I am a parent of four JCPS students who is deeply concerned about academic achievement and about school discipline methods and especially about the disparities in these areas for students of color and students with disabilities. Do I think JCPS has work to do? Yes. Do I think a state takeover is the way to do it? No. Here’s why:
National data on the effectiveness of state takeovers has failed to show that this is an effective model for improving a district. An analysis from the Pew Charitable Trust found no clear-cut evidence that this type of intervention leads to better student performance or fiscal management.1 A study from Rutgers University found that while they may yield more gains in central office management, student achievement often falls short.2 A Vanderbilt University study of state takeovers in the state of Tennessee found that schools that remained in the local school district outperformed similar schools that were taken over by state government.3
Furthermore, examination of such takeovers in New Orleans and Detroit found that such takeovers had harmful effects on students of color and students with special needs. In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against New Orleans’ Recovery School District (RSD), presenting evidence that the rights of more than 4,500 special needs students had been violated because the state did not insure that they had equal access to educational services. According to the lawsuit that was eventually settled in 2015, special needs students faced discriminatory enrollment practices, difficulties accessing adequate evaluation services and illegal discipline for manifestations of symptoms of students’ disabilities.4
In Michigan’s state-run Education Achievement Authority, more than 6000 suspensions were issued for a student population of 10,000, more than 60% of which were for minor infractions such as truancy, insubordination and disorderly conduct, with suspension rates for students of color disproportionately higher.5
In the two hours of research I did on state takeovers, I could not find a single report or article that cited real data that showed that state takeovers are more successful than other interventions. So why should JCPS parents, teachers, administrators and community supporters possibly want this action taken?
The Center for Popular Democracy, in its report on state takeovers of low-performing schools, notes that in many cases, when states do this, they do so after first failing to meet their own constitutional obligation to provide a district with adequate resources for students to be given a fair and substantive opportunity to learn.
According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, funding for education in Kentucky was reduced 5.9% from 2008-2015 and per-pupil funding in Kentucky has dropped 15.8% from 2008 to 2018, making Kentucky one of the 12 states with the deepest cuts for K-12 education since 2008.6 So why should the state, which one could argue, has failed to meet their constitutional obligation to resource the district adequately, now be able to infringe on local citizens’ democratic rights by taking over the district?
Finally, this board newly appointed by Bevin is comprised mostly of people who have no experience with public schools. In fact, some may have a vested interest in seeing public schools fail to make way for charter schools. So how can we trust them to act in what is the best interest of our public school students? Even if their motives are pure, how many of these board members have actual experience working with our most marginalized students who struggle to achieve academically? What knowledge and experience do they have in closing achievement gaps for public school students? If this is really their goal, why did they remove an education commissioner who actually had classroom experience and extensive knowledge in this area, and was given a glowing recommendation by the board four months before he was removed?
As a JCPS parent, I will continue to push JCPS to provide a better education and appropriate discipline fairly and equitably for all students. But who should I trust to oversee this work? A newly appointed state Board of Education filled with people with no public school experience and a vested interest in charter schools? Or our own democratically elected school board and new superintendent who has experience with our district and a vested interest in seeing it succeed? I’m going with door number 2.
1 Mitchell, Corey. 2016. “Study Raises Questions About State Takeovers of Districts.” Education Week.
3 R. Zimmer, A. Kho, G. Henry, and S. Viano, “Evaluation of the Effect of Tennessee’s Achievement School District
on Student Test Scores.” December 2015. Available
Accessed January 3, 2015.
4 Dreilinger, Danielle. 2013. “Unrelenting New Orleans Special Education Problems Alleged in New Court Filings.”
5 The American Federation of Teachers, “State Takeovers of Low-Performing Schools and School Systems Are Not
the Answer: Evidence from Louisiana and Michigan.”
6 Leachman, Masterson, and Figueroa. (November, 2017). “A Punishing Decade for School Funding.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. https://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/a-punishing-decade-for-school-funding