The 74 — Soleo: In Education, the Oldest Form of Discrimination Is the Status Quo. That’s Why Memphis’s Priority Schools Shouldn’t Return to Their Districts



By Chad Soleo
CEO, Green Dot Public Schools National

Let there be no confusion: For more than half a century, public education in Memphis has been delivered in a systemically inequitable fashion, and historically low-income and vulnerable neighborhoods have had it the worst. In high schools, dropouts outnumbered graduates, and the disparate outcomes fell along traditional lines of race and class. Student discipline leaned on punitive measures, and recidivism was high. In Tennessee, as elsewhere, the achievement district was established to intervene in a meaningful way to reverse this tragic loss of potential.

Green Dot Public Schools was invited by the Tennessee Department of Education to partner under the achievement district on the strength of our transformation partnerships in Los Angeles, and we came to Memphis in 2014. Today, at Kirby and Wooddale middle schools — two achievement district Priority schools led by Green Dot — students are achieving more than 60 percent better than in the first year of new Common Core-aligned TNReady assessments, and enrollment continues to grow after years of declines. Hillcrest High School struggled for decades, but today under Green Dot’s leadership it is showing great progress. For the first time in the history of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, Hillcrest is not rated at the lowest level on a scale of 1 to 5; most recently, it ranked as a 3.