(First published Spring 1998)
Worst Case: When Takeover Happens
State and local school officials who gathered in Nevada in Fall 1997 agreed that in extreme cases, academic takeover is warranted, on both constitutional and moral grounds. But they also agreed on the need for more information sharing and research to help the takeover agent. They shared the following bits of wisdom from hard experience:
- Takeovers have spawned accusations of discrimination against minorities and lawsuits alleging violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. States appointing a takeover agent must be sensitive to these issues. In Cleveland, where student enrollment is 70 percent African American, the former state-appointed superintendent and white male Richard A. Boyd feels that only his strong community record made him acceptable. Similarly, anyone other than a local person put in charge may be regarded as a carpetbagger.
- Takeover can work, but you must define what "work" means. So far in New Jersey (Paterson, Jersey City and Newark) it hasnt turned student performance around, but State Commissioner Leo Klagholz sees hopeful signs. In Jersey City, for example, test scores have improved for two years in all or most categories in grades 4, 8 and 11.
- Takeover raises questions of state department capacity. Most state departments have neither the experience nor the staff to take on managing a school district.
- Takeover wont work if its adversarial, says Massachusetts Deputy General Counsel Juliane Dow. "To make this kind of change, you need every teacher and administrator with you."
- Good quality vision and planning are essential.
- Solid leadership, especially at the school site level, is fundamental. The policy for school site principals should be one of "improve or remove."
- Solutions must be community-wide. In some cities school district failure is a symptom of urban decay. School leaders must work with the mayor to improve schools and attract industry. Without job creation, its difficult to curb patronage practices such as that of Newark where 600 people had to be removed from the food services contract. (The state worked to find them city or other public-sector jobs.)
- In takeover situations, the local community has been disenfranchised by the corrupt or inept former leadership, Leo Klagholz points out. A key to success is re-empowering parents and teachers.
- Another key is finding ways to work cooperatively with unions. Whether or not the union is part of the problem (e.g., involved in corruption; engaged in stalling bargaining over petty issues), it must be part of the solution.
- You need to define when to leave and what "leave" means. As Richard Boyd notes, "Its easier to get into Bosnia than out." Upon leaving, you must ensure that local control does not result in reversion; often the old players are waiting in the wings.
This paper is an outgrowth of a Fall 1997 meeting co-sponsored by the State Education Improvement Partnership at the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Nevada Department of Education and WestEd
Written by Joan McRobbie, with input from other WestEd staff members, including Lisa Carlos, Stanley Rabinowitz and Paul Hood.
Hard copies of this paper are available for $4 each at WestEd. Contact Danny Torres at 415.615.3144 and ask for "Can State Intervention Spur Academic Turnaround?" published Spring 1998
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