Examining the Impact of a State Takeover of Local Schools

In a report released last month by The Pew Charitable Trusts, researchers say they have no consensus over whether local control of a school district is any better for student performance or financial management than state control of a school district.

Pew study: Governing Urban Schools in the FuturePew study: Governing Urban Schools in the Future

But state control of Chicago Public Schools is exactly what Gov. Bruce Rauner and Republican leadership in the General Assembly proposed last month.

Brandis Friedman takes a look at one district where the state is in charge to see how its schools are faring under state rule.

TRANSCRIPT

Brandis Friedman: Though it’s no longer her classroom, Lisette Brito remembers the days she spent teaching here.

Lisette BritoLisette Brito Lisette Brito, North Chicago School District: I remember really fun times, and a lot of learning going on. I remember some of my troublemaker kids. I remember one of them hiding in there. But just a lot of learning here.

BF: But she also remembers wondering if those days at North Elementary were numbered.

LB: Four to five years ago, there was a lot of uncertainty. Teachers, my colleagues, were quite nervous about what it meant to be possibly taken and finally undertaken by the state. There was a lot of talk that we would go under and that we would have to go to neighboring districts.

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BF: Brito is now an administrator for North Chicago School District 187 and taking the rare opportunity to visit students in her old classroom.

The district was taken over by the State Board of Education in 2012 after several years of financial mismanagement and academic failure.

Dora KingDora King Dora King, independent authority chair: Those days were very hard. The district now is steady. It is very calm in terms of leadership, and I really think that is the key.

BF: During the initial takeover, the state removed the existing board and superintendent and appointed two boards: an independent authority and a financial oversight panel.

Each is made of five members—three local appointees and two outside experts.

A new chief education officer was also appointed.

Joel Pollack, deputy superintendent of instruction: Boards have a dual mandate, basically. It's to dramatically improve student educational opportunites and outcomes, and also to make the district dramatically more effective from financial and operational standpoint.

BF: With new leadership at the helm, the district began to course-correct, making tough decisions when needed.

DK: Our population of students in the district had started to drop. We had schools that were not fully utilized because students weren't actually filling up the buildings.

We've had to release a lot of teachers. We've had to close schools.

BF: Pollack explains that along the way the state has supported and guided new efforts to improve financial management and academic performance.

Additionally, the state is providing a $5.8 million special appropriation this fiscal year to augment the $58 million budget.

Without it North Chicago would face a $4.5 million deficit.

JP:  We’ve work to adopt and develop new curriculum. We have extended minutes in our school days. We have developed time for professional development within the school day for all teachers.

We’ve restructured our educational programs. We have realigned all of our grade-level centers at the elementary level.

BF: While these new leaders say the district is doing far better, they know they have further to go.

The district’s four-year graduation rate has gone from just 50 percent in 2011 before the state takeover to 68 percent last year.

But it’s still behind the state’s graduation rate of 86 percent. And only 7 percent of students received a composite ACT score of 21 or better, compared to the state’s 46 percent.

But Pollack says there’s still progress there: The district’s average score has gone from 15.2 in 2012 to 16.1 in 2015 with twice as many students scoring higher than 21.

Joel PollackJoel Pollack JP: We've seen ACT scores rise. We’ve seen attendance rise throughout the district. We've seen a dramatic drop in disciplinary incidents throughout the district.

BF: But not everyone thinks state control of a school district is best.

Dan Montgomery is the president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the union representing teachers in North Chicago.

Dan Montgomery: They're not good situations. Unfortunately, the track record is dim. You see often a new group comes in [and] they’re usually outsiders—not from that community. They don't represent the people in that community. Often there’s a lot of spending on consultants.  We’ve seen that. We saw that in North Chicago.

BF: He blames expensive outside consultants for the school closures in North Chicago, which meant a 39-percent reduction in the teaching workforce.

But Lisette Brito is happy to be one of the educators still here.

LB: Some of the children who I taught in this classroom are graduating right now from high school. So I get to see the work that I’ve done, and the work we did together because I certainly didn't do it by myself.

BF:  For "Chicago Tonight," I’m Brandis Friedman.

Follow Brandis Friedman on Twitter: @BrandisFriedman


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