Education News NewsTracker

Haslam Expects Voucher Dialog in ’13 Regardless If He’s On Board

Expect lots of discussion about whether taxpayers should send students to private schools on Capitol Hill next year, Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday.

The governor said the state needs to have a serious discussion about a school vouchers program, but said he’s still undecided whether he’ll throw his full support behind a proposal due to him later this fall. A Haslam-appointed task force stopped short of firming up details of a proposed plan Wednesday.

“A lot of it depends on what it looks like. Let’s get the very best form, see what it looks like for Tennessee, then we as an administration will decide where we’ll be on that,” Haslam told reporters after a Nashville economic development announcement.

The state task force is still torn on key aspects of a proposal to use taxpayer money to pay for students to attend the private, parochial, charter or non-zoned public school of their choice. Major sticking points range from when the system would kick in to which students could cash in.

“You can get the policy right but still screw things up on the ground,” said Chris Barbic, a task force member and superintendent of the state’s Achievement School District, an arm of the state Department of Education charged with turning around failing schools.

Barbic, who founded a successful charter school in Texas before joining the Haslam administration in 2011, said he knows the state is juggling a handful of education reforms right now but said there’s no use in waiting to come up with a voucher plan.

“Parents get to figure out where they buy bread and toothpaste, and we’re going to limit their options on where they send their kids to school?” he said. “I have a hard time with that.”

The Republican-led General Assembly is anxious for the recommendations of the task force after the governor put off the issue of offering “opportunity scholarships” this year in favor of more study about what a voucher program would look like in Tennessee. Speakers of both chambers say they, too, expect vouchers to be a key issue in the 2013 legislative session.

Adopting a voucher concept would further the school choice movement in Tennessee, piggy-backing on a handful of charter school reforms over the last few years that lifted the cap on the number of allowed charter schools and opened enrollment beyond low-income and academically struggling students.

Choices are good, said Indya Kincannon, vice-chair of the Knox County Board of Education, who also sits on the task force. But the goal needs to be improving educational outcomes rather than simply offering choice, she said.

A teachers’ union representative said the state may be biting off more than it can chew, given this month’s fallout between the Department of Education and the second largest school district in the state over the high-profile denial of a charter school. On Capitol Hill there has been more talk of the state bypassing local school districts and taking over the entire approval process for new charters.

“The education reform plate right now is quite full,” said Jerry Winters, chief lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union. “To be moving in the direction of trying to take more money from public schools, subsidize wealthy people for private school tuition, it’s definitely moving in the wrong direction.”

Among issues up for debate within the task force are:

  • Should students be eligible for vouchers based on their family’s income, their academic record or the performance of their school or district?
  • Which private schools could students attend? How long would such schools have to be operation to be eligible to accept vouchers? And how would they test students and report their progress to the state?
  • Should the state limit the number of vouchers issued? How many should the state permit?
  • Is there enough time to implement the plan for the fall 2013 school year? And should the program go statewide or launch as a pilot program?

The panel expects to meet again in late October to firm up recommendations to hand to the governor in November. Haslam has said the results of the proposal must show more than an “incremental difference” in education outcomes in the state to win his approval. The governor told reporters Thursday he’s not sure how to measure that, yet.

Education Featured NewsTracker

Charters Filing Applications to Take Over Failing TN Schools

If all goes well, the state will give as many as four charter schools its blessing to take over some of the state’s worst performing schools, the superintendent of the state’s Achievement School District said.

Nine charter schools applied with the state to turn around any of 13 failing schools under the jurisdiction of the District, a branch of the state Department of Education focusing on low-performing schools.

“All we know is they can fill out an application. That’s the work now, to really evaluate the quality of them,” superintendent Chris Barbic said. “We’d love to see three or four of those guys get approved, but we’re going to have a high bar.”

Barbic said he would evaluate each charter’s leadership team, academic plans, and responses during in-person interviews.

Among the applicants is the Power Center Academy, a charter school in Memphis that won big recognition this week from the State Collaborative on Reforming Education for “dramatically improving student achievement in spite of the challenges they face.”

“Obviously we want to see folks that have a great track record,” Barbic told TNReport. “We don’t want to drag out the process unnecessarily. We also want to make sure we’re building in time for community buy-in as much as we can.”

Barbic said he’ll decide in November which charters to take on, then match each one up with a school in the district.


