Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name



Educational Leadership and Policy

First Advisor

Michael A. Owens


In 1983, the A Nation at Risk report stated that our educational institutions in the United States and especially in urban areas were not meeting the educational needs of our students. Since A Nation at Risk, elected school boards in urban areas were under fire from the media, parents, other civic and community leaders, and voters due to fiscal irresponsibility and poor student achievement. In selected urban cities across the nation, elected school boards were replaced in favor of mayoral control (e.g., Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC) and appointed school boards (Wong et al., 2007).

In 1999, the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) was taken over by the state of Michigan in an effort to reform the district. In 1998 prior to the state takeover, DPS had 261 schools, 167,000 students enrolled in the district, and a $93 million budget surplus. In 2014 after several years of state control, DPS had 97 schools (-62%), 47,000 students enrolled (-71%) in the district, and a $232 million budget deficit (-349%). During this same time period, DPS had eight different district leaders under three different school governance models.

This qualitative historical case study developed an understanding of the overall impact of school governance reform on the institutional progress in DPS from 1999-2014. Institutional Progress examines the overall functioning of a school district in the areas of: leadership, educational programs, finances, personnel, community support and political support. This study also described the external and internal barriers preventing DPS from making institutional progress.

This qualitative study utilized four data sources: interviews of current and former Detroit Public School personnel (i.e., school board members, central and building administrators, teachers, parents and community activists), Detroit Board of Education meeting minutes reports, daily newspaper coverage of DPS from the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News, and city of Detroit archives on the annual State of the City Address given by Detroit mayors to determine whether or not institutional progress was achieved in DPS from 1999-2014. The findings of this study were the following: 1.) there was a lack of institutional progress in Detroit Public Schools; 2.) school governance reforms in Detroit Public Schools did not have a positive impact; and 3.) internal and external barriers prevented DPS from making institutional progress.