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.


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

The ASD’s NAC for Problems

Ezra Howard offers some insight into the ASD matching process in Memphis

Personal Experience

When the Achievement School District (ASD) announced that it would restructure its Achievement Advisory Council (AAC) and rebrand it as Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC), I was cautiously optimistic. Last fall, I sat on the Northeast Region of the Achievement Advisory Council (NE AAC) and was thoroughly disappointed with my experience. Due to an automatic match between Green Dot and Raleigh-Egypt High School, the NE AAC dealt solely with engaging the community. This ordeal was well covered by the media, specifically the decision for an automatic match, the heated community meeting, and Green Dot’s decision to pull out of the matching process. My frustration didn’t stem from fellow AAC members; they were wonderful and I have nothing but respect for them. It also didn’t come from speaking with community members, teachers, and families at schools considered for takeover; they were frustrated but needed to be heard. Rather, my frustration stemmed from receiving limited support when working with the Achievement School District and the matching charter management organizations (CMOs) as well as the lack of transparency throughout the entire matching process.

My biggest fear for the AAC process was that, as applied to REHS, it was all lip service for the veneer of community engagement. So when I heard that the AAC would make some changes and become the NAC, I was cautiously optimistic. I recognized there were new strengths in the process, like the use of scored rubrics and ensuring parents were on the council. However, there were weaknesses, like limiting the number of members in each NAC despite the size of the school or the number of grades taught. Furthermore, the ASD pledged to honor the NAC’s recommendations. Malika Anderson, the incoming Superintendent of the ASD, echoed these sentiments with a promise to emphasize community engagement. I thought this year would be different.

Continued Concern

I didn’t sign up for the NAC, however, I moved to Lisbon, Portugal with my wife in order for us to both pursue PhDs. Despite the distance, I closely followed the events from afar. I was immediately concerned when I read about the comments made by Latoya Robinson, an NAC member, in the Commercial Appeal.

Latoya Robinson said she served on one of the neighborhood advisory councils that the ASD employed to rate charter operators who applied to take over the struggling schools. Robinson said the way their input was calculated allowed for Kirby Middle to be taken over against the council’s wishes.

“We did not put down information saying that we wanted Kirby to be taken over by Green Dot,” she said.

So I filled out an Open Records Request with the ASD for the individual rubrics and the scoring sheets used by the ASD. The results were not particularly encouraging.

The Matching Process

A little background on this year’s matching process: Green Dot was matched with Hillcrest High School and Kirby Middle school. Green Dot has been active in ASD schools for less than two years. They operated Fairley High School last year (Composite TVAAS of 2) and Wooddale Middle School this year (no TVAAS). Scholar Academies began with Florida-Kansas Elementary this year (no TVAAS). All of the operators considered this year were CMOs. Achievement Schools, the ASD’s direct-run schools, were not considered for matching.

[Note: I was paying attention specifically to the quantitative data. However, I suggest everyone read the individual rubrics and pay close attention to the notes. There are some very interesting facts. Names of the NAC members were redacted, and probably for good reason.]

A Problematic Process: A Low Bar, Grade Inflation, and Erasures


When reviewing the NAC rubrics and scoring sheets, I was immediately surprised to find that the cut score on the rubric was 50%. A passing mark of 50% seems extraordinarily low and, honestly, reminds me of the long abandoned grade scale used by the ASD where 46 was considered passing. Second, I noticed that a couple CMOs were barely passing with scores in the low to mid 50s. Third, I noticed quite a few scores were erased from consideration due to “insufficient evidence bordering on opinion.”

Let’s take each point in turn. It seems very plain that the bar set for CMOs is really low in the matching process. To make matters worse, passing the 50% mark is almost guaranteed using the scoring rubric set by the ASD. The ASD used a four point Likert scale to measure if the CMO was meeting expectations. Each level of measurement was given a score from 1 to 4 (except Demonstration of Community Outreach, which receives a score of 3, 6, 9, 12); the scored are then added up and divided by the total to provide an average percentage. First and foremost, the 1 to 4 scale is problematic because even if a CMO fails to meet the standard of any measure by a NAC member, they still score 25%. These free points set the floor high enough that it tells a CMO that they only have to strive for 25 percentage points in order to pass. In theory, if every NAC member thought the CMO “partially met the standard” then the CMO would be matched with a school. With most scores hovering in the 50s, that’s exactly what happened.

