Outsourcing Failing Schools

Houston’s Superintendent Abe Saavedra announced plans to contract out control of Houston’s lowest-performing high schools. The Houston schools chief announced Tuesday he wants outsiders to take control of the city’s three lowest-performing high schools to accomplish what the school system hasn’t been able to do on its own. Saavedra said he is open to offers from nonprofit and for-profit groups. That could include universities, school reform companies such as New York City-based Edison Schools, or local nonprofits, such as the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) or Project GRAD (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams), both of which have a presence in HISD. Other urban school districts have taken similarly drastic steps to overhaul chronically under-performing schools, though many have been school systems in financial and academic crisis. The School District of Philadelphia has hired a handful of groups, including Kaplan, Drexel University and the Princeton Review, to manage 16 high schools beginning next school year. Private companies already run 54 of Philadelphia’s elementary and middle schools. Florida is also moving toward outsourcing failing schools. If Florida’s F-rated public schools don’t improve this year, the state could ask someone else — perhaps a private company or a state college — to step in and run the troubled institutions. The state Board of Education took the first step toward enforcing that “ultimate sanction” when it agreed Tuesday to put out a request seeking groups that might be interested in running failing public schools.

Lisa Snell is the director of education and child welfare at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Snell has frequently testified before the California State Legislature and numerous other state legislatures and government agencies. She has authored policy studies on school finance and weighted student funding, universal preschool, school violence, charter schools, and child advocacy centers.

Snell is a frequent contributor to Reason magazine, School Reform News and Privatization Watch. Her writing has also appeared in Education Week, Edutopia, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications.

Ms. Snell is also an advisory board member to the National Quality Improvement Center for the Children's Bureau; is on the charter school accreditation team for the American Academy for Liberal Education; and serves as a board member for the California Virtual Academy.

Before joining Reason Foundation, Snell taught public speaking and argumentation courses at California State University, Fullerton. She earned a Master of Arts in communication from California State University, Fullerton.