Archives for category: Tennessee

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.

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.”

Kevin Huffman, former state education leader in Tennessee, came to Pennslvania to sell the glories of corporate reform as practiced in Tennessee. Peter Greene recounts his claims here.

Huffman wanted particularly to sell the virtues of the Tennessee Achievement School District, which gathers the state’s lowest performing schools into a group, eliminates local control, and converts them to privately managed charters.

As Greene shows, the ASD in Tennessee has been a bust so far.

“So first, strip local school boards and voters of authority over their own schools. Second, allow a mixture of innovation and stripping teachers of job security and pay. The stated plan in Tennessee was that the bottom 5% of schools would move into the top 25% within five years. Doesn’t that all sound great? But hey– how is it working out in Tennessee?

“That depends (surprise) on who is crunching which numbers, but even the state’s own numbers gave the Tennessee ASD the lowest possible score for growth.

“In fact, Huffman forgot to mention the newest “technique” proposed to make ASD schools successful– allow them to recruit students from outside the school’s geographical home base. This is the only turnaround model that really has been successful across the nation– in order to turn a school around, you need to fill it with different students.”

Greene read Huffman’s op-Ed with advice to Pennsylvania

Huffman wrote:

“When I spoke with Pennsylvania state senators last week about school turnaround work, one senator asked me directly, “When you created the Achievement School District, were you worried that it was too risky?” I responded, “The greatest risk would be to do nothing.”

Greene comments:

“Pretending that any senator actually answered that question, the answer is still dumb. Your child is lying on the sidewalk, bleeding and broken after being struck by a car. A guy in a t-shirt runs up with an axe and makes like he’s about to try to lop off your child’s legs. “What the hell are you doing?” you holler, and t-shirt guy replies, “Well, the greatest risk would be to do nothing.”

“Doing Nothing is rarely as great a risk as Doing Something Stupid.

“Achievement School Districts are dumb ideas that offer no educational benefits and run contrary to the foundational principles of democracy in this country. They are literally taxation without representation. Huffman should move on along to his next gig and leave Pennsylvania alone.”

The House members of the Tennessee legislature voted unanimously to reduce the role of test scores in teacher evaluations, at least temporarily. Controversy continues about whether teachers and other school staff should be evaluated by the scores of students they don’t teach. (Note: readers, please tell Andrew Cuomo that other states are reducing the role of test scores, not increasing them.)


A bill that temporarily would alter the amount that student test score growth impacts teacher evaluations in Tennessee passed unanimously in the House Thursday. But first, lawmakers debated the merits of a system that grades teachers based on scores in subjects they don’t teach.
The proposal, brought to the legislature by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, now awaits consideration by the full Senate.
The bill proposes to phase in the weight of test scores as the state transitions to its new assessment, called TNReady, which will be rolled out during the 2015-2016 school year. Under the proposal, scores from the new test would account only for 10 percent of the teacher evaluation score in 2015-16 and 25 percent in 2016-17, before returning to the current 35 percent in the 2017-2018 school year.
The policy also addresses concerns that teachers of non-tested subjects — such as art and physical education, as well as school counselors — can be penalized for test scores they don’t directly impact. The bill proposes that student growth for those positions count for 10 percent in 2015-16, down from 25 percent, and move to 15 percent in subsequent school years.
Some legislators said that provision is inadequate, however. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) offered an amendment that would prohibit test scores from impacting evaluations of non-testing teachers at all. He said allowing educators to be graded based on the scores of other teachers is akin to grading students based on the scores of their peers.
“Parents would be outraged,” Fitzhugh said.
Rep. Mark White maintained the bill is fair without the amendment, however, because no teacher works in isolation. “Does the librarian not have an effect on student reading?” he asked. “Can a guidance counselor not play a role in affecting student performance?”

As the state legislature considers vouchers for religious schools, a new poll of voters in Tennessee shows that they don’t want more school choice. They want charters to be reformed, meaning more transparency and accountability and stronger protections against financial fraud.

Voters ranked school choice dead last among their concerns.

“Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (MNEA) Leaders say a recent survey of local voters shows that Tennesseans overwhelmingly favor reforms for local charter schools to protect students and taxpayers.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected charter expansion as a priority, the survey found. Instead, voters favored charter reforms to strengthen:

• Transparency and accountability

• Teacher training and qualifications

• Anti-fraud measures

• Equity policies for high-need students

“It’s clear our communities support quality public schools, not an expansion of charter schools,” said MNEA President Stephen Henry. “We need to make sure ALL Nashville schools are held to the same accountability and transparency standards that taxpayers expect.”
The survey also found voters rated the need for more parental involvement and the reduction of excessive student testing as bigger priorities than expanding charters.

