A third-party look at Tennessee’s Achievement School District, published Tuesday, finds that the state-takeover of struggling schools has been ineffective so far. Researchers from Vanderbilt's Peabody College have been monitoring progress since the ASD’s creation through the federal Race to the Top grant program.
The state-run district, which now oversees two-dozen schools, has pleaded for patience.
“There’s been a significant investment in these schools, in terms of time and resources allocated through Race to the Top, and we thought it was time to start looking at how they were doing,” professor Ron Zimmer says.
Zimmer’s team, which was asked by the state to keep tabs on progress from the outset, zoomed in on test data more closely than the typical measures of "below basic" and "proficient." While there were some changes year-to-year — up and down — there was no statistical improvement on the whole, certainly not enough to catapult these low-performing schools into some of the state’s best, which was the lofty goal.
“It may be a little disappointing to those who were advocating for the Achievement School District that we haven’t seen better results at this point,” Zimmer says.
The Vanderbilt researchers found more encouraging results with the turnaround efforts known as iZones led by local districts in Memphis and Nashville.
Zimmer says his study does not give cause to shut down the ASD and that often reforms take years to gain traction. But he says the paper should be part of the conversation about spending on education reform.
For its part, leaders of the Achievement School District say there’s not enough data “to draw any decisive conclusions” and that their work is making a “positive difference.”