Who knew that Republicans hate local control of public schools? Who knew that the root cause of low test scores was the input of parents and teachers?

Peter Greene tells a story in this post that should be required reading for every course in education and for every state legislator. It is an unbearably sad story, and if it doesn’t make you angry, you aren’t paying attention.


Greene began his teaching career in Lorain, Ohio. At the end of his year, he and many other teachers were laid off and he moved on to teach in Pennsylvania, where he enjoyed a career that spanned nearly four decades. He remembers Lorain as a factory town, a functioning, multi-ethnic district with three high schools, seven middle schools, and many elementary schools. It was a strong union town, where most people worked in steel mills or auto plants.

Lorain was hit hard by deindustrialization. It was a small city that lost jobs and population.

He writes:

In 2016, my wife and I made a cross country trip. I’d not been back to Lorain (no reason to– I’d made no lasting relationships in my year, mostly because I ate, slept and drank my job), even though its a mere three hours away. The rows of factories are now rubble. My half-a-house apartment is now in a row of boarded-up empty buildings. The strip mall where I bought  albums, my first luxury purchase with my own teacher-pay money is empty. My old high school is a vacant lot. Lorain’s population is now around 63,000, a loss of about a quarter of their population from the mid-70s.

The drop started quickly and continued relentlessly for years. The school district adjusted. The three high schools became two, then one. But the local economy was shrinking so severely that by 2013, the school district was the second-largest employer in town,  behind the hospital. By the 2010s, reportedly 90% of the student population was free and reduced lunch (the standard proxy for measuring poverty).

Lawmakers in Ohio responded to the collapse of Lorain’s economy by declaring that its faltering schools were in “academic distress.” Its test scores were not good enough.

In 2007, Ohio created a new piece of turnaround legislation. The law created an academic distress commission, appointed by the state superintendent, the president of the school board, and the mayor of the city. ADC’s were responsible for coming up with a plan. They could fire and hire administrators and create a budget for the district. Lorain fell under the control of an ADC in 2013, but despite the employment of snazzy consultants, things didn’t seem to be improving. Some scores had started to creep up, but then changes in the state test– and how harshly it would be assessed– destroyed any forward momentum the district had developed.

It was several decades of tough challenges in the community and in the schools– and then, in 2015, that state of Ohio stepped in again to make things even worse.

The state passed a harsh and punitive bill called HB 70, which allowed the state to take over the district and install a tsar. Somehow the legislators imagined that the reason for low test scores was that local citizens had some say over what happened to their schools. Democracy was the problem.

Ohio’s old law called for an academic distress commission, appointed by the state superintendent, the president of the school board, and the mayor of the city. ADC’s were responsible for coming up with a plan. They could fire and hire administrators and create a budget for the district. Under HB 70, that changed dramatically. HB 70 is a corporate reformster’s dream law.

Under the new law, the ADC was required to appoint a CEO to run the district. The list of “include but not limited to” duties of the CEO runs to seventeen items, and they include:

Replacing administration and central office staff
Assigning employees to schools
Allocating teacher class loads and class sizes
Job descriptions for employees
Setting the school calendar
Setting the district budget
Setting grade “configuration”
Determining the school curriculum
Selecting instructional materials and assessments
Making reductions in staff
Establishing employee compensation

The law is nuts; it establishes the CEO as an unchecked tsar of the district with all the powers of both the superintendent and the school board. The only job requirement under the law is “high-level management experience in the public or private sector.” So he could be an education amateur. 

The state took over Lorain and Youngstown, then East Cleveland.

What happened next in Lorain was eye-popping. It was the Corporate Reformers’ dream come true: All authority vested in one person who was thoroughly immersed in Reformy organizations and philosophy and jargon:

Immediately, there were questions. The duly-elected, but now essentially powerless (except for one thing, and we’ll come back to that later) school board demanded information about the search process, conducted by Chicago-based Atlantic Research Partners with little-to-no transparency. ARP was co-founded by Joseph Wise, after he was fired from the superintendent post in Duval County, Florida for “serious conduct” deemed “injurious” which included “not communicating or acting in good faith with board members during budget discussions.” Wise also owns Acceleration Academies.

Of the five finalists, ARP had connections to four. One of the four was connected by virtue of attending the National Superintendents Academy, another property that Wise bought up. The National Superintendents Academy was previously known as SUPES Academy– a name you may remember from the massive scandal involving Barbara Byrd-Bennett and her federal indictment for bribery in Chicago. The twisty background is laid out here, but it underlines another aspect of the reformster world– multiple connections and always failing upward.

The National Superintendents Academy graduate was David Hardy, Jr., and his resume is loaded with reform credentials.

Hardy grew up in West Chester PA, the son of a teacher. He studied business at Colgate, but says an internship changed his mind about that. After graduating from Colgate with a BS in Economics and a secondary concentration in education and English, Hardy headed out for– what else– a Teach for America gig in Miami-Dade schools teaching reading and writing to 6th and 7th graders. After two years of that, he became the Miami-Dade Madison Middle School Language Arts Chair, where he took credit for raising the school’s grade from F to C. He ran a TFA summer institute, worked as a curriculum support specialist, and then went to work for Achievement First as a Dean of Students, consulted for the Children First Network, and then became the founding principal of Achievement First East New York Middle School. Then Chris Cerf tagged him to become the executive director of one of the seven Regional Achievement Centers in Camden responsible for the turnaround of thirty schools. Then chief of academic supports in Philly, then Deputy Superintendent of Academics in St. Louis Public Schools (where they have problems of their own)– his longest time in a single job, at a whopping four years. Hardy graduated from Colgate in 2003.

