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Shelby County Public Schools Superintendent Hobson is “willing to voluntarily relinquish control over some struggling schools to be operated by private charter groups,” or so we hope.

By and / 1.24.2018

Fighting for the neediest and pushing back against special interests are often unexpected actions in the realm of political battles.

However, Dorsey Hopson, Superintendent of the Shelby County Schools (SCS) in Memphis, Tennessee, might exceed our expectations.

Last week, Hopson announced that he is “willing to voluntarily relinquish control over some struggling schools to be operated by private charter groups.”

For years, SCS has been working hard to turn around struggling schools through its Innovation Zone. The iZone, however, is a costly model, and few of its schools have successfully achieved key benchmarks.

In defense of his decision, Hopson said:  “We spend so much money, whether it’s philanthropic dollars, state dollars, our dollars, on trying to improve these Priority Schools over the last five or six years, and we’ve gotten some gains but certainly nowhere near the transformative results that we would like to have had …So I think we’ve got to take another shot at it and do it differently.”

Hopson is showing strength of character by acknowledging the success of the charter school model at a time when the anti-charter propaganda machine is in full swing. Because he recognizes the district’s need for “transformative results,” Hopson is willing to throw out the old, unsuccessful model of education that has failed urban students for decades in favor of embracing public charters, which have created profound changes in cities like New Orleans, Washington D.C., Denver, and Indianapolis.

Strong superintendents cannot, and should not, sit idly and continue to  support schools that are not helping children achieve, especially when public charters schools can help thousands of our nation’s most disadvantaged kids.

After all, the Tennessee Charter School Center reminds us that a charter sector benefit students because:

  • Public charter schools are held accountable.  Test scores and performance results are published and are part of the school district findings.
  • Public charter schools provide healthy learning environments for all students, including students with special needs, English Language Learners and the gifted.
  • Public charter schools are not allowed to turn away any child, for any reason.
  • Public charter school teachers want to be in their school; it was their interest that brought them to the school.

If none of these key points brings you to the table with Superintendent Hopson, then looking at the data from the 2017 Shelby County Schools Charter Schools Annual Report might. The existing charter schools have already paved the way for more innovation, progress, and success.

The report notes that student enrollment in Shelby County charter schools has increased annually by an average of 1,500 students per year. More parents are choosing the charter option than ever before.

The charter sector also has lower suspension rates for secondary schools, and public charters in Shelby County have a lower withdrawal rate than district-managed schools. More students receive more days of instruction.

Finally, charter schools participate in a program that offers transparency and encourages oversight.  The Operations Score Card (OSC)  assesses the charter schools’ performance regarding non-academic expectations, like school budgets, operation, legal compliance and other issues.  The OSC stated that Shelby County Charter schools “are consistently managing operations well and to respond appropriately in the interest of protecting SCS and its students when charters are at risk for non-compliance.”

In  Reinventing America’s Schools, David Osborne underscores the findings and points out, “As in most charter cities, Memphis’s charters outperform traditional public schools.”  

The data supports the promise of having public charters take over operation of SCS’s failing schools. It’s no wonder that Hopson supported the idea too.

Of course, not everyone was pleased at Hopson’s announcement. United Education Association of Shelby County President Tikeila Rucker was dismayed that Hopson would consider partnering with charter organizations: ““UEA along with parents, teachers and community leaders stands behind the district turning schools around, not giving schools away.”

Unfortunately, in the face of such commotion, Hopson has begun to placate those who want to keep the status quo.  In an email to principals, he clarified his remarks, writing: “All that said, I want to be very clear that my preference would always be to keep schools under the governance of (Shelby County Schools).”

Please, Superintendent Hopson, continue to stay strong and do what’s right. Put politics aside and put kids first.