Charter Schools Under Pressure to Perform

Hopes are high within the Haslam administration that charter schools will play an increasingly key and productive role in helping improve state education outcomes.

“We need people who are actually going to be fueling the fire. If it’s not you, I don’t know who it’s going to be,” state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said Friday before a gathering of educators for the Tennessee Charter School Association conference on Capitol Hill.

Both Huffman and Gov. Bill Haslam, who made charter-school expansion a key facet of his education reform agenda last legislative session, laid out what they’re expecting of the publicly funded alternative learning centers going forward as they take on more responsibility for improving student performances — and are awarded greater shares of taxpayer-support education funding.

“Charter schools are not the answer to our education challenges in Tennessee, but they’re part of the solution,” Haslam later told reporters. “Just like every other school, we’re going to expect high quality out of them, but we welcome what they bring to the game and what they bring for a lot of families who may not have any alternative.”

The growing group of independently run charter schools — currently there are 41 in Tennessee — won big this past session of the General Assembly, when the GOP majority swept aside statutory roadblocks to their expansion. The state eliminated caps on the total number of charter schools and opened up enrollment to any student who wants to attend. Previously, enrollment was restricted based on students’ achievement and poverty level.

The state is also giving charter schools the go-ahead to try and turn around some of the state’s lowest performing schools. The state’s “Achievement School District” will decide in November which of 13 chronically substandard Tennessee public schools it’ll allow to be run by charter school educators.

ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic founded a charter school network in Texas called YES Prep Public Schools. But Barbic said he won’t rely on charter schools to do all the heavy lifting in reforming struggling schools.

“This is less about traditional schools and charter schools. It’s more about how do we create more high-performance schools and how we do make sure that the below-performing schools, whether charter or traditional, that we’re doing something to turn them around,” he told TNReport earlier this month.

Huffman, who kicked off the conference, challenged the charter schools to pave the way for educational success.

“I really believe that charters, particularly in low-income communities, need to be the ones that bust through and set up the exemplars we can point to so when people say it can’t be done, we can say, ‘Get in the car with me, and I’m going to take you someplace and show you that it can be done.”

The expectations are fair, said Matt Throckmorton, the executive director of the TCSA.

“You see this in other states: You get a good charter school movement, and everybody begins to rest on their laurels and just coast,” he said. “We need to continue to push innovation, aggressive reform. And for those schools, there’s no let down. We need to continue to demonstrate student gains.”

Huffman is no stranger to alternative styles of education. He is a graduate and former vice president of public affairs of Teach For America, an alternative teacher licensing program. He was also married to nationally-known charter school advocate Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of D.C. public schools.

“Thanks,” Huffman said to the charter school crowd. “Thanks for taking risks, for being entrepreneurs, for supporting change, for pushing the envelope, for busting the bureaucracy, for holding our feet to the fire, for showing people what local control actually looks like, for demonstrating that the money can follow the child and the world doesn’t come to an end, for providing choice for parents and providing opportunities for kids.”

Education Featured

TN’s ‘Achievement’ Superintendent Welcomes Accountability

Chris Barbic used to belittle government bureaucrats running public education systems. In his view, “they didn’t know what they were doing.”

Now, as fate would have it, the Vanderbilt graduate and acclaimed Texas charter-school founder has become one of them. Or rather, he’s getting an opportunity to prove he can succeed where others have come up woefully short.

Selected by Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman to become the first superintendent for Tennessee’s so-called “Achievement School District,” Barbic, 41, says he feels in some ways now like he’s “joined the dark side.”

Another way he looks at it, though, is that he’s been issued an education reformer’s challenge of a lifetime — the chance to apply his theories, philosophy, experience and knowledge on a larger and more politically significant scale than anything he’s done before.

The pitfalls are great, but the potential rewards profound. Barbic’s job is nothing short of figuring out how to replace academic despair and defeatism with success, excellence and optimism in Tennessee’s most dismally performing schools.

Tennessee’s Achievement School District was born out of the state’s federal Race to the Top application in which state officials promised to implement a bundle of reforms favored by the Obama administration. Tennessee was one of two states to win the first wave of awards, taking home $501 million in federal funding to apply toward boosting educational outcomes in the Volunteer State.

Right now, the district is helping run four schools in Memphis and one in Hamilton County, and holding a looser grip on operations in eight other schools in Nashville, Knoxville and Jackson.

Barbic began his teaching career with the Teach for America alternative certification program alongside Huffman — the man he credits for convincing him to accept a government job.

