Thursday, April 14, 2016

Are State School Takeovers the Best Option?

By Ranada Robinson, Research Manager

Last month, a few Market Street staff participated in the Southern Education Foundation webinar, The Facts about State Takeovers of Public Schools. The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools and Center for Popular Democracy were co-hosts and provided presenters. We were interested in this webinar because an increased number of states across the country have passed or are considering legislation to allow the state to take control of local low-performing schools and/or school districts. This webinar presented statistics regarding the three states that have already done so in an effort to improve results: Louisiana, Michigan, and Tennessee. According to the research, the takeovers have not been successful in improving low-performing schools but have further disenfranchised minority students. Here are some high-level takeaways from each speaker’s presentation, including a few alternative solutions with positive track records.

State Takeover Districts – A Growing Threat: Katherine Dunn, Southern Education Foundation

States that have passed legislation to take control of individual schools by removing them from the local jurisdiction and placing them in a “state school district” are:
  • Louisiana (2003) – The Recovery School District
  • Tennessee (2010) – The Achievement School District
  • Michigan (2013) – The Education Achievement Authority
  • Nevada (2015) – The Achievement School District (No data available yet)
  • Georgia will face this issue via ballot in November 2016.
  • Similar legislation is under review or pending in: Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and South Carolina. 

The Targeting of State Takeovers in African American and Latino Communities: Keron Blair, Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools

In August 2015, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools released a report entitled Out of Control: The Systematic Disenfranchisement of African American and Latino Communities through School Takeovers as a commemoration of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which is considered one of the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history.

Within the current operational takeover districts examined, tens of thousands of students are in schools that are under state control. After a school has been placed under state control, elected school boards and voters have no governance. These takeovers tend to occur in urban centers that have high concentrations of minority population—in Louisiana, 63 of the schools in the Recovery School District are in New Orleans, compared to 12 in Baton Rouge. In Tennessee, 27 of the state’s 29 Achievement School District schools are in Memphis, with the remaining two in Nashville. In Michigan, all 15 schools in the Education Achievement Authority are in Detroit. Combined, there have been 101 schools placed in state control, and of the 47,596 students enrolled in those schools, 97% are African American. Eighty-nine of the schools have been converted to charter schools.

The Academic Record of State Takeovers: Kyle Serrette, Center for Popular Democracy

In February 2016, the Center of Popular Democracy released its State Takeovers of Low-Performing Schools: A Record of Academic Failure, Financial Management, & Student Harm report that debunks the theory that making the structural change of taking over a school at the state-level will lead to strategic changes that will result in higher performing schools. The overarching issue is that many of the states have not created mechanisms to help struggling schools move from an F to a D to a C, and so forth, leaving many states to just close the school eventually. Additionally, high expectations are set, but inadequate support is given to help meet those expectations.

In Louisiana, over 21,000 children are in D and F rated charter schools. The state has spent over $700 million on these schools. However, in the 2013-14 academic year, 42% of charters are still D & F rated.

In Michigan, 10,000 students are in the 15 Detroit schools placed in the Education Achievement Authority. The Michigan Educational Assessment Program results indicated that a high majority of these students are stagnating in reaching math and reading proficiency or are falling even further behind. The chancellor of the Authority recently stated that, “three years into this, achievement hasn’t improved.”

In Nashville, the goal was to “turn the state’s bottom five percent of schools to the top 25% in five years.” Results from 2014 indicate that reading scores were lower in the Achievement School District schools than they were before the state took them over in 2012. Good news, though, is that math scores have increased by more than five points.

A Real Strategy for School Improvement: Sustainable Community Schools: Ken Zarifis, Education Austin

In 2007-2008, Austin had two schools in danger of closing: Webb Middle School and Reagan High School, but the community came together to prevent the closure and started with three questions:
  • What do you love about your schools?
  • What creates barriers to your success?
  • What resources do you need to overcome those barriers?

The plan for the schools addressed attendance, mobility, and social needs. A Family Resource Center was established. Eight years later, these schools are top performers with the same neighborhood students. Enrollment at both schools has doubled, and student mobility decreased from 35% to 25%. Graduation rates have increased from 48% to 85%, and Webb has earned five state academic distinctions in 2013-2014 and three in 2014-2015. The Early College High School program offers up to 60 college credits.

Wraparound services are a key component to support the students, but this alone isn’t enough—a strong academic model is also necessary. Now, Education Austin’s goal is to make Austin School District a community school district. Both the City of Austin and Travis County support and have made investments. Five of 8 elementary schools have developed plans, and the second middle school is currently developing its plan. Education Austin continues to work with courts, health and human services, and other public departments to address student needs. They are also pursuing legislation at the state-level to support community schools.

Talent continues to be the #1 issue in economic development, and winning communities know that their talent pipeline includes their pre-K through 12 programs. No matter what is best programmatically in specific communities, it is important to make well-informed, research-based decisions. According to the Southern Education Foundation, to date, there is no evidence that state takeovers are effective. However, their research indicates that the following factors are associated with stronger outcomes:
  • Access to high quality early childhood and pre-K programs
  • Collaboration and stability in school leadership
  • Good teaching by experienced educators
  • A learning environment focused on students, and positive and restorative discipline practices rather than zero tolerance
  • A rigorous curriculum that is broad, engaging, and culturally relevant
  • Wraparound support services, like health services and after-school activities, for both students and the broader community
  • Deep parent, community, and school ties
  • Consistent investment in schools, not constant budget cuts

For more information about community schools and the aforementioned best practice factors for better outcomes, please download Investing in What Works: Community-Driven Strategies for Strong Public Schools, published in 2015 by the Southern Education Foundation and the Annenburg Institute for School Reform, and Community Schools: Transforming Struggling Schools into Thriving Schools, published in 2016 by the Center for Popular Democracy, Coalition for Community Schools, and Southern Education Foundation.