WTF ASD?

On the heels of announcing bold expansion plans that may take it to Chattanooga, the Tennessee Achievement School District received some bad news from state auditors.

Andy Sher at the Chattanooga Times-Free Press reports:

The audit said that the Comptroller’s office has previously “reported deficiencies in ASD’s internal controls and noncompliance with federal program requirements, resulting in approximately $721,000 of federal questioned cost.”

Sher notes:

On March 30, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General, released an audit of Tennessee’s Race to the Top grant, which included funds spent by the ASD.

“This federal audit identified similar internal control deficiencies and areas of federal noncompliance with the Race to the Top grant at ASD,” the latest Comptroller notes. “During our current audit, we continued to find similar issues relating to fiscal deficiencies and noncompliance, but we have also identified new areas of deficiencies related to human resources and purchasing cards.”

At a legislative hearing today, Tennessee Department of Education Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Kathleen Airhart told lawmakers that as of July 1, the Department now oversees the ASD’s finances. Airhart said the problems in the audit have been addressed.

Who could have guessed that a school district that spends its funds on cocktail receptions and then hides the social media invite when called out would have problems with fiscal management?

Not to worry, though, now the Department of Education is overseeing ASD operations. Yes, the same group that brought Tennessee the not-so-impressive TNReady rollout is now managing the ASD’s fiscal policy.

Sher called the ASD’s financial management “chaotic” in his article.

The reality is, the entire ASD has been chaotic and rather disruptive.

Auditors are in the business of finding mistakes, of course. It would be one thing if the ASD had a stellar track record of proven results and could blame the audit findings on an unrelenting focus on student success. Unfortunately, the evidence so far suggests otherwise.

So, you have a state-run school district that is failing to produce promised results at the same time it’s spending money with little oversight. So far, that hasn’t resulted in a halt to the ASD’s expansion plans.

Will 2017 be the year the legislature finally regains control of the district it created?

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


 

 

 

Chattanooga in Talks for Expansion Team

The state’s fourth-largest school district will soon be in talks to become the next location of an expansion franchise in the school takeover league known as the Achievement School District (ASD). With 33 schools under its control, the ASD is considered the major league in the school takeover world.

Laura Faith Kebede reports on this development at Chalkbeat:

Leaders of the Achievement School District will begin talks with district and community leaders in Hamilton County in the coming months, according to Robert S. White, the ASD’s chief of external affairs.

The development comes despite a lack of current data due to the failure of this year’s administration of TNReady.

League leaders say a lack of data won’t slow them down as they aggressively pursue expansion in 2018 and beyond:

The ASD’s next steps have been made more challenging by the lack of test score data across Tennessee due the state’s late-spring cancellation of most of its TNReady tests. But after the hiatus year, White said he expects the state-run district to continue to take control of priority schools, even as the state rolls out a new assessment by a new test maker this coming year.

“You won’t see that two years in a row,” he said of the takeover hiatus.

The league also didn’t rule out an expansion in Nashville, where a contentious battle in 2014 resulted in Neely’s Bend Middle School “winning” ASD franchise status.

Despite an initial plan focused on stellar turnarounds of struggling schools, the ASD has a reputation for taking low-performing schools, handing them over to charter-operator general managers, and watching as the results are rarely better than under previous management teams.

The Memphis franchise(s) have been plagued with unrest from “fans” expecting the league to live up to its promises.

In fact, one local group has asked the league to stop looking to Memphis for new expansion teams. Due to what it considers market saturation, that’s a request the league is likely to honor in the short term.

Meanwhile, Chattanooga awaits word regarding which eligible school(s) could get the call from the school takeover major league.

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


 

TC Takes on the ASD

Nashville parent and blogger TC Weber attended the National Charter School Conference in June and has some thoughts on a panel that featured Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD).

Specific to Tennessee, Weber notes comments by the ASD’s Superintendent, Malika Anderson:

Malika Anderson spoke next and spun the narrative that the Achievement School District was a success in Tennessee because schools in Memphis’s Innovation Zone, or iZone as it’s commonly referred to, along with statewide priority schools, were performing so well. She stated that schools had years to improve and had failed to do so until now, and it was only because of the fear of a state takeover that made this happen. She glossed over how far the ASD was from reaching their goals. She completely ignored the fact that many were ready to see the ASD go the way of the RSD and have schools brought back under local oversight. Her argument was that in spite of failing to make real progress, the ASD should still be rewarded with more time for inspiring through fear.

