In recent years, some states have begun experimenting with state-controlled school turn-around districts run by charter school management or education management organizations in a last-ditch attempt to improve the lowest-performing schools in the state.
Education Week reports that Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, Tennessee and North Carolina are all in the process of adjusting their efforts, with several scaling back more aggressive turnaround strategies.
The turnaround-district picture reflects some changes in recent years as community backlash, changes to the school improvement process under the Every Student Succeeds Act, and mixed results from existing state-controlled districts impact the situation.
The question of whether turnaround school districts are the answer to correcting the problem of low-performance continues. The idea of having states control over low-performing schools has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, states are more likely to bring more resources to bear on schools within their more direct control. They are at least more likely to understand the issues confronting the school as they are more accountable for the results. And the mere threat of state takeover is an incentive to school districts to pay close attention to low-performing schools.
On the other hand, school performance has traditionally been left in the hands of local districts precisely because school boards are more likely to understand the complex fabric of their own communities. Most school districts see such takeovers as a slap in the face and an implication that they are not capable of managing their own affairs. Add to this the distrust engendered by the fact that states typically hire charter school management organizations to run the schools. As one Nash-Rocky Mount school board member said last week when North Carolina announced its short list for consideration of schools to be included in its new Innovative School District, “Who’s getting rich off this?”
North Carolina is the latest in the states who are or have implemented this approach. However, some states who have used the initiative longer are now withdrawing the program or scaling back its efforts. Detractors argue that the disappointing results of such efforts are not worth the cost, not only monetarily, but also politically and in terms of the good will of local communities. Since most schools that fail are rooted in deep poverty, it seems that simply changing the management of the school may not be always be enough to turn the tide of failure.