“Specifically, voters favored by greater than 80% approval reforms that would:

*provide rigorous, independent audits of charter school finances

*require charter schools to publish how they spend taxpayer dollars, including all budgets and contracts

*ensure that teachers in any publicly-funded school meet the same training and qualification requirements”

Tennessee is the latest state considering vouchers, euphemistically calling them “opportunity scholarships.” The Senate Education Committee passed them. They will be considered by the House on Tuesday.

Why not be honest and call them what they are: vouchers. If the experience of other states is a guide, low-income students will have the “opportunity” to attend religious schools that have a meager curriculum and uncertified teachers, and students will learn creationism. The students will likely have lower test scores than their peers in the schools they left.

Funding is up to the districts, which are mandated to participate.

What a waste of children’s lives and taxpayer dollars.

T.C. Weber, blogger known as Dad Gone Wild, says it is time to end the Achievement School District experiment in Tennessee.

Then-State Commissioner Kevin Huffman persuaded his friend Chris Barbic to launch the ASD as an all-charter district made up of the state’s lowest performing schools. Barbic had created the YES prep charter chain in Houston. He promised that the ASD schools would all be in the Starr’s top 25% in five years.

The ASD has been embroiled in community protests and financial mismanagement from the start, writes Weber. It is nowhere near its goal.

He writes:

“I will show you more of what we’ve come to expect from the Tennessee’s ASD, which is more sloppy work and inattention to detail. Since inception, its been nothing but one issue after another for the ASD. In the past they’ve failed to report their per pupil spending, even though all other districts were able to. Back in September, reporter Ezra Howard analyzed the state data and showed that local efforts in Memphis were performing better than the ASD. October came and Bluff City, an education blog out of Memphis, reported the city in near revolt against the ASD. To close out the year, they engineered a hostile takeover of a Nashville school. Perhaps a few more Happy Hours are needed.

“When looking at this audit it becomes clear once again that the Achievement School District’s forte is not in the details. Details like, failure to have contracts overseen and ensuring that they are in compliance with regulations, allowing Charter Management Operators to get paid before they paid their vendors, and billing salaries to the wrong programs. The amounts of money are albeit small and therefore for many not that concerning, but I would argue that, when coupled with the entire body of evidence, it shows a pattern of behavior. A pattern that is not beneficial to the students or the tax payers of the state of Tennessee.”

Weber concludes:

“Governor Haslam has made a welcome change at the top of the Department of Education, but like with any illness, the body can only heal when all of the infection is removed. Chris Barbic and the Achievement School District were brought here by Kevin Huffman through their shared experience as Teach For America members. Time proved that Kevin Huffman was not a good fit for Tennessee. Time has also shown that TFA is not a great fit for Tennessee. They are a part of the past and Tennessee needs to look forward. It’s time to add the Achievement School District to that list of failed experiments and embrace policies that will take us into the future, before the damage is irreversible.”

The following post was written by a parent in Tennessee. The state’s Achievement School District was created by former Commissioner Krvin Huffman with the intent of taking control of the state’s lowest-performing public schools and handing them over to charter operators. The goal, promised ASD leader Chris Barbic was that the lowest 5% would be in the top 25% within five years. The clock is ticking.

The parent writes:

Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD) Superintendent Chris Barbic, like other reformers, often talks about creating opportunities for students “trapped in failing schools.” But this week Barbic is pushing legislation that would allow Barbic to recruit students from high-performing schools INTO schools the state has identified as “failing.” Barbic told Tennessee legislators on Wednesday that parents are beating down his door to get into ASD charter schools that are some of the worst performing schools in the state, according to the state’s highly touted accountability measures.

However, Barbic failed to mention that parents have submitted a petition with 78 pages of signatures to the Memphis school board asking them to remove their school from Barbic’s expanding charter school empire. Parents aren’t “voting with their feet” to attend charter schools after all.

Parents are smart to avoid ASD-operated charter schools. ASD schools are underperforming district-run schools in Memphis ( Even the ASD’s most touted school in Nashville, Brick Church Middle, is underperforming its district-run counterpart, and it’s clear from an independent report that the ASD takeover of Brick Church created a terrible environment for the students and staff alike. ( Furthermore, a recent audit shows that the ASD has been mismanaging public funds, including federal money. ( But the ASD continues to expand over parent protest, most recently by cherry-picking the highest performing priority school in Nashville to help boost its own miserable test scores.

