Memphis representative files legislation to abolish Achievement School District

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- State Representative Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis democrat, is teaming up with Republican Senator Frank Niceley to abolish the Achievement School District.

The ASD is the state-run turnaround system that aims to get schools out of the bottom five percent.

Parkinson told WREG he believes the ASD is not accomplishing what it set out to do.

The ASD's website lists 29 schools.Twenty-seven of those are in Shelby County.

Parkinson and Niceley filed House Bill 1787/Senate Bill 1797 this week.

"We've drafted legislation that would abolish the Achievement School District by the year 2017," Parkinson told WREG over the phone Wednesday.

The bill begins by naming concerns with the ASD, including the recent Vanderbilt study that called the ASD's success into question.

That same study noted gains made in Shelby County Schools' iZone district.

The bill states, "...the Vanderbilt study concluded that the students at ASD schools are performing mostly at the same low levels they likely would have if their school not been taken over by the state-run school turnaround district."

"Ninety-three million of taxpayer dollars for basically a policy that has not yielded the return that we wanted, that we expected to yield," Parkinson said.

The bill proposes that the state return ASD schools to their Local Education Agency (LEA). For Memphis, that is Shelby County Schools.

Districts could choose to allow charter operators currently running the schools for ASD to continue operating schools depending on their performance.

The bill would move schools in the bottom 2.5 percent in the state into innovation zones run by local school districts, like how SCS has its iZone.

Parkinson claimed the ASD has prioritized schools in the bottom five percent that it could turn around without much difficulty.

"Their focus has gotten away from those schools that were in the bottom of the bottom of the five percent," he said.

ASD Superintendent Malika Anderson sent this statement to WREG:

"Any attempt to suspend or shut down the hard work of the ASD is grossly misguided—because the turnarounds are clearly taking hold—and the teachers and students in ASD schools are showing real and significant gains.

Among the schools that have been in the ASD for at least three years—student achievement scores have already jumped nearly 10 percentage points from where they were before the ASD was created.

Moreover, our third-year and second-year schools showed the highest possible student growth scores (averaging Level 5 TVAAS)—with last year's gains outpacing the Shelby County iZone schools for the first time.

Just as importantly for the state, the ASD has caused all local districts to step up their own games—with student achievement scores among all of the state's Priority schools also up nearly 60 percent from when the ASD was first created.

That did not happen by accident.

There was no structured plan for improvement before the ASD.

It happened because the governor and the General Assembly created the ASD to be a catalyst for change—and it is working.

"It would be unfortunate to interrupt or disrupt the great teaching and learning that is taking place in the ASD. We must never let politics or turf battles deny ALL Tennessee students the right to a great education."

The Governor's Office and the state Department of Education seemed to stand by the ASD Wednesday.

Press Secretary Jennifer Donnals in the Governor's Office said, "One thing we know is that what we were doing before wasn't working."

"We have seen schools perform better the longer they're in the ASD," she added.

"School turnarounds take time, and we have seen that schools perform better the longer they are in the ASD. What we have seen immediately is a change to the way districts think about their lowest performing schools," Department of Education spokesperson Ashley Ball said.

Parkinson said he aims to get the bill passed, but if the discussion leads the ASD to add more accountability measures, he is open to listening.

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