USA Today recently interviewed three NASBE leaders—Kristen Amundson, Jay Barth, and Mireya Reith—on the state board take over of Little Rock Public School District.
From Greg Toppo’s story:
“The recent takeover of the Little Rock School District by the Arkansas State Board of Education has angered parents and surprised even seasoned school reform observers. The move dissolved the local school board — one ousted board member, Jim Ross, called it a “coup” — and parents took to social media to decry the action.
Such a takeover is rare, but as schools nationwide begin to see the results of new math and reading tests based on tougher Common Core standards, they could find themselves the targets of similar moves.
“I hear more state boards talking about it, even if they’re not doing it yet,” said Kristen Amundson,executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education. As changes in federal education law hold schools to higher standards, she said, “states are of necessity having to try different approaches with this relatively small number of persistently low-performing schools.”
Amundson, a former teacher and school board member in Fairfax County, Va., said a proposed reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law — which orders states to assess academic achievement at specific grade levels — would give state governments more power over troubled school districts. That means more potential takeovers.
“If you believe that more and more authority is going to go back to states — and I do — then you probably are likely to see it more,” she said.
Several analyses have predicted that more students will fail to hit academic goals laid out by new Common Core standards, academic benchmarks adopted by most states that are intended to standardize what students know and can do by the time they graduate from high school. In Kentucky, which has led the way in teaching lessons based on the standards, the proportion of students scoring “proficient” or better in reading and math dropped by about one-third when the Common Core tests were first administered in 2012. Last November, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of the groups that created many of the Common Core tests, predicted that as few as 32% of students in a few grades would reach “proficient” levels in math.
In Arkansas, the state board said it took over Little Rock’s schools because of longstanding “academic distress” there, but Mireya Reith, who voted against the takeover, said Little Rock was already pushing for improvements, including formulating an “academic recovery plan.”
“All the things we were asking for, we were starting to see,” Reith said. “I wanted to give the district and the community one more chance.”
“We really needed to get high-quality school leaders and teachers” into those schools, said Jay Barth, a state board member. If the state drew a line between performing schools and struggling schools, he said, “It was going to get really hard to get those talented persons across that line.”
Barth, a politics professor at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., voted against the takeover. He wanted to create a partnership with the school district to push for improvements. Day-to-day life in schools won’t change much this spring, he said, but this fall the affected schools will have new teachers and administrators.
“We just don’t know exactly how all of this is going to play out,” Barth said. “There are lots of huge question marks around that, but it clearly means something, and something very big, for a district that has a lot of history — and a lot of important history.” …