Monday, February 27, 2006

Big Business Agenda of Mayoral Control of School Boards creeping into San Francisco and Los Angeles

Despite what some anti-democratic supporters of Mayoral control have said, the record in New York City seems a mixed bag. San Francisco and Los Angeles parents, teachers, advocates of public education are looking closely at some of the big-business driven efforts to curtail democratic participation in school board elections in other big cities...

- see LA Times writer Duke Helfand's excellent piece from today's LA Times - LA TIMES reporter Duke Helfand's piece from 2/27/06

The ABCs of Mayoral Control of Schools
New York's Bloomberg has powers Villaraigosa seeks, but his changes offer a lesson in conflict.

February 27, 2006NEW YORK — Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg won control of this city's schools nearly four years ago and swiftly unleashed a dizzying string of reforms.Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, former federal prosecutor Joel I. Klein, slashed administrative jobs, ordered uniform reading and math programs and hired parent coordinators for New York's 1,400 schools.The pair converted warehouse-like high schools into smaller campuses and ended the practice of promoting failing students to the next grade. Their underlings even dictated how teacher bulletin boards should be designed.But the top-to-bottom overhaul came with a cost: The mayor and his schools chief have alienated teachers, parents and administrators, leaving many in the nation's largest public school system feeling disenfranchised and afraid to challenge City Hall.

The changes in New York — and the stresses they have exposed — offer possible warnings to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as he weighs his own takeover of the Los Angeles public school system.

Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman, is unapologetic about his policies and his hardball style of governing the school system, which has 1.1 million students. For the first time in years, he said in a recent interview, New York's schools have a clear line of authority with a single public official accountable for results."I don't think any serious person would suggest that we should run this school district by committee or that we should have a referendum on every change," said Bloomberg, 64. "The public said we want a decision-maker to go in there and do it right. You can't please everybody." Whether mayoral control has made a measurable difference in New York is a matter of debate....

the main punch lines of the article:

1. "But the top-to-bottom overhaul came with a cost: The mayor and his schools chief have alienated teachers, parents and administrators, leaving many in the nation's largest public schoolsystem feeling disenfranchised and afraid to challenge City Hall."

2. "Teachers and principals alike said the new top-down organization has fostered a climate of fear and intimidation."

3. "In New York, experts believe that mayoral control has allowed Bloomberg and Klein to push through their student retention policies, for example, because they faced no opposition from elected boardmembers. "

3. "They are able to crack the whip more than is common in most cities," said Jeffrey Henig, a political science professor at Columbia University's Teachers College who studies the politics ofschool reform. "They sometimes have gone in with a bit too much haughtiness … and cut themselves off from parent groups and teacher groups who know a lot from years of experience at the street level."

1 comment:

Steven Weiss said...

Certainly there are some major disadvantages to a mayoral control of a school district, a la New York City. But on the other hand, what about the advantages? In fact, part of Bloomberg's approach has led to the expansion of the "autonomy zone", in which schools have total control of their budget, while decreasing the number of central office administrators. Teachers in the autonomy zone, for example, are able to choose the type of professional development that they feel they need, and spend their own schools' money accordingly. This is quite a bold move--the architect of this plan, Eric Nadelstern, almost landed himself a job as head of Las Vegas' schools because of it. So mayoral control does not always mean less control at the school site.