Race to the Bottom: ASD

Earlier this month, Nashville school board member Will Pinkston released his report on Tennessee’s Race to the Top Experience. Included in his analysis was a discussion of Tennessee’s struggling Achievement School District (ASD).

Here’s more on the troubled turnaround effort:

The controversial Achievement School District, created by Race to the Top to take over and turn around persistently failing schools, saw its fortunes nosedive.

YES Prep, the Houston-based charter chain founded by ASD chief Chris Barbic, announced in March 2015 that it would not proceed with turnaround work in Memphis — based on a lack of community support for the ASD. At the same time, traditional schools in Memphis suddenly began to outperform ASD schools, calling into question the turnaround model.

That summer, Barbic threw in the towel. The soft-spoken, congenial reformer — who a year earlier, under stress, had suffered a heart attack — wrote an open letter explaining the rationale behind his departure. Understandably, his reasons for leaving included health and family. On his way out, Barbic also offered a mea culpa of sorts that earned him a little goodwill among public-education advocates and derision among his fellow reformers.

“Let’s just be real,” Barbic said in his letter. “Achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment.” He added: “As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.”

In 48 words, Barbic eviscerated a key argument by radical reformers. As it turned out, charter schools weren’t the silver-bullet solution. His simple but honest admission was a shot-heard-round-the-world in education circles. And it had the added benefit of being true.

Priority

In September 2018, Chalkbeat reported on the continued struggles of the state’s failing turnaround district:

Most of the schools that were taken over by Tennessee’s turnaround district remain on the state’s priority list six years after the intervention efforts began.

Four of the six original Memphis schools that were taken over by the state in 2012 are on the newest priority list released last week. And more than a dozen schools that were added to the district later also remain on the list.

For years, the district has fallen short of its ambitious promise to dramatically raise test scores at the schools by handing them over to charter operators — a goal that the district’s founder later acknowledged was too lofty. And researchers with the Tennessee Education Research Alliance recently concluded that schools in the state district are doing no better than other low-performing schools that received no state help.

I’ve also written extensively about the ASD’s struggles and even suggested that the real problem was mission creep:

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.

Yes, the ASD is one more example of education policy failure by Team Haslam. Bill Lee and Penny Schwinn have a big mess to clean up — if they’re up to the task.

 

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

Your support helps making writing about education policy possible.


 

 

 

Commissioner Schwinn

Tennessee has a new Commissioner of Education.

Chalkbeat has the story of Penny Schwinn:

Penny Schwinn was tapped Thursday by governor-elect Bill Lee to join his administration in one of his most important and closely watched cabinet picks.

She will leave her job as chief deputy commissioner of academics for the Texas Education Agency, where she has been responsible since 2016 for school programs, standards, special education, and research and analysis, among other things.

In a statement, Lee praised Schwinn’s experience as both a teacher and administrator. An accompanying news release touted her reform work for leading to “the transformation of a failing state assessment program” and expansion of career readiness programs for students in Texas.

Here’s a word from the President of the Tennessee Education Association, Beth Brown:

As the president of the largest professional association for Tennessee educators, I look forward to working with Commissioner Penny Schwinn in the best interest of Tennessee students, educators and our great public schools. As a newcomer to our state, I hope she will take time to see firsthand the meaningful work happening in classrooms all across Tennessee, and also gain an understanding of the support and resources needed to ensure student success.

Based on our first conversation, I am confident we have common ground on the importance of test transparency, including educators’ voices in policy decisions and working to ensure all students have access to a quality public education.

Schwinn will take over a Department of Education reeling from repeated failures of the state’s standardized test, TNReady, and the subsequent lies to cover up the state’s culpability in those failures.

Additionally, the state’s turnaround district — the Achievement School District (ASD) is simply not getting results.

Schwinn’s tenure in Texas was not without controversy, as noted by the Texas Tribune:

In an audit released Wednesday morning, the State Auditor’s Office reviewed the education agency’s work and found it failed to follow all the required steps before offering a no-bid $4.4 million contract to SPEDx, which was hired to analyze how schools serve students with disabilities and help create a long-term special education plan for the state.

State auditors also said the TEA failed to “identify and address a preexisting professional relationship” between a SPEDx subcontractor and the agency’s “primary decision maker” for the contract. Penny Schwinn — that decision maker and the agency’s deputy commissioner of academics — did not disclose that she had received professional development training from the person who ultimately became a subcontractor on the project.

Schwinn will likely be tasked with taking action on both testing and the ASD as immediate action items. Additionally, it is expected that the Lee Administration will soon pursue an education agenda that includes using taxpayer dollars to fund private schools by way some form of voucher scheme.

 

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


 

Evidence Be Damned

Failed Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, never one to consult actual evidence before making a decision impacting Tennessee children, is now recommending that more schools in Nashville and Memphis be placed in the Achievement School District (ASD).

