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When Mayors Take Charge

When Mayors Take Charge: School Governance in the City

Joseph P. Viteritti Editor
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 255
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  • Book Info
    When Mayors Take Charge
    Book Description:

    Large urban school systems have been the weakest link in American education, driving middle-class families into the suburbs while contributing mightily to the racial learning gap. Activist mayors in several major cities have responded by taking control of their public schools. When Mayors Take Charge is the most up-to-date assessment available on this phenomenon. It brings together the topic's leading experts to analyze the factors and people driving the trend, its achievements and shortcomings, its prospects for the future, and ways to improve it. Part One of the book assesses the results of mayoral control nationwide. The second section details the experience in three key cities: Boston and Chicago, the major prototypes for mayoral control, and Detroit, where mayoral control ended in disaster. The final section provides the first in-depth examination of New York City, where the law installing mayoral control sunsets in 2009. Viteritti's opening essay and postscript frame the analysis to shed light on the significance and limitations of governance reform. Contributors include Clara Hemphill (formerly NewYork Newsday), Jeffrey R. Henig (Columbia University), Michael Kirst (Stanford University), John Portz (Northeastern University), Diane Ravitch (NYU),Wilbur C. Rich (Wellesley College), Robert Schwartz (Harvard University), Dorothy Shipps (Baruch College), and Kenneth K.Wong (Brown University).

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-0194-1
    Subjects: Education, Business, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Letter from Betsy Gotbaum Public Advocate for the City of New York
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Betsy Gotbaum
  5. Prologue
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    When Betsy Gotbaum approached me about serving as chair of the Commission on School Governance, I was knee deep in the crisis of a client, which tends to be the nature of my business. Nevertheless, I agreed without a moment’s hesitation. As Betsy has already explained, education has always been close to my heart. The assignment could have a significant impact on the future of the New York City public schools and, more important, on the children who attend them. Beyond that, the project gave me an opportunity to work with individuals I have known, liked, and respected for many...

  6. 1 Why Governance Matters
    (pp. 1-16)

    Governance is an institutional arrangement that assigns power to public officials and defines the mechanisms for holding them accountable. In big-city school districts, good governance is the progeny of an uneasy marriage between democratic and managerial ideals. Like all large organizations, urban school districts require the skillful coordination of human and material resources; yet they are public institutions. Whereas democracy is based on a commitment to wide participation and deliberation in decisionmaking, management is energized by a determination to get things done efficiently and effectively. Democracy can be awkward, slow moving, and cumbersome, while managers need to be bold, agile,...

  7. Part I: General Overviews

    • 2 Mayoral Control: What We Can and Cannot Learn from Other Cities
      (pp. 19-45)

      Fashions in education governance come and go. At one time in American history, mayoral control of schools was the norm in large cities.¹ Education was a department within municipal government, in much the same way as might be policing, fire protection, or public works. The Progressive Era reformers of the early twentieth century deemed that arrangement a failure. Mayors, it was decided, were too much creatures of the political machines that often dominated local politics. They used their position of authority to turn the public schools into a source of patronage: teacher jobs were payoffs for party workers; contracts to...

    • 3 Mayoral Control of Schools: Politics, Trade-offs, and Outcomes
      (pp. 46-63)

      In the early 1990s, after many decades of a limited role in education, mayors in some cities began to take control of their schools. Boston initiated this changed mayoral role in 1991, followed by Chicago in 1995, Cleveland in 1998, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 2000, New York City in 2002, and the District of Columbia in 2007. Baltimore and Philadelphia had considerable mayoral control in the 1990s, but most of it later reverted back to the state. Oakland, California, the District of Columbia, and Detroit initiated partial mayoral control, which failed and was subsequently abandoned. This pattern suggests that the local...

    • 4 Does Mayoral Control Improve Performance in Urban Districts?
      (pp. 64-88)

      Mayoral appointment of school boards is gaining national prominence as a reform model. The public is paying growing attention to mayoral control as an option to improve public school governance, as is indicated by 2006 and 2007 Gallup polls that surveyed the public’s view on mayoral control in schools. In 2006 only 29 percent were in favor; in 2007 that number had jumped to 39 percent, and among parent respondents, 42 percent were in favor.¹ Such trends in public opinion, combined with growing media attention to mayoral involvement in urban schools, elevate this topic in today’s education policy circles. The...

