So, About the ASD

A new study out of Vanderbilt calls into question the effectiveness of the Achievement School District.

Specifically, the study notes:

While there were some changes year-to-year — up and down — there was no statistical improvement on the whole, certainly not enough to catapult these low-performing schools into some of the state’s best, which was the lofty goal.

Those results echo the findings reported by Gary Rubinstein in his analysis of the schools under ASD management the longest.

Rubinstein noted:

As you can see, four of the original six schools are still in the bottom 5% while the other two have now ‘catapulted’ to the bottom 6%.

In 2014, Ezra Howard did an analysis of the ASD after two years of management and found that the results were not significantly better than what would have been expected had the schools remained under district management.

Based on his reading of the results, he noted:

 First, can the ASD reach 55% P/A in order to be in the top quartile? Maybe. In order to reach that magic number of 55% P/A in all three of these subjects, the ASD would have to average 11.07% gains in Math and 12.67% gains in ELA over a 5 year period. However, in the last two years, the ASD has averaged 2.92% gains in Math and 0.72% gains in ELA.

Second, is the money being spent on ASD a worthwhile investment. Howard notes:

an exorbitant amount is spent on results that are, at best, no different than what the data suggests we could have expected had these schools not been taken over by the ASD.

Now, we have three years of data and analysis by both Gary Rubinstein and Vanderbilt researchers. All of which suggest that Howard’s preliminary analysis was on-target.  The ASD is moving slowly at best, and not markedly better than district schools.

In spite of this, ASD officials noted in response to the Vanderbilt study:

For its part, leaders of the Achievement School District say there’s not enough data “to draw any decisive conclusions” and that their work is making a “positive difference.”

That sounds awfully cautious for an outfit that touted its success in a blog post and media release earlier this year.

As the ASD continues, the question is:  Will the Tennessee General Assembly allow this model to continue, or will it set some limits in order to push the district to demonstrate more success before further expanding its reach?

More on the ASD:

Expansion Teams

That’s Not That Much, Really

ASD vs. Nashville Middle Schools

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

 

 

Dear SC: Don’t Believe the Hype

South Carolina’s State Supreme Court has ruled that the education system in that state is not adequate for all students. Now, the legislature must find a solution that will deliver on the promise of equal access to education.

As P. L. Thomas notes, among the possible solutions being floated to help improve the situation is an Achievement School District, modeled after similar districts in Tennessee and Louisiana.

In fact, in a recent op-ed, one teacher and education blogger who Thomas notes is at least loosely affiliated with Students First, puts forth an Achievement School District as a key solution to the state’s education woes.

The piece directs readers to a website that advocates for the creation of an Achievement School District (ASD) in South Carolina.

That site, under the heading “Proven Results” cites Tennessee as a place where an ASD has positively impacted the education landscape.

What results? Well, the results outlined in a press release from the TN ASD touting its own success.

What is not mentioned is a thorough look at the numbers offered by Gary Rubinstein. The key finding from Rubinsteins analysis:

As you can see, four of the original six schools are still in the bottom 5% while the other two have now ‘catapulted’ to the bottom 6%.

The schools under ASD control the longest didn’t improve all that much. In fact, contrary to the attitude reflected in the pro-South Carolina ASD op-ed, Tennessee’s first ASD Superintendent, Chris Barbic said:

“As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results,” he wrote. “I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.”

Another item not mentioned is that Tennessee’s ASD took over a school that was outperforming other ASD schools.

That’s a result, I contend, of the ASD expanding beyond its original mission. If policymakers in South Carolina do go the ASD route, they should build in safeguards against this sort of unchecked expansion.

Finally, South Carolina’s lawmakers should ask if the sort of educational disruption caused by an ASD does more harm than good.

Certainly, South Carolina must take action to improve the education environment there. However, as they explore creation of an ASD, I would suggest they proceed with extreme caution.

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

 

 

The Simple, Painless ASD Conversion Process

Well, ok, the Achievement School District’s (ASD) conversion process is neither simple nor painless. But, you wouldn’t know that if you watched the ASD’s latest video promoting the process of conversion taking place right now.

I’m going to break the two-minute video down into four claims it makes and then analyze each. The four key claims are: The ASD is an intervention designed to provide the best for kids in persistently low-performing schools, the community gets a school back after an ASD charter conversion, the conversion is good for kids, and those who are skeptical should give charter operators a chance.

1) Intervention provides an improved opportunity for kids

It might be more accurate to say that the intervention provides a different opportunity for kids. As analysis noted here suggests, the schools under ASD control the longest still rank among the lowest-performing of all schools in the state.

Earlier this year, I wondered what might have happened if the ASD had stuck to its original design and focused on short-term, intensive support and intervention at the most persistently struggling schools.