TC provides a comprehensive analysis of the ASD session and issues a warning for other states considering adopting a similar reform model. It’s all well worth a read.

More on the ASD:

A Friendly Reminder

Rhetoric vs. Reality: ASD Edition

So, About the ASD

Tennessee Thunderdome

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


 

A Friendly Reminder

The National Charter Schools Conference is in Nashville this week and includes a number of sessions, including one highlighting the work of the Tennessee Achievement School District.

Here’s how that session is described:

From Recovery to Extraordinary: States and Charter Schools Working Together

The Louisiana Recovery School District and the Tennessee Achievement School District have brought new attention to the role that charter schools can play in replacing poor performing schools. They have also tested the theory that the freedoms associated with chartering can in fact benefit those who are the most at risk. This panel will explore the role that charters have played in serving the hardest to educate and what policymakers should consider to better serve these students.

This session happened today and included a presentation from TN ASD Superintendent Malika Anderson.

It’s interesting that the TN ASD is pitched as a success story, given that the results have been mixed at best.

In fact, the community at Neely’s Bend in Nashville was not too happy about being thrown into a sort of Thunderdome for school survival back in 2014. But it seems unlikely that Anderson mentioned that.

The ASD community relations effort in Memphis has been so bad that the local NAACP chapter has called for a moratorium on expansion there.

There’s also been some pretty thorough analysis of what appeared to be a rigged Neighborhood Advisory Committee process.

Then, there’s the Vanderbilt University study that suggests the ASD isn’t quite getting the promised results:

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.

This followed a report by Gary Rubinstein noting the ASD’s numbers simply aren’t that great:

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%.

Oh, and that Neely’s Bend school that was taken over by ASD-approved operator LEAD? Turns out, it was turning around on it’s own and performing better than many ASD schools:

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 testing chaos has been cited as a reason to pause ASD expansion plans for the moment, it’s also been noted that the ASD has moved beyond the original, planned mission:

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.

The point is this: The Tennessee ASD is hardly a success story. It’s a great story of PR spin and fun cocktail parties, but the actual results are limited, at best. And, it’s operated with quite a bit of controversy in both Memphis and Nashville. It’s never a good plan to pit one school against another in a fight for education survival. And it is certainly not clear that the ASD plan is better than the turnaround that was already occurring at Nashville’s Neely’s Bend.

Those looking to Tennessee for guidance on how to create an “Achievement School District” would be best served using our state’s experience as a guide for what not to do.

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


 

 

 

 

 

Ready to Pause

Citing what has been a rough transition year to TNReady, the Achievement School District announced a pause on school takeovers for next year.

Chalkbeat has the story:

The Achievement School District will not seek to take over more low-performing schools in the 2017-18 school year because of the state’s transition to its new K-12 assessment this year, district leaders said Friday.

The decision is consistent with allowances being shown by the State Department of Education over student grades and teacher evaluations due to the failed rollout of TNReady, according to the announcement by Tennessee’s school turnaround district.

Critics of the ASD applauded the move as a step in the right direction:

“It’s a positive first step toward a series of course corrections that need to happen with the Achievement School District. I’m glad the state is listening,” said Will Pinkston, a Nashville board member who sponsored the resolution for an ASD moratorium, approved just this week by Nashville’s school board.

More on the ASD:

Memphis NAACP Says No More ASD

Rhetoric vs. Reality: ASD Edition

The ASD’s NAC for Problems

Resolved: No More ASD

 

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

 

Rhetoric vs. Reality: ASD Edition

Over at Bluff City Ed, Ezra Howard is back with some pointed criticism of the way the TN Achievement School District (ASD) is doing business.

Specifically, Howard notes:

I find the rhetoric to be a deflection from real and valid criticism of the ASD and its approach to school turnaround. While collaboration is certainly a virtue in education, a hard look should be taken at the ASD’s approach. All this nice talk about collaboration avoids these courageous conversations. I think people will find that there are some serious flaws in the way in which the ASD and its operators are taking on the arduous task of school turnaround. I agree with Mr. Manning that working together is important, but if the ASD’s has fundamental flaws and does not address them then no amount of collaboration will help.

