Archives for category: Tennessee


This is a fascinating video. It is “Six Minutes in Ms. McDonald’s Fifth Grade Social Studies Class.”

Ms. McDonald is a teacher in Nashville Prep, a high-scoring charter school in Nashville, Tennessee.

You may have read about it here. The founder, Ravi Gupta, has plans to expand and create a chain. He already has a school in Mississippi.

Were you ever in a social studies class like this one?

No discussion, no debate. Singing and responding in unison.

In the early nineteenth century, children learned geography by singing the names of the continents, the oceans, the highest mountains.

Corporate education reform specializes in grandiose promises, hype, and spin. No reformer was bolder than Chris Barbic. Reflecting his self-confidence, he took over Tennessee’s Achievement School District and predicted he could raise the bottom 5% of the state’s schools into the top 25% in only five years.

After only four years, Barbic quit. He said that turning around neighborhood schools was harder than he expected. It is easier to have a choice school where the school chooses, although Barbic didn’t say that.

Gary Rubinstein was first to analyze the ASD data, and he found that after three years, the original six schools had not improved. Barbic’s ambitious goal was out of reach.

Rubinstein wrote:

“Four of the original six schools are still in the bottom 5% while the other two have now ‘catapulted’ to the bottom 6%. Perhaps this is one reason that Chris Barbic recently announced he is resigning at the end of the year.”

So what is the response in Tennessee?

Andy Spears writes that the ASD took over Neely’s Bend, a middle school that was improving and outperforming the ASD schools.

“Some in the Tennessee General Assembly have taken notice. More than twenty bills dealing with the ASD’s practices were filed in the 2015 legislative session. One of them passed. Ironically, that legislation would have prevented the ASD from taking over any school on the priority list that had scored a 4 or 5 on the state’s accountability indicator. Neely’s Bend’s 2015 score was a 5.

“Unlike other school districts, the ASD is not accountable to an elected School Board. The Superintendent reports directly to the Commissioner of Education. This lack of accountability is likely what prompted soon-to-be former ASD Superintendent Barbic to say, *I think it’s important to remind everyone that a lot of things we are doing are by choice. If we wanted to, we could take over all 85 schools (on the priority list) next year.*

“I think it’s safe to say that this communication strategy combined with the results at Neely’s Bend will cause the legislature to take another look at the runaway expansion of the ASD. It’s certainly not too late to both return Neely’s Bend to the community that loves it AND delay further expansion without new accountability provisions.”

The following post was written by Amy Frogge, an elected member of the Board of Education in Nashville. Frogge is a lawyer and a strong supporter of public dchools. She was elected in a campaign where corporate reformers outspent her 5-1. She has been openly critical of “no excuses” charter schools, especially Nashville Prep, founded by Ravi Gupta. inthis post she responds to a post written by Gupta, accusing her of wanting to censor a book used in his school in seventh grade. Gupta has plans to open more charters in Mississippi.

Amy Frogge writes:


Today I was attacked (again) by Ravi Gupta, the head and founder of RePublic Schools, which operates several schools in the district, including Nashville Prep. This time, Mr. Gupta was upset about a private email I’d written to MNPS administrators (the email was forwarded to Mr. Gupta) in which I reported that young students at his school are reading a wildly inappropriate book. In my email, I commented that Nashville Prep should be closed. Mr. Gupta has now sent out a blog post trying to focus attention on me and detract from the issue at hand; he contends in his post that I am trying to conduct a “book burning.” In response, I feel the need to explain the full context of my email. Anyone who knows me understands that I am not a fan of corporate education reform or of so-called “no excuses” charter schools.

However, Nashville Prep stands out in its treatment of children. The book at issue is quite stunning in its rhetoric and descriptions of explicit sexual encounters; I will detail that below.

However, complaints forwarded to me about this school over the last two years are even worse. Here, precisely, is why I have become very upset and frustrated about Nashville Prep:

Nearly two years ago, a parent approached me after a board meeting, crying. She had come to our board meeting as a last-ditch effort, because she had been unable to help her daughter, who was a 10-year-old student at Nashville Prep. She told me her child had become depressed and anxious because of the extreme no-excuses disciplinary procedures at the school, and she needed help removing her child from the school. She had tried to bring her concerns to the attention of the Office of Innovation (which oversees charter schools), but she said her concerns were ignored. She maintained that she had trouble navigating the withdrawal/enrollment process because no one seemed to be in charge of process for charter schools.

