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Gary Rubenstein has been following the evolution of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, one of the biggest corporate reform programs in the nation. It started with great fanfare in 2011, using Race to the Top funding. The plan was to take control of the state’s lowest performing schools and turn them over to charters. The founders promised to vault these schools from the bottom 5% in the state to the Top 20% in five years. It hasn’t happened. Now big-name charter chains are bailing out.
“By making such a grand proclamation of what they were going to accomplish, the ASD invited a lot of scrutiny. After a few years there was a Vanderbilt analysis that said that students in the ASD were not making very much progress. In November 2014, Green Dot abandoned their plans to take over a high school. This started a parade of high profile charter operators leaving or reducing their stake in the ASD. In March 2015 a bizarre thing happened. YES prep, the charter chain that Chris Barbic started, at the last minute abandoned their plans to open a school in the ASD. In October 2016 Gestalt Charter Schools announced that they will stop running their two schools which included Humes, one of the original six ASD schools. Their other school, Klondike Elementary School, will actually close next year because of this, the first ASD school to be shut down. And most recently, just a few weeks ago, the gold standard of charter schools, KIPP Charter Schools, announced that they will pull out of KIPP Memphis Collegiate Schools. Watching the ASD unravel does make me look quite prophetic when I predicted this in my open letter to Chris Barbic back in 2012.
“One thing that was good about the ASD experiment was that these charter schools were taking over existing schools so that they would truly have the ‘same kids’ that they always claim to have when they compare themselves to the nearby ‘failing’ schools. In this way the ASD made it more difficult for these charter schools to do as many of the tricks they do elsewhere to choose the students who will raise their test scores. The fact that all these high profile charters are turning around and fleeing the ASD just shows what a fraud these charter chains are when they are stripped of the smoke and mirrors that they have used to build their influence and fame.”