Protect Yourself From ASDs

If you’re a student, a parent, a teacher, or otherwise interested in education policy, you will soon likely hear about the latest fad in education reform ― ASDs.  An ASD, short for ‘Achievement School District,’ is something modeled after ‘The’ ASD in Tennessee.  Tennessee’s ASD was an education experiment started in 2011 where the state either took over, or turned over to charter networks, schools with test scores in the bottom 5% of the state.  These takeovers are the school district equivalent of martial law.  Most, if not all, of the teachers and administrators are fired.

In return for this ultimate flexibility, the Tennessee ASD promised, according to its website, to ‘catapult’ these schools into the top 25% within 5 years.  Two years after the creation of the Tennessee ASD an optimistic superintendent, Chris Barbic, claimed that three of the six original ASD schools were on track to achieve that ambitious goal, one of them having made so much progress it could break the barrier after just four years.  But this turned out to be a very rosy view.  Now five years have passed and the number of schools that achieved this goal is exactly zero.  Of the six original ASD schools, actually, five out of six remain in the bottom 5% while the other one has only catapulted into the bottom 7%. An independent report from Vanderbilt’s Peabody College from December 2015 concluded after crunching the numbers that “the performance of ASD schools has been inconsistent across school years, in most cases showing no difference from the comparison schools.” Another report recently released by George Washington University came to the same conclusion and tried to identify what the causes of their failure were.  It might be time to rename it the Underachievement School District.  It is no wonder that many members of communities that the ASD has invaded are angry.  The other established ASD, Detroit’s Education Achievement Authority (EAA), has been such a failure that it is getting phased out.

But publicly available facts like this have played little role in the proliferation of such districts.  This approach to school reform has been popping up in state after state.  ASDs currently exist in Tennessee, Detroit, Nevada, Milwaukee, and North Carolina while legislation has been proposed to create them in Georgia, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Rochester.  This approach has been endorsed, even encouraged, by the US department of Education, as targeting the ‘bottom 5%’ of schools in each district has been written into the latest education law the Every Child Succeeds Act, which replaced the much maligned No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top initiative.

Each time the idea of creating an ASD is introduced by a state legislator, testimony from people whose own professional futures depend on the perception of success in the Tennessee ASD are used to get the required votes.  Various education reform lobbyist groups produce reports and blogs about how successful these ASDs have been.

I think that education is a true science and one that deserves to evolve according to the scientific method.  In the case of these ASDs, the initial conjecture would be that tenured teachers cause low test scores.  The experiment to verify this conjecture is to create an ASD somewhere like Tennessee, fire the tenured teachers, and let the charter schools take over and teach the students.  Education reformers seem to have no problem with these first steps.  But the power of the scientific method is completely nullified when the results of the experiment are ignored when they contradict the working conjecture.  That is what has happened in this case and why ASDs are gaining momentum around the country.

Any state considering making an ASD would be wise to listen to the words of the pioneer of the Tennessee ASD, former superintendent, Chris Barbic.  A few months ago on a panel discussion Barbic was asked if he thought it was good that various states were considering replicating his program.  Even he had his doubts.  He said that there is a very limited supply of charters capable of executing these difficult turnaround efforts.  If twelve states, he said, are all trying to get the same four or five charter operators, “it’s gonna create an issue.”  Considering his dream team of charter operators could not move the original ASD schools out of the bottom 5%, this is a sobering assessment of the viability of creating franchises of these turnaround districts around the country.

Education reform is full of false promises and magic beans.  Whether it is charter schools, test-based teacher evaluations, school closures, merit pay, making a more difficult curriculum, common core standardized tests, computerized learning, these strategies should not proliferate based on skewed PR, but on actual merit.  How can we expect kids to become critical thinkers when decisions about their future are made by people who refuse to be critical thinkers themselves?

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11 Responses to Protect Yourself From ASDs

  1. brackenkaren says:

    The REAL problem is the agenda of the ASD sold to the public and the legislators is not the REAL agenda of the ASD. Take for example the background of Chris Barbic. He worked with Teach for America and he is a graduate of the Broad Superintendent Academy. Eli Broad is all about privatizing public education and I am sure Mr. Barbic graduated from the Broad Academy meeting all the requirements of a Broadie. After graduation Broad finds jobs for its graduates in leadership roles in education in order to create the transition. Some of these graduates have no class room experience nor do they have an education background. Sometimes Broad even agrees to pay part of the salary for the newly hired infiltrator. The REAL agenda is to end all traditional public schools and eliminate elected school boards. So while they sell choice what they are really giving is an alternative. No choice and eventually when the elected school boards are gone parents will have no voice either. The ASD in Tennessee was not the pioneer of this movement. The New Orleans RSD was the test pilot for the TN and all other states ASD. But lets get real. With the dismal results of the RSD and the TN ASD they continue to move forward. Why? Because the goal is NOT to improve poor performing schools it is to privatize education making its investors (Gates, Walton, Broad etc) billions of $$$$s. To control education and to control what is taught to our children. It is corporate fascism at its finest. The federal government assists the business and the business does the dirty work the federal government cannot do and then the business gets tax breaks and special treatment. I think most would know this as pay to play but in reality it is corporate fascism. TN ASD must be ended ASAP. But believe me many legislators in TN have found it very rewarding (if you get my drift) for their support of the ASD.

