# Is the ASD Working?

That’s the question at the heart of this analysis by Ezra Howard over at Bluff City Ed.

Howard performs a longitudinal analysis of the performance of schools in the Achievement School District both before and after they were in the ASD to determine growth patterns.

Turns out, ASD is not doing so well at improving growth (the stated goal of ASD).

Howard does a great job of explaining his methods and outlining the case that “it’s fair to say that the Achievement School District has been a disappointment in the last two years. In terms of achievement, the results have been moderate at best (Math) and regressive at worst (ELA).”

The entire piece is worth a read, but I’m going to hit some highlights here.

Math

When comparing two years of growth under each district, the gains made by the LEA are actually greater than the ASD by almost 2%, 7.75% compared to 5.84%. Chart 2 illustrates the rate of growth for these schools since 2010. In summary, achievement gains have not hastened under the ASD; indeed, they continue to follow a trend that was already established in the two years before the ASD took over.

ELA

Once again, the LEA exceeded the ASD. Much discussion has been given to the regression of ELA scores in the first year of the ASD. But in examining the total growth of the same schools under the two different districts, it’s readily apparent that the LEA outperformed the ASD by over 4%, 4.64% total gains in P/A compared to 1.44%. Even the level of growth in the last year under the ASD, 3.40% in 2014, is less than that with the last year of the LEA before ASD takeover, 3.71% in 2012. Chart 2 exhibits the trend of growth for ELA, illustrating that the ASD failed to capitalize on the LEA’s momentum of increasing P/A rates in the same way that they were able to with math scores.

Policy Implications

Howard raises some important questions and addresses the policy implications of this analysis. First among them being can the ASD reach its stated goal? Howard writes:

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.

The ASD has already spent \$18 million in Race to the Top funds in addition to other resources from the district and outside sources. But, according to Howard’s analysis, the gains are minimal at best and appear to be no better than what would have happened had the schools been left in the care of their district.

Howard then raises the question of whether or not the ASD will end up being a long-term approach to school turnarounds based on its results.

Again, all of what Howard writes is insightful and his approach to the data is solid. It is well worth a close read.

# A Broader, Bolder SCORE Report

Today, newly-formed education advocacy group TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence) hosted a presentation by Elaine Weiss of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education.

Weiss discussed recent Tennessee education policy in the context of the drivers of educational inequality.  She pointed to research suggesting that poverty is a significant contributor to student outcomes and noted other research that suggests as much as 2/3 of student outcomes are predicted by factors outside of school.

Later in the day, SCORE (Statewide Collaborative on Reforming Education) released its annual State of Education in Tennessee Report.

Both reports indicate Tennessee has much work to do to improve educational outcomes.  There were some similarities and some differences in the approaches presented, however.

The SCORE report outlined five specific priorities for Tennessee education policy in 2014.  I’ll examine those and note where the Broader, Bolder Approach supported by Weiss matches up and where there are differences.

Here are the SCORE priorities:

• Maintaining a commitment to rigorous standards and assessments. The report says Tennessee must push forward with the continued implementation of the Common Core State Standards. It also points out that measuring student success with higher standards is needed for effective instruction, so Tennessee must continue its commitment to implementing the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) assessments.
• Strengthening schools through effective leadership. As Tennessee continues to implement student-centered initiatives it is crucial to have strong instructional leadership in every school, the report concludes. To build a pipeline of strong leaders, the state focus should be on creating an aligned, rigorous system for recruiting, training, evaluating and providing ongoing support to school leaders.
• Expanding student access to great teaching. The report specifically calls for providing teachers with the tools and resources – including instructional coaching, collaborative planning time, and targeted professional learning – that will enable them to be experts in their profession. The report also calls for helping teacher preparation programs implement more selective admissions processes and rigorous curriculum requirements that prioritize the skills and knowledge teachers need to support students in the classroom.
• Investing in technology to enhance instruction. The report says that although the upcoming online PARCC assessments are a catalyst for increasing technological capabilities in schools and school districts, investing in technology must be an ongoing priority and not just a one-time purchase. Students and teachers need daily access to technology and must be trained on using it, the report says.
• Supporting students from kindergarten to career. The report points out that in today’s economy most careers require training after high school. It specifically calls for creating a data-rich environment that equips leaders, educators, and parents with the information and tools they need and a data-driven approach to making decisions about policy and practice that will advance student success. It also recommends expanded opportunities for more students to take AP, International Baccalaureate, dual-credit, and dual-enrollment courses and to study science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects.

