School districts are expected to perform at a particular level, according to standards set at both the state and federal level. When schools within that district fail to adequately meet their expectations over a period of time, measures must be taken to ensure students get the quality of education they need to succeed in life. While most parents, educators and lawmakers agree with this basic principle, the path to meet those goals is often a topic of controversy. That is especially true when failing schools are met with a takeover by the state government – which is what is happening in many school districts today.
The Anatomy of a State Takeover
States do not take over schools overnight or because of one round of poor test scores. Many states have policies where schools cannot be touched until they have been on probation for a long period of time, and their test scores have not improved significantly during that time. In most of the states explored in this article, school districts had as much as six years to turn around their academic achievement before the state government considered getting involved in the process. However, even when schools have adequate time to reverse their poor performance levels, state takeovers of schools are not considered lightly, and they are not readily accepted by many parents, students, educators and lawmakers.
When a state government does determine it is time to take control of a specific, low-performing school, that process can look different from state to state, and even from school to school. The typical model is for the state department of education to form a special group or committee that will be responsible for overseeing the necessary changes the school needs to make to bring it back up to academic sufficiency. In some of these cases, the school district may be allowed to be involved in the process to ensure a seamless transition and consistency within the institutions of that particular community.
Seven Schools in Indianapolis Facing State Takeover
According to a recent report in the Indianapolis Business Journal, the mayor of the city, Greg Ballard, has announced plans by the city to take over seven schools in the Indianapolis Public Schools District that have consistently failed to make the grade. The seven schools in question include Arlington Community High School, Broad Ripple High School, Emerich Manual High School, Northwest High School, Thomas Carr Howe Community High School, George Washington Community School and Emma Donnan Middle School.
To bring these schools up to the state standard, the governor's office will appoint management teams, made up of former educators or professionals appointed by the state, responsible for improving the schools' performances and assess progress to that end on a regular basis. The teams will make recommendations to the governor's office, which would be used to petition the State Board of Education the following academic year. Some believe that the process should be used in all IPS schools, but Mayor Ballard believes in starting small.
"I believe our immediate focus should be on the successful turnaround of the schools being taken over by the state. Once we turn around these schools, then we can tackle the larger issues of IPS as a whole," Ballard was reported as saying to the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee.
State Takeover in Buffalo Meeting Opposition
Schools in Buffalo are also ripe for state takeover, but the current superintendent of schools, as well as other administrators in the Buffalo school district, are opposed to such an action. Buffalo Superintendent Dr. James Williams told WGRZ that he would rather see "persistently low-achieving schools" use additional incentive funding to turn themselves around, rather than rely on the government to make the necessary changes.
WGRZ reports that the federal government has identified 13 schools in the Buffalo Public School System as "persistently low-achieving schools." Four have already begun the improvement process, while the remaining nine will begin the same process later this year. Some of the initiatives the schools are looking at include improving graduation and attendance rates, as well as reducing the incidence of suspensions.
Five Chicago Schools Face Takeover Possibility
Lake County in Chicago is another district that has numerous schools that have been on probation for a number of years. According to a report in the Post Tribune, five of these schools may be facing a state takeover in the near future. The determination of a takeover will be made by August, pending improvements that may have been measured during the previous academic school year. If a takeover is imminent, the Indiana State Board of Education will be sending a team to the schools to implement the necessary changes to turn the schools around.
Tennessee Lt. Governor Calling for State Takeover
In Tennessee, a number of schools in the Memphis City School System may be taken over by the state if a state lawmaker has his say. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey told the Commercial Appeal that he would rather see the state use this opportunity to remake the educational system, rather than rely on other modes of improvement like mergers to bring schools up to the standard. However, the majority of lawmakers in that state prefer to resort to less invasive methods of overhaul before resorting to such drastic action.
Whether schools are taken over by state governments, or are allowed to implement their own plans for improvement, the fact remains that many schools across the country are failing to make the grade according to state and federal standards. While education reform is a hot topic of debate, it appears clear that more action needs to be taken to ensure students across the country get the same level of education to guarantee their success in the future.