Chris Barbic runs the Achievement School District (ASD) in Tennessee. It was created to bring improvements to the chronically lowest-performing schools in the state, primarily through conversions to charter schools, so that all students have access to a quality school in their community. In order to lead this challenging and politically tumultuous work, you need a strong belief that difficult and dramatic changes will lead to dramatically better schools. And you need to believe in high expectations for all kids.
In an op-ed in Nashville’s Tennessean, Barbic forcefully articulates his leadership values. And he calls out the “belief gap” that he sees between the ASD vision for improving Nashville’s schools and the mindset of those who are fighting change.
Unfortunately, the Belief Gap is alive and well in Nashville, and it takes on many forms.
For instance, it appears in the following quote from the Facebook page of a Metro City Councilmember. Keep in mind that he is referring to Neely’s Bend Middle School, which ranks in the bottom 5 percent of all schools in Tennessee, a state that despite much progress, still remains in the bottom half of student performance in our country. “They (the ASD) are really stretching with takeovers, to schools that need work, but aren’t faring that bad…”
So, what does it mean when a school “isn’t faring that bad” when fewer than one in four kids can read on grade level? What does it mean when a school “isn’t faring that bad” when the vast majority of kids can’t do simple math equations at a proficient level?
It can only mean that there is a belief that this is the very best we can expect of the kids who attend this school. LEAD Public Schools has devoted many hours to knocking on the doors of families whose children will be starting fifth grade at Neely’s Bend Middle School in the August. Rest assured, these parents believe their children are capable of faring far, far better than that.
Welcome to the Belief Gap.
If we’re going to close the opportunity and achievement gaps that exist between schools in affluent and high-poverty communities, we can’t have belief gaps. We need to believe in and expect high performance from every school. As Barbic writes:
During this season of hope, please know that we at the ASD believe—and we partner with school leaders, teachers and parents who also believe—that every single student can realize their full potential, regardless of ZIP code or circumstance. We believe that our schools have both the ability and responsibility to unlock this potential.