Howard notes that schools in Shelby County’s iZone significantly outperform ASD schools and that the ASD is now taking credit for iZone’s success. Rather than address it’s own disappointing numbers, the ASD suggests that it “caused” the iZone and therefore, changed education in Memphis.

Howard offers some interesting, data-based comparisons and proposes a way forward. But the bottom line is, the ASD needs to approach education with a dose of reality, not more hyperbolic rhetoric.

More on the ASD:

Quest for Answers

The ASD’s NAC for Problems

So, About the ASD

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

Quest for Answers

After the Achievement School District announced the results of its matching process in Memphis, we published an analysis of the process by Ezra Howard. That analysis called into question the matching process, noting that un-weighted scores resulted in few actual matches.

Using that quantitative analysis, a video provided by Memphis Quest (on twitter @Memphis_Quest), reviews the NAC matching process and highlights discrepancies between the ASD’s stated matching process and the actual events that occurred in matching Memphis schools with charter operators. In several cases, a majority of evaluators did not recommend a match, yet scores were averaged in such a way as to create a match. Additionally, the NAC committees did not include the recommended number of members according to the ASD’s outline of the process.

The video is 22 minutes long, and it raises serious questions about how the matching process was conducted this year.

 

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

 

 

 

RESOLVED: No More ASD

The Shelby County School Board last night passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on ASD expansion in the district until the ASD can show evidence it is improving student progress.

The statement about the ASD was part of a broader resolution calling for a comprehensive strategic plan for the district.

Here’s the full resolution:

RESOLUTION REQUESTING THE SUPERINTENDENT TO DEVELOP A COMPREHENSIVE SHORT-TERM STRATEGIC PLAN  IN SUPPORT OF DESTINATION 2025
WHEREAS, Shelby County Schools (SCS) is currently faced with an ever-evolving landscape – including, but not limited to fiscal inadequacies, consistently changing state mandated academic standards, and declining enrollment, etc. – impacted by a community facing persistent socio-economic challenges that require the District to realign and shift its focus in order to best serve this dynamic student population; and
WHEREAS, according to 2014 Census data, approximately 33.2 percent of Shelby County’s school aged children live in poverty, with over 80 percent of them attending SCS schools, which in turn directly impacts a student’s academic and behavioral performance, requiring development and implementation of solutions designed to appropriately and adequately address these potential impediments for our students’ educational and life success; and
WHEREAS, SCS faces a number of fiscal challenges from different fronts – OPEB liability, projected budget shortfall and diminishing revenue due to the loss of students to ASD schools and charter schools; and
WHEREAS, To ensure the academic welfare of its’ students, SCS’ focus is on investing in strategies that create a fair and equitable learning environment for all students in Shelby County; and
WHEREAS, although the challenges seem daunting, SCS continues the work of educating students as demonstrated by an increase in the graduation rate to 75 percent; achievement of District TVAAS Level 5 status; and solid results in the iZone (Innovation Zone), where a recent study by Vanderbilt’s Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation and Development found that SCS iZone schools showed moderate to large positive effects in reading, math and science as opposed to the State’s ASD model who’s ability to effectively drive student academic achievement is questionable at this point; and
WHEREAS, the Shelby County Board of Education wishes to continue to propel the current forward momentum to a larger scale effort by developing short-term strategies to achieve the District’s long-term objectives under its Destination 2025 Strategic Plan.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED That the Shelby County Board of Education instructs the Superintendent to develop a Comprehensive Short-Term Strategic Plan to present to the Board that explores and/or considers strategies and/or opportunities to address the District’s challenges – fiscal inadequacies, consistently changing state mandated academic standards, declining enrollment, high poverty among its students, etc. – which include, but are not limited to the following:
– Equitable Distribution of OPEB Liability

– Expansion of the iZone Model –

School Capacity and Utilization –

Grade Configurations/Programmatic Structures –

Collaboration with Charter Operators –

Co-existence with the ASD and a moratorium on the ASD takeover of additional schools until they show consistent progress in improving student academic achievement – (emphasis added)

Strategic Legislation –

Wrap-Around Service Model –

Additional school choice options  –

Equitable Learning Environment
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED That the Shelby County Board of Education requests that the Superintendent present a timeline for the implementation of the proposed Comprehensive Short-Term Strategic Plan.
Submitted by:
Stephanie Love District 3
December 15, 2015

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

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

 

 

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