Seven years ago, as part of Tennessee’s Race To The Top plan, they launched The Achievement School District (ASD). With a price tag of over $100 million, their mission was to take schools that were in the bottom 5% of schools and, within five years, raise them into the top 25%.
They started with six schools and three years into the experiment, Chris Barbic, the superintendent of the ASD had a ‘mission accomplished’ moment where he declared in an interview that three of those six schools were on track to meet that goal.
But a year later, the gains that led to that prediction had disappeared and it wasn’t looking good for any of those six schools. By the time the five year mark had been reached, in the Fall of 2016, Chris Barbic had already resigned and taken a job with the John Arnold Foundation.
The thing about 2016, though, the exact progress of the ASD schools could not be determined, officially. Tennessee releases their official ‘priority’ list of the bottom 5% schools every three years. And, conveniently enough, the last one was in 2015. So even though it was clear in 2016 that the original 6 ASD schools would not be in the top 25%, an even more important question — how many of those schools remained in the bottom 5%? — would not be known officially for two more years, in the Fall of 2018.
A few days ago, Tennessee finally released the long-awaited 2018 priority schools list, and for the ASD, the results were decisive and devastating.
The original six ASD schools were: Brick Church College Prep, Cornerstone Prep — Lester Campus, Corning Achievement Elementary School, Frayser Achievement Elementary School, Humes Preparatory Academy — Upper School, and Westside Achievement Middle School. Humes Prep was already shut down for poor performance two years ago. Of the remaining five, all five remain on the priority list after seven years. So the promise to get these six schools out of the bottom 5% and into the top 25%, to say the least, was not met. They didn’t even get them into the top 95%.
Also on the list is a school called Neely’s Bend. This school is of interest because it is one of the last schools to be taken over by the ASD. Back in December 2014, the ASD said it was going to either take over Neely’s Bend or Madison Middle School. This was a very controversial decision especially when they held the community meetings for those two schools simultaneously. Well, they decided to take Neely’s Bend so this provides an excellent ‘separated at birth’ opportunity. Two schools that were very similar, both facing takeover at the same time. Four years later, the school that was taken over, Neely’s Bend is in the bottom 5% while the other school does not appear on this list.
Tennessee received $700 million for winning a Race To The Top grand. This money was controlled by former commissioner Kevin Huffman, who was a TFA alum, a former TFA Vice President, and a former husband of reform folk-hero Michelle Rhee. $100 million was spent on the Achievement School District. For seven years to go by and these original six school making zero progress must be the most ironic — in a sad way — story of education reform gone awry.