Shortly thereafter, three additional parents stepped forward to raise more disturbing complaints about Nashville Prep. The complaints, which were all very similar in nature, primarily centered on extreme, militaristic disciplinary policies, which parents contended affected students’ well-being.

Complaints from the parents included the following:

-Students at Nashville Prep are not allowed to use the restroom when needed (even young girls just starting their menstrual cycles). They are punished for simply asking to go the restroom off-schedule, for spending more than 2-4 minutes in the restroom, or for looking at themselves in the mirror.

-Lunch is taken away from students as punishment.

-Students are punished for even mentioning being too cold in the classroom in winter.

-Students are “inspected” when they enter the school each morning, and students have been forced to wait in line in the pouring rain while teachers stand under the front school awning to “inspect” them.

-Students are punished for not “eye-tracking” the teacher (keeping their eyes on the teacher at all times).

-Students are taken off school grounds without parental consent.

-Administration of the school is poor. Students are marked absent when present, and report cards often contain incorrect grades.

-One student received a demerit for saying, “bless you” when a classmate sneezed. He also received detention (1) for saying “excuse me” while stepping over another child’s backpack and (2) for picking up a pencil for a classmate.

-Another student was punished for “egregious” behavior, and when the parent inquired about the behavior, the teacher said the student “laughed out loud” during class.

-Students are told not to talk to students on in-school suspension because administrators want “student[s] to feel like they are in jail.”

-Students are punished for expressing any emotion at all when they receive demerits. Even when they don’t understand why they are being punished, they cannot inquire about the punishment. If students are not completely submissive and unquestioning, they receive a second demerit. One parent compared this treatment of children to a “slave code.”

-When students are allowed to go outside during lunch, they are not allowed to sit and talk. They must move around, as one parent put it, “like what one would see in a prison yard.”

-Nashville Prep has refused to allow some students to withdraw.

-Nashville Prep uses shaming measures to control students: Children who receive a certain number of demerits are required to wear tags on their clothing as a shaming measure so that other children will laugh at them.

-According to one parent, demerits are so common that on one day, about 100 of the approximately 300 students were on some type of suspension. Also, appeals of demerits are no longer allowed, so students who are corrected inappropriately are not allowed to voice their concerns.

-Students are not allowed to participate in enrichment activities, such as art or music, unless their standardized test scores are high enough.

-Parents have claimed their children have undergone personality changes as a result of the “no excuses” discipline. One parent claimed that her child, who typically was outgoing and outspoken, became very withdrawn and stopped communicating or expressing herself, even at home, for fear of being punished. The parent complained that “kids don’t have a voice” and “kids can’t be kids” at Nashville Prep.

Another parent went so far as to claim that some students at Nashville Prep are “suicidal.”

– School staff members are not held to the same standards at students.

According to one parent, teachers and administrators sometimes are disheveled, arrive late, and act in a disrespectful manner toward parents.

-Middle school children must do homework until 9 or 10 pm each night.

Nashville Prep parents have used extreme language in describing treatment of students at the school:

One parent described school leadership as a “dictatorship . . . like Hitler.” Multiple parents referenced jail and prison when describing the school. One parent said students there are “denied any form of autonomy and independence, . . . denied any right to think or have independent opinions, and denied . . . use [of] their cell phones on the bus even when the bus [is] running very late.” A social worker who was a parent at the school said that the treatment of students at the school amounted to “abuse” and “neglect” under her professional standards.

