The Tennessee Achievement School District started in August 2012 with six schools. With an initial budget of $20 million a year, they started their mission to take schools from the bottom 5% and, in their words, ‘catapult’ them into the top 25% in five years. After four years they had grown to about 30 schools, and have leveled off there. The majority of these schools have been converted to charter schools.
Two years after they launched, an optimistic Chris Barbic, the first superintendent of the ASD, had a ‘mission accomplished’ moment when he declared that three of the original six schools were on track to meet the goal on or before the five year deadline. But the projected gains did not pan out and now, six years later, five out of six of the original schools are still in the bottom 5% with one of them not faring much better. Chris Barbic resigned in 2015 and his successor Malika Anderson resigned in 2017.
The ASD was, at one time, an experiment that Reformers were very excited about. In 2015, just before Barbic resigned, Mike Petrilli hosted a panel discussion at the Fordham Institute celebrating the lofty goals of the ASD, the RSD, and Michigan’s turnaround district.
Year after year, all the research on the Tennessee ASD has been negative (except for research that they, themselves, produced). In 2015, a Vanderbilt study found the district to be ineffective. In 2016, a George Washington study agreed. And now, as if we need any more proof, a new 2018 Vanderbilt study found that schools in the ASD have done no better than schools in the bottom 5% that had not been taken over by the ASD.
Like a cat, the Tennessee ASD seems to have nine lives. Reformers could learn something from the $100 million blunder. Instead, the first two superintendents were inducted into the Reformer Hall of Fame, known as Jeb Bush’s Chiefs For Change.