TNReport talked with Barbic about his vision for the Achievement School District, how he plans to cope with bureaucratic and political obstacles and what he believes the criteria ought to be for holding him accountable:

(Editor’s note: the following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.)

TNREPORT: What do you tell parents who wonder what it means for their child to be in the Achievement School District?

Barbic: Hopefully what it means is a better quality of education. And that’s what we’re committed to doing. And we’re committed to doing it in a way that’s going to be the least disruptive, with the least amount of turmoil, so that everyone in the building can focus on their child and not on all the other stuff that tend to get focused on. And that we’re going to do this thoughtfully and, to the extent possible, in partnership with the community and the school district…I think what we’re here to do is to work in partnership as best we can with the players in the community to create the best possible school we can. Because at the end of the day, let’s face it: We’re all going to be gone, we’re going to do other things, we’re going to move on, and it’s going to be the parents in that community that are going to have to own that school.

TNREPORT: Can you talk about what kind of role your charter-school background will play?

BARBIC: I think what I’ve come to realize is that this is less about traditional schools and charter schools, it’s more about how do we create more high performance schools, and how we do make sure that the below performing schools, whether charter or traditional, that we’re doing something to turn them around. And then the most extreme cases, if we have to, closing them and then restarting them with a new team and a new group of people. So I’m actually kind of agnostic on charter/non-charter. What I really care about is performance and making sure that every single kid in Tennessee has access to a great education, and so I think that’s really what the achievement school district is about.

TNREPORT: What would it mean for the ASD if the U.S. Department of Education accepts Tennessee’s waiver and exempts the state from the No Child Left Behind law?

BARBIC: It’s interesting because, it’s gotten to the point now where because the metrics in (the law), as they get closer to 2014, 2015, are so high, we would go from 13 schools to 38 schools to 800 schools in three years. … Obviously, we are not now and never will be able to handle that sort of capacity, so I think what the waiver does is it just better defines what is an ambitious target, and we want the targets to fit the school that everyone in the state is focused on, the First to the Top goals. We feel like those are ambitious goals but also practical goals, and if we can get to those goals then we’ll feel like we’ve moved the way we need to in the state of Tennessee to be where we want to be. So I think that’s important that people need to understand, that this is not about watering things down or going back to a time of five or 10 years ago. This is about, let’s create a realistic measure, an ambitious measure, but let’s have everybody focused on one goal post.

TNREPORT: How do you do that?

BARBIC: Changing education, as much as we’d like to think it’s about the programs, it’s not about programs. It’s about people. If you look at a new school budget, 80 percent of the budget is people. … So we need to evaluate who’s there, keep the great people and then figure out what we’re going to do to the folks that maybe need to move on to another school or to another profession. Make sure we’re recruiting and bringing in the best possible people we can find. Once you have that in place then you need to give the leaders some freedom and some flexibility. If the leader needs time to go over their schedule, if they want to extend the school day, they need to be able to do that. If they want to extend the school year they need to be able to do that. … And then, it’s accountability. It’s making sure that we are truly holding people and schools accountable based on data. We’ve tracked TVAAS data in the state for 20 years. It hadn’t been used at all to make decisions around what we’re doing with the people. I think it’s great to collect data, but if you’re not actually using the data to drive the decisions about what you’re doing in the school, then it’s kind of an exercise in futility.

TNREPORT: How do you plan on navigating the Legislature and state bureaucracy?

BARBIC: I don’t want to be naïve about the politics, but I wasn’t brought here to do that. I was brought here to be on the ground and work in schools. The governor, the commissioner, the Legislature, they can do that, and I feel like there’s the right leadership there with the right values and the right amount of courage to provide the cover that we’re going to need to do this work. This is going to be hard work, and we’re not always going to get it right. We’re going to make mistakes. Anytime you’re doing something new, it’s not going to be perfect. I feel like when the glass breaks and we make a mistake, as long as we own it and move on and learn from it we’re going to be okay.

TNREPORT: What gauge do you want used to hold you accountable?

BARBIC: Some of these schools haven’t been successful in decades, and so I think to expect, in one year, this is all going to change, is optimistic, but I think that’s a little naïve. I do think we need to be showing progress, and we need to be making solid gains, 10-point plus gains, each year. I mentioned Louisiana and New Orleans earlier in the conversation because that’s kind of what we were modeled after. If you look at the schools there — which before you could argue were some of the worst schools in the country — you’re seeing over the last four years gains in those schools in New Orleans that were higher than gains being made in the rest of the state. You’re seeing over the four-year stretch, 20-point proficiency gains for poor African-American kids in the schools. And I think those are the sort of gains we need to see in the Achievement School District. The absolute achievement may be a little different because kids are showing up at a different point, but the growth should be as good if not better than growth happening across the state.

