Panel Paper: A Shock to the System: The Effects of State Takeover of School Districts on Student and Teacher Outcomes

Friday, November 8, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Governor's Square 14 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Beth Schueler, University of Virginia and Joshua F. Bleiberg, Vanderbilt University

State takeover of school districts has become an increasingly common policy response to persistently low academic performance. Eleven states debated legislation to create state-managed districts in 2015 alone (Layton, 2016) and at least 34 states now have authority to take over schools and/or districts (Jochim, 2016). Takeovers often have major consequences not only for students but also the adults working within targeted systems (Morel, 2018).

The effectiveness of takeover for turning around low-performing districts remains unclear. Examining takeovers prior to NCLB, Wong and Shen (2002, 2003) found states had some success at improving financial management but less success at improving academic outcomes. In more recent years, a handful of takeover case studies provide both positive (e.g., Harris and Larsen, 2016) and negative proof points (e.g., Zimmer et al., 2015), leaving open questions of whether, when, and where takeover represents an effective strategy in a post-NCLB accountability context. Furthermore, researchers know little about the effects on school conditions and personnel policies.

This study estimates the effect of takeovers between 2010 and 2015 on academic achievement and key educational inputs. To study these questions, we created an original dataset of takeovers by reviewing previous literature (e.g., Jochim, 2016; Morel, 2018; Oluwole & Green, 2009), tracking takeovers in press coverage, and contacting state agencies to confirm the accuracy and completeness of our tracking. We merged our takeover data with the Stanford Education Data Archive information on district performance on statewide, standardized exams between 2009 and 2015, as well as baseline district characteristics. These data are normed to allow cross-state comparisons.

We conduct differences-in-differences analyses comparing outcome trends of takeover districts to trends of comparable districts not experiencing takeover in the same windows. We estimate the effect on achievement as well as inputs, such as pupil-teacher ratios, expenditures, and the percent of students in charter schools. We control for a host of district-level factors, state-by-year fixed effects, and use a variety of sample restrictions to ensure results are not driven by these choices.

Our preliminary results suggest the effects of takeover on achievement can vary by academic subject and the short-term effects can differ from longer-term results. Takeover also has consequences for a district’s reliance on the charter sector, instructional spending, and number of full-time teachers. Going forward, we plan to examine whether effects vary by district characteristics, the type of governance model implemented post-takeover, and the rationale for takeover.

This project is uniquely positioned to uncover the consequences of state takeover given the data used cover a relevant time period, exist at the district level, and allow for cross-state comparisons. As a result, we provide descriptive evidence on the frequency and length of takeovers over time, states where takeovers are concentrated, predictors of takeover, and most common takeover models and rationales for takeover, as well as the first nationwide evidence regarding the effects of takeover on the students and teachers studying and working in these systems.