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.”