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Does State Takeover of School Districts Affect Student Achievement?

Researchers define a state “takeover” as assuming control of a school district and replacing all, or part, of the locally elected school board or superintendent. Proponents of state takeovers argue it’s the best way to address underperformance, financial mismanagement, noncompliance, and safety in schools. Critics assert local officials know the needs of their districts better than state officials. 

But there is little research on whether state takeovers actually improve school performance and student outcomes. Researchers Beth E. Schueler from the University of Virginia and Joshua Bleiberg from Brown University explored these relationships in a recent working paper.

The researchers identified all districts that have been taken over by states, 1988 through 2016, and tracked the reason for the takeover, like low performance or corruption, and whether the mayor, a state-appointed superintendent, or another governing body assumed control.

Using data from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the federal Common Core of Data (CCD), American Communities Survey (ACS), and Small Area Income Poverty Estimates (SAIPE), Schueler and Bleiberg found, on average, no evidence that state takeovers increased test scores or improved academic performance. They found the takeovers to have a moderate negative effect on early ELA achievement and mixed results after several years. And they did not find a statistically significant impact on math achievement.

Schueler and Bleiberg argue policymakers need to continue to study the effects of state takeovers and further assess the best ways to support districts identified as “low performing.”

By Catherine Dragone

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.