- The Arkansas Board of Education voted (5-4) Wednesday to take over Little Rock's public schools.
- The news comes less than six months after a federal judge ruled that the district should have more independence and that the state would no longer need to make payments to three Little Rock-area districts in order to encourage integration.
- Last year, the state labeled six of the district's 48 schools as failing, which was the impetus for the decision. With the state takeover, the Little Rock school board is automatically deposed.
Prior to the board's vote, students, parents, and teachers gave testimony for over four hours on why they are opposed to a state takeover, specifically pointing out the fact that there were only six schools labeled as "inadequate."
States taking over districts has become more commonplace in recent years. There is, of course, Louisiana, where a takeover resulted in New Orleans' transformation to a city of charter schools. The Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD) was formed in 2003 to take over the operations of failing schools (defined as schools that have not met the minimum academic standards for at least four consecutive years). The RSD started small, but after Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than 100 of New Orleans’ 128 school buildings, the state's legislature acted to transfer the city's 107 worst-performing public schools to the district. Since then, the statewide district has pushed to turn many traditional public schools into charter schools. No state has a higher percentage of students attending charters.
In 2012, Tennessee jumped on the bandwagon and formed the Achievement School District to manage Memphis' six worst-performing public schools in its first year. At the same time, Michigan created the Education Achievement Authority to manage 15 poor-performing Detroit schools. Like Michigan and Tennessee, Arkansas' state takeover differs from Louisiana's since their school takeovers have been city specific versus truly statewide (though Michigan's EAA did initially say it would expand beyond Detroit).
The results of state takeovers have been mixed, often depending on who you are speaking with. But what often comes up is a lack of agency and power that citizens feel when their elected school boards are replaced with appointed officials. Then, of course, there are other issues that come up.
The EAA, for example, isn't just controversial because the public isn't voting on who represents the schools, but also because of implemented reform strategies that have little data to back them up. One such strategy, the use of a program called BUZZ, developed by Agilix, was created specifically for the EAA and has never been tested elsewhere. This has led some to see the EAA, which includes some of Detroit's most marginalized and lagging students, as a field test or experiment for unproven tech.
Additionally, an EAA contract with Teach for America (TFA) has been a source of contention, since, in the 2012-13 school year, 27% of the district's staff were corps members. Many critics question why it makes sense to send in rookie teachers to deal with marginalized students and cite the move as further evidence that the district is an experimental lab, incentivized by federal policy and the push for privatized public education.