Archives for category: Tennessee

Mitchell Robinson, Associate Professor of Music Education at Michigan State University, has compiled a handy guide to the bold idea of “achievement school districts.”

 

There is the Recovery School District in New Orleans; the Education Achievement Authority in Michigan; the Achievement School District in Tennessee; and more on the way in other states.

 

The main thing you need to know about these experimental districts is that they promise rapid improvement in the state’s lowest performing schools, and all of them have failed.

 

Here are the key traits of Achievement School Districts:

 

School Funding

 

Individual ASD schools are often required to pay a “kickback” or “tax” to the state ASD authority for the “privilege” of being identified as a “low performing school”. In Nevada, “ASD schools receive the same state and local per-pupil resources that they would have received as part of their original home district. This includes local, state, and federal funding. As with other charter school sponsors, the ASD will receive a small administrative fee from each school it authorizes.” (bold added)
In other words, in spite of the probability that an ASD school has been chronically underfunded for years, perhaps decades, the state will now take its own cut from whatever local, state and federal funding the school may be receiving for administrative overhead, further decreasing the actual number of dollars that are going to classrooms, teachers and children.
Local Control

 

Local control, long recognized as a hallmark of public education, is a dinosaur in ASDs. In Detroit, the locally-elected school board still meets, but has essentially been stripped of all power and authority. The members of the elected school board refer to themselves as being “exiled,” and the newly elected state superintendent of schools has called on the governor and state legislators to return control of the Detroit Public Schools to the local school board, saying, “I believe we ought to have a Detroit school district for the Detroit community.” Instead, Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed a radical plan to split the city’s schools into two districts: one to educate children, and the other devoted to addressing the district’s debt problem.

 
Transparency

Even though it is often trumpeted as an integral aspect of effective school governance, very few ASDs follow their own propaganda when it comes to transparency in reporting. Detroit’s EAA is an especially notorious offender in this respect, making claims that do not stand even the faintest amounts of scrutiny. According to Wayne State professor of education Thomas Pedroni, the EAA’s “internal data directly contradicts their MEAP data. Even Scantron, the maker of the internal assessment, would not stand behind the EAA’s growth claims. And Veronica Conforme, the current EAA Chancellor, removed all the dishonest growth claims from their advertising and their website, and told me personally she doesn’t give them credence for the purpose the EAA used them for.” For more from Dr. Pedroni on the EAA’s specious relationship with transparency, see this, and this.

 
Punitive vs. Educative Methods

Many ASD charters include language regarding the possible consequences if schools do not meet “adequate yearly progress” goals, such as: “Operators of ASD schools that do not demonstrate meaningful improvement will be held accountable pursuant to policies set by the ASD.” Indeed, school closings have become a prominent tool in the school reform playbook:
Washington, D.C. closed 23 buildings in 2008. Officials are currently considering another 15 closures.
New York City closed more than 140 schools since 2002; leaders recently announced plans to shutter 17 more, beginning in 2013-14.
Chicago closed 40-plus buildings in the early 2000s. The district recently released a list of 129 schools to be considered for closure.
This approach follows guidelines first established in the No Child Left Behind legislation, which stipulate draconian changes for any school that fails to meet yearly progress within five years….

 

This thinking represents a sea change in terms of strategy with respect to schooling and education policy. Never in our nation’s history have we taken a punitive approach rather than an educative approach when schools or children have struggled with demonstrating expected levels of progress.

Chris Barbic led the Achievement School District in Tennessee from May 2011 until resigning a few days ago. Barbic has sterling reformer credentials: he is both an alum of Teach for America and a graduate of the Eli Broad center. After creating the YES Prep charter chain in Houston (which won the Broad Prize for Charter School Excellence in 2012), Barbic was invited to Tennessee by then State Commissioner Kevin Huffman to achieve a daunting task: To take control of the lowest-performing schools in the state and move them to the top 25%. Barbic, a Broadie, was sure he could do it. When he took charge, he handed neighborhood schools (mostly in Memphis) over to various charter operators. (Here is a report on the ASD by EduShyster, written in 2012.)

Despite a steady stream of press releases claiming progress, the reality was that test scores barely budged. Four years into the five-year plan, none of the ASD schools are in the state’s top 25%. In addition, local parents and communities pushed back, angry about losing their neighborhood school to outsiders. Even Barbic’s YES Prep chain decided not to join the Achievement School District.

Barbic declared when he announced his resignation, “Let’s just get real.” He acknowledged that it is easier to get good results in a choice school than to transform a neighborhood school.

In a choice school, the students choose the school, and the schools choose the students.