The floor is so high and the ceiling is so low, it makes it very difficult for a CMO to not match with a school. The scoring mechanism for the NAC rubrics is blatantly biased in favor of matches and takeovers. Furthermore, the glaringly low expectations for CMOs in this process stands completely against the rhetoric of high expectations espoused by the ASD, most recently by Chris Barbic himself. It’s hypocritical to the standards held to the schools slated for takeover, which requires a TVAAS 4 or 5 from schools on the priority list. Take Raleigh-Egypt Middle School, which scored a TVAAS of 3 this year with a TVAAS of 5 last year, which is now in the hands of Scholar Academies, which partially met expectations with a score of 54.17%. That’s absurd, but it doesn’t end there.

The sheer amount of redactions is shocking. The most appalling is Green Dot’s rubric for Kirby Middle, where several individual scores were erased and at least two whole rubrics were taken out of consideration. However, if you look at the rubrics yourself, you see that this NAC was very thorough, their reasoning is sound, and they substantiated their arguments with evidence. Take for example this apparently redacted assessment for Green Dot partially meeting the standard for community engagement:

The application demonstrated plans for parent engagement but the operator presentation of how parents are involved in the school was not convincing. When asked about engaging parents at the level required to made (sic) significant cultural changes, the operator was not able to give a strong plan of action.

The NAC member then provides a long list of concerns about community engagement with references to documentation and examples of personal experience. And would it be a surprise that the redacted scores appear to be 1s and 2s rather than 3s and 4s? Consider this assessment of “meeting, with reservations” with a rationale of “Operator understands necessary interventions for the student population. Green Dot has shown academic success at Fairley” with the strengths being “As stated they are the leaders in the school turnaround. They have demonstrated success rates in schools not only in Memphis but other cities.” With Fairley’s composite TVAAS of 2 last year, I disagree.

A Second Look

So there are two major issues with the NAC rubric scores. First, there is the low bar set for CMOs. Second, the redactions on the NAC scores appear inconsistent and biased toward high scores, ensuring that a CMO matches. So I decided to recalculate the rubric scores. I first make “not meeting expectations quantifiably unacceptable by recalculating the scores without the free points while keeping the passing score at the ASD’s 50% mark. Second, I analyzed the final NAC averages using the redacted scores. Finally, combine the former to methods to see where the NAC scores stand. All data came directly from the individual rubrics and scoring sheets provided by the ASD.


In order to the account for the roughly free 25 percentage embedded in the measurement tool of the NAC rubrics, I simply changed the scale from 1 to 4 to 0 to 3. In essence, CMOs are awarded no points for “not meeting expectations.” If CMOs surpass the 50% mark, simply put, this would put the aggregate score must be somewhere between “meeting expectations with reservations” and “partially meets the standard.” Even with the ASD’s redacted score, the results are not promising. Caldwell-Gutherie is the only school matched with 80.79 percent. Kirby has 48.98%, Hillcrest has 34.52%, Raleigh-Egypt Middle has 38.33 percent, 29.39%. It’s apparent that a buffer of about 25 percentage point drastically changes the outcome.



When the redacted scores are accounted for, there is a dramatic change in the average rubric score. Only Caldwell-Guthrie with 83.90% and Raleigh-Egypt Middle School with 53.75% would be considered for the matching process. Kirby with 47.22%, Hillcrest with 49.17%, and Sheffield with 45.25% would not be considered matches. Without a doubt, the redactions changed the results.


When you take away the 25 percentage point buffer and use all data available, there are some very interesting findings. First and foremost, only one school passes the low 50% mark: Caldwell-Guthrie at 78.53%. Every other school is below 50%. Kirby is 29.63%, Hillcrest is 32.22%, Raleigh-Egypt is 38.33%, and Sheffield is 27.00%.

It seems apparent that the assessment tool for the NAC rubrics are not only biased, but highly massaged. I believe these three additional forms of analysis illustrates how the NAC truly perceived the CMO and potential matches, and that view is quantifiably poor. It also points to the importance and impact of how a test is scored.