The state-run intervention district consisting mostly of charter schools has so far failed to produce tangible results.

Here’s more from Chalkbeat:

“Our recommendation will be: As we go into next school year, unless we see some dramatic changes in certain schools, we will move some schools into the Achievement School District,” McQueen told Chalkbeat this week.

Even more alarming, data from the consistently     unreliable TNReady test will be used to make these determinations.  This would certainly seem to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the “No Adverse Action” legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this year.

Taking this action also places the kids in these schools into a cruel experiment… One where we know the outcome, but persist hoping this time will be different. It won’t be.

The next Commissioner of Education would do well to ignore this and any other recommendation from Candice McQueen.

Instead, Bill Lee and his team should focus on policies based on evidence (so not vouchers), teacher input, and student needs.

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

 


 

Not Working

That’s the verdict on Tennessee’s Achievement School District from a new study analyzing five years of data and comparing the state-run district to schools receiving no intervention.

Chalkbeat reports:

After five years of trying to turn around low-performing schools, Tennessee’s state-run schools aren’t performing any better than schools that haven’t received any intervention, according to new research released Tuesday.

This story is not surprising to those who’ve been keeping up with the ASD’s antics across multiple Superintendents and two Commissioners of Education.

But, don’t worry — Commissioner McQueen is on the case.

Chalkbeat notes:

In a statement, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said, “We have not seen the success in the ASD that we want, and that is something we’re addressing.”

 

That’s not exactly reassuring given that McQueen has also repeatedly said she and her department are addressing concerns about TNReady.

This is the same McQueen who is insisting Shelby County place additional schools under the control of the failing ASD.

I reported on research from Gary Rubinstein back in February that told a familiar story:

Though my own calculations made it clear that the six original ASD schools had not made it out of the bottom 5% after six years, it doesn’t become ‘official’ until Tennessee releases its next ‘Priority List’ which it does every three years.  But a few days ago, they released something just as good, the so-called ‘Cusp List’ showing all the schools in the bottom 10% which includes what percentile each school is at.

Here are the results:

School Percentile
Cornerstone 8.2%
Brick Church 4.3%
Humes (closed down and became Frayser Achievement Elementary School 1.3%
Corning 2.2%
Frayser 1.3%
Westside 2.2%

The report out of Vanderbilt confirms what many observers have been saying all along: The ASD is not working. It’s not helping kids. It’s disruptive and problematic.

We don’t need more mission creep, we need a plan that helps kids — you know, like the district-run iZone that’s actually getting results.

 

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


 

McQueen: Do It My Way

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said yesterday that despite a desire to move a struggling Memphis middle school into a proven local turnaround model managed by the district, she is insisting the school be moved into the failing Achievement School District (ASD).

Chalkbeat reports:

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Thursday that American Way Middle School must be converted to a charter school in the fall of 2019 under the state’s new accountability plan. If Shelby County Schools doesn’t decide by March 15 to do that on its own, she said, the state will take over the school and move it to Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

While the Shelby County Schools iZone has been lauded for achieving solid results, the state’s ASD hasn’t gotten the job done. In fact, of the original schools taken over by the ASD five years ago, all but one remain in the bottom 5% of all schools in the state. That is, there’s be no significant improvement in performance.

So, why is Candice McQueen hellbent on moving American Way into a failed reform model? The Shelby County School Board has taken corrective action and set the school on a path that has gotten proven results at other schools. Further, McQueen’s chosen intervention is one that’s simply not getting results.

Will lawmakers in Nashville take action to stop this move? So far, efforts to rein-in the ASD have been met with significant resistance. However, the lack of a successful TNReady administration has hampered the ASD’s growth. McQueen says that will no longer be a problem:

The commissioner said the state’s decision to delay school takeover until 2019 is due to delayed test scores from the state. That won’t be the case in the next round of sorting schools into various “improvement tracks” under the state’s new school accountability plan. The state’s next list of its lowest performing schools is scheduled to be released next fall, which will inform decisions for future improvement plans.

Let’s be clear: Candice McQueen has presided over a failed transition to a new test and an aggressive intervention model for struggling schools that has left kids behind. Now, she’s insisting that Shelby County do what she says. Why would anyone trust their district’s students to Candice McQueen’s judgment?

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


 

Forced Disruption

Despite a lack of clear results, the Tennessee Department of Education continues to use the Achievement School District as a means of taking over district schools in Memphis.

The latest round of forced disruption comes as Shelby County Schools says the two schools being targeted are on a district-led path to improvement.

Chalkbeat reports:

In their first public discussion of an intervention plan outlined this month by the Tennessee Department of Education, members of Shelby County’s board of education said they aren’t convinced the most drastic recommendations will work for Hawkins Mill Elementary and American Way Middle schools.

