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

 

TEA, MNEA Issue Statement on Neely’s Bend Takeover

The Tennessee Education Association and Metro Nashville Education Association issued a joint statement on the takeover of Neely’s Bend Middle School by the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD).

From the statement:

“The state takeover model has proven to be an ineffective solution for struggling schools. Schools in the Achievement School District in Memphis on average are doing no better or worse than before the takeover. The ASD method of ‘do less with more’ is already harming our students in Memphis. Increasing its presence in Nashville is irresponsible and reckless.

“Nashville students, teachers and schools need support and resources from the state, not a heavy-handed, unwanted takeover of one of our community schools. Neely’s Bend parents and teachers made it very clear at the Dec. 4 ASD meeting that they believe in their students, their school and their community.

“Just this week Governor Haslam spoke of the need for greater local control and decision making in public education. This must extend beyond teacher evaluations to decisions about how to improve struggling schools. The ASD and its charter operators do not know this community. Strangers do not understand what this school needs more than the students, parents and educators who make up the Neely’s Bend family.

“Instead of continuing to funnel money into a program that has failed to deliver on its promises, the state should instead invest that money in struggling public schools to allow educators and parents to determine how to improve public education for their students.

“Measuring a school’s value by student performance on one standardized test given one day during the school year does not provide a clear picture of the school, its students or its teachers. The only thing standardized test scores measure effectively is poverty. Impoverished, minority communities deserve the same quality education available in other parts of the city. That can be accomplished by the state increasing its investment in our students to provide the resources needed for student success.”

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

 

Take a Walk, ASD

That’s the message from the Frayser Neighborhood Council in response to plans by Tennessee’s Achievement School District to take over and convert to charter schools several existing schools in the Memphis neighborhood of Frayser.

Here’s the text of a letter from the Education Committee of the Frayser Neighborhood Council:

 

As members of the Frayser Neighborhood Council Education Committee and on behalf of the parents and children of Frayser we stand in support of parents at Hawkins Mills, Denver and Brook Meade Elementary Schools who choose as their parental option to keep their neighborhood schools with the Shelby County Schools system.

 It is our position that the Achievement School District should improve the education performance and outcomes in the schools they presently run and those that they have approved before considering absorbing any additional schools in Frayser.  We are asking that the ASD respect the wishes of the parents and the broader community as our parents exercise their right to choose.

 

Sincerely,

Sonya H. Smith

Marvis Rogers

Carmen White

Jessie Binion

Charles Taylor

 

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

The Data War

Blake Farmer of WPLN reported today on the “data war” between the state Achievement School District (ASD) and opponents of a plan to turn either Madison Middle or Neely’s Bend Middle over to the ASD.

According to Farmer’s report, ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic suggests that supporters or opponents can make data show whatever they want, quoting Barbic as saying:

“We can go back and forth with folks who want to do the data war,” Barbic tells WPLN. “For every data point they have, we’ve got one. The bottom line is that the schools that we’re talking about are in the bottom five percent.”

Essentially, Barbic is saying that the debate doesn’t matter, the ASD is going to takeover one of these schools because they can. He admitted as much in an earlier discussion of ASD takeovers in Memphis.

But, opponents of the takeover point to data suggesting that the ASD overall doesn’t outperform district schools and the ASD’s model is flawed.

Here’s some more information on the specific schools slated for takeover, the ASD as a whole, and the schools operated by LEAD, the charter operator named to takevover either Madison Middle or Neely’s Bend.

We’ll look at the number of students testing proficient/advanced in both reading and math

2013 Reading

ASD Average:  13.6

Brick Church Prep (LEAD): 12.8

MNPS Average: 40

Brick Church Middle:  20

Madison MS:  23.6

Neely’s Bend MS:  21.6

For 2013 in reading, note that both Neely’s Bend and Madison scored higher than the ASD average AND the score at Brick Church Prep, run by LEAD, which is the model for the takeover.

2013 Math

ASD Average:  19.6

Brick Church Prep: 24.2

MNPS Average:  42.5

Brick Church MS: 7.7

Madison MS: 15.2

Neely’s Bend MS: 25.4

For 2013 in math, Madison was below the ASD average and below the Brick Church Prep scores. Neely’s Bend was above the ASD average and also outscored Brick Church Prep.

2014 Reading

ASD Average:  17

Brick Church Prep:  37.2

MNPS Average:  40.7

Brick Church MS:  8.7

Madison MS:  24

Neely’s Bend MS:  24.3

For 2014 in reading, Brick Church Prep saw a significant bump in reading scores. But, the TVAAS data actually indicates a -3.7 in growth year over year. Here’s what that means. Brick Church Prep’s reading proficiency score bump is a result of new students added to the overall score. Madison Middle and Neely’s Bend both showed growth year over year and the growth in reading is roughly equivalent to the growth demonstrated by ASD schools as a whole.