“Barbic admitted what skeptics of charter schools have preached for years — “achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment.”

The Houston Chronicle reported:

“Barbic, as founder of the highly acclaimed YES Prep charter school network in Houston, was used to starting schools from scratch, enrolling students whose parents chose to send them there instead of to their zoned school. Charter schools in Texas are supposed to be open-enrollment, meaning they can’t set admission criteria, but some people argue that charters benefit simply from enrolling children with more motivated parents.

“Tennessee presented a different challenge for Barbic. There, he was charged with launching a special school district that included the state’s lowest-performing schools. A key part of Barbic’s mission was to recruit charter networks to step in and improve the schools. However, he ran into some trouble as most charter operators have a start-from-scratch model, rather than taking over existing schools. Even YES Prep withdrew from the experiment.”

But here is an irony:

Terry Grier, the Houston superintendent, has hired Jason Bernal—Barbic’s successor at YES Prep–to take charge of transforming Houston’s lowest performing middle schools and high schools. He will be Houston’s “chief transformation officer.”

Lindsay Wagner of NC Policy Watch asks whether North Carolina will be next to copy Tennessee’s floundering “Achievement School District.”

 

The idea is that the state will take over low-scoring schools, put them into a special district, and hand them over to private charter operators. All teachers will have to reapply for their jobs.

 

The ASD has encountered community opposition in Tennessee. Teachers leave, parents leave, enrollment declines, and there is no turnaround.

 

“Tennessee established an Achievement School District (ASD) five years ago in an effort to turn around failing schools, targeting schools primarily located in Memphis and Nashville.

 

How it works: the state identifies its bottom five percent of schools based on their students’ performance on standardized tests and marks them ‘priority schools,’ placing them within the state-controlled Achievement School District with the goal of lifting them up into the state’s top 25 percent within five years.

 

In most cases, however, the state doesn’t run the priority schools—instead, Tennessee contracts out their management to private charter school operators.

 

“It’s been so disruptive to the community,” parent advocate Lyn Hoyt, who is founder and president of TREE, Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence, a group dedicated to fighting for strong and equitable public schools, told N.C. Policy Watch.

 

“Schools in the ASD have a very hard time getting community buy-in,” said Hoyt. “A charter management company comes in and takes over a school, forces the teachers and staff to reapply for their jobs, and there is just no choice in the matter. The school has to take on a whole new persona under new management.”

 

Hoyt says that because the charter takeovers tend to be very sudden, parents become angry that their beloved neighborhood schools, which often serve as cornerstones of Memphis communities, become quickly transformed into unknown entities. Teachers hoping to hold on to their tenure rights tend to leave for more stable work environments if they can find them, and parents who have the means tend to pull their kids from the ASD charter schools in search of alternative options, leaving even larger concentrations of low-income, at-risk youth in the ASD schools.

 

Since the creation of the achievement school district, four charter operators have pulled out of Memphis—at least two because they saw troubling enrollment decreases, said Hoyt.”

 

The ASD has achieved nothing of consequence. By any objective measure, it has been a failure. Why should North Carolina copy Tennessee’s failed ASD?

 

– See more at: http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2015/07/15/is-north-carolina-next-in-line-for-new-orleans-style-takeovers-of-failing-schools/#sthash.Ej3hTPqw.dpuf

While several states, including Georgia and North Carolina, plan to copy Tennessee’s Achievement School District, the founding director of the ASD has announced his resignation. Chris Barbic will leave in December.

Barbic had pledged to take the bottom 5% of schools–mostly in Memphis–and move them to the top 25%. Faced with community resistance, the ASD faltered. Several charter chains–including Yes Prep, the chain founded by Chris Barbic–pulled out.

Meanwhile the ASD is nearing the five-year mark and none if its schools are in the top 25%.

Lesson: it is easier to start a new charter and select motivated students than to take over neighborhood schools with an existing population.

Gary Rubinstein watched a panel discussion on the reform movement’s three allegedly successful turnaround districts. He reports on the discussion here. The discussion was sponsored by the Fordham Institute, which is in the forefront of the privatization movement. This is an impressive debunking of “reformer” boasts. It is especially important because so many in the media take those false claims at face value, and several states say they intend to copy one of these failed models.

 

Rubinstein points out that none of these highly touted examples of “reform” success are successful. New Orleans is a swamp of conflicting data, but the bottom line is that it continues to be one of the lowest performing districts in one of the lowest performing states in the nation. The Tennessee “Achievement School District” is based on a bold and wholly unrealistic pledge by Chris Barbic that he could take the lowest performing schools in the state and lift them into the state’s highest 25% in only five years. That has not happened, and it may never happen. The third speaker is from Michigan’s woeful Education Achievement Authority, which has produced numerous scandals but not much academic progress for the students.

