The Public Educational Agora: How Should School Systems Be Governed/Ruled?

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 Community School Boards have been replaced by Community Engagement Councils, with no statutory roles.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.

4 responses to “The Public Educational Agora: How Should School Systems Be Governed/Ruled?

  1. Ed is right that this is an engaging question, but many of the answers are clear. Most importantly, the focus on governance and management takes us away from the more important question of how do we improve what happens in classrooms.

    Although he has the longest tenure of any Chancellor in recent memory (and mine goes back to Frank Machiarola), Klein has not brought stability to the school system. His tenure has been the equivalent of having three or four Chancellors in seven years as he has constantly reorganizaed and disrupted the infra-structure of the system. Instead of continuing the focus on Standards that had been the hall mark of the Chancellorships of Rudy Crew and Harold Levy, Klein chose to reorganize and then re-reorganize the delivery of services and focus on test scores. The focus on Standards was a focus on what happens in classrooms. Had it continued we would have seen significant improvements in pedagogy and what happens in classrooms across the city. Instead, we have seen an over-emphasis on outcome measures, no effort to change inputs, and a great deal of distraction just trying to find out how to do things like purchase books and hire staff as personnel functions were shifted and then shifted again.

    Whether this is a function of Mayoral control or the competence of the man the Mayor put in charge is one question. What kind of governance structure will support educators in their core mission, improve classroom instruction, and engage all stakeholders in the process is the more important question. We need to be creative and not bound by past practices as we try to answer it.


  2. Elsewhere in NY the public has greater control over their schools, and I doubt they’d accept such autocratic governance.


  3. Phyllis C. Murray

    ENTER Parents and Teachers as Partners:EXIT Mayoral Control

    It has been said that in unity there is strength. Today, more than ever, we see the need to enlist the support of parents as we work together to secure the best education and best educational environment possible for our students. We need the support of parents to stand in Albany, NY, in Washington, DC and in City Hall as we challenge legislators to make young people a top priority on legislative agendas.

    Surely with a renewed pledge of solidarity, we will see a reinvestment of economic capital in education. We will see a revitalization of structured environments in school communities. We will see new programs which provide the skills and develop the competencies needed so that our students will become productive members of society.

    An investment of economic capital would assure the development of new schools, state of the art libraries, supervised playgrounds and after school programs. These arenas are the safe havens for our youth. An increase in school funding would provide the enrichment afforded by the Arts. The Arts have proven time and time again to have a positive impact on education. New capital investments would seed programs of prevention and intervention for out at – risk students and increase guidance and counseling services to end a child’s cycle of failure and frustration. Failure and frustration unabated, far too often, translate into assaults, disruptions in classrooms and heightening violent Incident statistics.

    Recently, parents and teachers were able to affect change in the early grade class – size reduction legislation. Certainly the means by which we reach our end: Creating a safe, healthy, and effective school environment for the students of New York City is through an ongoing commitment of parents/teacher Unity. Mayoral control is not the answer. With parents at our side, the best for New York City is yet to come.Because,
    Teachers and Parents want what children need. Together we can have it all.

    Phyllis C. Murray,
    UFT Chapter Leader
    P.S. 75X


  4. Klein is the worst Chancellor ever. Corporate lawyers that are puppets of the mayor should not be Chancellor. The DOE is being run like a corporation, with acronyms for everything. Who is the marketing firm for the DOE?


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