Taking Schools Into Their Own Hands
More Mayors Seek Control as Washington Presses for Action on Failing Institutions; Setting an Example in Rochester.
Ohanian Comment: Interesting that mayoral control is now equated with "local control," when what the mayors want to do is enforce the corporate model being spewed by the Feds. The reporter, a summer intern at the Wall Street Journal, delivers a proto-typical journalistic piece, with all the quotes in the right places. One surprise: Where's the quote from the Fordham Institute? And the Democrats for Education Reform?
from WIKI CU: Joy Resmovits, Barnard '10 served as News Editor and Training Editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator. During her time as a staff writer, she wrote hundreds of articles, many of which were about President Lee C. Bollinger (who knew her by her first name!) and other silver foxes of campus news fame. She has also worked for the St. Louis Beacon, the New Yorker, and the New York Daily News. After graduating from Barnard with much Chaucer under her belt (so to speak), she will work for the new New York Section of the of the Wall Street Journal.
By Joy Resmovits
ROCHESTER, N.Y.--During the last weeks of the term, third graders at School 58--World of Inquiry School created an oil spill in a bowl. Under the guidance of teacher Alyson Ricci, they tried to clean it up. Cotton swabs worked.
The school last year won the national Excellence in Urban Education Award, with all students meeting state proficiency rates in science and social studies. It's an exception, though, in a Rochester system where fewer than half of the 32,000 public-school students graduate on time.
Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy wants to set up more schools that produce results like World of Inquiry's. But he says the superintendent's efforts to close failing schools and open new ones have been hobbled by a school board mired in minutia. He is pushing to dissolve the elected board in favor of one appointed by the mayor and city council for a five-year test period. New York's state legislature is considering the bid.
As cities come under increasing pressure to fix failing schools, more are, like Rochester, trying to take matters into their own handsÃ¢€”or at least those of their mayors.
"People are desperately seeking a model that can be duplicated and used in different communities," said Jim Ardis, the mayor of Peoria, Ill., who is considering such a move. He argues that a Peoria model--yet to be developed--is more likely to fit smaller cities across the Midwest than existing systems in larger urban areas.
Detroit and Milwaukee recently launched bids to assert mayoral control, although those have stalled amid opposition from lawmakers, unions and school boards. And in California, where a court has deemed mayoral control unconstitutional, Sacramento's mayor is figuring out unofficial ways to be involved.
Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy wants to set up more schools like Ms. Ricci's.
Mayoral control--which usually means dissolving elected school boards and replacing them with commissions appointed by the mayor--was pioneered in Boston in 1992. Since then, several big cities have adopted the practice, notably New York City in 2002, Washington, D.C., in 2007 and Chicago in 1995, where current Education Secretary Arne Duncan ran the school system for seven years as the mayor's appointee. Schools in Cleveland, New Haven, Conn., and Providence, R.I., are also under mayoral control.
Now more cities are considering the idea as Mr. Duncan and the Obama administration push to have teachers and administrators held more accountable for student performance.
Mr. Duncan supported mayoral control in Detroit, although he stressed the approach wasn't a solution for all cities.
"You need to rally entire cities" behind efforts to improve low-performing school systems, said Mr. Duncan, who in Chicago closed failing schools and pushed to open charter schools. "Mayors can play a critical role."
Cities eager to demonstrate change are weighing the approach even though results from districts under mayoral control have been mixed. Critics point to results from the federally administered National Assessment of Educational Progress: Mayoral-controlled Chicago and Cleveland ranked low in 2009 in fourth-grade reading, whereas schools in Charlotte, N.C.; Austin, Texas; and Miami, run by school boards, were on top.
Then again, New York City and Boston were among six districts that scored above the national average for large cities.
Advocates say mayoral control allows city leaders to overhaul school systems more quickly by avoiding often-fractious school boards.
School boards and some teachers' unions oppose the concept. They argue that dissolution of elected boards takes power away from voters, and point out that while mayoral control alters the structure of school systems, in itself it does nothing to overhaul curriculums or instruction.
Unions say mayoral control often ushers in policies counter to teachers' interests. Cities with mayoral control often seek to award pay or decide layoffs based on performance rather than seniority. Mayors have also pushed for the opening of charter schools, which are more difficult for unions to organize than public schools.
The Chicago Teachers Union is lobbying state representatives to reverse the law that gave the mayor control there, said union president Karen Lewis. The union argues that the people running the schools are too removed from the classroom. Chicago's schools chief recently gained the power to fire teachers based on performance, a policy union leaders say wouldn't have come from an educator.
Muddying the argument is the fact that mayoral control can take several forms. In New York and Washington, the mayor handpicked a high-profile schools chief. Boston has a nominating panel that sends a slate of school committee applicants to the mayor. In New Haven, the mayor sits on the school board.
Some opponents of outright mayoral control do support such hybrid systems. "These mayoral partnerships with school boards work," said Anne Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association.
In California, where a state court has ruled mayoral control unconstitutional, Mayor Kevin Johnson has sought to bolster his influence on schools through aligning city services, getting more involved in school-board elections and launching a nonprofit that advocates school reform.
The former NBA star serves as co-chairman of a mayor's advisory council for Mr. Duncan. He also happens to be engaged to Washington, D.C. school superintendent Michelle Rhee, whose sweeping changes have included teacher layoffs and merit pay.
In Rochester, the issue has pitted teachers' unions against business leaders, and members of the school board against each other. Earlier this month, two board members who backed giving Mr. Duffy control were asked to resign.
Mr. Duffy, who is running for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket in November, says the changes will enable the district to save money on administrative services by consolidating those departments with the city's. He also wants to expand neighborhood schools and keep school buildings open later-- changes he argues would be easier to implement with a mayoral-appointed board.
"We are losing the flexibility to deal with our mission," he said.
School-board president Malik Evans replies that mayoral control is "fundamentally flawed because it has no input from people on the ground." He says the board demonstrated its will for reform by hiring superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard, who formerly worked in New York City schools. "I don't understand where the criticism is coming from," he said.
Adam Urbanski, who leads the teachers' union in Rochester, argues that the solution to Rochester's education woes is to decrease the concentration of poverty in its schools by combining the city school district with the wealthier counties surrounding it.
A state nod for mayoral control in Rochester could pave the way for neighboring cities to follow. "This would make it easier for us if I and my administration decided to pursue mayoral control," said Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, who is considering the possibility.
Mayoral control "should be the rule, not the exception," said Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings.
Wall Street Journal
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