The municipal campaigns have, of late, had a lot to say about school reform, most notably the mayoral candidates. The ideas have run the gamut, from Carol Boigon’s idea of city-run charter schools to Thomas Andrew Wolf’s re-warmed merit pay ideas (and he seems to think the kids in greater Montbello are “non-performers” that for the “greater good” should be “gotten out of there”) to the big shot across the bow, a.k.a. Michael Hancock’s stance that mayoral control is good for our kids.
He claims that his life experience with “partnering with DPS to turn around failing schools” makes him able to turn Denver’s economic engine on. Does that mean that he supports the hostile takeover of the greater Montbello schools, the accompanied community engagement epic fail, and the ensuing lack of an implementation plan that makes the Keystone Kops look like geniuses?
The most tone-deaf position that Hancock has taken thus far seems to be his support for mayoral control of the school district. “We have to let go of the concept that the mayor doesn’t run the schools.” he said at a forum a month ago.
We’re with Ms. Atencio, also quoted in the article, who wondered out loud if the candidates knew there is a school board, saying, “I have a feeling they think we are naive.”
We think so too, Ms. Atencio, especially in light of the recent release of the report, “Should Chicago Have an Elected Representative School Board? A Look at the Evidence,” which examines just how much effect having a mayor-appointed school board has had on achievement in the Chicago Public Schools. The report is available here.
What did it say? Here’s a nutshell:
- There is no conclusive evidence that mayoral control and mayor-appointed boards are more effective at governing schools or raising student achievement.
- The Board’s policies of top-down accountability based on standardized tests, and its simultaneous expansion of selective-enrollment schools, expanded a two-tier education system in Chicago (can you say “caste system?”).
- Under the mayor-appointed Board, CPS has made little progress in academic achievement and other measures of educational improvement, and on nearly every measure there are persistent, and in some cases, widening gaps between white students and African American and Latino students.
- The Board’s policy of closing neighborhood schools and opening charter schools (Renaissance 2010) has generally not improved education for the students affected. In some cases, it has made things worse.
- Chicago’s mayor-appointed board is comprised of elite decision makers who are neither representative of the student population of CPS nor directly accountable to the public. Board structures and processes severely limit public input in decisions (sounds eerily familiar).
The report’s recommendations for Chicago Public Schools are:
- Chicago should transition to an elected representative school board (ERSB).
- The ERSB’s operations should be transparent and publicly accountable.
- The ERSB should establish structures and practices that strengthen democratic public participation in district initiatives and decisions.
- The ERSB should draw on sound educational research and educator, student, and community knowledge to develop and evaluate policy.
- Achieving equity in educational opportunities and outcomes should be integral to all ERSB decisions
The conclusion seems to be that just because the reporting and decision-making structure becomes more streamlined under a mayoral-control scenario, you still need people that understand education to make any governance structure work. Additionally, they need to be close to the situation, not elite appointees, which makes the need for locally-elected representatives all the more important. How can you decide what’s right for a neighborhood if you don’t have any connection with its kids?
Plus, given the fact that mill levies are used to partially fund schools, it seems wholly undemocratic to eliminate important oversight for taxpayer dollars by collapsing a board under a mayor’s control.
Taxation without representation is so 1775.
Note: the good news is that there’s plenty of evidence and research to tell us what does work. Visit our “What Works” page to find out more.