Education Week - September 6, 2017 - 16
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
States adjust course
on special districts
By Daarel Burnette II
In the waning years of the No Child
Left Behind Act, school turnaround
districts became a solution du jour for
many state legislatures: Take all of
your worst-performing schools, place
them in their own state-controlled
district, and either run them directly
or hand them over to a charter school
operator. A network of autonomous,
independently-run schools was seen
as a route to swift, efficient, and inspirational improvement.
To date, six states have experience with some form of turnaround
district, their startup costs paid in a
variety of ways, including by philanthropists, state funding, and federal
School Improvement Grant money.
Factors Driving Change
As the new school year starts, the
turnaround-district picture reflects
some changes. Among the factors:
high-profile community backlash to
the school takeover process in some
places; new wrinkles to the school improvement process under the Every
Student Succeeds Act as NCLB's
successor; and a desire on the part of
state legislators, governors, and district leaders to adjust course.
Louisiana and Tennessee have dramatically scaled back their estimates
of how many schools they had hoped
to run in the coming years, shuttering some schools and handing back to
local officials control of others.
Michigan eliminated its entire
turnaround district this summer
under new legislation, returning
control of all the schools to local Detroit officials.
Meanwhile, Nevada's district took
over its first two schools this year,
though the takeover process is much
more incremental and provides districts more flexibility than Tennessee's Achievement School District.
And North Carolina and Georgia
are planning to jump-start statewide turnaround initiatives by the
fall of next year.
"The recognition of the dire need
to improve these poorly performing
schools is a positive," said Ron Zimmer, a professor at the University of
Kentucky who has studied the impact of school turnaround districts.
"However, with the actual implementation of this focus, you need
to be careful because you could end
up alienating teachers, parents, and
communities that are affected."
At the same time, ESSA gives districts more powers to come up with
their own turnaround strategies
before the state intervenes. And the
law allows states to set aside up to
7 percent of their Title I money,
which focuses on disadvantaged
students, for turnaround initiatives.
Here's a roundup of school turnaround district activity in a number
Georgia: Georgia's state board of
education is currently searching for
the overseer of its turnaround initiative. The initiative was set up last
legislative session after the failure
of a ballot initiative pushed by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal to create
such a district.
The new turnaround chief will
guide districts in their efforts,
matching them with resources,
charter operators, and consultants.
At no point in time, though, will the
state directly run schools. The state
expects to hire a turnaround czar by
November this year and begin operations next school year.
"The proof is in the pudding," said
Kevin Tanner, a Republican state
representative who authored the
original legislation. "What we're
doing is not working. We need to do
Louisiana: The state has the longest-operating turnaround district,
created in 2003 shortly before Hurricane Katrina devastated large
swaths of the city and scattered its
student body and teaching force. At
its height, the Recovery School District, which handed direct authority
over underperforming schools to
charter school operators, had more
than 107 schools under its watch.
But over the last several years, the
state has given back control to the
local school board, and this school
year the RSD has 40 schools.
"We're putting faith in the idea
that people closest to students have
the best plans for those students,"
said Kunjan Narechania, the chief
of the RSD.
The state this year also entered
into an agreement with Shreveport school officials to jointly operate 14 persistently underperforming schools. The schools are placed
under the direction of a board made
up of community members and state
officials, who then come up with
turnaround plans for the schools.
More than 17 percent of Louisiana's schools fall into the lowestperforming categories on the state's
accountability system and, if they
don't improve, would be eligible to be
The new school year brings changes
for states that are starting-or, in
at least one case, dropping-statedirected efforts to turn around some
of their lowest-performing schools.
GEORGIA: The state board of education
is set to hire this fall a "chief
turnaround officer" to oversee the fate
of the state's lowest-performing schools.
The officer will serve in an advisory role
and won't directly run schools, but will
advise districts on whether the schools
should be shuttered or handed over to a
charter school operator. The process was
passed by the legislature last year after
an effort led by Republican Gov. Nathan
Deal failed on the ballot.
LOUISIANA: The state now controls
less than half the schools it once had
in its recovery school district. This
year, the state is taking a less heavyhanded approach with its turnaround
efforts. The state screens turnaround
management consultants and charter
operators and gives schools ranked
academically in the bottom 5 percent
a chance to pick from a series of
Tweaking School Turnarounds
MICHIGAN: The state dissolved its
state-run Education Achievement
Authority this summer after raucous
debate over the academic effectiveness
of the takeover process led to legislation
scrapping it. The schools were returned
to Detroit Public Schools.
NEVADA: The state is operating its
first two schools under the Nevada
Achievement School District this school
year. The state-run district either runs
schools directly or hands them over
to charter schools to run.
TENNESSEE: Under its Every Student
Succeeds Act accountability plan, the
state gave its district superintendents
more time to make improvements in the
NORTH CAROLINA: The state this week
will publish a list of the bottom 5 percent
of schools. Next year, the state will either
shut two of those schools down or hand
them over to a charter operator.
