New Name, Same Game

Chalkbeat reports that while Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD) may effectively be ending, another state-run charter-centric district may emerge to take its place.


Tennessee’s proposal to move all 30 schools out of its struggling turnaround district is already sparking debate about exactly who should run them if the plan gets legislative approval.


House Education Committee Chairman Mark White says any charter schools in the Achievement School District should be entrusted to the state’s new charter commission — not their local districts.

But Rep. Antonio Parkinson says White’s plan would just create an ASD under a different name:


“Moving these schools to the new charter commission would amount to a sleight of hand,” said Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat. “It would just essentially create another state-run district that’s called by another name.”

In fact, that’s exactly what happened in Nevada:


Nevada took a similar approach last year when closing its achievement district after struggling to attract charter operators and facing intense pushback from the communities it served. Four charters from that district now operate under a state-run charter school authority.

The State Charter Commission, Gov. Bill Lee’s vehicle for usurping local school board authority and privatizing public schools, is still in the startup phase. White’s proposal verifies the intent of the Commission — to undermine public education by continuing the proliferation of charter schools.

Also, it’s not clear why White believes this commission will be any better at managing the ASD charters than the ASD was. By contrast, Shelby County’s iZone schools have proven to be successful and returning the ASD charters to district operation there means sending those schools back to a district with a proven ability to get results.

White’s plan is simple: Change the name, keep playing the same “reform” game.

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

Your support$5 or more today — makes publishing education news possible.

Peter Greene on the ASD

Education writer Peter Greene takes a look at the history of the Achievement School District and the factors that led to its downfall in a recent piece in Forbes. Here’s more:


To run the ASD, Huffman called on Chris Barbic. Barbic had completed a classroom stint with Teach for America and then gone on to found his own charter management group (YES Prep). Barbic seemed like a strong choice, and he promised to get the job done in five years. After three years, real data was hard to come by, but the best assessments were that the ASD schools were still at the bottom of the pack; the official state list released in spring of 2016 showed that most ASD schools were still in the bottom 5%. But by then, Barbic had resigned.


The ASD grew too quickly. It tried to scale up to the point of being ineffective for some schools. It did a lousy job of listening to the community, and depended too much on folks from outside, instead of growing a local, sustainable support culture. Also, turning around a school takes time.


School takeover models remain one of the great policy artifacts of ed reform hubris, the notion that if we just let the right people grab the wheel, they can fix things right up (because, honestly, the education professionals and experts either don’t know or aren’t trying). But one of the repeated lessons of the last decade is that school turnaround via takeover is really hard to pull off.

MORE on the ASD’s history and why it ultimately failed>

More about the Tennessee Achievement School District:

Crystal Ball

Evidence Be Damned

Not Working

Mission Creep

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

Your support — $5 or more today — makes publishing education news possible.

Crystal Ball

Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD), a state-run, charter-centric school turnaround model, may soon effectively end operations while remaining an intervention option in a vastly restructured format. This according to a recent story in Chalkbeat. The story notes:


Tennessee wants to return 30 state-run schools to local districts in Memphis and Nashville no later than the fall of 2022, but also wants to retain its state-run district to possibly take over other chronically low-performing schools, says a proposal being unveiled this week.


According to a copy of the proposal obtained by Chalkbeat, the transition is part of a massive reset for the embattled turnaround model known as the Achievement School District – made up mostly of charter organizations – which has fallen woefully short of its goal to improve student performance since launching in 2012. 

Warning

If only there had been some sort of warning early on, perhaps all of this could have been avoided. You know, like someone objectively observing the results of the ASD and the behavior of the district’s leaders and reporting on likely outcomes. Someone who in 2015 wrote something like this:


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.


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.

Immediately after my ASD Mission Creep story was published, a high-level ASD staffer asked me to coffee so he could extol the virtues of the ASD leadership team and let me know I had it wrong. If the ASD stayed the course, I was assured, lots of positive things would happen for kids. Just a few months later, the ASD’s first Superintendent, Chris Barbic, would leave his position and Tennessee. Not long after, the staffer who chastised me for having the gall to point out the facts had also left the Tennessee kids he was so allegedly passionate about helping.

Chaos

While it is nice to be right about a prediction, I am not excited about this news. Yes, I’m hopeful that the transition described will ultimately be positive. But, I’m also concerned about what happens to the kids currently in ASD schools. Additionally, I’m sad for the kids who were part of a failed, 10-year experiment. Here’s a note from the Chalkbeat piece on what’s next for these kids:


Shuffling schools and students among districts also creates a level of chaos that can be harmful to kids and teachers, said Regenia Dowell, president of a parent-teacher-student organization in Frayser, a Memphis community with eight achievement schools.

