When States Seize Schools: A Cautionary Tale
As increasing numbers of school districts across the country qualify for state takeover for failing to meet the provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, it’s easy to understand the allure of this Draconian strategy. Patience has its limits, even among some of the staunchest supporters of public education, when schools consistently fall short of stipulated outcomes. But this intuitively appealing approach promises far more than it can deliver.
The Missouri state board of education will find that out this month, when it takes control of the St. Louis public schools after the district posted a graduation rate in 2006 of only 55 percent and a dropout rate of nearly 19 percent, amid a host of other long-standing problems. Missouri will join New Jersey, New York, California, and other states in learning the ultimate futility of this kind of intervention. In fact, no state has ever been able to convert low-performing schools into high-performing ones.
In 1989, New Jersey became the first state to assume full control of a local district when it seized the schools in Jersey City; it later did so in Paterson and Newark as well. The state was compelled to act by Jersey City’s appalling academic record and history of fiscal mismanagement. In all three cities, the state replaced the superintendent, central-office administrators, and local school board members. The new superintendent was granted broad...
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