TNREPORT: You expect these schools will perform at the same level as the best in the district?

BARBIC: Take Hamilton High School in Memphis. Hamilton High School in three years, if we’re where I want us to be, in three years Hamilton High School, when you look at the list of Memphis City Schools, top to bottom in terms of student achievement and you take out the optional schools where kids test in, Hamilton High School should be right up there at the top of the list with other schools in Memphis City Schools. And hopefully in five years it’s competing at the same level as some of the best schools in the state. And that’s the goal we’re going to set and the goal we’re going to work towards. And in three years if we haven’t gotten that done, then I shouldn’t be here. I think the ultimate accountability is, I shouldn’t have a job.

TNREPORT: How do you go about identifying the best teachers in the classrooms?

BARBIC: The evaluations are going to be key because it’s going to tell us who’s great and who’s not. And right now I’m not sure we can really, with confidence, say we know who those teachers are. I think that’s one. And, obviously, for those teachers who are knocking it out of the park, we want to keep them and make sure that they stay. And we also want to attract them, maybe they’re working at other schools, to come and be here. So that’s first. I think for folks who aren’t performing, the legislation is pretty clear that we have some flexibility there to make sure that we are getting the right people in the building. Without control over that, this becomes pretty much an uphill battle, so I think having that flexibility could be important. …My job is to make sure that we have the best possible people in the school, and we’re going to do that. And like I said, we’re going to do it judiciously. But if we don’t get that part right, the rest of it’s never going to happen.

TNREPORT: How are you reaching out to teachers?

BARBIC: The first thing that we’re doing is we want to get into the schools, and really see what’s going on like I mentioned before. And I think as we develop a gameplan for what it is we’re going to be doing, we want to make sure we’re communicating that to everybody, to the teachers, to the students, to the parents. We’re going to be starting some community forums, probably at the end of September, with folks in the community meeting with leaders in the community as…political leaders, faith leaders in the philanthropy community, folks that have traditionally been involved in education and education reform, and all the stakeholders are going to be an important part of making this happen. I think the key is, the goal is, to communicate what it is we’re doing. I think, I’m not naïve enough to think that everyone is going to embrace what it is we’re going to be doing, that’s not the goal.

But the goal is to be open, to have an honest conversation about what’s happening, for the community to – for there not to be any surprises for anyone when we do decide what it is we’re going to do so that everyone is fully aware, and I think that as long as we’re open, and there’s some transparency in the process, and we’ve got a good rationale for what it is we’re doing, that’s my goal. At the end of the day we’ll have as many supporters as we can. I think the key to building support is to deliver results. We can talk all we want but if we’re not actually getting it done, then it doesn’t really matter. So I think on the front end, it is going to require a little bit of a leap of faith from everybody, but after a year or two into this, if we haven’t gotten the community behind us because we haven’t delivered the results, then that’s on us. And we need to be held accountable for that.


Video Gallery: Arne Duncan Talks TN Education Reforms

When U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan swung through Nashville last week to chat about his recent push to give states an out from the No Child Left Behind Act, he spent plenty of time talking about moving the needle on student performance in Tennessee.

“I just love what I see here,” he told reporters. “What I see here is courageous leadership at the top, I see a governor who’s walking the walk.”

TNReport shot lots of video, including the entire panel discussion that included him, Gov. Bill Haslam, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, Tennessee Education Association President Gera Summerford, State Collaborative on Reforming Education CEO Jamie Woodson, and Chris Barbic, superintendent of the newly-created Achievement School District.

Part 1 of the panel discussion at West End Middle School includes opening comments from the governor and Duncan as well as introductions of all the session’s participants. The panelists each offer their take on the biggest challenges to sustaining momentum on education reform, thoughts about the new teacher evaluation process and the disconnect between governors promising reforms and actually delivering them.

Part 2 includes questions from the audience, like what the structure and operation of the state’s new “Achievement School District” will look like, the role of school counselors in promoting emotional and educational development, the Volunteer State’s chances of opting out of the No Child Left Behind education law, thoughts about the state banning teachers unions from traditional contract negotiations, what the state is doing to recruit high-quality teachers and whether loosening up charter school restrictions helped Tennessee win the federal Race to the Top contest.

