Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD) in Memphis

Grants and Contracts Details


The principal goal of the proposed grant is to generate new and useable knowledge about the effectiveness and challenges of using a portfolio management strategy to turn around chronically under-performing schools. Current estimates suggest there are well over 5000 such schools in the US, distributed across urban, rural, and suburban communities and serving students who come from predominantly low-income families. The fact that these children face dramatic obstacles to upward mobility and productive participation in the American economy makes the challenge of addressing their educational opportunities among the most pressing issues of our time. The proposed study, conducted in tandem with research by Josh Glazer from George Washington University, will inform the efforts of policymakers, education officials, and reformers across the country working to overcome this formidable challenge. Many states have adopted bold strategies for turning around low performing schools. In some cases, these initiatives have been modeled after Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD), which used a portfolio management strategy that either took over and directly ran failing schools or turned these schools over to charter management organizations (CMOs). Inspired by Louisiana’s example and the potential of Race to the Top funding, other states adopted similar approaches. For instance, Tennessee established the Achievement School District (ASD) in 2011, which targets schools that are persistently low performing as measured either by combined math and reading achievement levels or graduation rates. These schools are then removed from the control of their current school district and put under the jurisdiction of the state commissioner. Parallel with the RSD, these schools are either directly run by the ASD or run by CMOs. Contracts with employees of these schools are terminated, but the employees could be rehired under the new management. Six schools joined the ASD in the 2012-13 school year, 8 including two new 9th grade academies that will phase into being high schools This number will expand in the upcoming years as 85 schools have been identified as lowperforming schools by the state and are eligible to become part of the ASD. Currently, there are plans to have between 30 and 40 schools as part of the ASD by the 2015-16 school year. Because many states are considering similar approaches, it is important to examine the effectiveness of the ASD and to better understand the movement of teachers and students into and out of ASD schools. We currently have resources through Tennessee’s Race to the Top funding to conduct a two-year study (through 2013-14 year of operation with report in spring 2015) to answer questions of performance and mobility of teachers and students using Tennessee administrative data, including: 1. What initial effect has ASD had on student achievement? Obviously, this is a pressing question to policymakers and may inform not only the continuing support of the ASD from the state, but may also affect the broader policy environment of state takeover of low performing schools. Here, we will use quasi-experimental approaches including matching and regression discontinuity analyses. 2. What are the characteristics of teachers leaving and entering schools taken over by ASD, including measures of quality? This analysis could assess the extent to which the human capital of the teacher workforce explains the effectiveness of the ASD. 3. What is the nature of student in-migration and out-migration to/from ASD schools? This could not only be a signal of whether families have embraced this approach, but could also be a mediating factor in the overall effectiveness of the ASD. However, our current two-year study will not allow us to fully answer these questions, particularly on the student achievement. For instance, there are currently only 16 schools that have been taken under the auspices of ASD. In addition, 10 of the 16 schools will only have one year of treatment by the end of the timeframe of our current study. It will take additional years of implementation of the reforms within the ASD schools to authoritatively evaluate the effectiveness of the portfolio strategy that is being employed. With time more schools will enter into the treatment as an additional eight schools are slated to move into the ASD portfolio in 2014/15. Furthermore, current ASD schools will have had more time to produce effects, which is important as prior research suggests major reforms can take four years to register meaningful effects. Therefore, we are requesting the Walton and Arnold Foundation to jointly provide funding to extend our current analysis beyond June 30, 2015. The joint funds will allow us to extend our analysis to June 30, 2017. In addition, we are requesting the Arnold Foundation to solely provide resource for one additional year beyond June 30, 2017 to an end date of June 30, 2018. This will allow us to observe three more cohorts of schools and the first cohort of schools will have had four years operating under the auspices of ASD. To answer questions 2 and 3, we will use administrative data to descriptively analyze student and teacher moves. We believe the existing analyses will lead to interesting patterns, especially for teachers as hiring high quality teachers is a component of the ASD theory of action. However, the results of our current analysis may uncover instability of the teacher workforce and student body as the initial effects of ASD yield teacher and student moves. We will need additional yeas to study teacher and student movements as assess the extent to which they stabilize overtime or continue to exhibit substantial changes. In addition, we would like to extend our current study by surveying teachers that made moves and explore the reasons for these moves. For instance, teachers could be concerned about how transition into a CMO managed school will affect pension benefits or alternatively, a tough transition to new instructional practices. This research will be complemented by a proposed study by Joshua Glazer and his team from George Washington University, which will qualitatively look at the governance of the ASD including the critical factors that enable a state-run agency to successfully turnaround the state’s most under-performing schools. With an array of states implementing turnaround strategies as part of NCLB waivers, it is important to gain a comprehensive depiction of the challenges and the effectiveness of turnaround strategy that builds off portfolio strategy, such as the ASD.
Effective start/end date7/1/166/15/17


  • Vanderbilt University: $29,991.00


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