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State Takeovers Remain Difficult⁠, But Attractive⁠, for Education Policymakers

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 26, 2019 2 min read
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Providence schools made headlines over the summer in a way no district would want: A Johns Hopkins University report detailed systemic problems with academics, school culture, and facilities in the Rhode Island district. But the Ocean State isn’t alone in generating headlines on this front in 2019.

In a new Education Week story, we examine developments this year concerning state takeovers and interventions there and in other states. While Rhode Island state officials are preparing to intervene in Providence, other states are pausing or rethinking how they approach state interventions—Ohio and Tennessee, for example, have agreed not to add any districts to their most-intensive option for state interventions for the 2019-20 school year.

As of last year, 13 states allowed for some kind of state takeover, according to the Education Commission of the States. But what that means in practice can vary dramatically. As WestEd’s Carlas McCauley told us for the story, on the one hand, state leaders generally dont want to be in the business of taking over schools; states just aren’t set up to do that, particularly over a significant period of time. But on the other hand, he said, those same leaders sometimes believe they have no choice but to have the state intervene.

“There’s no magic wand. There’s no magic bullets. There’s a lot of hard work,” McCauley told us. Where he has seen states struggle, in fact, is not ensuring successful moves can carry over even after talented leaders leave. And in his experience, states have also fallen down because they fail to craft a long-term plan for the schools or districts in question: “Are these schools going back to the districts? And what work is being done with the district?”

However, some just believe the whole concept is flawed, and that recent results from states bear this out. Fred Jones, the director of government affairs for the Southern Education Foundation, contrasted the disappointing performance of schools in Tennessee’s state-administered Achievement School District, versus progress shown in iZone schools in the Memphis area where schools earmarked as schools needing improvement have more autonomy. (Recent research from Vanderbilt University indicates, however, that this progress under the iZone model has faded recently.) Ultimately, Jones said, he just doesn’t see a state takeover as a model that should be relied upon.

“States are continuing to find opportunities to take over school districts, rather than doing the harder work” of providing key resources and effective strategies to schools without trampling on local control, Jones said.

Click here to read the full piece on state takeovers.