NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

In Academia, State Intervention Seldom Helps

April 19, 2000

Confronted by the specter of failing public schools in their cities, some states have assumed control of local school districts or turned them over to third parties. While intervention frequently improves fiscal management, it seldom results in improved academic performance, according to a study from the Reason Public Policy Institute.

In all, 22 states and the District of Columbia have academic bankruptcy laws that hold school districts accountable for student results. Since the first state takeover in 1989, more than 25 interventions in school and district operations have been made across the nation.

  • While some intervention efforts demonstrated academic progress, many showed no progress and others were associated with additional academic declines.
  • For instance, Jersey City schools achieved little academic progress after 10 years of state control, while academic performance actually declined after the state took over Newark schools.
  • But when the state of Illinois turned Chicago public schools over to Mayor Richard Daley, his reforms resulted in privatizing ancillary services to improve performance and utilizing charter schools extensively -- while also ending social promotion and terminating failing school administrators.

Why are state interventions typically able to return school districts to fiscal health within three to five years, yet seldom improve academic achievement? One reason is that while sound financial principles are well-established, successful approaches to education are controversial -- and frequently opposed by educators.

Source: Richard C. Seder, "Balancing Accountability and Local Control," Policy Study 268, March 2000, Reason Public Policy Institute, 3415 Sepulveda Boulevard, Suite 400, Los Angeles, Calif., (310) 391-2245.

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