    • Scott Draper says:

      “TN have found it very rewarding (if you get my drift) ”

      Do you have any evidence of bribery? My guess is probably not. Many people engage in misguided enterprises because they mistakenly think it’s the right thing to do.

      • brackenkaren says:

        I did not say bribery. My “drift ” is campaign contributions from many of TN legislators from groups that support this crap. It is legislators carrying the water bucket for lobbyists and special interest group. Do you know something about bribery you would like to share?? If not shut your trap and stop making accusations that I said or implied something that I did not.

      • Michael Fiorillo says:

        Scott, you are what you do, not what you believe, especially when those “beliefs” (based entirely on propaganda and disinformation about the public schools, since virtually none of these people have ever had more than a cup of coffee in a public school classroom) are handsomely rewarded by people with financial and political interests in so-called reform.

        “Good, decent people” don’t try to bust unions. “Good, decent people” don’t try to destroy the livelihoods of people who have spent their professional lives in the classroom. “Good, decent people” don’t try to undermine a democratic public good, and replace it with privatized Skinner Boxes For Dark-Skinned Children (a la KIPP, Success Academy, Uncommon Schools, et. al.). “Good, decent people” don’t helicopter in to to take the jobs of people who’ve been illegally and arbitrarily fired, while colonizing an entire city, as in New Orleans.

        So-called education reform needs a constant stream of churned, disposable naifs and ingenues. Giving your colleagues the benefit of the doubt, it sounds like that’s what they are, but how long can you claim to be the ingenue when the gross deception and destruction of so-called reform has been obvious for years? At that point, one’s claims to “goodness” and ” decency” should be openly challenged.

        At best, your “good, decent” colleagues are lying to themselves, while benefitting from a gigantic fraud and looting of the public. Conscious of it or not, they are most certainly lying to others, as well.

      • Scott Draper says:


        Most of your accusations are ideological interpretations. For instance, (and only as an example), you say that good, decent people don’t bust unions. Well, certainly they do, if they perceive those unions as undermining the public good. It’s undeniable that in some cases, unions have interfered with necessary changes to the educational environment.

        Everything else you say also indicates an inability to see things from another’s point of view, which is emphasized when you use words like “obvious”. The word practically means “Any view other than my own is stupid.” You don’t win friends that way.

        My view is that the language you use will only appeal to those who already agree with you and will further alienate those who don’t.

    • Scott Draper says:

      “shut your trap”

      You are very rude. But my point remains: some people support policies that are misguided because they believe in them. You disparage their motives by claiming that that they act through selfishness. It’s an unfortunately human tendency to demonize those who oppose us, but our opponents are rarely as malicious as we assume. I remind you of Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by incompetence.

      • Michael Fiorillo says:

        Scott, three points:

        – you ask about specific instances of bribery: fair enough, but keep in mind the term coined by Tammany political leader George Washington Plunkett (“I seen my opportunities and I took ’em”). He spoke about “Honest Graft,” – the milking for personal benefit of conflicts among interested parties – which is rampant in the world of so-called education reform.

        – the fact that so-called reformers “believe” in the failed, robotic nonsense they spout and implement transacts at an extremely high discount, given what I discussed above. Of course they believe it: immensely wealthy and powerful people spend huge sums of money to insure that their beliefs receive positive reinforcement, in the form of money, influence and status.

        – while I think Hanlon’s Razor may be good general guide for public misfeasance/incompetence, in the case of so-called education reform we have a long, long catalogue of openly vicious behavior and statements by these people, amounting to a definite pattern.

        The most charitable question that can be asked about so-called reformers is, “Where does the incompetence end, and the malice begin?” Whether it’s Michele Rhee gleefully asking a reporter if they’d like to to film her firing someone, Eva Moskowitz’s “Got-to-Go” lists and abusive treatment of students, Arne Duncan’s comments on Hurricane Katrina following upon the arbitrary and wholesale firing of five thousand public school employees… the list is endless.

        There are so many nasty people at work amid the reform apparat (along with the garden-variety opportunists and naifs) that malice, used as a shock-and-awe tactic in their hostile takeover of education, should be the default assumption.

      • Scott Draper says:


        I work for an organization that believes fervently in most of these reform efforts; no one is getting rich because of it. I myself am a skeptic, primarily because I think that Diane’s book described reality better than anything else I’ve read.

        What I think is that most people have convinced themselves that the reform efforts will start bearing fruit any day now and are highly resistant to any suggestion that they’re failing.

        These are all good, decent, caring people and it’s not fair to taint them with Rhee’s nastiness. Arguably, these people have simply been led astray.

        Once you accuse them of corruption, you lose most of your ability to persuade them to your point of view. This alone should be enough reason to avoid such claims.

        The bigger problem, in my view, is ideology, because the free market theories that underlie much of the reform movement have appeal across the political spectrum. Having an ideology in hand allows you to ignore almost any quantity of evidence.

  2. brackenkaren says:

    I am not rude. I speak the truth. You are the one that made an unfounded accusation about the meaning of what I said instead of asking what I meant by the statement. After everything reported in this article all you can concentrate on is the fact that I made an insinuation that maybe our elected are not as innocent as one might think.

  3. Pingback: Gary Rubinstein: Beware of ASDs! | Diane Ravitch's blog

  4. Michael Fiorillo says:

    “It”s undeniable that in some cases, unions have interfered with necessary changes in the education environment.”

    That’s straight-up, 100 proof ideology, conveniently devoid of supporting facts or examples.

    You just revealed what you’re really doing here, which is called concern trolling.

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