Memphis Schools Closing Large Achievement Gap

According to a new index created in partnership with Education Cities and Great Schools, schools in Memphis have an achievement gap that is among the largest in the nation. However, data indicate a closing of the gap in recent years.

Here’s the press release:

According to the Education Equality Index (EEI), a first-of-its-kind tool released today, the achievement gap between students from Memphis’ low-income families and their more advantaged peers is significant, but also narrowing at one of the fastest rates in the nation. Between 2011 and 2014, Memphis’ achievement gap narrowed by 19 percent, meaning significantly more students from low-income families now have access to a more equal playing field.

“There is much to celebrate in Memphis, as the achievement gap is narrowing more quickly than in 90 percent of major U.S. cities,” said Ethan Gray, founder and CEO of Education Cities. “While we, as a nation, have a long way to go to ensure our most vulnerable children have the opportunities they need to thrive, we celebrate the many schools in Memphis that are closing the achievement gap, proving that greater equality is possible.”

The Education Equality Index is the first national comparative measure of the achievement gap at the school, city, and state levels, and identifies the regions where children from low-income communities are most likely to attend schools usually only available to their more advantaged peers. Funded by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and developed in partnership by the foundation, Education Cities, and GreatSchools, the EEI features school, city and state-level data covering the nation’s 100 biggest cities in 35 states.

The Education Equality Index also identifies the top 10 schools in Memphis with small or nonexistent achievement gaps that serve a student population where the majority are from low-income families. Power Center Academy Middle School and High School both rank among Memphis’ top 10 schools.

“Closing the achievement gap for me is knowing my daughter can attend college without taking remedial classes, without being challenged with social and study life,” said Memphis parent Angela King, whose daughter attends Power Center Academy Middle School.  “She received a safe and nurturing education while focusing on her deficits.  We feel privileged and honored to have been a part of a program that has holistically met the needs of my daughter and every scholar at PCAMS and PCAHS.”

Key findings from the Education Equality Index include:

  • Memphis’ EEI score of 28.3 puts the city 70th out of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. for which data is available.
  • The achievement gap in Memphis narrowed by 19 percent between 2011 and 2014, a pace quicker than 90 percent of major U.S. cities.
  • Tennessee’s EEI score of 41.5 indicates that its statewide achievement gap is smaller than in 24 of 35 states for which data is available — including Kentucky and Missouri.
  • The achievement gap in Tennessee narrowed by five percent between 2011 and 2014, meaning that today more students from low-income communities have access to schools that are helping them achieve at similar levels to their more advantaged peers.

The top 10 Memphis schools with small or nonexistent achievement gaps that serve a student population where the majority are from low-income families are:

  • Delano Elementary School
  • Ford Road Elementary School
  • Freedom Preparatory Academy
  • Hollis F. Price Middle College High School
  • Jackson Elementary School
  • John P. Freeman Optional School
  • Middle College High School
  • Oakshire Elementary School
  • Power Center Academy (High School)
  • Power Center Academy (Middle School)

As detailed in the EEI, there are hundreds of schools across the nation where low-income students are achieving at levels that match or even exceed their more advantaged peers — proving that all children can excel in school when given the opportunity.

“Equality of opportunity is an American ideal,” said Ethan Gray, founder and CEO of Education Cities. “The Education Equality Index shows that while we, as a nation, have a long way to go to ensure our most vulnerable children have the opportunities they need to thrive, there are schools in almost every city proving that equality is possible.”

This is the first in a series of releases intended to identify the practices that are closing the achievement gap at the quickest pace. To see more data from the Education Equality Index and use the interactive online tool, visit www.educationequalityindex.org.

About Education CitiesEducation Cities is a non-profit organization that convenes, advises, and supports a network of cities in their efforts to increase the number of great public schools. Learn more at www.education-cities.org.

About GreatSchools

Founded in 1998, GreatSchools is a national, nonpartisan nonprofit helping millions of parents find high-quality schools, support great learning, and guide their kids to great futures. GreatSchools offers thousands of articles, videos, and worksheets to help parents support their children’s learning. Last year, GreatSchools had more than 56 million unique visitors, including more than half of all U.S. families with school-age children. Headquartered in Oakland, California, GreatSchools partners with cities and states across the country to promote access to school quality data to families, particularly those in high need. Through its GreatKids program, GreatSchools promotes parenting for education success and teacher-parent collaboration.

