Can they trust state leaders to govern more responsibly?
That’s a question more Georgia parents may be asking if Gov. Nathan Deal wins greater control over local schools systems. And that, reports the AJC’s Greg Bluestein and Ty Tagami, is Deal’s intent.
In 1989, New Jersey became the first state to take over a school district. Now, the majority of states have some legal mechanism to seize control of a troubled district. But research suggests that state intervention does not always solve problems.
That’s because a state bureaucracy can be even more sluggish and unyielding than a local one. And states don’t always have the money or the staffing to turn around struggling systems.
So, while states may come in and rearrange things, they don’t necessarily dramatically improve them as recent takeovers in Philadelphia and Roosevelt, N.Y., demonstrate
According to the AJC story:
Deal took considerable criticism by wading into DeKalb after SACS found the local board to be a dysfunctional mess. He says DeKalb’s problems aren’t unique, but Georgia law sets up an unwieldy “one-legged stool” that only allows the state to intervene over governance issues rather than, say, academics.
That legislation he wants will start taking shape after the 40-day legislative session ends Thursday. But some lawmakers are already raising questions about the role SACS will play in a new setup. House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams said more state oversight is needed in the accreditation process.
“Accreditation is a necessary part of maintaining a school system, but it doesn’t abdicate our responsibility to monitor the school systems,” said Abrams, who said the state has done a “poor job” in tracking school performance.
SACS is not the only accrediting agency in Georgia, but it is the dominant one. The Alpharetta-based company monitors more than 2,500 Georgia schools and 140 of the state’s 180 public school districts. In recent years, SACS has drawn increased scrutiny for a string of high-profile decisions involving Georgia schools, including a 2008 decision that removed Clayton County’s school accreditation.
SACS has placed several Georgia school districts on probation, saddling DeKalb with that unwanted distinction in December with a report depicting a frustratingly dysfunctional school board. Its report helped prod Deal to suspend and then replace six board members this month.
It still seems likely that SACS will play an important role in whatever plan legislators hash out with Deal. Leading lawmakers have shown little appetite for creating a new state-run accrediting agency, and few rivals have the resources or clout to readily step in.
Mark Elgart, who heads the firm that oversees SACS, said he would cooperate with the governor and lawmakers. He said he supports allowing broader state powers to rein in struggling schools, but the more difficult part may be sustaining that intervention.
“That’s where the state has to be thoughtful about how they amend the law and the mechanisms for intervention. Some states have struggled with the capacity to do it, ” said Elgart. “Once you go in and intervene, you take some ownership. And if you aren’t positioned to do it, you’re in trouble.”
But the specter of increased state intervention has split many parents and activists who don’t want their duly elected officials ousted by the state — but also want an emergency trigger if their representatives can’t get their act together.
“I have an issue with any imposition on voting rights, ” said Marcia Coward, who heads the DeKalb County Council of PTAs. “But my bigger issue and bigger passion lies with children and what is best for them. And that’s why I support state intervention.”
Any debate over those roles should inevitably involve SACS, which she said wields too much influence.
“We need to look at alternate accreditation processes,” she said. “What really froths me is that our system is put in jeopardy by an organization that finds issues that have absolutely nothing to do with student achievement.”
–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog