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Tennessee Moves Beyond Ambitious School Turnaround Model
Best States
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Not too long ago, teachers, instructional coaches, principals and other educators poured into Memphis, Tennessee, energized by and drawn to an aggressive effort to turn around the state’s chronically poor-performing schools – schools that, for decades, had been failing generations of students.

Memphis, once the epicenter of the civil rights movement and now an economically devastated blip along the banks of the Mississippi, wasn’t simply home to a majority of the state’s worst schools. At the time, it was home to nearly all of them – 69 out of the 83 identified as the bottom 5 percent in Tennessee.

But help was on the way for Teacher Town, USA, as the city would later be called. With the boon of a $500 million grant from the Obama administration’s hallmark competitive education program, Race to the Top, the state hatched an ambitious plan to catapult those schools into the top 25 percent.