2014 Math

ASD Average:  21.8

Brick Church Prep:  41.2

MNPS Average:  44.6

Brick Church MS:  8.7

Madison MS:  18.6

Neely’s Bend MS:  26.2

Of note here, the ASD’s average gains are similar to MNPS overall — that is, the ASD is getting gains no better than would be expected of a district school.  And, Neely’s Bend is right at that average in growth. Madison falls slightly behind in this catetory.

The bottom line: The ASD performs no better than district schools overall. Even in the case of the model, Brick Church Prep, a statistical anomaly created by a growing student population (they are adding a grade each year) creates the perception of growth, but the reality is growth scores there are no more spectacular than typical MNPS schools. For the year before Brick Church Prep grew by adding students, Madison and Neely’s Bend were on par with its performance.

If taking schools over is also designed to result in improved performance, it seems the ASD model doesn’t meet this standard.

Data war aside, I found some other interesting notes in the existing reports about tonight’s meetings at both schools.

Chalkbeat reports:

ASD chief operating officer Elliot Smalley said that a desire to have parents dominate the discussion over which school will be taken over — rather than teachers, as has been the case in Memphis — caused ASD officials  to rebrand the meetings as “parent meetings” rather than “community meetings,” which is what they called the equivalent meetings in Memphis.

It seems the ASD isn’t interested in a broader community discussion or in hearing too much from teachers.

ASD’s Smalley went on to say that it wasn’t about how many people showed up, but about the substance of what they said, according to Chalkbeat:

it’s about the quality of feedback from parents, not the quantity. He said officials would be listening for what parents like about their current neighborhood school and want to maintain, and what they don’t like.

It’s not clear if Smalley or the ASD have crafted a rubric in order to evaluate the quality of individual and collective feedback provided at tonight’s meetings. Will points be deducted from speakers who are teachers at the schools, but not parents?

Finally, on why these two schools, instead of others in MNPS that are lower performing, the ASD’s Barbic notes:

The ASD had 15 schools to choose from in Nashville. Early on, Barbic made it clear that it would be a middle school and that LEAD would run it. He notes that the selection process is more involved than just evaluating test scores. For instance, Jere Baxter, which was an option, is only at half capacity. Barbic says LEAD didn’t think there were enough students to work with in the building.

“You just can’t run a full, robust middle school program if there aren’t enough kids in the building to be able to do that,” Barbic says. “And when a building is half empty, it’s tough to make the case to be able do that.”

Interesting that LEAD can’t run a full, robust middle school program at Jere Baxter but can run a full, robust high school program that just graduated 43 students.

Data wars and rhetoric aside, it seems clear the ASD will move forward after tonight’s meeting and take over one of these schools. Smalley admits as much:

Although Smalley said that parent feedback would be an important factor in the officials’ final decisions, he said that in the end, the fate of Madison and Neely’s Bend will be decided by ASD officials alone.

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

On Notice

In late October, LEAD Academy’s Middle School was put “on notice” for failing to meet academic expectations. In fact, despite being rated “satisfactory” in academic performance in 2012 and 2013, the school has been on a downward trajectory in terms of student achievement. This year, they landed on the “review” category at MNPS.

This is noteworthy because LEAD is on tap to possibly take over either Madison Middle or Neely’s Bend Middle depending on what the Achievement School District decides in meetings in Nashville this week.

While LEAD’s Brick Church installment does well in both student achievement and achievement growth as measured by TVAAS, LEAD Academy’s middle school does not show these results.

Here’s a portion of the letter from Carol Swann, Coordinator of Charter Schools at the MNPS Office of Innovation:

This letter serves as formal notice that the academic performance of LEAD Middle School is significantly below expectations. Although the three year average of Lead Middle is rated “Satisfactory” (white) on the APF, the 2014 status fell into the “Review” (yellow) category. WE would like to challenge you to significantly raise that status, as a school must have a three year in the “achieving” (light green) or “excelling” (dark green) categories to be recommended for simple renewal through a streamlined process at the end of their current ten (10) year contract.

LEAD’s contract expires in 2016.

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

 

ASD vs. Nashville Middle Schools

The Tennessee Achievement School District is holding meetings this week at Madison Middle and Neely’s Bend Middle to determine which of those two schools it will takeover and likely hand to a charter operator in 2015.

Back in October, it was announced that five Nashville middle schools were on the potential takeover list. They included Jere Baxter, Bailey, and Joelton.

Now, it’s down to Madison and Neely’s Bend.