There is another interesting observation that I want to put on the table. In the case of each of the five schools scoring below 50% in my assessment, there are two individuals in each group that score the CMO significantly higher than their peers. Sometimes the scores are two or three times higher than the others and there are two very impressive perfect scores for Caldwell-Guthrie. I may be wrong, but if I were a betting man, I would bet the farm that the two highest scores in each NAC are the two “community members.” The difference these community members make ranges anywhere from 7 to 23 percentage points. If I am correct, then the community members’ assessment of the CMOs may not be representative of the parent members on the NAC.

I went through some of the names of the NAC members and some of the community members also sat on the previous AAC (some of whom I worked with and are those for whom I still have great respect). Several individuals on the NAC appear to be members of the contentious Memphis Lift. Memphis Lift, which is funded by Democrats for Education Reform, headed by Chris Barbic’s wife. Apparently, as one NAC member noted, Lift assisted some CMOs in community organizing activities as well. Despite the community member’s background, the data suggests these outliers, which appear unrepresentative of majority of the NAC members, were highly influential in the outcome of the NAC rubrics.


Whichever way you view it, the NAC results are very problematic. The entire process seems to favor CMO matching from the outset. With low cut scores, a buffer of 25 percentage points, numerous redactions, and influential members that may not represent the consensus, CMO matching seems to be a foregone conclusion from the beginning. Simply looking at the data, the NAC and the matching process calls into question authentic and meaningful community engagement. The rubric data undermines everything the NAC proclaimed to be and refutes the constant message of high standards, accountability, data-centric approaches, student-centered mindsets, transparency, and community engagement espoused both by the current superintendent, Chris Barbic, and the incoming leader, Malika Anderson. At best, it’s disingenuous; at worse, its strategic community disenfranchisement.

Quite frankly, the NAC appears to be the same thing as the AAC, lip service. Now we have the data to prove it.

The Need for Action, The Need for Change

When I sat on the AAC, Margo Roen, then Deputy Chief Portfolio Officer, said she was surprised that I didn’t write a blog post about my AAC experience. I said, half-jokingly, that I didn’t want to be mean, but now I’m angry. Honestly, anyone looking at this data and reading these rubrics should be angry too. The ASD seems to be speaking out of both sides of its mouth. It sets the bar pretty high for priority schools trying to avoid a takeover, but sets the bar laughably low for matching operators. It claims to care about community engagement, but then puts extreme limits on the community voice and agency. It claims urgency for action, but asks for patience when it comes to turnaround.

I wanted to believe in the education reform espoused by the Achievement School District. I want kids to shoot from the bottom 5% to the top 25%. I do not take joy in the fact that academic institutions view the ASD’s effect as “statistically insignificant.” I am not happy that NAC rubrics illustrate low opinions of charters and a scoring mechanism that undermine the matching process. But something quickly needs to change, because Tennessee families continue to be sold a bill of goods by the ASD and out-of-town charters.

I have a simple suggestion for our legislature, because it seems very apparent that it will take a bill to entice honest operation by the ASD. Raumesh Akbari, as most educators know, passed a widely praised bill that took schools with a TVAAS composite of a 4 or 5 off the table for turnaround. There should be a bill that reflects the same for the expansion of the ASD. For any operator wishing to expand in the ASD, an aggregate TVAAS 4 or 5 must be necessary for all schools. Allowances could be made for new operators. However, for those already operating in the ASD, growth must be required. Second, an NAC-type structure is necessary, but must be heavily restructured and regulated outside of the ASD. There’s nothing wrong with the shape of the NAC, but the measurement tool makes very little sense and shows clear bias.

The worst part about it is that the ASD could have taken this exact approach to takeovers this year. A great example is the direct-run Achievement Schools. After some inconsistent results and a few rocky starts, all five of the Achievement Schools scored a composite 4 or a 5 last year. However, no schools were considered for the Achievement Schools in the matching process. Barbic is right to celebrate that fact in his opinion piece on Saturday; but his use of Whitney to prop up the cadre of charters considered for this year’s matching process is inaccurate and misleading. Green Dot’s Fairley High School has a TVAAS of 2 and Scholar Academies has no real track record in Tennessee. By all accounts, that should be unacceptable. Ultimately, it makes me think the expansion of the ASD is less about children and learning and more about adults and business plans.

NAC Rubric – no redacts, unweighted

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


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:

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

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



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