In Rochester, New York, Mayor Robert Duffy is pushing to take control of the Rochester City School District. Legislation to hand control over to the mayor is likely to be introduced in the New York State legislature within the next few months, if not weeks.
Such a change in governance deserves serious debate over the pros and cons. Looking at what has occurred in other school districts in which mayors took control leads me to question whether such a change results in the sought after improvements or any improvements at all. In fact, looking at the New York City schools under Mayor Bloomberg, I would suggest that the school district is less accountable to the community; citizens have lost their right to elect their representatives; and students are subjected to more frequent and damaging high-stakes tests.
First, Bloomberg replaced the elected school board with a Panel for Educational Policy that serves at his discretion. Not only does this mean that the public no longer has the right to vote for school board members, but also because Bloomberg has summarily dismissed panel members who vote contrary to his wishes, there is no power independent of the Mayor and School Chancellor.
Second, Bloomberg appointed as Chancellor Joel Klein, recent CEO for the global media giant Bertelsmann. Such a choice reflects a belief by politicians that schools can be run like business. Klein, reports journalist Lynnell Hancock, “refers to children as cars in a shop, a collection of malfunctions to be adjusted. Teacher need to ‘look under the hood,’ he says, to figure out the origins of the ping.” Thomas Sobol, past (early 1990s) New York State Commissioner of Education, describes the concentration of power as part of the assumption that corporations know best and responds: “The arrogance, my God, of saying because we know how to run Kmart, we know how to educate children represents a final defeat for democracy” (Hancock, “School’s Out,” The Nation, July 2007).
Third, Bloomberg and Klein use students’ scores on the New York State standardized tests to argue that student learning has improved under their regime. However, as I have pointed out numerous times, New York State’s test scores were manipulated by the recent commissioner Richard Mills and are misleading, worthless, and dangerous. Almost every school has had higher scores on the New York State exams while at the same time schools’ scores on the more valid federally administered National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have remained the same.
Many other questions should be asked and I will do so in subsequent blogs. As someone who has been involved with the city school district for two decades, as a parent, reformer, and teacher educator, I have my criticisms of the existing school board, administrators, and teachers. However, I question whether mayoral control moves us in the right direction or simply diverts us from doing the hard work that needs to be done to improve teaching and learning.
For descriptions of the Chicago and New York City Public Schools under mayoral, see my recent book: High-Stakes Testing and the Decline of Teaching and Learning: The Real Crisis in Education.