Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mayoral control of schools

Something coming up more and more in the national conversation around education is mayoral control of schools. (Try Googling it and you'll see what I mean.) Secretary Arne Duncan has been quoted as saying his term as secretary will be a failure if there aren't more mayorally controlled schools by the end of his tenure.

This article in Newsweek caught my eye; it's on Arne Duncan's successor as commissioner of education in Chicago:

Huberman, the new school chief installed by Mayor Richard M. Daley, did not like what he saw. He promptly moved to fire the principal.

Huberman later told the teachers at Julian: "You are going to be held accountable." He was not bluffing. At 16 other schools, he has canned the entire faculty and staff—and he's only been on the job since February.

What's the line? "The beatings will continue until the morale improves." Does he somehow think that firing entire faculties improves education at that school or anywhere else? Particularly when you do it in February? Huberman is a former cop; he has had no experience of any kind in a classroom (beyond being a student himself).

This is the same system that we can see a bit closer at hand in Boston: Mayor Menino directly appoints the school committee for the city of Boston. He was interviewed earlier this week on Radio Boston about the November mayor's race, and he was asked if he had any thoughts of changing back to an elected system. He was admant that he did not, saying that an appointed board isn't beholden to special interests, as they would be if they were elected.

Interesting comment, coming from a man running for re-election to a public office.

There's a trend just now of bringing in those outside education to run school systems (see Deb Meier, below, on that). Fresh eyes can be a good idea. The problem is that schools are not businesses, and they shouldn't be run as businesses. I'm also not sure on the wisdom of having someone who's previous experience with teenagers was with those in contact with the law running a school system.
We need people who have actually done the day-to-day classroom education to be involved in setting educational policy.
We need people who have actual children involved setting policy.
The farther away we move from that, the more we turn this into some sort of system that runs on spreadsheets. That doesn't work on anything in education other than budgets.
We are talking about actual children in these classrooms. I'm not at all confident that mayoral control brings any benefit to them.

1 comment:

Jim Gonyea said...

Mayor Mumbles would disagree, but I consider him something of authoritarian. He wouldn't back an elected School Committee because he would lose control over something in the City of Boston.

My preference will always be an independently elected committee for schools and an independen committee over municipal affairs. Sometimes the school depatment does need to be protected over the desires of the municipality. Reading, writing and arithmetic aren't the be all end all of education, and many municipal leaders have no interest in education beyond the fact that it's a cost center in the community.

Mumbles public fights and attempts to coerce the teachers union into concessions is a case in point. He doesn't feel the need to be open and communicative with the teachers. He makes demands and feels they should kowtow.