 

Rubinstein uses his keen mathematical intelligence to dissect each of the reformers’ claims. In the case of the Achievement School District, he points to the slippery use of data (a common trait among all the “reform” projects):

 

In a very revealing moment, Barbic explains that he’s the one who came up with the bottom 5% to top 25% in five years. He could have just said bottom 5% to bottom 10% and he wouldn’t be taking such heat now, but having such an ambitious goal had a positive side effect since “It created a momentum and an urgency that we needed to create to get this off the ground” and allowed them to recruit ‘partners’ and leaders and teachers. In other words, it was a lie, but it was a worthwhile one since it tricked people into giving us their money.

 

Barbic makes some bizarre claims about the success so far of the ASD like that the bottom 5% ‘priority schools’ are growing ‘four times faster than the rest of the state.’ To put this in context, the rest of the state of Tennessee has had flat math scores and declining reading scores. So if the state went up, on average, of .25%, then ‘four times’ that is just 1%.

 

Rubinstein notes:

 

Watching these three turnaround gurus quote misleading statistics, give vague abstract answers, and really offer nothing in terms of concrete ideas from what they’ve learned in trying (unsuccessfully) to turnaround their respective districts, made me think that rather than call these ASDs, it would be more accurate to call them BSDs.

 

 

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse for Detroit, here come the stars of the corporate reform movement with advice to do more of what Detroit has been doing without success.

 

More than half the students are in charter schools, but Detroit doesn’t have enough, it seems. The lowest-performing schools were dumped into the woebegone “Education Achievement Authority,” under an emergency manager with dictatorial powers, but that didn’t go anywhere.

 

If Detroit can’t get its school problems solved, it won’t be for lack of quality advice from national education experts.

 

As city and state leaders seek to figure out how best to salvage Detroit Public Schools and improve performance across a complex network of school choices, top school reformers from around the country want a piece of the action, too.

 

Last week, Michael Petrilli, CEO of the D.C.-based Fordham Institute, and Eric Chan, a partner at the Charter School Growth Fund, were a few of the latest to drop in on Detroit. Excellent Schools Detroit, which is helping lead the conversation locally about improving all city schools, invited them to town to discuss how best to create the right environment for quality charter school growth.

 

The more insights, the merrier. Other cities have undergone major school turnarounds, and there are consistent guidelines for success. When asked what Detroit needs to do to start showing results for kids, Petrilli and Chan echoed similar ideas.

 

“Deal with low-performing schools, and encourage high-performers,” says Petrilli, whose organization works to raise the quality of U.S. schools. “There are concrete things we can do.”

 

The examples of success offered by Petrilli and Chan: New Orleans, the District of Columbia, and Memphis. Privatization is the answer. Neither Petrilli nor Chan has an idea about how to improve public education. Just privatize it. Get rid of it. Bring in high-quality “seats.”

 

Readers of this blog have read again and again that most charter schools in New Orleans are rated D or F schools by the state of Louisiana; D.C. continues to be one of the lowest performing districts in the nation, as judged by the NAEP; and Memphis is home to the all-charter Achievement School District, whose founder Chris Barbic promised would produce a dramatic turnaround in only five years. That turnaround has not happened. Not in  New Orleans, D.C., or Memphis.

 

Surely there must be better examples of success for corporate reform. Or are there?

 

 

 

 

Knox County, Tennessee, has a superintendent, Jim McIntyre, who is a graduate of the unaccredited Broad Superintendent’s Academy. McIntyre accepted a grant from Broad to hire another Broadie as director of planning and improvement. McIntyre didn’t seek approval from either the Knox County Board of Education or County Commission for the grant, which was partially underwritten by the Broad Foundation.

On Monday, the Knox County Commission rejected the grant, which has already been spent. perhaps Superintendent McIntyre should replace the taxpayer funds expended on this illegal hire. Was it patronage to his benefactor?

As we have seen in many districts, Broadies tend to hire other Broadies (and TFA). This is a rate rebuke to the Broad Foundation, which is a strong supporter of top-down management, high-stakes testing, charter schools, and school closings (to make way for charter schools.)

Thanks to reader Ellen Lubic for bringing this story to my attention.

The Education Cpmmission of the States will present its James Bryant Conant award to Willism Sanders. Sanders is a pioneer of VAM (also known as value-added measurement or modeling).

