Gary Rubinstein reports here on the current status of Tennessee's Achievement School District. It's an important story, and it hasn't gotten the attention it deserves-- nor is it likely to. This is no doubt in part because of the vested interests involved as well as the fact that no organization sends out press releases announcing, "Hey, we totally failed!!" But it's also not going to be covered because literally nothing has happened. This is not a "Dog Bites Man" story-- this is a "Dog Lies on the Porch and Continues To Nap Instead of Hunt" story.
First, a recap of what the Achievement School District was supposed to do.
The ASD approach is simple. The state finds the bottom 5% of schools and takes them over, putting them in a state-run separate "district." Then the state brokers these schools, pimping them out to whatever charter operator or turnaround specialist they like.
The bottom 5% part is the genius element to this approach-- because there will always be a bottom 5%. If every school in your state is graduating 100% ivy league college entrants and every student in every school gets top scores on the SAT and ACT, it doesn't matter because still, somewhere in your state, are the schools that rank in the bottom 5%.
The promise in Tennessee was that those ASD schools would be moved from the bottom 5% to the top 25%. We should remember that even if the ASD had been able to accomplish this feat, it would mean absolutely nothing to the state system as a whole because the only way those schools could be moved out of the bottom 5% would be if other schools moved into the bottom 5% to take their place. In other words-- and I can't believe I have to say this, but given the vigor with which ASD's have been pushed in many states, I feel I must-- you will never arrive at a place where the state has no schools in the bottom 5%.
But as it turns out, that doesn't really matter, because the Tennessee ASD is absolutely failing. As Rubinstein reports, the initial six schools are still in the bottom of the pack (five in the bottom 2.5% with one all the way up to the bottom 7%). This is after four years; it was only supposed to take five to put them in the top quartile.
Chris Barbic, the reformster who was going to achieve this miracle, has already moved on to a new job. On the way out the door, he did unleash some of what he has learned, which included this:
Let’s just be real: achieving results in neighborhood
schools is harder than in a choice environment. I have seen this
firsthand at YES Prep and now as the superintendent of the ASD. As a
charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great
results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned
neighborhood school environment is much harder. [my emphasis]
In other words, it's hard to turn around a school if you can't swap out the students and have to just work with the same ones. Meanwhile, the ASD has been taken over by a Broadie, and the state standardized test has collapsed in total failure, opting out the entire state.
This is a story that needs to be passed on, because the ASD idea is super popular with the reformy crowd; it has been pushed everywhere from Georgia to Pennsylvania to Michigan, and folks need to hear that it's a flat-out unqualified failure. Spread the word. Remember-- ASD is just "sad" spelled sideways.