A Long, Bumpy and Unfinished Road: Education Reform in Memphis, Tennessee
In 2010 the Memphis City School District merged with the neighboring Shelby County School system under the supervision of a single board of education and superintendent. It promised much more than just administrative synergies-it was an opportunity to change a culture, as well as policies and practices that had existed for decades. By 2010 Shelby County school system had about 50,000 students, approximately 55 percent white and 37 percent economically disadvantaged. The Memphis student body, which numbered around 100,000, was about 85 percent black and 87 percent economically disadvantaged. In 2010, residents from within and outside the city each contributed about 50 percent of the tax revenue for the two systems, but, based on enrollment, two-thirds of the budget was allocated to Memphis City schools. Pitt Hyde and the Hyde Family Foundation saw the merger as a once-in-a-lifetime fresh start for public education in Memphis and he was determined to do what he could to make sure the merger realized its potential. Many interests, practices and players were deeply entrenched in the Memphis schools. But Hyde and his wife had encountered like-minded reformers-educators, government officials, business people and not-for-profit leaders who were willing to put a shoulder to the wheel. Prior to the merger, the Hydes had notched some considerable successes, starting with the legislation that permitted establishment of the state's first charter schools. They had established valuable partnerships, and developed performance standards and accountability for teachers and administrators. They had helped inaugurate pay-for-performance for teachers and a teacher evaluation system based on student outcomes. Building relationships, raising the money, getting others involved were critical steps along the way. They had brought new voices into the campaign. He also remembered some false steps and some lost battles, but overall their decisions had been sound, their efforts focused, and perhaps most important, their perseverance relentless.