegetarian lifestyle. ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: A Matter Of Time

I sensed “something evil this way comes” when, in the middle of my “Morning Readings” on Sunday I went to the Orlando Sentinel’s website to peer in on the recent surge of COVID-19 virus. There is a new Delta variant that has just hit Florida and I wondered how bad it was. Apparently those who are vaccinated have a good resistance but for those who are not, it is pretty scary. ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Federal Government Will Not Further Prosecute Former Pilot President Mark Hazelwood, 2 Co-Defendants

The federal government has decided not to further prosecute Mark Hazelwood, the former president of Pilot Travel Centers, as well as two co-defendants. After a trial that concluded three years ago, Hazelwood got 12 1/2 years and a $750,000 fine, while Scott Wombold received six years and a $75,000 fine and Heather Jones got 2 1/2 years for defrauding trucking firms of promised ... (click for more)

Signal Mountain Council Still Struggling With How To Cover Needed Pay Increases For Employees

The Signal Mountain Town Council unanimously wants to support the town’s employees with a pay increase but cannot decide where the money will come from. None of the members are happy with the options that they have, since this significant expense was added after a balanced budget had already been presented. Two scenarios are being considered: Taking $645,185 from the fund balance. ... (click for more)


Michael Swanegan Making The Most Of His Second Shot At 2K Stardom

To be great, risks have to be taken. For Michael Swanegan, that risk involved moving thousands of miles across the country and away from his infant daughter. The one time hoops star at Pasadena City College was trying to break into the professional “NBA 2K League '', and playing against east coast opponents while in the westernmost state put Swanegan at a competitive disadvantage. ... (click for more)

UTC Picked To Win SoCon Football Championship

The Chattanooga Mocs are 7-time Southern Conference Champs. The league coaches and media association agree that an eighth is on the horizon though the local ball coach proceeds with caution. “Last time I checked,” Coach Rusty Wright started. “They don’t give out trophies in July. We are excited about this team. It has the potential to be special, but there’s a lot of work ... (click for more)