The Achievement School District was designed to help provide a focused turnaround to schools persistently struggling.
Tennessee’s Race to the Top application outlines the proposed ASD strategy. The relevant details begin on page 120.
Here are the basics: The ASD was originally conceived to provide highly focused turnaround attention to 13 schools. Additional schools might be added beginning in 2014-15. There’s even a handy chart on page 130 that details the anticipated timeline and strategy.
The original plan seems sensible: Work with the 13 most persistently low-performing schools, get them on track, and then use strategies learned in the process to help other schools. Meanwhile, Renewal Schools would be operated by districts and implement other turnaround models (think the iZone in Memphis and Nashville).
Instead, the ASD has followed a rather bumpy path, growing while struggling to meet performance goals. The ASD needs growth of 8-10 points a year in the schools it operates in order to hit its targets — and it is well below that number now. That may be in part due to the rapid growth beyond original expectations.
In one particularly unpleasant episode, the ASD pitted two Nashville middle schools against each other in a fight for survival.
Here’s something that should give policymakers pause: According to the most recent State Report Card, the ASD spends more than $1000 per student MORE than district schools and yet gets performance that is no better than (and sometimes worse) the district schools it replaced.
By creeping beyond its admirable mission, the ASD has become an example of good intentions gone awry. Focusing on the original goal of using highly focused effort to both improve struggling schools AND learn new strategies to help other schools would be a welcome change.
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