Of all the failed experiments conducted on families and children by the modern education reformers, perhaps the biggest failure is Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD).
Started in 2011 by TFAer and YES Prep Charter chain founder Chris Barbic, hired by then Tennessee commissioner of education, former TFA VP, and ex-husband of Michelle Rhee, herself, Kevin Huffman, the Tennessee ASD was funded by Arne Duncan’s Race To The Top money.
The promise of the ASD was that they would take over schools in the bottom 5% and convert them to charter schools and, within five years, move them from the bottom 5% to the top 25% within five years.
Here was their original mission from their website:
After two years, they were claiming they were on schedule to accomplish this with two of the original six schools. The ASD quickly grew to about 30 schools. But after four years it was clear that not only would none of the original ASD schools be in the top 25% after five years, but that they would be lucky if any of them catapulted out of the bottom 5%. Chris Barbic resigned, got inducted into Chiefs For Change, and got a job as an education advisor to the Arnold Foundation. A new superintendent came in, she resigned, also got inducted into Chiefs for Change, and finally, less than a year ago, another new superintendent came in. The ASD, by really any metric, was a hundred million dollar fiasco.
They changed their mission statement on their website to:
So it was not surprising to learn from Chalkbeat, TN that the ASD recently hired a consulting firm to ‘rebrand’ themselves.
A document that would be funny if the ASD hadn’t harmed the education of so many children, describes the various ‘pivots’ in their public relations strategy:
I’m not sure how these new words to replace the old words actually help students learn more in these schools.
And now the mission on their website says:
So what started out as a concrete measurable goal that they could be held accountable for — move schools from the bottom 5% to the top 25% in 5 years has now turned to the nebulous goal of closing opportunity gaps by the year 2025.
Among the reform funded education websites: The74, Education Post, and Chalkbeat are the three most popular. And compared to those other two, Chalkbeat is much more balanced. But when it comes to the Tennessee branch of Chalkbeat, they are really the worst. Here they are with a huge scandal. Tennessee was, and continues to be, victims of a $100 million con pulled off right in front of them. The con men have left town long ago — they always do, yet the con continues. And rather than exposing this and holding the ASD accountable, as the media there should be, look at what Chalkbeat chooses to title their article about this PR stunt: “Tennessee’s state-run district has a new look. Here’s why the Achievement School District invested in rebranding.” The key word here is ‘invested.’ ‘Invested’ is way too positive a verb for what the TN ASD is trying to do. And ‘rebranding’ is a nice way of saying ‘lying.’ And then in the article itself, they actually try to imply that the ASD has had some success:
Some of the district’s schools have seen academic gains. Georgian Hills has been a success story for the district – the elementary school not only left the bottom 5% but moved out of the bottom 10%. Just three years ago, Georgian Hills was in the bottom 2% of schools. Last year, 13 schools in the Achievement School District stayed off of the state list of schools in the bottom 5%.
Most of the ASD schools are still in the bottom 5%. Out of the original 6 schools I think that one was shut down, four are still in the bottom 5%, and one is in the bottom 6% last I checked. Of the other 24 schools, some of them have been closed closed down. As far as their one miracle school, Georgian Hills, I’m not sure how far out of the bottom 10% they are, but according to their state data, they got a 1.8 out of 4 on achievement and a 2.0 out of 4 on growth. And even if one out of over 30 schools in their experiment made some progress, this is a very low percent of success, about 3%. Statistically speaking, if there are 30 schools, one of them has to make the most gains, so I would expect, like if you threw 5 coins in the air, one out of 32 times, on average, they will come up all heads. That’s just random chance, not a miracle.
Maybe one day Chalkbeat, TN will wake up and realize they are sitting on a huge story and they will take their jobs seriously and cover it properly.