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VOL. 40 | NO. 9 | Friday, February 26, 2016

Report: Racial history fuels some backlash against district

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Some of the backlash against the state's Achievement School District is rooted in the historical experience of Memphis and the River City's history of highly charged racial dynamics that date back to the 19th century, a new report says.

The goal of the ASD is to move the bottom 5 percent of schools in Tennessee to the top 25 percent in five years. The state-run district is composed of 29 schools - 27 in Memphis and two in Nashville - and has about 10,000 students. All but five of the schools are charter schools, and the others are run by the ASD.

The report released this week by the Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation & Development said the racial history of Memphis complicates typical debates surrounding charters schools and the takeover of public schools.

The ongoing community backlash, the report says, has led to instability and draining of ASD resources.

"The experience of Memphis' African Ameri can community with issues like discrimination, segregation and desegregation, white flight, and the recent departure of six counties from the district shape the lens with which many local residents interpret and understand the ASD's mission," the report said.

School takeovers and charter schools are often somewhat divisive because people don't like to have their schools taken over, said Joshua L. Glazer, an associate professor of education policy at George Washington University and co-author of the report.

"But when that work transpires in a context that has a very divisive history and where the society is deeply divided, it really amplifies the degree of rancor and resentment," Glazer said.

The report recommends that the ASD build a broad-based coalition of support, including in the political arena.

Schools officials agree that more work needs to be done to engage the community with the difficult work of school turnaround.

"Clearly, we have not gotten the porridge just right yet," ASD superintendent Malika Anderson said. "That is evident. But I don't think anyone can say we haven't been trying. And we will continue to try and get it right."

Glazer recognizes that the district has been working to build bridges.

"I think the ASD is trying very hard to bring people together, to build a coalition, but it's doing it in a very tough environment," he said.

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