When Mayors Take Charge: School Governance in the City

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Newsletters navigate down. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently advocated in favor of mayoral control of big-city schools. Is this growing trend good for the students? So far test results show that students aren't necessarily doing better in schools run by mayors. Mayors also control various other medium-to-large districts as well, including District of Columbia Public Schools. According to a survey of school board members compiled for the National School Board Association , 96 percent of respondents report that membership on their board is determined by election.

Despite limited reach, there are a plethora of mayoral controlled governance structures. In Chicago, the mayor appoints the CEO superintendent as well as the entire school board. In Washington, DC , the mayor has power to directly select the chancellor, who must be confirmed by the city council. All D.


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It is this appointed board that is entrusted with the job of selecting a superintendent of schools. According to scholar Deborah Land of Johns Hopkins University , the origins of a system in which lay individuals were given the authority to govern their local schools dates back more than years. As a result, boards of education were morphed over time to ensure maximum local control of schools. It was believed that separating governance of schools from state and local elected officials was the best way to realize the Progressive Era vision of schools protected from politics.

While mayoral control in some cities such as Jackson, Mississippi , has existed since the midth century, [10] most shifts from elected to appointed school boards took place after The first major urban district to move toward mayoral control of schools was Boston, where, in , the Massachusetts governor and legislature approved a petition allowing the mayor to appoint a seven-member board, which then appointed a superintendent of schools. Other locations have varying degrees of mayoral control over schools: in Oakland, California , three of the 10 members of the Oakland Unified School District board members are appointed by the mayor, and the other seven are elected.

Notably, not all attempts at achieving mayoral control have been successful. Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa sought to bring the Los Angeles Unified School District under his management, but before the plan could be brought into effect in , a court ruled that it violated the California Constitution. This reform was reversed in city referendum in which reinstated an elected school board. Proponents of mayoral control point to two major reasons for shifting from an elected to appointed governance structure: the benefits of a single point of accountability and the power of sustained, aligned leadership.

On the point of accountability, supporters of mayoral control point to the extremely low turnout for often off-cycle school board elections as evidence of the lack of school board accountability and relevance.

Mayoral control of schools

If citizens are unhappy with the schools, they can now vote the mayor out of office. This does not eliminate democratic control over the schools; it rechannels—and strengthens—it". Education Secretary Arne Duncan has made his support for mayoral control of schools clear, offering his help to mayors who push to gain sole leadership of the schools within their cities. The second major rationale used to support mayoral control is the power of sustained, aligned leadership. The average tenure of urban superintendents is less than four years—an unfortunate consequence of the frequent turnover in board membership and the shifting winds of local interests.

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Opponents of mayoral control typically cite two major issues with the shift. Most importantly, mayoral control represents an affront to democratic , public participation in school governance.

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Many worry that taking popular elections of school board members out of the school governance formula prevents local neighborhoods from having any say in how their interests are represented. Comparing appointed school boards to the board malfeasance in private sector companies such as Enron points to the danger of having a single-minded board take control of any entity.


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  6. Overall, the question of whether to elect or appoint boards of education requires a thoughtful consideration of the "appropriate balance" between responsiveness and responsibility. Perhaps the most important piece of evidence in the debate between the proponents and opponents of mayoral control is whether mayoral control has measurable impacts on student achievement. After collecting and analyzing the research on school board effectiveness produced over the past twenty-five years, scholar Deborah Land concluded that there is "not yet convincing evidence that appointment of school board members produces…greater academic achievement.

    Alternatively, a study by researchers at the Center for American Progress found that, of the eleven districts governed by some degree of mayoral leadership, five made substantial improvement in narrowing the student achievement gap, and four others showed progress on some measures. That same study found that mayoral control in New York City had improved the performance of African American and Latino students in fourth and eighth grade by between 1 and 3 percent annually.

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    Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on December 8, Retrieved October 28, Allows a Shift in School Powers". New York Times.