Part 3 includes more audience questions, such as how to get parents more involved in their children’s education and whether it’s possible for officials at all levels of government to embrace the belief that all children are capable of learning. Haslam wrapped up the session.

In this video, Duncan tells reporters he will exempt states from No Child Left Behind standards if they can show they’re working to improve education and are being brutally honest about their results.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” said Haslam, who added that compensation may not be the most important thing that motivates teachers, but it is important nonetheless.

Haslam and Duncan weighed in on the ongoing debate over the effectiveness of state-funded pre-K programs. Haslam says the public should expect incremental growth in the state’s program as it collects more in tax revenues. Duncan added that the key is a quality pre-K program, not “bonafide babysitters.”

Duncan talks with reporters specifically about what he thinks of Tennessee’s education reforms and the push-back it is getting from teachers.

Education Featured

U.S. Education Secretary Praises Tennessee’s Reform Efforts

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan did everything Wednesday but come out and say Tennessee will get the waiver it seeks from the No Child Left Behind law, and he had glowing things to say about the state’s education reform efforts.

“I just love what I see here,” Duncan said. “What I see here is courageous leadership at the top.

“I see a governor who is walking the walk. I see he is building a fantastic leadership team. I think he’s uniting the state behind this effort.”

Duncan appeared with Gov. Bill Haslam at a panel discussion at West End Middle School in Nashville and again at a roundtable discussion with rural educators and business leaders hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, also in Nashville. Both men met with reporters following each event.

Tennessee, pointing to unreachable expectations in the federal No Child Left Behind law, has publicly sought a waiver from current demands in the law, and Duncan is revamping the system to accommodate waivers. The waiver framework, expected to help many states, is not expected to be finalized until September, but Duncan left little doubt at each stop Wednesday that Tennessee will get what it wants.

When Dr. James Jones, director of schools in Polk County, asked Haslam at the roundtable, “How do you think your request regarding No Child Left Behind has been received?” it was Duncan who gave the answer.

“Very well,” Duncan said, which drew laughter.

The secretary’s visit blended in with what has been a sustained momentum of attention to education changes in the state. Haslam readily acknowledged Wednesday he took the baton of education reform from the previous administration of Gov. Phil Bredesen, who guided the state to its $501 million victory last year in the federal Race to the Top competition.

The state has enacted reforms that include raising standards to get a more accurate read on student progress and making for a more seamless transition from community colleges to four-year schools in higher education. The state is implementing a new teacher evaluation process, based largely on student performance, and has opened the door for more charter schools. The reform movement sprang from a special session of the Legislature in 2010, a key effort in the Race to the Top victory, but continued this year with controversial changes in teacher tenure and in the collective bargaining status of the teachers’ union.

When a question was raised at the panel discussion about the role of the teachers union, Duncan said teachers should be at the table.

“We cannot have a great education system in Tennessee or anyplace else if we don’t have everyone at the table working hard on this, whether it’s unions, whether it’s the business community, the philanthropic community, this has to be a statewide effort — parents, teachers, everyone at the table,” Duncan said. “I think the voice of teachers, the voice of unions, is critical to where we need to go.

“If we’re talking about long-term systemic change, I don’t see how you get there without having teachers at the table helping to shape that.”

Tennessee went to a “collaborative conferencing” system of teacher negotiations this year that legislators say will give all teachers equal access and not be dominated by the state’s large teachers union.

Duncan has seen the state’s efforts across two administrations. It was Duncan who announced the big victory for Bredesen and his team in the first round of Race to the Top. But he commended Tennessee’s leadership at every turn on Wednesday.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the collective commitment to transforming education than here in Tennessee,” Duncan told the audience at West End Middle School. “The investments we made in Race to the Top and other things, those are not gifts. Those are investments.”

But Duncan warned about how far the state has to go to improve. He noted that the state has about 16,000 fewer 12th graders than 9th graders, a sign of a high school drop-out rate and a reminder that the state needs a well-educated workforce if it is to compete for jobs and boost its economy.

“My challenge to you, and my hope is, that Tennessee can be the fastest improving state in the country,” Duncan said. “There are lots of reasons why that’s possible. It might not be the highest performing state, but it can be the fastest improving state.”

