Next?

Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD) is again looking for a Superintendent as it was announced today that current Superintendent Malika Anderson is on her way out.

Chalkbeat has the story:

Malika Anderson, who has sought to steer Tennessee’s school turnaround district to stability after its contentious early work in Memphis and Nashville, is stepping down as its second superintendent at the end of this month.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen had this to say about the move:

“This transition in no way disrupts our work,” McQueen said in a press release. “We are taking what we have learned about school improvement over the past five years and using that knowledge to maximize students’ success by putting in place a strong set of evidence-based options that will drive improvements in students performance.”

Anderson is the second Superintendent in the ASD’s short history, replacing Chris Barbic. Barbic noted on his departure:

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.”

The ASD has been plagued with both lackluster results and challenges connecting with the communities it serves during its brief but tumultuous existence.

According to the Department of Education’s release, a search will begin immediately for Anderson’s replacement. In the meantime, Deputy Commissioner of Education Kathleen Airhart will serve as Interim Superintendent. Before coming to the Department of Education, Airhart was the Director of Schools in Putnam County.

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


 

Trade Offer

I reported last week on the Data Wars brewing between the state’s two largest school districts and the Tennessee Department of Education.

Now, as both Nashville and Memphis dig in, MNPS is offering a trade of sorts.

Chalkbeat reports on a letter sent by MNPS Board Chair Anna Shepard to Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

In her letter, Shepard proposes cooperation between the state’s Achievement School District (ASD) and MNPS based on several conditions.

Specifically:

I would personally be willing to consider a coordinated initiative under which MNPS, using its existing communications infrastructure, would inform families about ASD choice options — if they choose to “opt in” to such communications. I cannot speak for my board colleagues until such time as we have had the opportunity to deliberate on this concept.

Shepard’s conditions:

  1. A moratorium on ASD expansion
  2. State subsidies for schools that lose students to the ASD
  3. The State engage in discussions around a new “fiscal impact” component of the BEP to address the impact charter schools have on local school districts

Regarding that fiscal impact, an audit of MNPS published in 2015 noted this:

“The key question for determining fiscal impacts is whether enrollment reductions allow a district to achieve expenditure reductions commensurate with revenue reductions. Fixed costs are incurred regardless of whether students attend traditional or charter schools. The problem is that some fixed costs, such as building maintenance, computer network infrastructure, and health services do not vary based on enrollment. Therefore, teachers and their salaries are a key cost driver tied to student enrollment … However, it is not always possible to reduce teacher costs proportionate to losses in revenue. For these costs to be reduced significantly, the school would need to close altogether.”

As for the ASD moratorium, it seems that the turnaround district continues to produce underwhelming results. Combine this with a track record of poor communication and you begin to understand why districts aren’t eager for the ASD to open more schools in their backyards.

For her part, Commissioner McQueen is seeking an Attorney General’s opinion on the MNPS and Shelby County interpretation of the data-sharing law passed in the 2017 legislative session.

It seems unlikely that McQueen would agree to the conditions set forth by Shepard. It seems possible both MNPS and Shelby County will face the threat of fines should they continue resisting.

Stay tuned as the Data Wars heat up.

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


 

Data Wars

Candice McQueen has set up a showdown with the state’s two largest school districts over student data sharing and charter schools.

McQueen sent a letter to Shelby County Schools and shared the same letter with MNPS. In the letter, she notes a new state law requiring school districts to share student data with charter schools upon request. The data is used so that charter schools can market to potential students.

Here’s how Chalkbeat reports on the Shelby County issue:

Commissioner Candice McQueen directed Superintendent Dorsey Hopson on Monday to immediately share the information requested by Green Dot Public Schools. She said the district’s refusal violates a new state law by withholding information that charter operators need to recruit students and market their programs.

Shelby County Schools has not yet said they will comply with McQueen’s request.

The primary sticking point seems to be with the charter schools that are now part of the Achievement School District (ASD). The ASD’s experience in Shelby County has been troubled, at best. From communication challenges to struggling performance, the ASD has not lived up to expectations.

For its part, MNPS is beginning to take steps to restrict the data available to the ASD.

Jason Gonzalez reports in the Tennessean:

The practice of providing charter schools with student contact information has been common in Nashville, but board members bristled on Tuesday over the sharing of information with the Achievement School District.

While not a final vote, the board took a crucial step forward with a new policy that will not release contact information to the Achievement School District.

The policy moved out of committee with 7 board members in favor, Jo Ann Brannon abstaining and Mary Pierce voting against the proposal.

The key question now is: What happens if Shelby County and MNPS refuse to share this data? What penalty might they face?

Gonzalez notes:

In 2012, Metro Schools decided to reject the Great Hearts Academies charter schools application — after the state directed it not to do so — and then-Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman docked Nashville $3.4 million in education funds.

Similarly, during the TNReady testing fiasco, McQueen threatened districts with a funding penalty.

It’s not yet clear what will happen this time, but it seems like a financial penalty will ultimately be on the table if the two districts fail to comply.

Stay tuned, the data wars are beginning.

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


 

New Franchise

I’ve written before about the state’s Achievement School District eyeing Chattanooga for an expansion of it’s reach.

Now, it seems the speculation is nearing an end and Chattanooga will see some form of state intervention. Will it be the major league of the ASD? What seems more likely is a minor league effort, a “partnership zone.”

More from Chalkbeat on how that might work:

In a partnership zone, clusters of schools are essentially turned into mini-school districts that are freed from many local rules and governed jointly by local and state officials. Local leaders get to experiment the same way that charter schools can, but they continue to have a say in how their schools are run. State officials get to push for needed improvements, but they aren’t solely responsible for strong results — something that has proven elusive so far for them.

