December 3, 2021

Ed in the Apple: Mayoral Control or an Elected School Board: How Should Education in New York City Be Led?

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This blog post considers the question of mayoral control, once the popular way to tighten up political control of schools in large cities, even as it disenfranchises the city’s voters.

Why shouldn’t mayors be in charge of schools?  Mayors select the police chief, the head of parks, sanitation, all city agencies and fund schools, why do we need school boards? On the other hand shouldn’t educational decisions be free of politics? Shouldn’t parents and teachers play a role in education decision-making? Shouldn’t educational decisions be made to benefit children not enhance the popularity of the mayor?

Elected school boards give the citizenry a voice in decision-making, a vital part of the democratic process; however dollars drive elections. In Citizens United (2010) the Supreme Court ruled that political contributions are speech and any limit on contributions violates the First Amendment. Millions of dollars poured into Los Angeles school board elections from billionaire charter school supporters and elected a pro-charter school board. New York City could end up with a pro-charter, anti-union elected school board.

The mayoral control law contained a sunset provision, the governance would revert to the system prior to the mayoral control law if not reauthorized, read a detailed discussion of the law here.

An increasing number of large cities have moved to a mayoral control of schools starting with Boston in the 90’s and New York City in 2002. Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and others have followed suit.

In the early years mayoral control was praised by scholars, The Education Mayor: Improving America’s Schools  (2007) Kenneth Wong and others took a deep dive into mayor control,

• What does school governance look like under mayoral leadership?
• How does mayoral control affect school and student performance?
• What are the key factors for success or failure of integrated governance?
• How does mayoral control effect practical changes in schools and classrooms?

The results of their examination indicate that, although mayoral control of schools may not be appropriate for every district, it can successfully emphasize accountability across the education system, providing more leverage for each school district to strengthen its educational infrastructure and improve student performance

Mayoral control has come under increasing attack from a range of stakeholders, especially parents and teachers, the core constituency of schools.

New York City has never had an elected school board, from the creation of New York City in 1898, “the Great Consolidation,” until the late 60’s a policy board selected through a screening panel process picked a superintendent, an experienced educator from within the system.

In 60’s the system faltered, rising cries for school integration, opposition to the war in Vietnam and back-to-back teacher strikes (67/68). Riots swept across cities, Watts, Detroit, Newark, and cities appeared to be on the cusp of racial warfare. Some sociologists advocated that inner city communities be given power over their own lives, a precursor of the current Defund the Police movement; give communities control over schools in their communities (Read a more detailed discussion on a prior blog post here).

Read the rest of the post here.

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