Panel Paper: An Extended Evaluation of Tennessee’s Achievement School District and Local Innovation Zones

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Marriott Balcony A - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Lam Pham, Vanderbilt University, Gary T. Henry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Adam Kho, University of Southern California and Ron Zimmer, University of Kentucky

Research is beginning to emerge evaluating the effectiveness of school turnaround policies on low-performing schools (e.g., Dougherty & Weiner, 2017; Gill, Zimmer, Christman, & Blanc, 2007; Harris & Larsen, 2016; Schueler, Goodman, & Deming, 2017; Zimmer, Henry, & Kho, 2017). However, the extant literature on current school turnaround models often evaluate these interventions only during the first few years, referred to as the disruption stage (Beabout, 2012). While disrupting the status quo is an important component of school turnaround, research suggests that at least three to five years are needed before improvements can be observed, while fully establishing school-level infrastructure requires even more time (Berends, Bodilly, & Kirby, 2002).

Using five years of post-intervention data, we contribute to this literature with an extended evaluation of two turnaround strategies in Tennessee: the statewide Achievement School District (ASD) and local Innovation Zones (iZones). Since 2012-13, both turnaround models have targeted Tennessee’s lowest performing schools (Priority schools). The ASD, a state-run school district, took over schools and either directly managed them or contracted them out to charter management organizations (CMOs). Other turnaround schools were absorbed into local Innovation Zones (iZones) that were managed by separate units within their local districts. While both have been afforded greater autonomy, iZone schools offered recruitment and retention bonuses for highly effective teachers. Therefore, in this study, we also include a mediation analysis in which we examine the role of teachers in mediating the effects of the turnaround interventions.

To examine the long-term achievement outcomes of ASD and iZone schools in Tennessee, we utilize both difference-in-differences (DID) and comparative interrupted time series (CITS) models. The DID model compares the average growth between the two turnaround interventions and a comparison group of non-ASD, non-iZone priority schools while the CITS model compares the deviation of the trend of these schools to their pre-intervention trends. Importantly, this longer-term analysis using both models includes a specific examination of how teacher turnover mediates the effects of these interventions. Our models utilize mediation in the context of longitudinal data (Preacher, 2015), which tests how turnaround interventions affect teacher turnover, how teacher turnover correlates with student achievement, and how teacher turnover mediates the effects of turnaround in different years of intervention.

Our preliminary results suggest that iZone schools are able to sustain positive and significant results on student achievement across four of the five years, while ASD schools generally exhibited statistically insignificant results. We also find that both interventions affected teacher turnover in the schools they manage, and that teacher turnover has a suppressing effect on student achievement. Our results imply that a coherent strategy for attracting, retaining, and developing teachers, as exhibited by recruitment and retention bonuses in the iZone schools, are an important factor in the success of these turnaround interventions.