The ASD was supposed to be a boon for national charter school operators like Rocketship. Barbic and Kevin Huffman recruited Rocketship and others to Tennessee with the promise of dozens of schools that they would take over. Tennessee has rigged its accountability system to place over 80 schools on a “priority school” list that charters can target for takeover. So far they’ve taken over 22 schools in Memphis. But students zoned for those schools taken over by Barbic’s charter school cronies have stayed away in droves, most opting to stay with schools run by the local school board. This has upset private operators who were promised full schools if they came to Memphis.

In order to fill up the empty seats, Barbic wants to take kids out of schools that are performing well and put them in the state’s worst performing schools, all to protect the bottom lines of charter school operators. Students abandoning ASD schools are also impacting Barbic’s own bottom line. He can’t afford to hire enough teachers to comply with the state class size requirement, but he has found a way to solve this problem by increasing class sizes at ASD schools. He was recently was granted a class size waiver by the newly appointed Commissioner of Education, Candice McQueen. This week, he testified at the legislature that the ASD class sizes are 14-15 students, but the waiver allows him to expand his class sizes far beyond this number.

In Tennessee schools must be held accountable to some of the highest standards in the country – unless there is a profit motive involved – and then the powers-that-be not only look the other way, they actually work to create more opportunities for students to attend schools that the state has labeled “failing”!

If Barbic is working to place students enrolled in high achieving schools into “failing” ASD schools, he is obviously not concerned about the best interests of Tennessee’s students. He is concerned about the best interests of his charter operator buddies and his own bottom line.”

Toni Jackson, a teacher in Memphis, wrote a powerful article about what “reform” is doing to her city, and especially what it is doing to black and brown children.


She writes:


There is a stench in the air in Memphis and it’s a smell that is permeating throughout black school districts. One can get a whiff of it in Newark, N.J., Philadelphia, New Orleans and most urban areas that received Race To The Top federal dollars for education. This awful stench derived from education reform and it’s been perpetrated on minorities with lower incomes and those who live under a lower socio economic status.


This stench has led corporations and politicians to the belief that they can control the education of African American and minority children (black and brown students) simply because they were granted millions of dollars by the government. They want to buy our children and they believe the federal government has given them the power to do so with the money allotted to improve student achievement.


So these Nashville politicians have neatly packaged the Shelby County School District, which is 85 percent African American, in a box where students are behind, teachers are ineffective, teaching jobs are tied to test scores, and student scores are tied to whether a school is slated for takeover or is closed altogether.


These politicians have aligned themselves with rich corporate types and they have passed laws that will give themselves total and complete power over urban schools, urban teachers, urban children, and young black and brown minds from K-12 grades in Memphis, which will lead to generational control. We have seen this before, Memphis. We have fought this fight before and now 50 years later, we are facing the same thing our grandparents faced when they went against a power structure designed to have access and control over the minds of our children. It was called the civil rights era and the legal case was Brown vs. Board of Education. That is where the state would like to take us, but we’re not going back there.

A Nashville blogger who calls himself “Dad Gone Wild” went to a school board meeting, not knowing it would be a charter school pep rally. That means the meeting was packed with students and parents, no doubt wearing matching T-shirts, primed to cheer on cue. I have seen the same phenomenon at meetings of City Council hearings and State Legislature hearings. Even if it is school time, 9 am, 10 am, no matter. The buses are outside, the kids and parents have their scripts. What do they want? More charters! More closings of public schools! I always wonder, “If they are already enrolled in a charter, why do they want more? How many charters can one student attend? Whose agenda is this?”


Dad Gone Wild writes (open the link for his links):


“Sitting at that meeting, it suddenly dawned on me that I was in the middle of yet another charter school publicity stunt. I’ve written previously about what happens when charters get angry and I guess they were angry again because they had astro-turfed yet another meeting.


“The thing that really opened my eyes with this incident though, was the number of leadership people present. The folks present were equivalent to the top leadership at MNPS. I can only imagine what would happen if I called up Jay Steele, chief academic officer for MNPS, and asked him to get his office to show up and leap to applaud a letter that I’d written to disavow charter schools. He’d stop taking my calls. Not neccesarily out of disagreement or agreement, but because he’s kinda busy educating kids.


“That line, between educating and marketing, doesn’t seem to exist with charter operators. It all begins and ends in the marketing department. How is what they are doing perceived and if there is the slightest provocation, then they pull out the full public relations machine to attack. Things getting a little heated right before testing time? Time for a brand new shiny brochure. When a legislative session opens on the Hill, its time to get some kids up there. You’ve been to Public School Day rally’s with kids on the hill right? Didn’t think so, because they don’t exist. You see a group ushering kids through the capital building hallways during session and, dollars to donuts, its a charter school. If people are still questioning the purpose of charters schools, then it’s time for a straw man building op-ed. This is a very organized movement that does not allow dissent. It’s also a zero sum game.