Instead, the ASD can now say it provides a different name on the building, that’s the opportunity they offer kids.

2) Following a Charter Conversion, the community gets a school back

Except they don’t. Originally, the ASD plan was to intervene in schools, manage them in cooperation with the local district, and then turn them back over to the district within five years. By using the state’s charter law, the ASD now turns schools over to charter operators, who have a 10-year charter. Then, the district decides after 10 years whether or not to renew the charter. At that point, the schools is not the same — it’s now a charter school, likely with a new name and new management, and quite possibly, with frustrating results for kids. Ask the community at Neely’s Bend in Nashville if they feel like the result of the Thunderdome-style school matching process is a school that belongs to them. How will they feel in 10 years, when three groups of 5th-graders have completed their journey through 8th grade at a school changing to a charter grade-by-grade?

And how do they feel knowing that before the conversion happened, Neely’s Bend was already outperforming ASD schools?

3) ASD Conversions are Good for Kids

This may be true … if you believe that adding additional disruption to the lives of children who already face disruption on a regular basis is a good thing. As a charter conversion proceeds, the teachers at the school being converted are “invited” to reapply for their jobs. At ASD charter conversions, less than one in five teachers remain through the conversion process. No matter the reason, this initial turnover damages the stability of a school and the community that calls it home. Building names change. School leaders change. Approaches to learning change. And, while these schools were struggling before, as noted above, it is difficult to see new forward progress post-conversion.

4) Give Charter Conversions a Chance

The data about lack of improvement notwithstanding, outgoing ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic’s own words may be the best counter to this claim:

“As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results,” he wrote. “I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.”

Admittedly, the mission of the ASD is inspiring. Work diligently with the most persistently struggling schools and get them on track. By contrast, the ASD, as currently operating, isn’t doing much of that. Instead, building names change, conversions take place, and schools and lives are disrupted. The shiny, happy video makes some strong claims amid little substance. Digging deeper reveals a reality that is much different.

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

 

Expansion Teams

In a much anticipated announcement made late on a Friday afternoon, Tennessee’s Achievement School District revealed which charter operators will get to takeover franchises in its growing Nashville market.

Chalkbeat’s Grace Tatter reports:

The Achievement School District has authorized two charter organizations to open schools in Nashville, which remains relatively unchartered territory for the state-run school turnaround district.

District leaders announced Friday that KIPP Nashville and Knowledge Academies will launch their first ASD schools in the 2017-2018 school year.

The expansion news comes on the heels of rather disappointing results from the ASD’s Memphis franchises. Add that to the turnaround posted by MNPS-managed Neely’s Bend Middle, and the ASD had to do something to inject some excitement into an off-season that will see the departure of long-time ASD leaders like Superintendent Chris Barbic and Chief of Staff Elliot Smalley.

Tatter adds that the ASD will go through a community-matching process to pair-up the charter operators with already functioning MNPS schools:

KIPP Nashville and Knowledge Academies will receive community input on which schools they should be matched with in fall 2016.

Of course, the matching process last time around proved to be a rather intense spectator sport.  With such heated community involvement, it’s no wonder the ASD wants to bring new operators into the Nashville mix.

Yes, this late Friday announcement is sure to please those fans of ASD’s school-matching cage matches. Parents, teachers, and community members can look forward to exciting matchups between schools competing for the right to possibly be adequately served by a charter operator they didn’t want and no one asked for. Will results improve? Early returns from Memphis say no, but tune-in as the Nashville market becomes the latest testing ground for the ASD’s school competition games.

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

 

 

That’s Not That Much, Really

So, statewide TCAP results are out and as soon as they were released, the Achievement School District (ASD) touted its gains.

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But, what does all that mean? How are these schools doing relative to the goal of taking them from the bottom 5% of schools to the top 25% within 5 years, as founder Chris Barbic boasted before his recent revelation that educating poor kids can be difficult.

Fortunately, Gary Rubinstien has done some analysis. Here’s what he found:

By this metric the top performing ASD school from the first cohort was Corning with a score of 48.6 followed by Brick Church (47.9), Frayser (45.2), Westside (42.1), Cornerstone (37.6), and Hume (33.1).  To check where these scores ranked compared to all the Tennessee schools, I calculated this metric for all 1358 schools that had 3-8 math and reading and sorted them from high to low.

The values below represent the school’s overall score and their percentile relative to the rest of the state, in that order.

Hume 33.1 1.5%
Cornerstone 37.6 2.6%
Westside 42.1 3.2%
Frayser 45.2 4.1%
Brick Church 47.9 5.2%
Corning 48.6 5.5%

As you can see, four of the original six schools are still in the bottom 5% while the other two have now ‘catapulted’ to the bottom 6%.  Perhaps this is one reason that Chris Barbic recently announced he is resigning at the end of the year.

