An Evaluation of Tennessee’s Achievement School District and Local Innovation Zones
Since 2012, Tennessee has taken a unique approach to intervening in struggling schools. With the goal of turning around the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the state (known as priority schools), officials introduced two separate models: the Achievement School District (ASD) and Innovation Zones (iZones). The ASD is a state-run district that directly manages some priority schools and turns others over to select charter management organizations. iZones, on the other hand, are subsets of priority schools that remain under district control but are granted greater autonomy and financial support to implement interventions. There are four districts that contain iZones: Shelby County Schools (Memphis), Metro-Nashville Public Schools, Hamilton County Schools (Chattanooga), and Knox County Schools (Knoxville). The remaining priority schools weren’t included in either of these initiatives, effectively creating a comparison group.
Research teams from Vanderbilt University and the University of Kentucky have kept a close eye on both initiatives. In 2015, they published an evaluation of the ASD and iZone schools after three years of implementation. They found that, while ASD schools did not improve any more or less than other priority schools, iZone schools produced moderate to large positive effects on student test scores. A separate study also found that both initiatives had high rates of teacher turnover, but that the numbers were higher in ASD than iZone schools.
Now a recently published study examines the impacts of both initiatives after five years of implementation. To complete their evaluation, the researchers examined student- and teacher-level demographic data, test scores on state assessments, and school enrollment data from 2006—07 through 2016—17. They then compared changes in test scores after reforms were initiated with changes in test scores in priority schools that weren’t part of the ASD or iZones [Read more at the Fordham Institute].