A ‘Data War’ Erupts Over Whether The State Should Take Over A Nashville School
Chris Barbic leads Tennessee's experimental Achievement School District, which is charged with turning around the state's lowest performing schools in a matter of five years. Credit: ASD

A ‘Data War’ Erupts Over Whether The State Should Take Over A Nashville School

Chris Barbic leads Tennessee's experimental Achievement School District, which is charged with turning around the state's lowest performing schools in a matter of five years. Credit: ASD
Chris Barbic leads Tennessee’s experimental Achievement School District, which is charged with turning around the state’s lowest performing schools in a matter of five years. Credit: ASD

The state’s plan to take over one of two struggling middle schools in Nashville has spurred a firefight using standardized test scores as ammo.

Opponents of the Achievement School District taking over either Neely’s Bend or Madison middle schools have compiled numbers showing both are already performing better than most schools under state control. And by some measures, these two aren’t even the lowest performing middle schools in the city.

“In light of these facts, I do not think that it is in the best interest of Madison and Neely’s Bend Middle Schools to be taken over by the ASD and that any decision to take over these schools is being made with haste,” newly elected state Rep. Bill Beck (D-Nashville) says in a statement.

ASD superintendent Chris Barbic contends data is being cherry picked.

“We can go back and forth with folks who want to do the data war,” Barbic tells WPLN. “For every data point they have, we’ve got one. The bottom line is that the schools that we’re talking about are in the bottom five percent.”

State law gives the ASD authority to rescue any school that falls in the bottom five percent statewide. Until now, most of the state’s activity has been focused on Memphis, with just one state-controlled school in Nashville — Brick Church Middle.

LEAD Academy, a charter school operator, runs Brick Church for the state and has succeeded in turning around test scores, taking over one grade at a time. LEAD would also run either Neely’s Bend or Madison, so Barbic says the only fair comparison is to look at how the two schools have performed relative to Brick Church.

The ASD had 15 schools to choose from in Nashville. Early on, Barbic made it clear that it would be a middle school and that LEAD would run it. He notes that the selection process is more involved than just evaluating test scores. For instance, Jere Baxter, which was an option, is only at half capacity. Barbic says LEAD didn’t think there were enough students to work with in the building.

“You just can’t run a full, robust middle school program if there aren’t enough kids in the building to be able to do that,” Barbic says. “And when a building is half empty, it’s tough to make the case to be able do that.”

ASD officials are holding simultaneous public meetings at Neely’s Bend and Madison Thursday night. Asked why the meetings conflict, Barbic says they’re primarily intended for families zoned for the school.

“For parents, there is no conflict,” he says. “You’re either a parent at Neely’s Bend, or you’re a parent at Madison.”

Blake Farmer

Blake Farmer is WPLN's assistant news director, but he wears many hats - reporter, editor and host. He covers the Tennessee state capitol while also keeping an eye on Fort Campbell and business trends, frequently contributing to national programs. Born in Tennessee and educated in Texas, Blake has called Nashville home for most of his life.
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