Out of Control Policy Blog

Secretary Arne Duncan Advocates Mayor Control of Schools

Over at Education Week's Politics-K-12 blog, they report on Secretary Duncan's declaration that city schools "are best left in Mayor's hands."

Mayor control has a very mixed record in the United States. Simply changing administrators isn't enough. It depends on what they do. New York City and to a lesser extent Chicago have been successful examples of Mayor control because these Mayors have empowered school leaders to improve their schools by implementing school financing structures that devolve funding to the school level in exchange for accountability.

In New York City, for example, Mayor Bloomberg has implemented "Fair Student Funding" in which dollars follow students to the school their parents choose. Principals are responsible for school budgets and have autonomy over hiring and school design. This is like a market-based system within a public school system. More than 15 school systems in the United States have done this and all are seeing positive trends in student achievement. Most have done this by implementing agressive school choice and student-based budgeting systems in which dollars are attached to the backs of children in exchange for accountability. These public schools are much closer to charter schools than traditional public schools. The most aggressive districts: Denver, Baltimore, Hartford, and Oakland have all done this without Mayor control and are all experiencing rapid and positive changes in student outcomes. New York has implemented this system aggresively with Mayor control.

The point is that it is not about who governs (Mayor, school board), it is about what kind of school system the governance structure allows. We need school systems that give kids the right of exit to higher quality schools and give principals a financial incentive to improve their schools. Principals need autonomy and control in exchange for accountability. As long as most schools operate from a top-down structure in which central office dictates what happens in schools, little will change. If Mayor control can move us more aggressively to a school system where parents and principals are in charge of schools,then lets have more Mayors in control. Otherwise it is just more of the new boss, same as the old boss.

Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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