Another parent wrote this account of what happened to her daughter after the parent questioned the school’s discipline policies:

“The very next day after I made my phone call expressing my opinion that I didn’t agree with many of the disciplinary tactics incorporated by the school because not all children respond to negative reinforcement, and that [my child] in particular responds better to some positive reinforcement, the unthinkable took place. When I picked my child up from school that evening she was brutally broken, broken down and crying as she reached her hand out to me in a tear soaked face and shaking, she stated ‘mommy I made a terrible mistake by picking this school.’ I have never seen [my child] in crisis mode, ever. Gravely concerned I asked her to truthfully tell me what happened. She proceeded to tell me that she was cited for ‘no grit’ and ‘demerited’ repeatedly because she would not sit erect with the bottoms of both feet planted on the ground. This situation quickly snowballed as she was then cited [for] ‘lack of grit’ and multiple demerits for ‘not tracking.’ Eventually instead of recognizing they were breaking down my child, they intensified the corporal punishment (which is illegal) by pulling her out of the classroom for nearly the ten hour school day and isolating her. When the teachers walked in to check on her in isolation she was finally so broken she had put her head down on her desk. The teachers interpreted this as disobedience and then made her STAND UP FOR FOUR HOURS. I remind you that my child had never been in trouble previous to this and had all ‘A’s and ‘B’s’ on her report card, as well as many high compliments written from the teachers.”

Another child fell on concrete at the school, sustaining a severe concussion. He asked to call his parent, but the school would not allow him to do so. He was finally allowed to get an icepack from the front office, but was so frightened of the disciplinary tactics at the school that he sat through the rest of the school day with a severe concussion. The parent was never notified.

I tried to address these complaints through appropriate channels and informed the MNPS administration and specifically Alan Coverstone, who oversees our charter school office, of these parent complaints. The complaints were dismissed in strange ways. When I asked for an independent investigation, the investigation consisted of allowing Ravi Gupta to write a lengthy written response discrediting all of the parents. MNPS administrators did not visit the school as part of the investigation, nor did they interview teachers, school administrators and others involved.

Then last spring, Teach for America, operating under new leadership in Nashville, terminated its contract with Nashville Prep, alleging that the school was bullying teachers. However, TFA needs charter schools to survive in Nashville, because the district is cutting the ranks of TFA in half this year. The new head of TFA was subsequently fired (presumably for terminating the contract), negotiations ensued, and the TFA contract was ultimately reinstated with some concessions. Meanwhile, in the midst of controversy over TFA (which the school has kept carefully hidden), a former Nashville Prep teacher came forward to raise more concerning allegations about the school, which I won’t detail here because they are currently under investigation.

And all of this leads me to the book. This week, another parent came forward with allegations about poor student treatment which were similar to those raised by the other parents who have contacted me in the past.

However, she also raised a new allegation. She told me that Nashville Prep is requiring twelve-year-old students to read the book, City of Thieves, aloud in class. The book contains lengthy passages which are crass and, frankly, pornographic in nature. The book contains explicit descriptions of sexual acts and includes language like this: “c*nt,” “f*ck,” “c*ck,” “p*ssy,” “a*s,” “s*ck me off,” “whoresons,” “sprayed a liter of c*me inside her,” “sh*t,” “b*tch,” and much more. (Believe me, I’ve left out the worst parts.) Whoever assigned the book made a half-hearted attempt to censor some of the foul language, but left plenty of bad language and details intact, including passages that degrade women and glorify casual sex. For example, words like “f*ck” are still included throughout passages distributed to students, and one passage (which students apparently read out loud in class) contains this line: “You two about to f*ck in the bushes?” Here’s another passage that was left in: “Have you ever been with a redhead? Oh wait, what am I saying, you’ve never been with anyone. The good news is they’re demons between the sheets. Two of the three best f*cks of my life were redheads. Two of four, anyway. But the other side of the coin, they hate men. A lot of anger there, my friend. Beware.” The parent who raised this complaint said that teachers ask the students to read this book out loud and skip over the bad words in the process, so clearly, teachers are aware of the content of the book.

I am not easily offended, and I’m not opposed to older students reading more adult books that have been carefully vetted, if parents are informed and provide permission. However, I can’t imagine who, for even a moment, would believe that this particular book is remotely appropriate for twelve-year-old students. Furthermore, the school has both photocopied and edited the book, which appears to be a clear copyright infringement. Many charter schools do not buy books and use photocopies instead, I suppose to save money.

Once again, MNPS’ Office of Innovation dismissed these complaints, even those regarding copyright. I am, frankly, angry that our own Office of Innovation thwarts parents and does not take seriously even allegations of this nature. Nashville Prep is protected because it produces high test scores. I believe the higher test scores are due primarily to the increased amount of time students spend in class (extra hours each day and three hours daily in summer) and teaching to the test.