Haslam pointed to the need to maintain recent efforts.

“I’m the beneficiary of a lot of work done by people before I came to office,” Haslam said. “I fully intend not just to keep that momentum going but to pick up the pace.”

Duncan would not say outright that Tennessee will get its waiver, but he told reporters, “I have every reason to be hopeful about Tennessee’s submission.”

Duncan called the No Child Left Behind law, enacted under President George W. Bush, “very, very punitive.” A national trend has developed where states are saying the expectations have become so unrealistic that changes must be made, and Congress has been slow to revamp the statute.

Duncan recently said teachers should be paid $60,000-$150,000 a year. Haslam and Duncan talked about that concept in the car as they made their way from West End Middle School to the SCORE headquarters at the John Seigenthaler First Amendment Center several blocks away.

The governor, facing heavy budgetary issues like all governors, didn’t dismiss the item and used it as a way to say the system may need fundamental changes.

“The issue is how do we attract the best and brightest to teach,” Haslam said. “While most teachers say pay is not the most significant factor in deciding whether to teach or not, let’s don’t kid ourselves. Obviously, how we get compensated impacts how attracted we are to a profession.

“I have no clue in our current budget situation how we do that. But I think it probably involves a fundamental restructuring, everything from looking at class size to how long we go to school. My guess is that 20 years from now the equation of how we do education will look very different.”

Duncan also mentioned the concept of public boarding schools as a possibility, saying he saw one in Washington D.C. a few years ago.

“What works for the wealthy probably works for poor folks as well,” he said. “We’ve had private boarding schools in this country. The elite, who can afford it, their children seem to do pretty well, and it’s just something to think about.

“If we’re serious about ending cycles of poverty and social failure, I think our school days have to be a lot longer — 10, 12, 14-hour days. Maybe some children you need 24/7.”

The roundtable discussion at SCORE focusing on challenges facing rural schools followed a rural summit by SCORE a few weeks ago. SCORE is the reform group formed by Dr. Bill Frist, the former U.S. Senate majority leader. Frist was not at Wednesday’s event. He is abroad in Somalia, where there is a famine.

SCORE’s president, Jamie Woodson, appeared on the panel at West End Middle School, with state Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, superintendent Chris Barbic of the state’s Achievement School District, which is charged with turning around the state’s lowest performing schools, and Tennessee Education Association President Gera Summerford. is an independent, nonprofit news organization supported by generous donors like you!


Press Releases

State Accepting Charter Applications For Areas With Failing Schools

State of Tennessee Press Release; Aug. 1, 2011:

ASD Launches Charter School Applications and Start-up Funding

NASHVILLE, TN- Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD) has announced the release of a request for qualifications (RFQ) from organizations interested in opening charter schools in ASD attendance zones for the 2012-2013 school year. In addition to the RFQ, the ASD will be awarding $6.8 million in start-up funding as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) grant. Both the charter and i3 grant are being released the same day Chris Barbic’s official duty begins in his new role as ASD Superintendent.

“The development and release of this charter application marks an important step in the evolution of the ASD”, said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “Applicants who choose to move forward in this process will be the first generation of ASD charters, and as pioneers, will be provided the opportunity to lead the way and create powerful ‘proof points’ for what is possible for all students in Tennessee.”

The ASD will be working with a national third-party organizations to ensure both the authorizing and i3 grant selection process are both rigorous and transparent. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) will lead the charter application and review process. To assist charter operators approved to open schools in 2012-2013, Tennessee’s ASD has partnered with New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) as part of the i3 grant program. The ASD will also be working with the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) out of Stanford University to evaluate and select the existing charter operators applying for the i3 funding. The i3 funding will be awarded to high-quality charter operators committed to the turnaround of an existing, academically unacceptable public school in Memphis or Nashville. The goal of the funds awarded in Tennessee will be to build the permanent infrastructure and capacity to replace persistently low-performing schools with charter restarts executed by high-performing charter organizations.

“Providing students and families zoned to ASD schools with high quality choices is going to be an important part of our turnaround strategy,” ASD Superintendent Barbic said. “We are going to work hard to identify and scale the best operators currently in Tennessee and convince the high-quality operators outside of the State to come here and join the exciting reform efforts occurring as a result of First to the Top.”

