Equity & Diversity

State Takeover of Schools Harms Black, Latino Communities, Report Contends

By Corey Mitchell — August 24, 2015 4 min read
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A new report from The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a group including the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions, argues that state takeover of schools and school districts is “stripping political power” from black and Latino communities.

The report traces the history of what the group calls “market-based intervention and reform,” from the state takeover of three New Jersey school districts in the late 1980s and mid-1990s to the present-day push to allow state-run schools in Georgia. The authors contend that the growing number of state takeovers and achievement districts has increased segregation, dismantled community schools, and undermined the financial stability of the affected school districts.

The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools asserts that local resistance to mayoral control of education policy in large urban districts has now given way to a broader strategy focused on usurping local control.

In making their case, the writers compiled profiles of some of the nation’s more prominent state takeovers, including New Orleans in 2005, and the state-run achievement school districts in Michigan in 2013 and Tennessee in 2010 that have disproportionately affected schools in Detroit and Memphis respectively. The authors report that none of the current takeovers affect majority white school districts and that 97 percent of the students in the currently operating state-run districts are black or Latino.

“These state takeovers are happening almost exclusively in African-American and Latino schools and districts—in many of the same communities that have experienced decades of underinvestment in their public schools and consistent attacks on their property, agency, and self-determination,” the report authors write.

“In the past decade, these takeovers have not only removed schools from local authorities, they are increasingly being used to facilitate the permanent transfer of schools from public to private management.”

Officials with the Louisiana, Michigan, and Tennessee districts did not immediately return requests for comment. We will update this post when those organizations respond.

Pressing to slow the spread of state school takeover, the report suggests that there are five elements key to improving urban schools:

  • Challenging curriculum, including access to honors courses, services for English-language learners and special education students, GED preparation, and job training.
  • Emphasis on quality teaching instead of high-stakes testing.
  • Support services available to the school and surrounding community.
  • Positive discipline practices, including social and emotional learning supports.
  • Improved parent and community engagement.

The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools counts the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, Service Employees International Union, and League of United Latin American Citizens among its members.

In some cases, state takeover has led to loss of jobs for unionized district employees. When the state of Louisiana took over most of New Orleans’ schools, more than 7,000 school employees were fired.

The organization released the report during a week when public debate rages over the Louisiana Recovery School District’s takeover of most New Orleans’ schools after Hurricane Katrina. The back-and-forth has centered on whether the state has delivered on its promise of high-quality schools for all of the city’s children, the vast majority of them poor and black.

Louisiana Superintendent John White weighed in with a column posted on Education Post this weekend. White wrote the piece in response to a New York Times opinion piece, “The Myth of the New Orleans School Makeover.”

The Alliance to Relcaim our Schools 'Out of Control' Takeover Report

A special Education Week project examines the human impact on New Orleans’ dramatic public school changes since Hurricane Katrina. Here’s a link to videos where students, parents and educators share their thoughts.

UPDATED (Aug. 25):

The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools report also criticizes the charter school industry, claiming that it has spearheaded the growth of state achievement districts by promoting charters as the solution to poor student performance.

Those claims drew pushback from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

“This report makes several unsubstantiated claims about the role of charter schools in turning around low-performing school districts and improving academic opportunities for students,” said Riya Anandwala, spokeswoman for the group. “The work of turning around a failing school is tremendously challenging, but there are high-quality charter management organizations that are up to the task. In the end, the goal of charter schools is to step in and save low-performing schools: to help children succeed, reduce the achievement gap, help teachers and also serve the demands of parents.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.