The partnership zone idea originated in Springfield, Massachusetts, where an “Empowerment Zone” is finishing its second year. There, educators and community leaders who might oppose school takeovers — or be displaced by them — have embraced the zone, which has nine schools and is set to grow. As a result, people there say, changes in schools are gaining traction.

This would mark a change in approach from the ASD’s top-down, low communication, high confrontation efforts in Memphis and Nashville. I’ve previously noted that the ASD is being reined-in after years of an aggressive approach that won the district plenty of enemies while failing to generate measurable results.

Time will tell if the state’s new approach and developmental league effort will be more well-received and/or more successful than the ASD.

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


 

A Little Less Creepy

Two years ago I wrote about Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD) creeping beyond its original mission. I noted then that the state’s Race to the Top grant which spawned the ASD envisioned a handful of schools receiving highly targeted attention. I argued that rapid growth and a lack of clear communication contributed to a bumpy start for the turnaround effort. I concluded by offering this suggestion:

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.

Now, Grace Tatter of Chalkbeat reports the ASD is being scaled back and re-focused. She notes:

In Tennessee’s plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the State Department of Education clipped the ASD’s wings with new policies approved this spring by the legislature. They address longstanding concerns, including complaints that the state district had moved beyond its original purpose, lacked a clear exit strategy, and didn’t give local districts enough time to execute their own turnaround plans.

McQueen also announced plans to downsize the ASD’s structure this summer by slashing its team and merging several ASD-related offices in Memphis.

It will be interesting to watch how the “new” ASD evolves. Will it really focus on building partnerships and clear communication? Or, will it revert back to the posturing that caused problems as it grew in Memphis?

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


 

Sam Stockard on the ASD Party

Sam Stockard takes on the party atmosphere at the TN Achievement School District (ASD) in his latest column.

Here’s some of what he had to say:

The General Assembly formed ASD in fiscal 2011, and it was allowed to operate “autonomously in all respects, thus preventing the department’s prompt recognition and reaction to ASD’s administrative actions,” the report states. In 2013, the Department of Education even allowed the district to move its financial operations into a separate accounting system.

Isn’t that convenient.

In fact, audits done in 2013, 2014 and 2015 on ASD’s use of federal money showed deficiencies in internal controls and noncompliance with federal programs, “resulting in approximately $721,000 of federal questioned costs.”

Read more about the parties and other expenses at ASD while students were busy in schools run by charter operators — schools that failed to move the needle much in terms of student achievement.

MORE ON THE ASD:

WTF ASD?

Chattanooga in Talks for Expansion Team

A Friendly Reminder

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

 

Mary Pierce on the ASD Resolution

Nashville School Board Member Mary Pierce took to Facebook to discuss the passage of a resolution calling for a moratorium on school takeovers from the ASD. Her comments are below.

After getting a few confused questions about the ASD Resolution passed on Tuesday night, I’m posting the YouTube link of the meeting & this discussion begins around 1:53 mark. The initial stated purpose of the proposed resolution called for a moratorium of ASD takeovers based on the first year of TN Ready Scores. Given that the state has acknowledged TN Ready issues and excluded use of scores in teacher evaluations, this type of resolution made sense to me.

However, when I received our agenda packet, I read the resolution presented as one that went well beyond this call for a one-year moratorium. It is my opinion that it made subjective allegations against the ASD, referenced that MNPS *might* implement the same type of IZone as Shelby County Schools and asked for funding to do just that (yet our board has never discussed this), and generally was written with a tone of which I did not agree. And, as I stated Tuesday night, it must be owned that there was nothing preventing Shelby County from implementing an iZone prior to the external pressure applied by the presence of the ASD. I also find it ironic that the gains heralded by many about the SCS iZone are based on the very same TCAP/TVAAS scores deemed flawed by those same people when used on district schools that are not performing as well. But that’s a whole other topic.

I amended the resolution (below with the original and my tracked changes) which still requested a one year reprieve from ASD takeovers based on the first year TN Ready scores, and also asked for local education agencies (LEAs) to be included in the legislative committee summer study the TN DOE has announced for “ASD Clean-Up,” including plans to return the takeover schools back to the LEAs as soon as practicable. (Edit: Click here to see original post with picture)

This amended version failed in a 4:4 vote (Dr. Gentry had left for a community meeting) and then Mr. Pinkston’s original resolution passed 5:3 with Elissa Kim, Tyese Hunter and I voting against.

By the way, resolutions are simply statements of resolve and often a request–like this one–but they have no binding authority.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfq6F4Q8d6k


 

Memphis NAACP Says No More ASD

The Memphis branch of the NAACP has called for an end to ASD expansion.

Specifically, the organization’s leaders noted:

The NAACP is also joining others in the community calling for a hold on the state’s Achievement School District. The ASD is tasked with turning around schools in the bottom five percent.

“We respectfully request that there be a statewide moratorium on the addition of schools to the ASD model until sufficient improvement can be demonstrated by the existing schools,” Taylor said.

“We have a proven model with iZone in Shelby County Schools,” said NAACP Education Committee Member Dr. Freda Williams.

ASD Superintendent Malika Anderson responded:

“We are disappointed by the NAACP Memphis Branch’s call to suspend the work of the Achievement School District and the mischaracterization of our turnaround efforts. Our students are showing real and significant gains, and it would be a shame to let politics put the progress of our schools on pause,” ASD Superintendent Malika Anderson said, in a statement.

I wonder if moving schools from the bottom 5% of all schools to the bottom 6% is the type of long-term progress Anderson is touting.

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