The Obama administration, guided by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, has come out in favor of mayoral control of urban education. This centralizes education policy for a city in the mayor’s office, instead of leaving it to the city’s school board, city council, and superintendent, who often can’t agree on a single policy direction.
“At the end of my tenure, if only seven mayors are in control, I think I will have failed,” Duncan said last week. “And given the fact so few cities have mayoral control, that’s a huge impediment that hasn’t been talked about enough.”
One of the foremost proponents of mayoral control is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was given control over the city’s education policy seven years ago. Today, The Wonk Room sat down with Mayor Bloomberg, to discuss the effect that this move has had on New York City schools:
I can just tell you that before we had mayoral control it was disaster. […] I know of no thing that we’ve done that would have been remotely possible under the old system and any mayor that has a school system that is getting better, I think, will tell you the exact same thing…The school systems should not be run as patronage mills and they should not be run for the benefit of the people who work in them…And when you have these school boards that are fundamentally controlled by special interests, the truth of the matter is the students come last, if at all.
According to Kenneth Wong, a Brown University professor who studies the issue, mayoral control is worth considering in about 400 of the biggest school districts. “The way I look at it is, we are talking about real accountability,” Wong said. “A lot of urban school systems are playing this game of blaming one another — the superintendent blames the school board; the school board blames the union. With the mayor in charge, there ultimately is one single official held accountable every four years.”
Currently, just seven cities have adopted full mayoral control of education, but its a system worth experimenting with, instead of relying upon a patchwork of policymakers to institute reform. Hopefully, a mayor can cut through the bureaucracy to compel a change in direction, and if that effort is unsuccessful, voters will have the chance to designate a new point person.