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


 

You’ve Been Warned

MNPS Board Members Will Pinkston and Christiane Buggs wrote a column for the Atlanta Journal Constitution urging voters in Georgia to reject that state’s effort to create an Opportunity School District modeled after Tennessee’s struggling Achievement School District.

Here’s some of what they had to say:

Under this hostile approach, the ASD rips schools from their communities and hands them over to charter operators that convert them into taxpayer-subsidized private schools. Rather than sticking to a limited scope with a baker’s dozen schools, as originally envisioned, the ASD now has nearly 30 schools in its purview — and it’s expanding every year in ill-advised ways.

They also pointed to a recent Vanderbilt study to note the ASD’s lack of results:

If the ASD actually was working, some of it might be defensible. But research by Vanderbilt University shows the ASD is failing. The online news outlet Chalkbeat recently reported that a locally led school-turnaround initiative in Memphis has “sizable positive effects on student test scores, while the ASD’s effects are marginal.”

Tennessee’s ASD came about as a result of legislative approval of the (ultimately winning) Race to the Top application. As Buggs and Pinkston note, in its current form, the ASD has moved beyond the original vision. In doing so, the ASD has encountered problems that include troubling audit findings and a struggle to demonstrate results.

Georgia voters get to weigh-in on whether or not their state creates an ASD clone. Buggs and Pinkston offer a cautionary tale of well-intentioned reform gone wrong.

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


 

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


 

 

 

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


 

 

 

 

 

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

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