Although mayoral control does not sunset until June 30, 2009 it is looking increasing likely that the NYS legislature will be taking a careful look during this session.
The City Council, the Office of the Public Advocate, the Supervisor’s Union (CSA), the Teacher’s Union (UFT) and a range of other organizations are creating plans or carefully exploring modifications in the current law.
A number of universities and foundations have sponsored forums to explore mayoral control.
A threshold question: Is the current system of mayoral control flawed, or, is it the implementation by the current chancellor?
Diane Ravitch reminds us that from 1873 until 1969 all members of the Board of Education were appointed by the mayor: mayoral control.
The Decentralization Law of 1969 created Community School Boards and called for an elected Central Board of Education. The proposed election did not pass scrutiny under the Voting Rights Act, and, the law was amended: five members of the Board were appointed, one by each borough president and two were appointed by the mayor. Each of the chancellors, selected by the Board, ran into “trouble” with the mayor and left … I believe nine chancellors in 32 years!
Under the current reiteration the former Board of Education has been folded into the City as an agency: the Department of Education, the chancellor serves as a commissioner of a City agency.
The Board was replaced by the Public Education Panel, that serves at the discretion of the mayor. Community School Boards have been replaced by Community Engagement Councils, with no statutory roles.
A recent Atlantic Monthly (“First, Kill All the School Boards”) article pillories the school board system and Ken Wong in The Education Mayor points to the many advantages of mayoral control, citing many examples from Chicago, that has had a mayoral control system for many years.
Some argue that chancellors only served for a few years, until dumped, in effect, by the mayor, that constant change in focus is inimical to student progress, and, by giving a mayor total control brings both stability and responsibility to the school system. The “too many cooks” theory is that too many stakeholders result in paralysis, and an ineffective system.
Critics of the current system point to a “deaf” mayor and a chancellor who has no responsibility to the many stakeholders, who, in effect, rules rather than governs a school system. A complete absence of accountability. An arrogant leadership that does what it pleases, including, the misuse, actual falsification of data.
The harshest critics question the entire concept of a public school system lead by publicly elected officials. They proffer a wide range of choices: public schools run by educational management organizations, some not for profit, other for profits, charters and vouchers. The marketplace would determine success or failure of schools. The governmental authority will simply monitor, not run, schools.
To quote Thomas Wolf, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” recreating the hazy past is never possible … what kind of school system will provide the most effective education?
A vital question that is increasingly engaging the public agora.