What is the Role of a Board of Education in a Mayoral Control City? Can de Blasio and an Independent Board Co-Exist?

If we live in a mayoral control city, what is the role of the board of education (Panel for Educational Excellence)?

In the months and months of the mayoral campaign, candidate, now Mayor-elect de Blasio laid out a comprehensive list of “likes,” full day pre-K and an extended day in high poverty middle schools paid for by higher taxes on the rich. smaller class size, more art, music and physical education, more use of portfolio assessment and selecting principals from among experienced teachers.

On the “dislike” side: closing schools, letter grades for schools, co-location of charter schools in public schools and high stakes testing.

For the last decade the mayor has run the department of education – the board of education, in New York City called the Panel for Educational Excellence. Early on when two board members voted against a mayoral policy they were immediately replaced.

In effect, we had no functioning board of education.

School boards across the nation are elected in local elections – the boards hire superintendents, set policy including curriculum, negotiate teacher contracts, set school tax rates usually based on assessed value of property. School boards have their origin in the eighteenth century.

Louis Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM, in the Wall Street Journal, sees school boards as retrograde,

I believe the problem lies with the structure and corporate governance of our public schools. We have over 15,000 school districts in America; each of them, in its own way, is involved in standards, curriculum, teacher selection, classroom rules and so on. This unbelievably unwieldy structure is incapable of executing a program of fundamental change. While we have islands of excellence as a result of great reform programs, we continually fail to scale up systemic change.

Diane Ravitch, in Forbes, disagrees with Gerstner,

School boards play an important role as defenders of the public interest in education. They are part of the democratic process of decision-making. School boards might slow down decision making, but that is part of their job. They offer a forum where the public may be heard, where problems may be raised, where executive decisions may be challenged. At hearings, school officials must explain and defend their decisions and budget proposals. Listening to the public about how its children will be educated and how its money will be spent does slow down the decision-making process

For decades New York City has had appointed school boards, from 1970 until 2002 the board was appointed by the borough presidents and the mayor. While the board was the de jure leader of education in the city the de facto leader was the mayor. Mayors claimed credit for successes and blamed the board for failures, and, if necessary were always able to garner enough votes to fire and hire new chancellors. Esmerelda Simmons, a Dinkins appointee to the board paints a dreary picture of a board spending its time carrying out political contracts for their patrons.

The 2002 New York City Mayoral law grants powers to the 13-member board, eight of whom are selected by the mayor, The law lays out the “Powers and duties of the city board,”

2590-g. Powers and duties of the city board. The city board shall
advise the chancellor on matters of policy affecting the welfare of the
city school district and its pupils. The board shall exercise no
executive power and perform no executive or administrative functions.
(a) approve standards, policies, and objectives proposed by the
chancellor directly related to educational achievement and student
(b) consider and approve any other standards, policies, and objectives
as specifically authorized or required by state or federal law or
(c) approve all regulations proposed by the chancellor or the city
board and any amendments made thereto;

The powers of the board are vague, and, up till now the board has exercised no powers, they simply rubber stamped the decisions of the mayor/chancellor.

Will the new board, the board appointed by de Blasio have the authority to reject decisions of the chancellor? How independent will the eight de Blasio appointed members be?

We do not have models.

Mayoral control has meant that education policy is set in City Hall.

How do you blend a mayoral control system with a policy board who oversees the actions of the chancellor?

If de Blasio appoints a board made up of well-respected New Yorkers will he abide by their decisions if they are not in line with his campaign promises?

The Mayoral-elect has a challenging task.

5 responses to “What is the Role of a Board of Education in a Mayoral Control City? Can de Blasio and an Independent Board Co-Exist?

  1. Where’s the evidence that the things the new mayor likes make a difference for kids; and similarly, that the things he doesn’t like prevent children from learning?

    Have we returned to managing our schools by unsubstantiated beliefs and intuition?

    I understand that principals have begun organizing to retain their networks. Any administration that ignores its school leaders is doomed to fail our children.


    • What are the core educational beliefs of the current administration? That there are no valid core beliefs, philosophies or mindsets in education, and there are no insightful or worthy bodies of research either; just follow the data wherever it takes you, do whatever it takes to get results, and fall into a corporate style of totalitarian top-down management and micro-management?
      Maybe you witless wonders should have started with daycare.


  2. Where’s the evidence that the things the current mayor likes make a difference for kids; and similarly, that the things he doesn’t like prevent children for learning?


  3. Where’s the evidence that what you did, Eric, actually worked besides your trumped up graduation numbers? Please, the schools are a mess. I bet the principals want to keep those networks. There’s no supervision of principals. They do as they please with no oversight. They come in late, leave early on vacation, abuse their power. They are accountable to no one. You can delude yourself, Eric, into believing your ideas worked but other than the trumped up graduation rate, where’s your evidence?


  4. Maybe the purpose of the Board is to settle the debate about what is working. An appointed board of genuine educators (people with classroom experience and/or a background in educational research) and parents whose children are or were in the public schools might be able to look at policies and provide the incoming Mayor with advice, in the form of approving, disapproving, or modifying his ideas (or those of his Chancellor, select) to fit the conditions in NYC. They would not have to defend political decisions, might be more willing to admit to the need to change course, and would, as Ms Ravitch makes clear, be a vehicle for collecting and responding to input from the public. Clearly for this utopian vision to work, the board must be independent and they must have access to real data (not spun numbers) and independent analysts to settle the kind of questions that Nadelstern and Sol Stern ask. Our children should not continue to be pawns in a political reputation game.


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