- Last week, in the first of a series of eight public forums planned to discuss the result of a 93-page report on Providence Public Schools produced by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, some of the roughly 300 parents at the meeting asked Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green to consider a state takeover of the district, the Providence Journal reports.
- Parents confirmed findings in the report including the widespread and longterm use of substitute teachers with little training to teach core classes, the stifling of parent voices, chaotic classrooms with little discipline, and low academic expectations, especially of students of color.
- Some parents said systemic change is needed and asked that state officials with more experience in turnaround efforts assume control of the rebuilding process, and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza agreed the schools don’t have the resources needed to make such changes.
State takeovers of school districts are a controversial turnaround approach that many parents and school districts try to avoid. Though the approach is usually only applied in cases where school districts are already seriously low-performing, state takeovers inevitably mean less local control of district decisions. And, in some cases, these takeovers may be politically or racially motivated, some researchers contend. As takeovers of school districts continue, some communities are seeing the value of bringing in parental voices to the decision. In some cases, local leaders are even asking for the question of state takeover to be placed on the ballot.
While states have deeper pockets than local districts, the assumption that more state resources will equate with greater academic success has not always proven true, as in the case of the takeover of six school districts in Tennessee. However, in some cases where control of the school district was returned to local leaders, the school district has improved academically but struggled financially, as in the case of Detroit. In other cases, state takeover has been viewed by some educators as a chance at a fresh start.
However, the situation in Providence appears to be different. In this case, the dire situation in the school district is causing some parents to welcome state intervention. The situation seems to be complicated by the unusual amount of power and input the mayor has in governance of the school district. But the state of the schools has caught the attention of both the mayor and Rhode Island's governor, who jointly commissioned the most recent report that highlighted the district's desperate situation.
There is precedent in Rhode Island for effective school takeovers when parents are supportive of the decision. In 1991, the Central Falls school district became the first to actually request a takeover. In that case, even Domingo Morel, a political scientist who has been generally critical of takeover efforts, said in a Chalkbeat interview that “Central Falls is a case where a takeover has not been detrimental to that community.” He attributes that success to what he calls “cohesive regimes” where state and local governments work hand in hand to better the situation.