You saw the post on East Nashville in Turmoil. There is more to this story. Parents at Inglewood fended off the takeover of their school. The Achievement School District selected Neely’s Bend Middle School instead. It’s children are primarily Latino. Other schools are mostly African American. The head of ASD announced plans to take over more Nashville schools.
What is this force taking over schools? Is it making a difference? How would you vote?
The takeover of schools is a Race to the Top funded initiative to turn around failing schools. The Tennessee version received $22 million to create a separate school district called the Achievement School District (ASD) that crosses county lines. It began in 2012 in Memphis and now has 23 schools, one in Nashville. It plans to expand. ASD converts public schools into charters. They promise to turn schools in the bottom 5% into high achieving schools within 5 years.
Some schools are run directly by ASD. They select charter management firms to run the others. These firms include: LEAD, KIPP, Frayser, Green Dot, Aspire, Promise, and Freedom Prep. After five years, the schools have the option of returning to the public school district. Teachers receive medical and retirement benefits through the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System. They have an extended school day and an eleven month contract. They do, however, start over in seniority which makes it less attractive for more experienced teachers.
It is not too early to judge the effectiveness of the takeover. ASD will close failing charters after 3 years. The results so far are not promising. Data reported in the Tennessean showed that proficiency rates declined from 18.1% to 13.6% in reading the first year of operation and then rebounded to 17%. This is still a lower proficiency rate than where the schools were prior to the takeover. Math proficiency rates are slightly better.
Statements by the ASD superintendent that their schools had higher gains than the state average should be qualified. Sudden collapse and regains in achievement is not necessarily a good thing or comparable to state averages. Four schools had high gains; the others were small or negative. The school with the highest gain wasn’t a school at all. It was a ninth grade added onto a very low achieving middle school. Not all students from the middle school enrolled in the added ninth grade. How can a very large gain occur suddenly in the same school that shows poor gain? It is one of those times that seeing is not believing. The gain scores are critiqued in Gary Rubenstein’s blog on the National Education Policy Center website.
For those interested in getting into the statistical weeds, Rubenstein gives concrete examples of how these ASD statistics are manipulated to show achievement gains where little to none exist. In fact, he shows that ‘growth’ meant that scores for both ASD and the state went down. The ASD scores went down a bit more (- .7) than the scores for the state.
Is the forced take over of failing schools worth the risk? Parents are split. Accusations of unduly strict discipline have surfaced. Investigations of those incidents are questioned. A parent’s view of what is happening was reported on January 15, 2015 in Salon. It is a long piece, but balanced and thorough.
It would be nice to believe that there was an easy solution to a hard problem. In Tennessee, students from low income families still struggle in school. The jury is still out, and the Race to the Top money is gone.