Accountability Charter Schools Disruption Education Industry Failure North Carolina Race to the Top Tennessee

Tennessee: Why Do Failed Reforms Survive, Only to Fail Again?

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In 2012, Tennessee created the “Achievement School District” (ASD) and promised that it would catapult the state’s lowest performing schools into high-performing schools. So confident were state leaders that they hired Chris Barbic, who ran a celebrated charter chain in Houston, and he was confident that the state’s weakest schools could be transformed within five years by handing them over to charter operators. Other states were excited by the idea and created their own state takeover districts.

The ASD failed, even though it was funded by $100 million in Race to the Top money. But Tennessee refuses to accept that taking over struggling schools and giving them to charter operators is a bad idea.

The North Carolina Policy Watch reported on Tennessee’s insistence on protecting failure. North Carolina created an “Innovative School District,” modeled on the ASD.

Greg Childress writes:

The state-run school district in Tennessee, the one on which this state’s Innovative School District (ISD) is modeled, has failed.

According to reports out of Tennessee, the Achievement School District (ASD), is working on a plan to return 30 ASD schools in Memphis and Nashville to their local districts by 2022.

State officials in Tennessee contend the district, which was established in 2012 to improve achievement in low-performing schools, “grew too quickly” and that “demand outpaced supply and capacity.”

Still, Tennessee officials aren’t giving up on the ASD. They’re billing the new proposal as a “reset” of the district, which has fallen short of its goals to move low-performing schools from the bottom 5 percent and into the top 25 percent.

Most ASD schools were handed over to charter school operators after being pulled from local districts.

“The Achievement School District remains a necessary intervention in Tennessee’s school framework when other local interventions have proven to be unsuccessful in improving outcomes for students,” officials said in a presentation obtained by Chalkbeat.

“The Commercial Appeal” in Memphis reports that most of the schools remain in the bottom 5 percent and that several have closed due to low enrollment. Teacher retention has also been a major challenge, the paper reports.

Tennessee school officials plan to stand by their Big Idea, even though its failure is clear even to them.

North Carolina’s “Innovative School District” has not fared any better. Although the state wanted the ISD to be a major reform effort, like the ASD, only one school entered the new district. NC had other low-performing schools, but whenever one was told to join the ISD, its leaders ran to their elected officials and got exempted.

To put it mildly, NC’s ISD has “struggled to get off the ground.”

Childress writes:

After only one year, state officials made wholesale leadership changes at ISD. The ISD got a new superintendent, the lone ISD school got a new principal and a new president was hired to lead the private firm that manages the school.

James Ellerbe, the ISD superintendent hired in July, reported this week that there are 69 schools on the state’s 2019 qualifying list, meaning the low-performing schools are at risk of being swept into the ISD.

The ISD will bring only one school into the state-run district next year. The school with the lowest performance score among Title I schools in the bottom 5 percent will be brought into the ISD.

The ISD was approved in 2016 by state lawmakers even though the ASD had showed little signs of success after being in business four years.

Not only is the NC ISD based on a failed model, its one school has both a principal and a superintendent!

All of which leaves unanswered question, why do failed reforms never die?

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