Both new and existing operators will be eligible to apply for the i3 funding. New operators will be eligible for up to $800,000 to be used for the incubation year and the first 6 months of the new school’s operation. Existing high-quality operators approved to expand as an ASD charter will be eligible for up to $1 million depending on how many schools the organization currently operates at the time of approval. Existing operators will be able to use the funding for the school leadership and central office personnel from the incubation year of the new ASD charter through its second year of operation.

The Achievement School District

The Achievement School District(ASD), a division of the State’s Department of Education, is a key component of Tennessee’s strategy to address the persistently poor performance of many of its schools and transform them into high-performing places for children to learn.

New Schools for New Orleans

New Schools for New Orleans is a nonprofit organization dedicated to achieving excellent public schools for every child in New Orleans. Tennessee’s ASD will take the innovative model of charter restarts initiated in New Orleans after Katrina, and apply them in turnaround situations in Nashville and Memphis schools.

Press Releases

Haslam Hires Charter School Leader to Manage TN’s Failing Schools

Press Release from the Tennessee Department of Education May 10, 2011:

Tennessee Hires First Superintendent for Achievement School District

NASHVILLE, TN— The Tennessee Department of Education announced Chris Barbic, founder and chief executive officer of YES Prep Public Schools in Houston, Texas, as Superintendent of Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD). Barbic will lead the state’s groundbreaking efforts to turn around the State’s lowest performing schools in order to ensure that all Tennessee students have the chance to receive a high quality public education that will prepare them to be college and career-ready.

“Tennessee is at the forefront of education reform in the country, and I’m thrilled Chris will join us as we continue to build on the momentum we have,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said. “Chris brings a track record of success to this position, and I look forward to working with him as we work to improve the classroom experience for every child in every classroom.”

“I’ve been deeply inspired by Chris Barbic’s work with YES Prep Public Schools in Houston. Chris knows how to create a culture of success for at-risk students and provide them with the tools and resources they need to graduate from high school prepared for college and career,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “He’ll be a valuable asset to Tennessee as they continue the courageous work of turning around their lowest performing schools.”

Barbic created YES Prep Public Schools in 1998, a network of high-performing 6th-12th grade public charter schools that exist to increase the number of low-income students who graduate from college prepared to compete in the global marketplace and committed to improving disadvantaged communities. The system serves 4,200 students in across eight schools in the Houston, Texas area. To date, YES Prep has graduated 11 classes of seniors, 100% of whom have earned acceptance to a four-year college or university. As a result, YES Prep is currently on track to tripling the number of low-income college graduates in Houston. YES Prep’s multiple campuses have consistently been recognized among the best in the nation and ranked among the top 100 public high schools in the nation by Newsweek and US News and World Report. More information about YES Prep Public Schools is available online.

Barbic has spent the past 19 years as a teacher, school leader and leader of YES Prep Public Schools in Houston. Barbic graduated from Vanderbilt University with a bachelor’s degree in English and Human Development. Upon graduation, he joined Teach For America and taught middle school for six years in the Houston Independent School District. In 1995, Barbic was named the Houston ISD’s Outstanding Young Educator, an award given to the district’s most promising educator under the age of 29. Barbic has also been recognized as the youngest-ever recipient of Vanderbilt University’s Distinguished Alumnus Award. Last year, during an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, he was awarded $1 million towards expanding YES Prep’s efforts in Houston by Oprah’s Angel Network.

“What Chris has achieved at YES Prep is remarkable. He and his team have built a network of schools that assumes all kids should go to college and delivers results that surpass expectations,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “With Chris, the standard is excellence and I am excited to welcome his mindset and experiences to the Achievement School District.”

“I have spent my 19-year career in public education proving a simple hypothesis that all students, regardless of race or socio-economics, can achieve at high academic levels when given access to the same opportunities and resources that students receive in great private and suburban public schools,” said Chris Barbic. “I could not be more excited to return to Tennessee to invest the lessons I have learned in the well-being of the children in this great state as part of Governor Haslam and Commissioner Huffman’s team.”

In his role as ASD superintendent, Barbic will implement turnaround efforts at the state’s lowest performing schools, oversee efforts that create the conditions under which teachers and students can succeed, and work toward sustainable progress.

The Department of Education proposes to begin by taking in and co-managing five schools under the Achievement School District in 2011-2012 with expansion in the following years. The schools have been identified based on a definition including the U.S. Department of Education’s Persistently Lowest Achieving status, the state accountability status and a statewide lowest five percent designation. Going forward, the Department will work with each district, schools and communities to identify the best option to support continuous improvement in at-risk schools.