So, the schools that have been in the ASD the longest, making the greatest gains, are at best in the bottom 6% of all schools in the state. That’s a long, long way from the top 25.

But here’s something else. Back in December, the ASD decided to take over Neely’s Bend Middle School in Nashville. The school had been on the priority list, after all, and it was declared the victor in a school vs. school battle against Madison Middle.

I reported earlier in the week about the impressive gains at Neely’s Bend. In fact, the state’s TVAAS website shows Neely’s Bend receiving a 5 overall in its growth score — the state’s highest number.

I wondered where Neely’s Bend might fall in comparison to Rubinstein’s analysis of the ASD schools that had been under management for the past three years. Turns out, Neely’s Bend’s proficient/advanced composite for reading and is 54.4.

Yes, you read that right. Neely’s Bend’s score is 5.8 points higher than the best performing school that’s been under ASD control the longest.

Neely’s Bend is being taken over and converted to a charter school and yet the school posted significant gains (above district average), has a TVAAS overall score of 5, and has a higher percentage of students at the proficient/advanced level than the BEST schools under ASD management.

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

 

 

Neely’s Bend Rising

In December of 2014, after a battle that pitted two schools against each other for the right to be taken over by the Achievement School District, Neely’s Bend Middle School was chosen and handed over to the LEAD charter school network — to be taken over grade-by-grade, starting with 5th grade in the 2015-16 school year.

Supporters of Neely’s Bend, including many parents (who started a support group known as Neely’s Bend United), suggested that the school belonged to the community and that it was making progress and just needed more time to demonstrate it.

In fact, Neely’s Bend had posted modest gains in Math and Reading in 2014 and a pretty impressive level of growth in Science.  Now, the results from 2014-15 are out and they show a school that while still struggling, is making real progress according to the state’s growth metrics.

Here are the numbers:

Neely’s Bend Middle School Growth Rate by Subject

2014                          2015

Math                   0.8                            8.9

Reading             2.7                              -5.0

Science              5.7                              8.7

By way of comparison, the average growth rate in MNPS was 2.8 in Math, -1.4 in Reading, and 1.0 in Science.

Neely’s Bend is showing a growth rate well above the district average and has posted consecutive years of growth in both Math and Science, with some pretty solid numbers in Science over the past two years.

While reading is an area of concern, both MNPS and the state showed a decline in reading in 2014-15. Additionally, it’s possible that Neely’s Bend is suffering from the same slowed growth as other middle schools in reading, as evidenced by a newly released study on TVAAS scores.

The Achievement School District handed Neely’s Bend over to LEAD because the school was supposedly so low-performing it needed a remake in order to start showing growth. Except it looks like Neely’s Bend is showing growth already.

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

 

 

Barbic’s Revelation

Achievement School District Superintendent Chris Barbic announced today he will step down by the end of the year.

As part of his announcement, he had this to say about turning around high-poverty, district schools:

In his email early Friday, Barbic offered a dim prognosis on that pioneering approach. “As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results,” he wrote. “I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.”

That’s a pretty honest assessment. While I’ve been critical at times of Barbic’s approach and the ASD’s mission creep, I appreciate his candor.

As I told an ASD staffer once, the story I want to write is that the ASD is part of a system that is doing amazing things for kids. I think that’s the story Barbic wanted to be reality.

Here’s more on the ASD under Barbic’s leadership:

Beyond Thunderdome

Is the ASD Working?

Resisting the ASD

ASD vs. Nashville Middle Schools

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


 

 

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

The End of the ASD?

State Representative Bo Mitchell of Nashville has filed a bill that would abolish the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD) at the end of the 2015-16 school year.

The Bill (HB 508/SB 975) would give control of schools run by the ASD back to the LEA in which they are located. Charter schools authorized by the ASD would now be under the authority of the LEA in which they are located. The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Thelma Harper, also of Nashville.

One reason the two Nashville lawmakers may be looking to rid the state of the ASD is a particularly nasty episode involving Neely’s Bend Middle School and Madison Middle School. Ultimately, Neely’s Bend lost the battle and is now being taken over by LEAD Academy per arrangement with the ASD.

The ASD has struggled of late, with PR challenges in school takeovers in both Memphis and Nashville. Additionally, some early data suggest the ASD has a lot of work to do to reach its once lofty goals.

It seems unlikely the ASD will be closed at the end of 2015-16, but the filing of the legislation suggests the ASD will have some explaining to do and the path forward won’t be easy.

MORE on the ASD:

Our Interview with the ASD’s Chris Barbic

Take a Walk, ASD

ASD Flexes Muscles in Memphis

The ASD Responds to Critics

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