Would this type of repeated disruption be allowed in a district of wealthy white children? Chaos. You have chaos when a school gets moved into the ASD and converts to a charter. You have chaos when a charter operator decides to opt-out of the ASD just before an academic year starts — or, worse, in the middle of a school year. You have chaos when there’s no clear plan to return schools to district operators. You have chaos when you spend ten years on an experiment that fails to move the needle for kids. It’s not like we don’t know what the challenges are OR how to address them:


Addressing poverty would mean providing access to jobs that pay a living wage as well as ensuring every Tennessean had access to health care. Our state leads the nation in number of people working at the minimum wage. We lead the nation in medical debt. We continue to refuse Medicaid expansion and most of our elected leaders at the federal level are resisting the push for Medicare for All.

Meet the New Plan, Same as the Old Plan

The state’s own presentation on the challenges in the ASD notes:


“Despite good intentions, the ASD was implemented (or grew) too quickly,” the state’s presentation says in recapping some of the lessons learned in Tennessee. “Demand outpaced supply and capacity.”

In 2015, I wrote:


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).

In other words, sticking with what was written into the Race to the Top legislation regarding the Achievement School District would mean less chaos and more consistent, focused assistance to the schools most in need of help.

It only took 5 more years for the state to actually admit this. And, it will take another two years for schools to transition back to district control.

The one remaining question is: Will this transition be accompanied with the resources and support districts need to actually help kids and their families?

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

Your support$5 or more today — makes publishing education news possible.



Shut It Down

The Tennessee Department of Education is holding a series of listening meetings about what to do with the troubled Achievement School District. One solution to the ongoing struggles would be to simply shut the district down. This would need to be done in a way that was not disruptive, but gradually turning the ASD schools back to district control could be the best solution in the long term.

An article in Chalkbeat sums up the problems with the district this way:

The achievement district was created seven years ago, and has struggled to turn its schools around. Its third leader left last summer, a study found the program has not improved student achievement, and no new schools will join the district this year school year.

One parent at the first listening session expressed the frustration felt by many who have watched the ASD over the years:

Marshaye Smith, a parent of five students at a state-run high school in Frayser, said it felt good to have a space to talk, but she was more interested in what the state does with the feedback.

“We’ve been hearing all this for years, and we’re saying our schools need more,” Smith said. “Are they actually going to use what they write down on paper?”

I’ve written and shared a lot about the ASD since it started, and Smith seems to nail the central issue: Will state leaders actually take the feedback and do anything? Again, one option would be to simply phase-out the ASD and provide districts additional support as they absorb students back into district schools.

In fact, if the state stopped ignoring key issues that contribute to the conditions that created the need for the ASD to begin with, perhaps students in ALL schools would see the benefit.

Back in 2015, I wrote about how the ASD had moved well beyond its original mission and noted that this expansion could be problematic. Now, it seems the problems are too great to ignore — or, at least great enough to cause state officials to hold “listening meetings” and write things down.

Imagine that instead of the sprawling state-run district with multiple charter operators functioning at varying degrees of efficacy, the state had collaborated with districts at persistently low-performing schools. Doing so would likely mean providing services beyond school for the students there. Focused intervention — meaning collaboration and support, not state takeover — could have changed the trajectory for kids in the schools targeted by the ASD.

Instead, we’re left with a struggling district that no one wants to run and a state listening tour where the greatest concern expressed is that nothing significant will actually change.

I say simply: Shut it down.

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

Your support$5 or more today — helps make publishing education news possible.



The Underperforming ASD

Tennessee’s Achievement School District continues to struggle even as a new leader pushes for more accountability.

Chalkbeat has the story of Sharon Griffin seeking greater control over day-to-day operations in light of consistently poor performance among ASD schools.

The district promised to raise the state’s lowest performing schools into the top 25% percent academically within five years. But the district hasn’t produced large academic gains. It’s struggling to attract students and retain high-quality teachers. And the local districts in Nashville and Memphis, where the schools are located, historically haven’t collaborated well with the achievement district because it took over their schools without local permission.

In English and math exams taken in 2017, not a single Achievement School District elementary, middle, or high school had more than 20% of students scoring on grade level, according to Tennessee school-level test data released last summer. Not one of the six high schools in the achievement district had more than 7% of students scoring on grade level.

The ongoing challenges faced by the ASD could be a result of mission creep or simply a lack of any real accountability.

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

Your support makes reporting education news possible.

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