As the discussion moves forward, it’s worth noting how these schools have been doing relative to the ASD average.

In Reading/Language Arts, Neely’s Bend and Madison Middle outperform all ASD schools except LEAD Academy at Brick Church. While the two year gains are slightly lower than the ASD average, the number of students scoring proficient or advanced is nearly 7 points higher than the ASD average.

Dist School Name 2012 2013 2014 2 year gains
Achievement School District Brick Church – LEAD 23.7% 12.8% 37.20% 13.50%
Davidson Neely’s Bend Middle School 25.0% 21.60% 24.30% -0.70%
Davidson Madison Middle School 23.0% 23.60% 24.00% 0.98%
ASD C1 – Humes Upper 15.2% 27.6% 18.8% 3.6%
Achievement School Distrit Achievement School Distrit Average 15.60% 13.60% 17.00% 1.40%
ASD C2 – Whitney Elementary 18.7% 9.6% 16.3% -2.4%
ASD C1 – Westside Middle 16.9% 14.2% 15.5% -1.4%
ASD C1 – Cornerstone Prep (Lester) 10.0% 4.3% 15.4% 5.4%
ASD C1 – Corning Achievement Elementary 20.6% 12.1% 12.4% -8.2%
ASD C1 – Frayser Elementary 13.1% 4.8% 8.9% -4.2%
ASD C2 – Georgian Hills 11.1% 15.9% 8.4% -2.7%
ASD C2 – Hanley Elementary 11.2% 10.4% 5.0% -6.3%

 

In Math, Madison Middle is slightly below the ASD average while Neely’s Bend is slightly above. Again, LEAD at Brick Church outperforms all others.

Dist School Name 2012 2013 2014 2 year gains
Achievement School District Brick Church – LEAD 17.5% 24.20% 41.20% 23.70%
ASD C1 – Corning Achievement Elementary 18.3% 32.8% 31.0% 12.7%
ASD C1 – Cornerstone Prep (Lester) 8.3% 10.6% 25.3% 17.0%
ASD C2 – Whitney Elementary 17.7% 18.5% 24.1% 6.4%
Davidson Neely’s Bend Middle School 15.7% 23.20% 23.70% 8.00%
ASD C1 – Humes Upper 18.6% 17.9% 22.1% 3.5%
Achievement School Distrit Achievement School Distrit Average 15.1% 19.60% 21.80% 6.70%
ASD C1 – Westside Middle 18.6% 18.8% 16.6% -2.0%
Davidson Madison Middle School 16.20% 12.30% 16.30% 0.10%
ASD C1 – Frayser Elementary 10.8% 13.3% 14.6% 3.8%
ASD C2 – Georgian Hills 10.6% 23.6% 11.6% 1.0%
ASD C2 – Hanley Elementary 15.4% 22.7% 8.1% -7.3%

 

When compared with Jere Baxter, Bailey, and Joelton, both Neely’s Bend and Madison Middle score higher than the other three in RLA

 

Dist School Name 2012 2013 2014 TVAAS 2014 Enrollment
Davidson Neely’s Bend Middle School 25.0% 21.60% 24.30% 2 548
Davidson Madison Middle School 23.0% 23.60% 24.00% 1 756
Davidson Bailey STEM Magnet Middle 17.30% 17.10% 16.20% 1 445
Davidson Jere Baxter Middle 24.00% 17.70% 15.80% 1 435
Davidson Joelton Middle School 15% 21.40% 21.50% 4 277

Neely’s Bend is solidly in the middle in Math, while Madison is at the bottom there.

 

School   Name 2012 2013 2014 TVAAS 2014 Enrollment
Neely’s Bend Middle School 15.7% 23.20% 23.70% 2 548
Madison Middle School 16.20% 12.30% 16.30% 4 756
Bailey STEM Magnet Middle 11.40% 11.80% 19.90% 3 445
Jere Baxter Middle 24.70% 26.10% 25.50% 5 435
Joelton Middle School 19.70% 25.10% 25.80% 5 277

The data analysis raises some questions in my mind:

1) Why were these two schools targeted for potential takeover when other schools in MNPS show a lower performance?

2) Why would parents want their schools, which outpeform the ASD average, to be taken over by the ASD?

3) Why is LEAD an ASD anomaly? What’s going right at LEAD that can be replicated? Or, is it even practical to replicate what LEAD is doing across Metro Schools?

4) In Shelby County, iZone schools outperform ASD schools. Why not consider an iZone conversion for these Nashville schools?

5) What are the plans to provide resources/assistance to Jere Baxter, Joelton, and Bailey? These schools clearly need help and the ASD takeover in Madison won’t make that happen.

For more on Tennessee Education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport