Thursday, March 13, 2008

Debating Mayoral Control

A debate on mayoral control has been heating up at the NYC Education News Listserve, where I have been arguing against a centralized system - I haven't seen anyone show one that has worked in an urban setting. Of course, no one has shown a decentralized one that has worked either.

Parent activist Lisa Donlon's testimony at the City Council hearings last week was pro decentralization. It is posted on Norm's Notes here.

But most of the people who have vehemently opposed BloomKlein are still in favor of a centralized system which gives most control to the mayor, with checks and balanced. The arguments against a decentralized system come in these forms:

Leonie Haimson says:
As the CFE case revealed, there are systemic deficiencies in the NYC public school system that need to be addressed systemically. It will never be possible to solve overcrowding and class size problems at the local level – just as it would not be possible for each community to effectively address crime or sewage or transportation on its own. It takes real citywide leadership and resources to do this.

Other issues probably can and should be addressed at the local level, in order to give communities more of a say in the running of their own schools. But certain basic conditions must be met.


Eugene Falik says:
As the CFE case revealed, there are systemic deficiencies in the NYC public school system that need to be addressed systemically. It will never be possible to solve overcrowding and class size problems at the local level – just as it would not be possible for each community to effectively address crime or sewage or transportation on its own. It takes real citywide leadership and resources to do this.

My response:
We should not leave questions related to local controls 'till later: a key one is: who gets to choose the school's principal? This is the single most important decision that can be made at that level and no matter what the larger issues, that decision should be made at the school level (I see some plans floated to have that decision made by a local Supt (appointed by central?) or local councils, which can also be subject to political influence.

Teachers at the school level -- not at a level where the UFT leadership gets to have influence - must be involved.

That assures the egomaniacs, abusive, manipulating, politically ambitious people who were appointed under both the old decentralization and the current centralized system would be kept under control.

If we ignore this aspect and jump for a checked and balanced mayoral control at the macro level but leave these local issues that are of major importance to everyone with a child in a school and to every teacher, we are not making much of a change.

Without such a system, the wars that occur when so many Leadership Acad. principals take over schools would be less likely since principals would be responsible to the constituency they serve. For an example, read the saga of PS 106Q in Rockaway, link posted in the sidebar of the ed notes blog.

In many parts of Europe, principals are elected by teachers and parents. I visited one such school in northwestern Spain a few years ago and it was an eye opener. Even the students had a say.

On decentralization, Falik said:

I think that "Decentralization" was an unmitigated disaster. While children in some areas of the city didn't get the education that they were entitled to, most children did get a good education -- better than most children in the country.

Decentralization resulted in all children getting a far worse education. If anything, I would pass a law returning to the pre-decentralization anything, with a revamped Board of Education. Perhaps appointed with a fixed term in office, or perhaps elected city-wide via proportional representation.

I think that what ever law enacts the changes should, by law, enact the curricula, etc. in place on the day before decentralization took effect. Of course, the new BOE should be allowed to make changes, but we need an immediate return to a competent structure.

My response:

If we judge decentralization to have been a disaster based on the unevenness of how it worked in various districts, then what word do we use to describe mayoral control? Unmitigated is too mild a word.

What was wrong with decentralization was the way political machines seized local control of the schools. At least you knew who the thieves were. At times things like pianos were stolen and in my district $7 million was directed to religious schools. If the central authorities had done their job they would have monitored all this. Under mayoral control, billions may have gone to political friends with little transparency. Give me the thief I can look in the eye every month at a school board meeting.

Why look back at what was and instead think of a system of local control that could work that would eliminate the control by political machines. Let the teachers and parents at a school really choose the principals, which eliminate a big patronage plum. Also, teacher certification can come centrally.

Going down the path of centralized control, even to the "good old days" before '68 will also be a disaster - remember there were calls for change because that system wasn't working too well either - it was the system I first started under so I had a brief taste.

2 comments:

  1. Hello Norm,

    I thought you might be interested in a podcast we produced a couple of weeks ago, called "Push Them to a Cliff", featuring Joe Klein and Rudy Crew, debating leadership in education. During this podcast, Klein discusses mayoral support multiple times.

    For your information, Learning Matters Inc. strives to use media to encourage and enrich public dialogue about education, youth and families, and to expand learning opportunities for youth.

    Let us know what you think and feel free to create a link to the podcast on your blog!


    Thanks,

    Christine Renaud
    Podcast Producer
    Learning Matters
    crenaud@merrow.org

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for your comment.
    Having Joel Klein present his views on mayoral control without offering the vast amount of alternative views that exist here in NYC is far from a balanced view. This is something I have noticed in the Merrow reports on public tv.

    I was particularly annoyed at the Michelle Rhee reporting which was narrow and distorted.
    I posted a blog entry about this posted at:
    http://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/2008/02/are-merrow-reports-on-pbs-fair-and.html

    Do a podcast with Leonie Haimson and her allies in NYC sometime to get the full view.

    Norm Scott

    ReplyDelete

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