State takeover of low performing schools

State takeover of low performing schools is a failed strategy that persists. In 1987 New Jersey became the first state in the country to pass a law empowering the state education agency to take control of local school districts deemed to be under performing. The state took control of Jersey City in 1989, Patterson in 1991, and Newark in 1995. On July 16, 2015 the State Superintendent responsible for Newark Public Schools ended a four-year term. After nearly 25 years of state control of the Newark Public Schools what progress has been made? What are the lessons to be shared with other state education agencies? The data on the three districts under state control is mind blowing. Newark, the largest school district in New Jersey, is instructive because of its persistent low performance in a state with high performing schools and districts. Despite nearly 25 years of state control of public education in Newark, there is no evidence that state control has made a difference. This record has not informed other states that have, or are planning to, take over control of local school districts. Recently, the Recovery District in New Orleans and the Achievement District in Tennessee have a track record that mirrors the early takeover experience of New Jersey—none have a record of exemplary performance. Florida’s takeover of low performing schools is the one outlier among states in the business of turning around low performing schools—an Achilles heel of American public education. Generally and specifically, state operation of local schools does not work—there is one exception to the observation. No less important is the loss of home rule by local communities, a hallmark of public education. And, the albatross or noose for state agencies is a self-inflicted wound that does not heal when failure persists. Capacity building in local communities is a strategy whose time is now.

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