“I’ve heard more than one charter operator argue that they are just part of the solution and that nobody plans on privatizing the whole district. Yet, they continue to grow at an alarming rate. Metro has 19 applications pending this year. Ever ask a charter operator when enough is enough? You’ll never get an answer because the true end game is to eradicate public education like it’s been done in New Orleans and being proposed in Atlanta and York. But they can’t really tell you that, can they? They’ll tell you its all about demand.


“In fact, this week I actually heard the argument put forth that just because all existing charters aren’t full, it doesn’t mean there is a lack of demand. If you had charters in every neighborhood, the demand would go up. Of course they won’t mention that if there was a charter in every neighborhood, since Public Schools don’t have the private monetary support that charters enjoy, it would starve the local public school. This demand argument probably has something to do with that goofy disruption theory that’s been circulating and I’ve been trying to make heads or tail of over the last 6 months.


“In the reform world, New Orleans has been nothing short of a booming success. Unfortunately, a closer look at the numbers tells a different story. Mercedes Schneider points to ACT scores to show the disconnect between the myth and the reality. A charter supporter might ask, but what about that 2013 CREDO study on charter schools? Well, let’s look at one of the reform movements champs Neerav Kingsland’s very own words to see how that was pulled off – by closing schools. The CREDO study shows massive improvement over the last couple of years by charter schools. But, the way this was accomplished was by constantly closing low performing schools and further destabilizing schools in the neighborhoods were children are starved for stability….


“The thing that most baffles me about this conversation is the complete and utter lack of evidence-based dialog that takes place. There are countless, and I could literally sit here and write a whole blog of hyper-links, that show that charters don’t educate the same students as public schools, that charters perform no better than public schools, that charters rob a district of precious resources, and that charters have a higher attrition rate. Yet, when confronted with the evidence, the conversation becomes about whether or not we believe all children can learn. A fact that I don’t think anybody has ever disputed, yet somehow has gotten twisted into a t-shirt slogan that plays on past prejudice.


These past prejudices give fuel to the desire to stifle dissent by labeling the choice movement as the civil rights issue of our generation. News flash, civil rights are the civil rights issue of our generation. We still have a long march ahead of us before we achieve actual civil rights for all. Claiming otherwise is just a distraction that deflects and prevents the evidence from being considered. Any evidence based argument is written off as biased or anecdotal. You know, like the story about how Johnny’s mother was a drug addict and his father used to beat him. Public schools were failing him and his 8 brothers and sisters that he had to tend to, but he thrived once he got into KIPP. Yea, that’s not anecdotal. Just more rules that apply to thee but not for me….


“It takes me back to childhood and there would always be that one kid who would create a game that only he knew the rules to and if you started to win the game he’d change the rules. Object to the rule changes and you were considered a bad playmate and he’d take his game and go home. This discussion on charter schools and education policy is the most bizarre conversation that I’ve ever been involved in. There seem to be no tenets or touchstones and it seems to be a small minority that constantly drives the conversation. In Metro Nashville we expect kids in charter schools to make up only 10% of student body in 2016-2017 yet charter schools are discussed at virtually every school board meeting. They are a constant looming specter over the system preventing focus on real issues.


The charter conversation is also the most serious conversation I’ve ever been involved in, because, not only will increased growth financially hurt the overall system, but because, despite the fact that charter supporters refuse to acknowledge that the delivery system matters, what our schools look like is what our society will look like. Create a stratified school system and you create a stratified society….


“It’s imperative that we demand a system that will educate ALL children. We have to demand a system that doesn’t attempt to determine winners and losers. A system that supports ALL children’s needs so that they can truly learn at their full capacity, because its not enough to just say, “all children can learn.” True civil rights can only exist when all children are given an equitable opportunity to shape their future. We need to confront the opposition with the truth about their proposed system and the impact it will have on children and their communities.


“Charter schools have grown exponentially out of the fears that have been instilled in parents and fanned by the reform movement. This leads me to think about some advice my father once gave me. His words were to, “Always make sure you are running towards something and not away from something.” That idiom has served me well over life and is applicable here. Charter operators want you to flee the current system. I choose to run towards a stronger more responsive public system that reflects our democratic ideals. I urge you to join me and make this a evidence-based story and not an added chapter to Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense.”


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