The state has recommended closing Hawkins Mill because of its low enrollment and poor academic performance. American Way is on the state’s track either for takeover by Tennessee’s Achievement School District or transfer to a charter organization chosen by Shelby County Schools beginning in the fall of 2019.

Board members pointed out that the ASD simply isn’t working, and the results from schools in the ASD for five consecutive years demonstrate she’s correct.

From Chalkbeat:

Board member Miska Clay Bibbs, whose district includes American Way, was opposed to both of the state’s intervention options.

“What you’re suggesting is something that’s not working,” Bibbs said of the ASD’s track record of school turnaround based on its charter-driven model.

Bibbs added that any improvement plan for American Way must be comprehensive and offered up a resolution for consideration next week to move the school into the iZone next school year.

The Achievement School District has been fraught with problems from the outset, from hosting happy hours to recruit teachers to a lack of transparency to pitting schools and communities against each other in a fight for survival. Then, of course, there’s the apparent mission creep, which could be why the program has faced so many challenges.

Now, the Shelby County School Board is pushing back. Will the Tennessee Department of Education force disruption on these two schools, or will they allow SCS to move forward on their own improvement path?

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


 

Not Exactly Working

I wrote last week about research from Gary Rubinstein indicating the Achievement School District was underachieving. Now, additional research suggests the ASD is not living up to the hype.

WMOT has more:

Dr. Henry (Vanderbilt education researcher) notes that after five years of operation only one ASD school improved to the point that it could be returned to local control. He says the remaining schools haven’t gotten any worse, but haven’t gotten any better either.

Dr. Henry’s research suggests the primary reason for ASD’s failure is an extremely high teacher turnover rate. He says the special district loses up to half of its teachers every year.

Both high teacher turnover and removing schools from district control seem to be key factors inhibiting ASD success, Henry suggests. This means all that disruption caused by the ASD is not having the desired impact.

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


 

The (Under) Achievement School District

Turns out, all that mission creep over at the Achievement School District (ASD) is really just creepy. Oh, and disruptive. And also not really all that helpful for kids. But, hey, they’ve got cool happy hours!

Gary Rubinstein has the latest update on how the ASD is doing relative to stated policy goals. Spoiler alert: Not good.

Here’s some of his analysis:

Though my own calculations made it clear that the six original ASD schools had not made it out of the bottom 5% after six years, it doesn’t become ‘official’ until Tennessee releases its next ‘Priority List’ which it does every three years.  But a few days ago, they released something just as good, the so-called ‘Cusp List’ showing all the schools in the bottom 10% which includes what percentile each school is at.

Here are the results:

School Percentile
Cornerstone 8.2%
Brick Church 4.3%
Humes (closed down and became Frayser Achievement Elementary School 1.3%
Corning 2.2%
Frayser 1.3%
Westside 2.2%

So, yeah. Not really moving the original schools into the top 25% of all Tennessee schools. At all. The best result was a single school moving from the bottom 5% all the way up to the bottom 9%. The other originals? Still in the bottom 5%.

The ASD’s directors, as Rubinstein notes, just keep moving on to new opportunities. The students in the ASD experiment don’t have that option, though.

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


 

Grounded

It seems Rocketship Nashville has been grounded. Or, at least it won’t be flying as big a fleet come next school year.

The Tennessean reports:

One of Nashville’s three Achievement School District schools will close at the end of the semester due to low enrollment, just months after it opened.

Rocketship Nashville officials said Wednesday they will shutter Partners Community Prep, which serves grades K-2 and is overseen by the state-run district.

Rocketship has also repeatedly attempted to expand operations in Nashville and been rejected by both the local school board and the State Board of Education.

Then there’s the Achievement School District forcing districts to hand over schools to charters, as in the case of Neely’s Bend Middle School. Before they handed a beloved community school over to a charter network, the ASD set up an epic battle to see which school would survive. Oh, and the ASD has a track record of being not-so-successful.  Oh, and also not very truthful.

All this disruption means that fifty students will be starting at a new school… again. Rocketship leaders say the process was a learning experience for them. Wonder what kind of experience it has been for the students?

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


 

 

Disappointing

That’s the word from Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen in response to a refusal by both Shelby County and Nashville school districts to hand over student data.

As the Data Wars continue, Chalkbeat reports on McQueen’s reaction:

“We are disappointed that these districts are choosing to withhold information from parents about the options that are available to their students while routinely saying they desire more parental engagement,” she said. “Allowing parents to be informed of their educational options is the epitome of family engagement and should be embraced by every school official.”

McQueen seemed to indicate that firmer consequences could lie ahead. “We must consider all options available in situations where a district actively chooses to ignore the law,” she said in the statement. McQueen told lawmakers in a conference call last month that she was not discussing withholding state funds as a penalty at the time, according to Rep. John Clemmons, who was on the call.

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