Home > Essays > South Carolina Proposes Unseating Locally Elected School Board Members in “Failing” School Districts… With No Evidence that State Takeover Improves Things

South Carolina Proposes Unseating Locally Elected School Board Members in “Failing” School Districts… With No Evidence that State Takeover Improves Things

April 18, 2021

As readers of this blog realize, I am mystified that State Departments of Education believe that they can takeover and turnaround a low performing district given that there is no evidence anywhere that this works. Blog posts on the Chester Upland schools are exhibit A and a look at the history of Baltimore City’s many and varied governance structures and takeovers would be Exhibit B. Moreover, I know of no examples where a State takeover has resulted in any improvement in the “performance” of schools nor any case where a State has done this repeatedly and consistently.

With this context, readers will not be surprised to know that I am simultaneously amused and befuddled by the wide appeal for South Carolina’s latest solution to fixing failing schools. As described by Zak Koeske in the State, a South Carolina newspaper, here is South Carolina’s the latest gambit:

Local school board members whose districts are underperforming could find themselves out of a job if the South Carolina Department of Education succeeds in its yearslong push to gain greater control over the district takeover process.

Legislation that appears to have broad support in both the House and Senate would authorize the state superintendent, with the state Board of Education’s consent, to dissolve local, elected school boards and assume control of struggling districts indefinitely.

The proposal marks the latest turn in a decades-long debate over how to improve South Carolina’s public schools and who shares in the blame for chronically low-performing schools, which are typically in high poverty areas.

Mr. Koeske describes the painstaking and lengthy dissolution process in his article, noting that the problem of persistently underperforming schools has existed “for decades” and also noting that even though there is broad support for the bill at least one legislator made a very cogent point: :

Meanwhile, critics accuse the state of a power grab and of ignoring longstanding inequities between districts that its own school funding formula has exacerbated.

“We’re making a punitive decision against the school districts and the school boards when we have not in this body addressed the inequities that exist for these school districts, particularly rural school districts and Black school districts,” Rep. Wendy Brawley, D-Richland, told Felder.

The article also implies that the SC legislators are at the end of their rope, looking to do SOMETHING to show they are trying to help (as long as it doesn’t cost them money) and are, consequently engaging in magical thinking… like this from one of the legislators:

Brown said he supported accountability for the state schools chief, but couldn’t envision a scenario in which the state’s turnaround efforts would not succeed.

“Failure would be inexcusable,” he said. “I don’t know how you would fail when you have people who know what needs to be done and have the tools and resources to do it.

Truer words have never been spoken… but Mr. Brown should talk to the Board members, administrators, teachers and parents in the “underperforming” districts and ask them if they think they have the tools and resources they need to succeed. If the answer is NO for them and the YES when the state takes over, the failure might not be because of Board mismanagement, teacher incompetence, or parental indifference. It just might be that they all need the tools and resources to do what needs to be done.
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