Along the way he picked up a Masters degrees in education administration, plus a masters and doctorate from Columbia in urban education leadership. And he was selected as a Future Chief by Chiefs for Change. And he’s connected to the Pahara Institute, which is connected to Aspen.

You can read Peter’s description of the big plans of Hardy and the TFA team he brought to Lorain. It will sound familiar to you from the experiences of so many other cities.

Peter concludes:

I didn’t set out to do a hatchet job on David Hardy and his administration, and it would be wrong to ignore the fact that he does have some support in the city. Some residents see the opposition to Hardy as racist, and at least one school board member has said that upon reflection, she supports the embattled CEO. It’s a contentious mess. When the state took over, some folks were pushed out of positions of power, and it’s reasonable to assume that they would not have been impressed if Jesus Christ Himself had taken over the district.

Certain phrases keep coming up in connection with Hardy, like “in over his head.” He can talk a good game (watch this interview from his St. Louis days), but if leading in a city system like Lorain requires relationship-building, Hardy is coming up short. The latest bombshell is not only a slap in the face to staff, but was handled about as poorly as it possibly could have been.

But it’s important to ask if HB 70 set David Hardy up for failure.

It’s a bad law. It was slipped past the legislature as an amendment in a late-night smoke-filled room arrangement that guaranteed that it would not be publicly discussed. And it is most certainly a full-on assault on public education in the state.

Youngstown, Lorain and now East Cleveland have one thing in common– they are among the poorest school districts in the state. As such, it’s unsurprising that they would have low scores on the Big Standardized Test and therefor low grades for their schools. HB 70 targeted poor communities, and it didn’t target them for help. It targeted them to be taken over, dismantled, and handed off to charter operators. The Lorain I knew has taken such a beating over the years, and HB 70 is the legislative equivalent of taking a beaten puppy and saying, “Look, dammit– fetch now or I am going to give your food to a prettier dog.”

Lorain needs help and healing. It does not need to have its teachers beaten down, its parents kept in the dark, its community held at arms length, its elected officials stripped of power. There is no special mystery to why Lorain’s schools are struggling, but HB 70 doesn’t address any of the root issues of a struggling local economy and a loss of resources. It is a law that punishes poverty rather than trying to ameliorate it.

I am trying to imagine what kind of high-quality leadership would make it possible to sell, “Hi! I’m from the state and I’ve been appointed to strip you of local power and chop your community schools up for someone else’s investment opportunity. Also, all the bad things that are happening are your fault, because your town sucks.” No, David Hardy isn’t very good at his job– but who could be good at the job that HB 70 has created? How do you lead well when HB 70 is fundamentally a punishing act of disrespect toward a local district?

HB 70 sets a district up for every bad corporate reform idea in the book. Test Scores! Visionary CEO! Transformation! Disruption! Spank teachers! Test scores! Strip local control! Expectations!  Test Scores! Kids first (but not really)! A smart person with marketworld skills from outside will be so much better than career educators! The state knows more about fixing schools than anyone! Also, test scores!

When gubernatorial candidate Dennis Kucinich visited Lorain last year, he suggested suing the state over HB 70, but that process is already under way. Youngstown has been leading the charge, and Lorain parents have gotten involved— at least on the petition level. The law was challenged in court almost immediately, initially decided in favor of the state, and worked up to the state supreme court which agreed to hear it last October. It also creates some unique issues– Youngstown’s school CEO would not allow the Youngstown board to spend money on the appeal. Lorain teachers filed a “friend of the court” brief as a party directly affected by the outcome, and several districts ands the Ohio School Boards Association have joined the suit.

Meanwhile, new Ohio governor Mike DeWine is sympathetic to some of the issues involved:

“One of the concerns, one of the things that we have seen in Youngstown, Lorain, is the obvious loss of local control, and we’re seeing some of the dynamics that result from the loss of local control. We are a very local government state,” DeWine said. “We like it that way, most of us do. Most of us think that problems get solved locally, so I’ve got some people working on this and we are working with some legislators on this, actually, but I really can’t go into any more details at this point.”

So there is at least some small bit of hope for Lorain and Youngstown and East Cleveland and every other poor Ohio community that was going to fall under HB 70 sooner or later. But if HB 70 ever goes away, those communities will still be facing all the problems they were facing before the state stepped in to help plus all the wreckage left by HB 70. The future is not going to be all rainbows and unicorns any time soon.

And the bitter irony in all of this is that, by many accounts, Lorain was climbing when the state stepped in. We’ll never know how they would have done if the state had just left them alone.

I came to really like Lorain in my brief time there. If things had worked out differently, I would have been glad to stay in that big little town. It deserved better than to be used and discarded by industry; its solid blue collar citizens deserved better as well. And they deserve better treatment by the state than to be thrown under a reform-driven bus that gives them exactly all the wrong things, everything but the support, assistance and resources that they need. This is corporate ed reform at its worst, disenfranchising citizens, trashing communities, and not even coming close to delivering what it promised as an excuse for the power grab.

I’ve kept up with Lorain, watching them in the news over the years ever since I left town right ahead of the industrial collapse. I’ll keep watching the news, hoping for good news from that beautiful little big city on the lake.