The Not So Scary Lessons of Recovery and Achievement School Districts

Around ten years ago, the Recovery School District (RSD) assumed governance over all of the failing schools in New Orleans.

Around four years ago, the Achievement School District (ASD) assumed governance over many of the failing schools in Memphis.

Recovery School District 

Here is the official presentation that the RSD just made to the state school board. Note that the data is presented as a RSD pre / post comparison, not city as a whole. Some highlights:

First, lest you think it’s because student body changed dramatically:

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State based college scholarship eligibility:

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Lastly: none of the above qualify as rigorous research results (though I still think they are very useful, illustrative, and paint an accurate picture). But, as readers of this blog will know, next month Doug Harris is going to release a study that shows that NOLA reforms achieved .2-.4 effects at an ROI that surpasses that of pre-k and class size reduction.

The RSD worked.

Much still to be done, of course.

Achievement School District

See here for a deck on the ASD’s results.

Unlike Louisiana, Tennessee actually has a statistically rigorous state based measurement: TVAAS (a growth measure).

School can achieve a TVAAS rating of 1-5, with 5 being the highest.

If all ASD schools in their second and third years were considered districts, they would each receive a 5, the highest TVAAS score.

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Note that first year schools scored a 1 on TVAAS.

The ASD has a hashtag for this phenomenon: #MoreTimeMoreGrowth.

Read the whole deck for the rest of the data. There a lot of bright spots, as well as a few worrisome trends (reading scores).

Looking Ahead 

The RSD worked, though under unique circumstances.

The ASD is on the right track, though it’s still early.

The Education Achievement Authority (EAA) of Michigan, continues to struggle.


Because the RSD and ASD are building great ecosystems of high-peforming operators (though, to it credit the ASD direct schools are doing great, a testament to Chris Barbic’s ability to get 10,000 things done at once). But the long-run ASD game is still in non-profit operator management.

The EAA attempted to direct run all it schools.

Directing running all your schools runs afoul of this data on the performance of urban charter schools.

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Currently, Nevada and Georgia are in the midst of enacting RSD / ASD models.

I hope they will learn from the above lessons. In Georgia, this will be easier to do, as there is already a base of decent charter operators. Nevada, unfortunately, has one of the worst performing charter sectors in the country. Perhaps they can use this opportunity to grow a higher-quality supply as well close some of their low performers.

Don’t Be Scared

Over the past week, I’ve been harping (I hope not trolling!) on Libby Nelson’s piece on the scary lesson of No Child Left Behind:

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As I mentioned before, I think Libby is a good reporter.

The only reason I’m hammering this point is because I believe it’s so important to the future education of millions of low-income children.

We do have very good ideas about how to fix failing schools. And when reporters cover this issue, they should point to the effectiveness and scale of urban charter schools.

Urban charter schools are working. Governance interventions such as the RSD and ASD have enabled high-performing charters to grow.

Scaling these reforms will continue to be a difficult path.

But it’s not a scary path.

It’s a hopeful one.

3 thoughts on “The Not So Scary Lessons of Recovery and Achievement School Districts

  1. Joe Connor

    Good post Neerav. I agree that the RSD has been a success and I think the ASD is on the right track (the recent data backs that up). I had two questions after reflecting on the data above:

    1. What do you think accounts for the 15% leap in the RSD Proficiency graph between school years 07-08 and 09-10? Is there a certain inflection point at which the school interventions take hold and have an effect? That jump occurred 4 years after the RSD started. It would be interesting if the ASD made a similar jump (now 4 years after starting) in the next two years.

    2. I agree that the RSD and ASD have similar human capital strategies. From the outside look in, there appears to be a difference in that the ASD prioritized bringing in outside CMOs (Young Scholars, Green Dot, Aspire etc.), whereas the RSD focused on more homegrown CMOs (Collegiate Academies, First Line, Algiers etc.). What accounts for the difference? Is it an important difference? Were CMOs less willing or just flat out unable to expand 10 years ago?

    1. nkingsl

      Hey Joe. Yes, I think this stuff takes 3-4 years; you saw ASD get its first jump this year (3 years in). And yes, we tried to get national CMOs 10 years ago and no one said yes…. for most cities, this is still case. My general advice is don’t bank on more than one when building a city plan.

      1. Joe Connor

        It’ll be exciting to see the ASD results going forward! I wonder how can we incentivize more CMOs to expand beyond their home city? How do we get Achievement First in Louisiana? DSST in Michigan?

        Better state charter policy? Facility funding? Better human capital strategies? I would wager it’s probably a combination of all three.

        What about the inherently conservative nature of non-profit organizations? Is there a way to incentivize CMOs to grow beyond their comfort levels in a smart and sustainable way?

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