About the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation 

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of children living in urban poverty around the world. Headquartered in Austin, TX with satellite offices in New Delhi, India and Cape Town, South Africa, the Dell family foundation funds programs that foster high-quality public education and childhood wellness, and improve the economic stability of families living in poverty. The foundation has committed more than $1.2 billion to global children’s issues and community initiatives to date. Learn more at www.msdf.org.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Mary Pierce: The Centralized vs. De-Centralized Debate

Nashville School Board Member Mary Pierce recently shared her opinions on the upcoming MNPS budget. The budget conversations have turned into a philosophical centralized vs. de-centralized debate. These conversations are much needed in Nashville. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, these conversations allow us to make our education system better for our students. Some budget items need to be centralized, like payroll, transportation, and maintenance. Others not so much.

I think Mary Pierce is saying that she is not against XYZ program, but she is in favor of the principal to make the decision what is best for their school.

So why the debate? As you saw, while $454M is sent directly to schools, some $356M is still managed at central office, but for much more than daily operations such as school buses, utilities or building maintenance  Roughly  $117M or almost $1,600 per pupil is managed by central office for academics in areas like Literacy, English Learners, Advanced Academics, Special Education, Family and Community Support, and more. It’s in this space where we see the philosophical divide. Does centralizing these services align with our strategic plan or should we allow our principals more flexibility in areas like these by giving them more dollars to drive outcomes for the students they serve?  My personal belief is that central office can best support our schools by making thoughtful and intentional hires of principals for each school community, and then allowing them the budgetary freedom to make staffing and academic decisions for their specific school communities.

While the 2016-17 proposed budget is still in draft form, we have had two meetings to walk through the overall budget and the proposed changes or expansions of programs. Of the requests totaling around $22M in new funding from departments within central office, roughly $6.4M will be sent directly to schools via student based budgeting for teachers supporting students learning English, but the remaining $16M will be managed by central office. This does not mean that the teachers or staff paid for by these initiatives won’t be out in schools directly working with students, but it does mean the principals will not have programmatic or budgetary discretion over the programs. While the programs are not mandated, schools will not receive funding for support unless principals agree to follow the central office plan.

To be clear, the questions raised by board members have not been about the merits of a particular program or service, but rather about who is in the best position to make the best decisions on the behalf of students and does this align with our strategic plan.
What do you think about this philosophical debate?


 

The Re-Segregation of Our Schools

tumblr_nz435mE3NM1qgl0t5o1_1280No one talks much about segregation anymore, which is a shame since America (and especially the South) has been steadily been re-segregating its schools over the last few decades. The re-segregation is a consequence of a lot of things, including (chiefly) the Supreme Court’s Seattle/Louisville decision, many districts (like Nashville) coming into unitary status, and a decline in satisfaction with busing.

It turns out (surprise!), that this is not a good thing. There’s a lot of discussion nationally (and locally) about diversity as an important goal, but almost no focus on why it’s so important.

Turns out, diversity (and integration) makes you smarter (and more empathetic, and more well-rounded, and better adjusted . . .). We should be having this conversation, but we aren’t.

Via Scientific American, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter”

The fact is that if you want to build teams or organizations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving. Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations. Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think. This is not just wishful thinking: it is the conclusion I draw from decades of research from organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers.

Via The New York Times, “Diversity Makes You Brighter”

The findings were striking. When participants were in diverse company, their answers were 58 percent more accurate. The prices they chose were much closer to the true values of the stocks. As they spent time interacting in diverse groups, their performance improved.

In homogeneous groups, whether in the United States or in Asia, the opposite happened. When surrounded by others of the same ethnicity or race, participants were more likely to copy others, in the wrong direction. Mistakes spread as participants seemingly put undue trust in others’ answers, mindlessly imitating them. In the diverse groups, across ethnicities and locales, participants were more likely to distinguish between wrong and accurate answers. Diversity brought cognitive friction that enhanced deliberation.

The bottom line is that, except for a few isolated cases (good job, Rutherford County!), we’re not taking integration seriously as a lever of reform/school improvement.

We should be.

A version of this post appeared on the Nashville Jefferson tumblr page

Further reading: