Six years ago the Tennessee Achievement School District launched with a five year mission to, in their words, ‘catapult’ schools in the bottom 5% into the top 25%.
Tennessee won $500 million in Race To The Top money and dedicated millions of that into the creation, and most importantly, the marketing of it. The marketing firm they hired is very proud of the work they did and still feature the ASD on their websites as a successful promotional campaign.
The way an ‘Achievement School District’ works is that the district takes over low performing schools and either runs it themselves or, more commonly, gives them to a charter network. In 2011 the ASD comprised of six schools and now that has grown to over thirty schools.
Two years into the five-year mission, the superintendent at the time, TFA alum Chris Barbic, declared in an interview that of the original six schools, two were on target to get to the top 25% in five years while one of the six schools, Brick Church Elementary, was on a trajectory to reach the goal after just four years.
Three years into the five-year mission, the improvements that he had based these projections on did not continue and Barbic was saying that they underestimated how difficult this would be, even admitting that the ‘immigrant poverty’ he worked with as a charter school founder in Houston is very different than the ‘generational poverty’ he works with in Tennessee.
Four years into the five-year mission, Barbic resigned from the ASD, citing among other things, his health as he had recently had a heart attack. He soon got hired by the John Arnold foundation to work on education issues for them.
Five years into the five-year mission, the Tennessee ASD was saved by a computer glitch so the state test scores had to be invalidated. We would never know if the ASD got any of their schools from the bottom 5% to the top 25% in five years. We would have to wait one more year and see if they could do it in six years.
The results for the sixth year were released today.
On the Tennessee Ed Department website, I downloaded the database with the recent scores. For each school they had an ELA and a math score. What I did was add together these two scores and then sort all the schools that have 3-8 scores and see where the original six schools now are, how far they catapulted in six years.
The title of this post, ‘The Great Tennessee Achievement School District Experiment Finally Comes To An End’ is a bit misleading. While it is true that the five (or six) year experiment has come to an end, the Tennessee ASD continues to limp on. They erased from their website the old mission of catapulting the bottom 5% to the top 25% in five years and have replaced it with an ambiguous mission of “By 2025, we will close the opportunity gaps long persistent in Tennessee’s public education.” Whether or not the ASD is still around in 8 years is anyone’s guess. Barbic’s replacement resigned a few months ago and, with her, there are no people left from the original ASD team to be held accountable.
There are actually other states considering starting their own ASDs, I just read that Mississippi is working on it. Georgia, North Carolina and Nevada already have them in the works. There was one in Michigan which folded and there is still the original one in New Orleans which continues to post awful test results.
Reformers claim that they care about accountability, but when it comes to people in the reform family, they tend to ignore colossal failures like the Tennessee ASD.