And here is some analysis in light of the Broader, Bolder presentation:

Standards/Assessment: Weiss suggests that higher standards alone do not improve student achievement.  She points to persistent achievement gaps over time in spite of increasing standards, particularly in the NCLB era.  She also notes the stress caused to students and parents due to increased testing.  She notes that in some cases, as much as 30 instructional days are lost to testing and test prep. She suggests that raising student achievement over time must not simply be a function of high standards but also must include a commitment to supporting students and families outside of school.

Strengthening Schools Through Effective Leadership: Here, SCORE focuses on providing support for the development of effective school principals.  Weiss also suggests the importance of providing support and development to teachers and school leaders.  She would note that having an effective leader alone won’t close the gap, but that having supported leaders along with strong community supports can make a difference.

Expanding Student Access to Great Teaching: Weiss notes that Tennessee’s teachers are among the lowest paid in the country.  SCORE does not specifically address teacher pay in its report.  SCORE does call for improved professional development and additional collaboration with teachers going forward.  SCORE also calls for continued use of TVAAS to identify quality teachers.  Weiss is clear that value-added modeling is inconsistent and unreliable as a tool for evaluating teachers.  At the same time, SCORE calls for adding growth measures to additional teachers (these may or may not be in the form of tests that feed into the TVAAS formula).

Access to Technology: While Weiss might also place value on technology, she’d also suggest that access to summer learning opportunities and enriching extended learning is important.  She points to research suggesting that low-income students tend to proceed at a rate comparable to their peers but lose significant ground over the summer.  That is, what teachers are doing is working, but outside supports are lacking.  Adding meaningful time to the school calendar is one way to address this.

Supporting Kids from Kindergarten to Career:  Weiss absolutely states that kids need a variety of supports throughout school to ensure their success.  She’d likely expand this recommendation to include supporting kids from Pre-Kindergarten through career.  In fact, Weiss notes that while Tennessee was once moving quickly to grow a high-quality Pre-K program, the state has not added a single Pre-K seat since winning Race to the Top. Weiss explicitly recommends continuing the growth of the state’s Pre-K program in order to provide a proven intervention that closes opportunity gaps.

With the exception of TVAAS, it seems the Broader, Bolder Approach outlined by Weiss would generally be in agreement with the SCORE recommendations.  However, as the name indicates, the approach favored by Weiss would be broader and more expansive.  It would include expanded access to Pre-K. It would provide both targeted support to teachers AND significantly better pay for teachers.  It would examine ways to add valuable learning time to the school calendar.  And it would seek a more balanced approach to administering tests in order to avoid an over-reliance on test-based assessments.

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

# Bruce Baker on Tennessee

Bruce Baker has taken notice of all the exciting education reforms happening right here in Tennessee. He thinks they are so great, he’s calling them a smokescreen.

You’re welcome to read the whole post. It has neat graphs and everything.  Here’s what I found most interesting:

…what do we know about the great state of Tennessee?

In short, Tennessee is simply NOT investing in schools.  And historically, the state hasn’t invested in schools.  As others have noted, all the education reform in the world won’t do anything without significant investment.

Baker concludes with this brilliant statement (admonition)?

My point here is that we all need to start looking at the BIG PICTURE regarding these state systems of schooling – the context into which new policies, new strategies, “reforms” if you will, are to be introduced. As I’ve noted previously, even if some of these reform strategies might be reasonable ideas warranting experimentation, whether charter expansion or teacher compensation and licensure reform, none can succeed in a system so substantially lacking in resources, and none can improve the equity of children’s outcomes unless there exists greater equity in availability of resources.

Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that Bluff City Education noted yesterday that Tennessee’s high school graduation rate dropped by 2.2% and that since 2010 (when Tennessee “won” Race to the Top) the state’s ACT scores have remained relatively stagnant.

What Tennessee needs is not more reform for the sake of reform.  Tennessee needs a sustained commitment to investment in its schools.