But one must ask:

What’s the real cost of these test scores? And then, of course, there’s the political angle. Folks like Gupta are good at raising money and are eager to attack those who question their practices.

If this were a zoned school, our board could monitor and correct problems of this nature. But we have no oversight whatsoever of these matters when it comes to charter schools. Charter schools have full curriculum autonomy (they can teach anything they want) and autonomy over all disciplinary practices. This is a case of incompetent leadership coupled with zero oversight. Is this really such a great idea?

Lindsay Wagner of the NC Policy Watch reports that an Oregon multi-millionaire is behind a secret plan to create an all-charter “achievement school district” for low-performing schools in North Carolina.

Wagner writes:

“Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg) may be the face of a plan to allow charter school operators to take over North Carolina’s worst performing schools, but he’s not the only Bryan with fingerprints on the proposal.

“Enter John D. Bryan, an Oregon-based retired business executive—and multimillionaire—who has long standing ties to the school privatization movement developing in the Tar Heel state and is a backer of conservative causes and political campaigns across the country.

“John Bryan has underwritten the creation of ten charter schools across North Carolina, and now thanks to his political efforts, he’s also behind a secret plan modeled after similar controversial initiatives in Tennessee, New Orleans and elsewhere to allow charter operators to fire an entire school’s staff and start from scratch in an attempt to catapult a public school into the top 25 percent of the state.

“The proposal to create an ‘achievement school district’ that wrests control of low-performing schools away from local school boards and into the hands of charter operators is being developed behind closed doors as the legislative session marches on, with numerous lawmakers and advocates working in tandem on successive drafts of the legislation.

And the final proposal, if it ever makes it to the House and Senate floors, will be the fruit of lobbying efforts commissioned by millionaire John Bryan….

“John Bryan, who is reportedly a retired chemical company executive, is founder of an organization called TeamCFA, an offshoot of his family’s foundation that is devoted to developing a network of charter schools around the country — most of which exist in North Carolina….

“Rep. Rob Bryan, who is the lead lawmaker pushing the bill that would create an ‘Achievement School District,’ has received $10,000 in campaign contributions since 2013 from John Bryan.

“According to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, since 2010 John Bryan has given well over $100,000 to candidates who have a record of pushing school privatization efforts, including House Speaker Tim Moore, Rep. Jason Saine, former Guilford Rep. Marcus Brandon, Rep. Paul Stam, and Sen. Ralph Hise. And that list is likely not comprehensive, either, since many lawmakers don’t submit digitized campaign finance records, making it more difficult to search online for contributions.”

The sad irony is that the “achievement school district” in Tennessee, the model for this proposal, has been a dismal failure. it promised to move the state’s lowest performing schools to the top 20% in the state. Of the original six schools that were taken over because they were among the state’s bottom 5%, all are in the bottom 6% or lower. None has met the goal of dramatic–or even modest–test score gains.

– See more at:

Gary Rubinstein has been following the results of the Tennessee “Achievement School District” since its inception. At the time, its founder Chris Barbic pledged that–in five years time– he would lift up the schools in the bottom 5% of the state to the top 25% in the state. His strategy: turn them into charters and let the charter magic do its work.

Barbic recently resigned, although the experiment has not reached the five year mark.

Gary Rubinstein here reports on the ASD’s failure to get anywhere near the goal of “top 25%.”

Although there are regular claims of dramatic progress, Gary has the results of three years of the experiment for the original six schools in the cohort.

Of the six, four are still in the bottom 5%; the other two are in the bottom 6%. Some scores went up, some went down. The strategy of converting schools to charter with TFA teachers has not produced miracles or dramatic progress. And yet, many states are rushing to create their own “achievement school districts.” Gary’s warning: Tennessee has an “underachievement district.”

Gary Rubinstein writes:

Throughout the country, there are states that are considering creating their own ASD based on the supposed success of this one and the Recovery School District in Louisiana, on which this one is based. Senate Democrats actually tried, and failed, to get an amendment into the reauthorization of the ESEA that would mandate that the bottom 5% of schools in each state become an ASD, essentially. I hope that my very simple calculations are compelling evidence that the ASD does not live up to the hype. Getting 2 out of 6 schools from the bottom 5% to the bottom 6% has not earned them the right to replicate around the country.

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.


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:

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.




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