Instituto MA Student Researches Takeover Program in Providence Schools

Contributed by Genesis Carela

My research explores the Providence Public School District (PPSD) takeover in Rhode Island. Takeovers are an extreme version of accountability policies which impose a new governance structure with the aim of remedying financial mismanagement of school districts and improving academic outcomes for students. Takeovers occur when the mayor or governor strips local education agencies of their power and places struggling schools or districts under the authority of the mayor or state. The PPSD takeover officially commenced on November 1, 2019 as a result of an evaluation released by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy in June of 2019. The report pointed to an antiquated governance structure and inefficient bureaucracy that stifled change. In addition, the report found low levels of academic instruction throughout the district, including the lack of an aligned curriculum, broken school culture, unsupported teachers, and parents that felt excluded from their children’s education. To reverse decades of inaction, the governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo and the education commissioner, Angélica Infante-Green have assumed responsibility of the district in an effort to enact transformational change which includes closing equity gaps, increasing academic proficiency for all students, and recruiting and retaining competent educators.

More specifically, my research will examine the effects of PPSD takeover on racially minoritized students and parents who have been denied a formal role in the takeover. Literature on mayoral and gubernatorial takeovers indicate that takeovers are implemented in a way that systematically targets minority school districts. Although the intention of implementing this policy is to improve chronically low-performing schools and districts and to promote financial stability, the outcomes often disenfranchise minority school districts and disrupt the existing local organization of school districts as well as relationships between educators, district administrators, and families.

The kind of in-person interviews I would have preferred to conduct have been made impossible because of COVID-related restrictions. Online interviews with underage research subjects also posed thorny ethics and informed consent challenges. Faced with those obstacles and the need to gather data for my thesis paper on a limited timeline, I have revised my plan of research to rely on secondary data. Luckily, there is abundant information available publicly. I am gathering interviews of student organizations conducted by local media outlets as well as transcripts of community hearings, documents from the Rhode Island Department of Education, popular press coverage, and Rhode Island Board of Education meeting minutes. Through a content analysis of this qualitative secondary data, I will gain a deeper understanding of the context and implications of district takeover in PPSD.

While the data may not be able to answer all of my research questions, it should give me a strong basis for future research based on open and semi-open interviews to get more, richer information from students and parents.