Mayoral Control, Appointed or Elected Boards of Education: Are Urban School Districts Governable?

About 4 AM next Friday morning one of houses of the state legislature will adjourn closing out the session; with cries of they have to return over the summer to complete this issue or that issue. Extremely unlikely.

The bills will come across the legislators desks at a rapid pace, with most voted before they are read. A few are high profile: closing loopholes in the campaign finance law, legalizing fantasy sports gambling, a constitutional amendment to deprive convicted legislators of their pensions, and, mayoral control of New York City schools, the vast majority of the bills are far, far under the radar.

The Assembly bill extends mayoral control for three years; the Senate bill extends mayoral control for one year and creates an Inspector, appointed by the governor with the consent of the Senate with sweeping powers. If no action is taken the system reverts to a seven-member board appointed by the borough presidents and the mayor.

The governor supports a three year extension and the power elites support continuing mayoral control. Merryl Tisch in an op ed in the NY Daily News supports extending mayoral control.

Tisch posits,

Mayoral control has not worked perfectly under either Mayor Michael Bloomberg or Mayor de Blasio, but it has worked far better than what we had before. New York City has seen consistent, significant increases in graduation rates, greater accountability across the system and the introduction of robust school choice — giving students from every neighborhood greater opportunity for a quality education. Critically, unlike the system that preceded mayoral control, we now know who is in charge. The voters ultimately can hold the CEO of the city accountable for how well our children learn.

Famously, when someone criticized a Bloomberg educational policy he responded, “Don’t vote for me next time.”

Although the mayoral control debate will end in a few days it has been characterized by an absence of debate.

Has “robust school choice” given “students from every neighborhood greater opportunity for quality education” or further segregated the school system by race, class and income?

The Bloomberg administration created scores of “screened” schools, schools that only accepts kids with high test scores, creating “have” and “have not” schools. Were these schools created to “provide school choice” or to win over middle class parents and garner potential voters?

Numbers of school suspensions have dropped dramatically: are our kids better behaved, do our teachers have been peace-making skills or did the chancellor simply tighten the faucet on approving suspensions?

Under a mayoral control system every announcement, every initiative is accompanied by a carefully crafted press release. I’m sure that the “mayor’s person” is sitting at the table vetting the political impact of every decision.

The previous seven-member appointed board has been vilified as being too political, I have to smile. The borough president appointee fought for projects for their borough while the mayor fights for projects for the entire city, or, his/her voting base.

Under the current mayoral control system the Community Educational Councils (CEC) are toothless and superintendents carry the Tweed policy torch. While under the prior elected school board system the poorest districts had the least effective boards there were highly effective boards that responded to local communities.

District 2 in Manhattan under the leadership of an innovative superintendent had an extensive and effective professional development program that impacted classroom instruction. District 22 in Brooklyn bused over 1,000 Afro-American kids for integration purposes, no court order, it was simply the right thing to do; they also implemented school-based budgeting with empowered school and district leadership teams. A superintendent in the poorest district in Brooklyn, appointed by the chancellor unified a fractious district and improved student outcomes.

Does the current mayoral-guided system build sustainability or will the next and the next school district leader impose their view of education policy?

Unfortunately educational policy appears to be the flavor of the week.

Transparency and open debate must guide all change processes. Participation reduces resistance.

Teachers and parents increasingly came to despise Bloomberg/Klein mayoral control hubris – if you don’t like the policy, don’t vote for me.  So far the de Blasio/Farina interregnum has had a kinder and gentler face. While Bloomberg/Klein treated teachers like replaceable widgets deBlasio/Farina have constantly praised the workforce.

The larger issue is creating a process that has highly competent leadership at the top and local leaders with the ability and support to make the right decisions at the school level.

Next week a decision will be made; probably to continue mayoral control, maybe with a blue ribbon commission to review the current iteration.

Parents, teachers and school leaders voice must be part of any school governance process.

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2 responses to “Mayoral Control, Appointed or Elected Boards of Education: Are Urban School Districts Governable?

  1. leonie haimson

    Actually, when asked how New Yorkers could express their views on the way he ran the schools, Bloomberg said, “Boo me at parades.” http://www.villagevoice.com/news/citizen-bloomberg-6431787

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  2. ken karcinell

    Mayoral Control in NYC is an oxymoron. As for the question as to whether urban schools are governable, they always were. But only when that governance was supported by a strong disciplinary code, and strong leadership within the buildings. When they began the process of mini sizing the schools into multiple schools with multiple principals and such, that movement was not driven out of a sense of creating a stronger academic climate. It was driven by the fact that many of the schools had become Gang Fiefdoms. When they re-configured the mini schools,they did so by first providing off setting arrival and departure times for each school. Each school’s students were required to possess color coded program cards at all times. Local Police Pcts were consulted and in many cases gave guidance on security measures and perimeter safety.so to witness what this Mayorality has put forth thus far as its educational philosophy is to say the least disappointing.

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