- After five years, schools in Tennessee’s state-run Achievement School District (ASD), mostly made up of different charter school organizations, are not performing significantly better than similar low-performing “priority” schools that did not receive intervention, according to the Tennessee Education Research Alliance’s (TERA) ongoing evaluation.
- The report, released Tuesday, contrasts performance in the ASD with that of Innovation Zone schools, which are run by the districts in the metropolitan areas of Memphis, Chattanooga and Nashville. The Innovation Zone schools are given flexibility to choose improvement strategies but also receive additional support from the state. The researchers’ previous analysis has shown that Innovation Zone schools have shown “moderate to large positive and statistically significant effects” in reading, math and science.
- The researchers suggest that overall, reforms that focus on recruiting, retaining and developing teachers and staff members seem to be the most effective. Their future studies will examine the impact of teacher and principal turnover and chronic absenteeism on turnaround schools.
Last fall, Kathleen Airhart, the interim superintendent of ASD as well as deputy commissioner and chief operating officer of the Tennessee Department of Education, said in a press release that the most recent accountability determination labeling ASD as “’in need of improvement’ speaks to the fact that most of the hard and critical work to support students and lift schools is still ahead of us.” But she also noted that one school was listed as improving and another had improved enough to exit “priority” status. By spending time in those schools, she said she “gained a better insight into the academic advances they have been able to make and hope they have restored at these schools.”
The state education agency in neighboring Kentucky is currently considering a takeover of the Jefferson County Public Schools, based in Louisville, but some experts say that state takeover efforts are largely unsuccessful, and some argue that takeovers are tied to racial factors. Research published in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, however, showed that small-group instruction delivered as part of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s takeover of the Lawrence Public Schools (LPS) led to achievement gains.
The TERA study also puts the ASD and the Innovation Zone schools in the context of other turnaround models that have been implemented across the country. It describes ASD as a hybrid model between it gave charter management organizations autonomy to operate schools but didn’t allowing families to choose any school in the district they wanted. The authors compare the takeover in LPS as more similar to the Innovation Zone model because the state appointed a receiver who made significant changes, including extending the school day and requiring staff members to reapply for their jobs.