TN ASD: Mission Creep or Just Creepy?

Tennessee’s Achievement School District has come under fire recently for both lackluster performance and poor community communication.

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 ASD currently operates 23 schools, according to its website. And, it is slated to takeover more schools in both Shelby County and Nashville in 2015-16.

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.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

11 thoughts on “TN ASD: Mission Creep or Just Creepy?

  1. Nothing will work to improve public schools if the reason for the so-called failing schools isn’t dealt with and that means starting as young as age 2 with at-risk children (many live in poverty) who must be introduced to books so they fall in love with reading at the earliest possible age.

    A high level of literacy equals college and/or career readiness. No matter how many standardized tests a child takes, those tests will NEVER equal or lead to or cause college and or career readiness.

    Buy a high level of literacy does a lot more. A high level of literacy also educated citizens to be active and vote and they are harder to fool—because they read and have a much better chance to understand what they are reading and when a fraud is attempting to fool them.

  2. What Lloyd said! Kids at poverty level enter Kindergarten at a vocabulary deficit from which most never recover. The deficit grows greater each year. The focus on standardized testing makes even the best students hate reading, so it clearly isn’t the way to improve literacy. So what do we need to do? Pre-school! I sent my kids, as does everyone else who can afford it. Many parents can’t provide reading assistance to their children. Smaller classes! Everybody knows that a small teacher-to-student ratio is good. Again, this is why people who can afford it send their kids to private schools. The ASD isn’t working, but it must be making money for influential people, otherwise it would be gone and money would be used more wisely.

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