Is Tennessee's bold school reform initiative failing?

Feb 8, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  A Vanderbilt researcher says Tennessee’s effort to turn around its worst performing schools isn’t working.

Dr. Gary Henry has researched education reform initiatives nationwide for years. He’s just wrapping up three new studies analyzing Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD).

Credit achievementschooldistrict.org

Launched in 2012, the initiative has placed about 30 low-performing schools under state control and brought in charter operators to turn them around.

Dr. Henry notes that after five years of operation only one ASD school improved to the point that it could be returned to local control. He says the remaining schools haven’t gotten any worse, but haven’t gotten any better either.

Dr. Henry’s research suggests the primary reason for ASD’s failure is an extremely high teacher turnover rate. He says the special district loses up to half of its teachers every year.

Other states have had better luck.

“Reform efforts where we’ve seen greater success we saw that they were able not only to recruit effective teachers they were able to retain those teachers for a number of years.”

Dr. Henry says another problem is that Tennessee chose to pull individual schools out of their systems and place them in the special district. He says states that target entire school districts for special care seem to be having greater success.

He also says the state needs to consider better teacher pay.

“Bonuses for teachers, especially effective teachers, to begin teaching in those schools, and bonuses associated with performance for staying in those schools.”

Professor Henry's latest analyses of Achievement District data are under peer review now and will be published soon.