“Extraordinary Authority Districts”: Design Considerations—Framework and Takeaways

As the number of chronically underperforming school districts continues to climb, some states are beginning to take control through Extraordinary Authority Districts (EADs). With lessons garnered from five that have employed various forms of EADs (Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Tennessee), this publication from America Achieves and Public Impact provides a how-to guide for any state considering an EAD. It’s organized into a four-part framework. First, the authors address the political and legislative context in which EADs should operate, noting that EADs need the legal authority to fully take over schools and/or  districts. To minimize conflict, they also recommend building strategic relationships with local nonprofits and creating an open dialogue within the community. Second, they outline three strategies that EADs could use to operate their takeover schools: issue charters or charter-like contracts to external operators; run schools themselves, hiring a teachers and school leaders and giving them charter-like authority; and running schools directly, using their own school model built and/or managed by the EAD. When deciding which model to employ, states should consider how many schools an EAD can effectively manage and whether it can hire sufficient talent. Third, the authors note that EADs must also take on the “office role”—controlling schools’ finances, communications, testing and accountability, and so on—and offer suggestions on how to structure these responsibilities. Fourth, they stress the importance of assembling a strong core team and hiring a top-notch leader. In the end, though EADs are a very new strategy for turning around floundering schools and districts, the experiences of the early adopters herald great promise. For further in-depth looks at EADs, take a look at Nelson Smith’s reports on Tennesee’s Achievement School District and Louisiana’s Recovery School District.

SOURCE: Sharon Kebschull Barrett, Christen Holly, and Bryan C. Hassel, “Extraordinary Authority Districts”: Design Considerations—Framework and Takeaways (Chapel Hill, NC: Public Impact, February 2014).

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