SOURCE: Education Week
After Fierce Fight, Illinois Enacts Tax-Credit Scholarship Program
the state teachers' unions, which called it an
attack on public schools. Illinois House DemoAfter a rocky legislative battle, Illinois has crats initially voted against the bill, before the
become the 18th state to establish a tax-credit- measure passed with two votes to spare.
scholarship program for students to use toGOP Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the bill
ward tuition at a nonpublic school.
When taxpayers contribute to the scholarship fund, they will get a tax credit of Tough Compromise
75 percent of their donation-up to $1 million
annually for an individual donor. The state
Democratic and Republican lawmakers
caps the tax credit amount at $75 million, touted the legislation as a true compromise,
which means the scholarship fund could saying that nobody liked 100 percent of it.
reach $100 million.
"This has been as much of a bipartisan apThe money may be donated to a specific proach to this type of program as you're going
school or "subset" of schools, but not to a par- to get," said Josh Cunningham, an education
ticular student. Scholarship recipients must program manager for the National Conference
have a total household income of less than 300 of State Legislatures. He said the measure adpercent of the federal poverty level, meaning dresses typical criticisms about issues such as
$73,800 for a family of four.
accountability and lack of transparency.
The five-year pilot program was tacked on to
For example, Illinois allows qualifying
a larger bill that overhauls school funding in students to use the scholarships in any eliIllinois and funnels more state money into low- gible private school in the state; most state
income districts-legislation that supporters programs have a list of approved schools,
have called historic. But the tax-credit-schol- Cunningham said. And Illinois requires the
arship program drew sharp opposition from private nonprofits that issue the scholarships
By Madeline Will
16 | EDUCATION WEEK | September 6, 2017 | www.edweek.org
other states' programs, said Jason Bedrick,
the director of policy for the pro-schoolchoice group EdChoice. Typically, programs
allow participating schools to choose from
a menu of national norm-referenced tests,
"If [parents] want something different, it
doesn't make sense to use the same type of
test [as public schools]," he said, adding that
he found this requirement problematic.
For the teachers' unions, those accountabilJOSH CUNNINGHAM
ity measures, as well as anti-discrimination
language and a five-year sunset clause, are
National Conference of State Legislatures
encouraging, said Dan Montgomery, the president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.
But "it would be easier to swallow that pill if
to give priority to low-income students and
the state was doing its job fiscally elsewhere,"
students attending low-performing schools.
Also, Illinois requires that schools accept- he said, pointing out that although the state
ing scholarships administer the annual state funding bill includes an additional $350 miltest to the scholarship recipients. The state lion for schools, ideally, funding levels would
will later have independent researchers com- be much higher.
"We are really so far away from the mark
pare the outcomes of scholarship recipients
to those of public school students across the that it's really hard for us to say, 'Really? We're
going to essentially take $75 million out of the
That requirement differs from most state's revenue coffers to hand to wealthier
This has been as much
of a bipartisan approach
to this type of program
as you're going to get."
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - September 6, 2017
Education Week - September 6, 2017
Teachers Carve Out a Place in the Curriculum For LGBT History
Learning to Teach Via Virtual Reality
Rule Targets District Bias In Spec. Ed.
Hurricane Takes Heavy Toll on Schools
News in Brief
State Educational-Leadership Initiatives In Budget ‘Pickle’
New Tool Alerts Teachers When Students Give Up on Test
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Mobile Devices Put Education In Hands of Syrian Refugees
LGBT Curricula Spreads Slowly
Tweaking School Turnarounds
After Fierce Fight, Illinois Enacts Tax-Credit Scholarship Program
President’s Youngest Son Joins Back-to-School Crowd
Sarah M. Stitzlein: How to Define Public Schooling in the Age of Choice?
Q&A With Jack Schneider: What Makes a School Good? It’s More Than Test Scores
READERS REACT: Have SAT Accommodations Really Gone Too Far?
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Chris Elmendorf & Darien Shanske: We Need Better Education Data
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - Hurricane Takes Heavy Toll on Schools
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - 2
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - 3
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - News in Brief
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - 5
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - State Educational-Leadership Initiatives In Budget ‘Pickle’
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - New Tool Alerts Teachers When Students Give Up on Test
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Mobile Devices Put Education In Hands of Syrian Refugees
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - 9
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - 10
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - 11
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - 12
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - 13
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - LGBT Curricula Spreads Slowly
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - 15
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - After Fierce Fight, Illinois Enacts Tax-Credit Scholarship Program
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - President’s Youngest Son Joins Back-to-School Crowd
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - Sarah M. Stitzlein: How to Define Public Schooling in the Age of Choice?
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - Q&A With Jack Schneider: What Makes a School Good? It’s More Than Test Scores
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - Letters
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - 21
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - 23
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - Chris Elmendorf & Darien Shanske: We Need Better Education Data
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - CW1
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - CW2
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - CW3
Education Week - September 6, 2017 - CW4