Mayoral Control: Districts, Networks, Clusters or Whatever, We Need a Heroic Leader.

I’m a believer in evidence-based thinking … a characteristic which seems to have eluded the Secretary of Education, governors and think tanks.

In a year the newly-elected New York City mayor will be in the midst of revising/revisiting the structure and functioning of the Board/Department of Education – a decennial event.

The approbation in which parents and teachers hold the soon to be ex-mayor colors opinions. We dislike Mayor Bloomberg, he supports mayoral control, therefore, we dislike mayoral control.

Kenneth Wong’s The Education Mayor, (2007) studies mayoral control in a number of cities across the nation, Michael Kirst, professor emeritus, Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research, Stanford University avers, “The most ambitious study ever of the impact of mayoral education control upon schools and children. Sure to be controversial because of its specific positive findings.”

Mayoral control began in Boston in 1992 and the results were initially positive , over time however Boston still faces significant issues,

Yet after a decade of mayoral control under [Mayor] Menino and [Superintendent] Payzant, the Boston Public Schools still have significant room for improvement. In 2005, the percentage of Boston students scoring in the “needs improvement” and “warning/failing” categories of the state’s standardized testing program …. was roughly twice as high as the statewide rate across all grades …. And while Boston fares better than other urban districts on standardized assessments, it still faces a yawning achievement gap.

See Harvard Education Review, Summer 2006 issue here

The Los Angeles School District is governed by a seven-person elected school board – the election for three seats will take place in a few weeks and millions of dollars are flowing into the campaigns – dollars from outside of Los Angeles to support specific agenda. The Los Angeles Times endorses candidates and paints a dismal picture of the school district. NYC Mayor Bloomberg is spending a million dollars supporting a slate of candidates hostile to the local teacher union.

For twenty years in New York City (Koch: twelve years, Guiliani: eight years) an appointed school board, in theory guided the school system. In reality mayors hired and fired chancellors; mayors claimed credit for successes and blamed failures on chancellors. The tenure of chancellors averaged about three years.

In Boston a close relationship between Mayor Menino and Superintendent Payzant has been lauded by parents, teachers and reviewers. In New York City the Bloomberg-Klein brand of leadership has been reviled.

Is it mayoral control or the specific mayor and the chancellor/superintendent?

Candidate Christine Quinn suggests a deputy mayor for education and a chancellor with a strong education background. All the candidates favor an educator as a chancellor. The last four chancellors in New York City have not been educators.

In the era of Citizens United, elected school board candidates can raise unlimited dollars and partisans of vouchers or easing the firing of teachers and principals or the privatization of education could win elections. Mayoral control ties mayors to education – both the successes and the failures.

I favor mayoral control – perhaps a broad-based screening panel, an appointed school board serving fixed terms.

The next question is: what is the structure of the school system?

Once again, we must take care not to support “the previous structure” simply because we dislike the current mayor and the current structure.

Geographic school boards did create a sense of community, unfortunately, too many were dominated by local politics and too many superintendents were mediocre at best. In a few districts parents and staff collaborated while in others superintendents simply issued edicts and monitored compliance.

The Chancellor’s District (1996-2002) has been lauded as a successful approach to failing schools and criticized as being expensive with only a modicum of success and ultimately unsustainable.

Whether we call them districts or networks, whether they are geographically contiguous or theme/affinity based the goal must be to build professional learning communities (PLC),

… evidence and insights gained support the assertion that high performing schools and systems focus to varying degrees on building both human (skills and talent) and social capital (collaboration and networking). Where successful PLC’s are in place, the strategies being used essentially focus on; successful facilitation, a relatively narrow and achievable focus, support from principals and school leaders, they are evidence-informed and most importantly focus on learning not teaching.

Without structure and clear intent the creation of professional learning communities by themselves will only achieve at best low levels of teacher collaboration and sharing. [Michael Fullen] cautions that the term has traveled faster than the concept, and that many schools are engaged in superficial activities under the banner of PLCs that will have little effect on student achievement.

The crux of any restructure is the personnel. The current Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) is an attempt to “rate” teachers and rid the system of “bad” teachers. The larger question is can we identify district and school leaders who can lead professional learning communities at the district and school level.

Unfortunately the current crop of candidates for mayor have chosen the “satisfy the voters” approach with sound bites rather than policies. Quinn has espoused an approach – albeit – simplistic concepts. She praises two longtime principals and suggests that other principals would learn from their successes. Ironically the harshly criticized Leadership Academy identifies candidates and has the candidates shadow a successful principal for a year – a 2009 NYU Study suggests the Leadership Academy principals achieve better in literacy in elementary schools, no significant difference in mathematics and no differences in high schools.

“Shadowing” or replicating successful practices, a “warmed over” Leadership Academy approach is simplistic and not a meaningful policy.

Quinn, or whomever else is elected, cannot micro-manage 1600 schools – they can hire an exemplary personage – that Christ-Muhammad-Abrahamic figure to lead the nation’s largest school system – with integrity and knowledge, with a collaborative spirit and with grit.

2 responses to “Mayoral Control: Districts, Networks, Clusters or Whatever, We Need a Heroic Leader.

  1. In those instances where Mayoral control of DOE’s seems to be working, its because that control is linked to that Mayors respect for the Teaching profession, and for that profession’s input in the decision making process. In our city where our mayor has made no secret to conceal his contempt for the profession, and to have such little regard for it as to hire an absolute clown (Kathy Black) as its Chancellor, Mayoral control is shown not to work. Our mayor is ok with a 2 week bus strike costing our most disadvanaged students (handicapped) to virtually miss 2 weeks of learning.He had other choices, but as has been his pedigree, his way or devil be damned (in this case our children were damned) ruled the day. We saw the same nonsense which cost us 250 mil because our mayor is obsessed with gaining an ability to have teachers dismissed via a misleading evaluation system which is designed to promote teacher failure as data for dismissal. In short Mayoral Control in NYC is a farce. AT least in the days of the good old corrupt local school boards, you knew who you were dealing with, and the operative word was dealing..This mayor is impossible to deal with, because he must always emerge as a deal winner. THank G-d for Mr Mulgrew!


  2. Pingback: Litchfield CT: Connecticut’s Best Cities For Your Home And Family | My Blog

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