  8. Part II: City Case Studies

    • 5 Governing the Boston Public Schools: Lessons in Mayoral Control
      (pp. 91-116)

      In recent years a number of cities in the United States have turned to mayors to help improve public education systems. Through appointment of school board members and superintendents, mayors have assumed a central role in school reform efforts. As policymakers and citizens assess the impact and effectiveness of this turn to mayoral control, it is instructive to consider the experiences of cities that have ventured down this path.

      Boston provides such an example. Since January 1992, the mayor of Boston has appointed the seven-member Boston School Committee, the formal name of the city’s school board. The mayor’s acceptance of...

    • 6 Updating Tradition: The Institutional Underpinnings of Modern Mayoral Control in Chicago’s Public Schools
      (pp. 117-147)

      The promises of mayoral control are significant and well known. Managerial logic suggests, and Chicago’s recent experience corroborates, that mayors may be especially adroit at stabilizing system leadership, focusing civic elites on education, mobilizing resources, and straightening the lines of organizational accountability.¹ Some argue that these organizational benefits lead to improved student performance.²

      Chicago’s experience with mayoral control also points to negative consequences that require policy attention. Mayors who have staked their reputations on progress in the schools have no incentive to reveal bad news and often spin negative data to appear neutral. Families, especially low-income families without the social...

    • 7 Who’s Afraid of a Mayoral Takeover of Detroit Public Schools?
      (pp. 148-168)

      Reforming public schools may be analogous to sewing buttons on Jell-O. It does not matter how hard one tries, the buttons will not stay put. So it is with school reform. No amount of grafting and repair seems to have lasting effects. In groping for a more enduring impact on the urban public school crisis it was inevitable that mayors would volunteer, or allow themselves to be drafted by state legislatures, to rescue the school system. Assuming control of the public schools represents an extraordinary opportunity to exemplify mayoral leadership. For generations public school districts have enjoyed structural, if not...

  9. Part III: The New York Experience

    • 8 A History of Public School Governance in New York City
      (pp. 171-186)

      Public debate should always be informed by a knowledge of history. To know where we are and where we are heading, it is important to know how we got to the present time. This is as true in education as it is in every other realm of public life.

      The New York City public schools have an interesting and even fascinating history. Throughout the history of the nation’s largest public school system, there has been a constant search by public officials for the right balance among different levels of political authority: the school, the local community, the central board, the...

    • 9 Parent Power and Mayoral Control: Parent and Community Involvement in New York City Schools
      (pp. 187-205)

      For more than one hundred years, New Yorkers have debated how best to educate the city’s children. Is public education best left to paid professionals who, free from political pressure, work strictly in the interests of the children? Or should parents and community members have a role in deciding what children learn, how budgets are allocated, who is assigned to which school, and who is hired? The pendulum has swung between these two competing ideologies: community control of schools, which brings with it complaints of patronage and corruption, and centralized control, which shuts out parent and community voices even as...

    • 10 New York: Past, Present, Future
      (pp. 206-234)

      If there is a New York political culture that can be gleaned from studying its unique history, traditions, and practices, it is a culture of paradox. From the birth of the consolidated city in 1898, New York mayors have been powerful figures. Yet within a municipal structure that was highly centralized there was always an appreciation for community that was reflected over the years in various forms of political decentralization.¹ Since Greater New York was the product of a merger that occurred when the original municipality in Manhattan and the Bronx was joined with the independent city of Brooklyn and...

  10. Editor’s Postscript
    (pp. 235-236)

    As a political scientist who has given careful attention to the issue, I feel obligated to make a few closing remarks about the study of school governance in general and mayoral control of the schools in particular. Since you have read this far in the book, you know already that governance is more about politics than science. So be it. If there were ever a wellspring of wisdom on the subject to erupt from American soil, it was more likely to flow from Independence Hall in Philadelphia than from the Harvard Business School in Cambridge. Sure, management is important; but...

  11. About the Authors
    (pp. 237-240)
  12. Index
    (pp. 241-255)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 256-256)