 

VAM is probably the single worst feature of corporate reform, the one that is most likely to demoralize teachers, lead to early retirements, and to the decline in new recruits to teaching. Sanders promotes the idea that teachers can be evaluated by the test scores of their students. He pioneered VAM in Tennessee in the late 1980s and today it is a widely used methodology, even though Sanders has copyrighted his methods; it is proprietary and other researchers are not allowed to understand how it works.

 

Although Sanders’ team markets his product with grandiose claims, one need only look at Tennessee to see that it is not near the top of NAEP. After 30 years of VAM, what does Tennessee have to show for its reliance on high-stakes testing? Who would call Temnessee today a national model?

 

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley describes Sanders:

 

“VAMs were first adopted in education in the late 1980s, when an agricultural statistician/adjunct professor [emphasis added, as an adjunct professor is substantively different than a tenured/tenure-track professor] at the University of Knoxville, Tennessee – William Sanders – thought that educators struggling with student achievement in the state should “simply” use more advanced statistics, similar to those used when modeling genetic and reproductive trends among cattle, to measure growth, hold teachers accountable for that growth, and solve the educational measurement woes facing the state at the time by doing so. It was to be as simple as that….”

 

Chalkbeat, which covers education issues in Tennessee, recognizes that VAM is very controversial:

 

“As per the article: “Hailed by many who seek greater accountability in education, [Sanders’s] TVAAS continues to be a topic of robust discussion in the education community in Tennessee and across the nation. It has been the source of numerous federal lawsuits filed by teachers who charge that the evaluation system—which has been tied to teacher pay and tenure—is unfair and doesn’t take into account student socio-economic variables such as growing up in poverty. Sanders maintains that teacher effectiveness dwarfs all other factors as a predictor of student academic growth.”

 

Amrein-Beardsley is stunned that ECS is giving this honor to a man who tried to turn teacher evaluation into a “science” comparable to producing crops. She wonders whether angry teachers might picket the ECS meeting in Denver in late June.

States across the nation are talking about, planning, or implementing Tennessee’s Achievement School District. The director of the ASD, Chris Barbic, pledged to take the state’s lowest-performing schools (inthe bottom 5%) and move them into the top 25% of schools in five years. All the schools in ASD are charter schools. The spin and hype about the ASD have been so intense that few people asked for evidence that it was working. The promise was enough evidence.

But this tweet appeared tonight:

Commercial Appeal (@memphisnews)
6/4/15, 8:02 PM
Memphis Achievement School District superintendent says he’s not sure 5-year turnaround goal is possible. memne.ws/1GacI5o

Gary Rubinstein knows reformers better than most people. He started his career in Teach for America in Houston in the early 1990s and eventually became a career math teacher in New York City. He is one of the most perceptive critics of reform, having started in the early days of the movement.

In this post, he deconstructs the boasts of Kevin Huffman about the Achievement School District in Tennessee. Huffman is now trying to export this model to other states, despite its failure thus far to achieve its goals. Rubinsteinreviews the record of the ASD and finds it mixed at best:

“Just by the numbers, the results are truly mixed. Of the original 6 ASD schools that are currently in their third year under the ASD, two schools have improved, two have stayed about the same, and two have gotten worse.” Some success.

“ASD tries to put all the positive spin they can on their results, but the thing that they try not to mention is that in this past year the ASD got the lowest possible score on their ‘growth’ metric, a 1 out of 5. In Tennessee they take their ‘growth’ scores very seriously. They have been experimenting with this kind of metric for over twenty years and they base school closing decisions on it and also teacher evaluations. So it is hypocritical, though not surprising, that Huffman fails to mention that the ASD, on average, got the lowest possible score on this last year, and instead they focus on the two schools that have shown test score improvements.”

Rubinstein writes:

“There is absolutely no reason why Kevin Huffman should be given the opportunity to pitch his ideas to the Pennsylvania senate or in the media over there. It is like a state trying to improve their economy and asking for guidance from a man who got rich by winning the lottery. Huffman is a person who knows very little about education, but who has been very lucky to get to where he is. He taught first grade for two years, spent a bunch of years working for Teach For America, got appointed as Tennessee education commissioner mainly because of his famous ex-wife, and only managed to keep his job for three years before basically getting run out of town. He has gotten credit for the 4th and 8th grade NAEP gains between 2011 and 2013, but has taken none of the blame for the lack of progress for 12 graders or for the recent drops in the Tennessee State reading test scores. This is a new kind of phenomenon, the edu-celebrity who rises to power, leaves after a few years having accomplished very little, and then making a living as a consultant. Some gig.”

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