COMMERCIAL APPEAL: Individual Schools Need Autonomy

By Achievement School District

Last week we announced that our students saw gains in several areas while facing continual struggles with reading.  The debate rages on in the comments section of the Memphis Commercial Appeal about where we went wrong and what we should do next.  The truth is, we have been making significant adjustments long before we knew our district level TCAP data.  It took us a year to understand what we didn’t know and while the TCAP data helps to illuminate the areas that need intensive focus in the years to come, our schools are constantly making adjustments to better serve our students.

One of our core values is “Increase Freedom.”  In practice, this takes on myriad manifestations.  On one hand, it drives us to increase the freedom of choice for our families.  On another, it compels us to ensure our students have the freedom to choose a life that they want, which means preparing them for success in whatever they want to do.  And on an entirely different end of the spectrum, increasing freedom is all about giving the decision making rights to the folks closest to our students.  In order to be successful, schools need to make hundreds of adjustments throughout the year in response to shifts in culture and behavior and reactions to data.  The people in the building know those students best and it is the people in the building who should be making those key decisions for students.

This weekend, the Memphis Commercial Appeal posted an Editorial about freedom and decision making among our schools, arguing that, for student achievement gains to go from incremental to significant, school districts need to make adjustments in how they operate.  Perhaps the greatest thing about the changes happening in Tennessee is that we are making room for dozens of new educational models and deeply believe that, for this to work, there isn’t just one right answer.  Schools need the freedom to decide for themselves, with the community, how to best serve the students in the building.


A couple of strong points in this post:

  • Our first year results highlight the changes that schools can see when freedoms are given to schools, but they also indicate the incredibly tough work ahead of us.
  • Top 25% schools in TN only have about 55% of their students performing at the proficient level.  There should be real concern for the other 45% of students that aren’t being invested and taught.
  • Districts should abandon a 20th century model of schooling in favor of systems that are nimble and responsive.