In the aftermath of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) taking control of the Houston Independent School District, the people of Fort Worth are wondering if their own Independent School District (ISD) could meet the same fate, according to Dallas Metro News. While state law permits a takeover, it is reserved only for extreme circumstances outlined within it.
The TEA can intervene and assume control of a school district when a campus consistently underperforms over five years. At that point, the education commissioner can appoint a board of managers or close the campus, thereby superseding the elected school board.
As the overseer of traditional independent school districts and public charter schools, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has authorized fewer than 200 takeovers since his appointment in 2016, according to Erin Baumgartner, Director of the Houston Education Research Consortium.
Although Fort Worth ISD has two underperforming campuses that could trigger the takeover law, an analysis of accountability rating data from 2013 to 2022 by the Fort Worth Report suggests that it is not yet close to that point. The schools were not rated in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but upon resuming the grading system, they each earned a score of 59 out of 100.
According to Baumgartner, academic research into the effectiveness of takeovers indicates that state intervention does not have a positive impact on student achievement. Wesley Edwards, an education professor at the University of North Texas, echoed Baumgartner’s thoughts, stating that takeovers disproportionately affect students and teachers of color.
Despite this, state law outlines 17 reasons for a special investigation into a school district, such as financial mismanagement, governance failures, and excessive absences, which the TEA can carry out before intervening.
Charter schools are also subject to high accountability, and the TEA can terminate their agreement if they receive a D or an F for three years in a row.
While a takeover may result in increased pressure from higher levels of government to improve outcomes, it also strips away local control, sparking controversy. According to Baumgartner, comparing one takeover to another is difficult due to the vast differences in context.
A state takeover of a school district involves multiple steps, including a final year of the five-year takeover timeline that generates headlines, a campus turnaround plan that requires commissioner approval, and the appointment of a conservator if necessary to oversee the district, forming a complex process.