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School Takeovers, Concentrated in Black Districts, Take Away Democracy

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Thanks to Mike Klonsky for calling attention to this article about state takeovers of districts and schools. A takeover nullifies parent and community voice. A disproportionate number of takeovers have been inflicted on African-American communities. As we know from the failure of the Achievement School District, these takeovers have a bad track record. What do they accomplish? They nullify parent and community voice.

In New Jersey – which, in 1987, became the first state to take over a school district – Camden is among several urban districts that have come under state control. The state hired Camden’s superintendent, while the mayor appoints school board members – a practice that predates the state takeover of the district in 2013.

A judge last week dismissed a lawsuit from Camden residents seeking the right to elect school board members, questioning the rationale for electing a board that has been stripped of its power by the state.

In Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia School District is governed by a five-member School Reform Commission, with three members appointed by the governor and two by the city’s mayor. The Chester Upland district is also under state control. Camden, Philadelphia, and Chester Upland have large minority populations.

Be sure to read the descriptions of districts where democracy was snuffed out.

They are districts hollowed out by poverty, deindustrialization, and white flight. The state takeover didn’t help. It stripped away one of the few ways in which residents had a voice. Now they have lost that too.

This is how the story of Highland Park, Michigan, begins:

“Highland Park, Michigan, a small city within Detroit’s boundaries, was once called the “City of Trees.” Thick greenery lined suburban blocks crowded with single-family homes built for a growing middle class. Henry Ford pioneered the assembly line at his automobile plant on Woodward Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare. The suburban school district was considered one of the top 10 in Michigan, according to a report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1962.

“Today, most of Highland Park’s trees are gone. Overgrown, empty lots and burned-out houses outnumber occupied homes on some blocks. The Ford plant stands empty. And parents say Highland Park’s once-proud school district has collapsed, hastened by four years under state control.”

As you read these stories, ask yourself the question: seeing the problems, why was state takeover of the schools supposed to be a good idea?

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