Redefining the School District in TennesseeAs the challenges of education governance loom ever larger and the dysfunction and incapacity of the traditional K–12 system reveal themselves as major roadblocks to urgently needed reforms across that system, many have asked, “What’s the alternative?”

Part of the answer is the “recovery school district,” a new state-created entity that has the potential to turn around schools that have—often for decades—produced dreadful results under district control.

Nelson Smith investigates the Volunteer State’s Achievement School District (ASD) by analyzing the ASD’s history, politics, and moving parts in the new policy report Redefining the School District in Tennessee.

Smith offers concrete advice to other states thinking of creating similar “recovery school districts.”

  • Due Diligence: Because there aren’t enough high-quality national charter and turnaround networks to fill the demand created by large-scale reform efforts, states need to look for homegrown solutions.
  • Destination: States must consider how to make schools slated for turnaround attractive places to work for high-quality teachers, administrators, and leaders.
  • Expectations: What is an acceptable level of success, and at what point should legislators get the information they need to make further decisions? States must consider how to define “good enough” in turnaround measures.
  • Buy-In: States should follow the ASD’s lead in separating the identification of turnaround schools from the selection of potential operators—people hate for their schools to be closed and taken over.
  • Choice: States must consider the political tradeoffs between ensuring that local kids can attend good neighborhood schools and the choice movement’s goal of providing an escape hatch for parents in declining neighborhoods.

This new policy brief is the first in a series by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on the ways that statewide turnaround districts affect traditional governance relationships among public schools, school districts, the state, and the federal government.

Download Redefining the School District in Tennessee to learn more.

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