Takeover as a Reform Strategy

Published February 1, 2005

Detroit Public Schools is currently operating under a five-year reform plan implemented by the Michigan legislature in March 1999. Although the measure provides that the mayor of the city appoints six of the seven board members, it is commonly referred to as a “state takeover” because it temporarily removed Detroiters’ ability to elect a school board.

The Detroit district is hardly the first to be subject to a “takeover” by city or state government officials in an effort to produce systemic reform.

In the spring of 2002, the National Association of State Boards of Education published the study, “Do School District Takeovers Work? Assessing the Effectiveness of City and State Takeovers as a School Reform Strategy,” by Kenneth K. Wong and Francis X. Shen.

The report provides a useful overview of state and city takeovers of school districts between 1988 and 2000. According to the authors, takeovers “either by a state authority or by the mayor” are allowed in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Actual takeovers during the period occurred in 18 states and in Washington, DC, whose schools are now governed by a board of five elected members and four mayoral appointees–a reform structure created by the D.C. Council.

Eleven of 15 “comprehensive” district takeovers–interventions with “financial, managerial, and academic components”– have occurred since 1995, “including the highly publicized takeovers in Chicago (1995), Cleveland (1997), and Baltimore (1997).” In 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City initiated a takeover of the city’s 900-school district.

Concerning the effectiveness of the takeovers, the authors find “research … is lagging behind the pace of policy and practice, and overall ‘there is a scarcity of research on the effects of state takeovers.'”

For more information …

The 2002 National Association of State Boards of Education report is available online at http://www.nasbe.org/Standard/9_Spring2002/Takeover.pdf.