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Study: Tennessee's reform initiative for troubled schools is failing


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSBORNE) -- A Vanderbilt researcher says the state’s takeover of Tennessee’s lowest performing schools has had zero impact on student performance.


Dr. Gary Henry has been studying the state’s Achievement School District (ASD) for the past seven years. The special district contains 30 troubled schools, primarily in Memphis and Nashville.


The schools are turned over to outside management, awarded additional funding and given wide latitude to innovate. But after seven years, Dr. Henry says that, while the schools haven’t performed any worse under state control, they also haven’t performed and better.


Henry says research suggests experience is the key.

“The two main issues that we see for the ASD is the high turnover rate of teachers, and the high turnover rate of principals.”

Dr. Henry says a second problem hindering ASD has to do with how innovations meant to turn the troubled schools aroud are implemented. He says the new initiatives sometimes take one-size-fits-all approaches that aren't appropriate for the full range of students typically found in neighborhood based schools.

On the plus side, Dr. Henry says he’s pleased that new Tennessee Commissioner of Education, Dr. Penny Schwinn, is open to making sweeping changes to the ASD initiative.

Schwinn recently told the education news daily Chalkbeat that “The study confirms the need to rethink the approach of the Achievement School District.” Chalkbeat says the commissioner is calling for more collaborative work between ASD school stakeholders.