The Education Mayor

Two of the authors of The Education Mayor: Improving America’s Schools discussed mayoral control of school districts and its impact on school and student performance.

December 13, 2007

The Education Mayor

Mary-Ellen Deily (Moderator):

Welcome to today’s chat with Kenneth K. Wong and Francis X. Shen, two of the four authors of the new book The Education Mayor: Improving America’s Schools from Georgetown University Press. We’ve already received a lot of questions for the authors so we’ll get things started right now.

Question from Nancy Poore School Board member/parent of 4 MSD Pike Township:

From my perspective, while a Superintendent is a manager s/he is far more than a person running a business. A mayor is elected as a community leader with multiple responsibilities to things as divergent as stadium construction, pothole repair, and small business promotion. S/he may not have had ANY education in the arena of student instructional methods, curriculum research and selection, student counseling and discipline, how to inspire and guide principals and teachers, etc. etc. S/he also has made no commitment to the profession of education, and may lack any true vision or passion for the topic, beyond trying to run it “more like a business” to placate constituents who want exclusive private schools and lower taxes on their real estate and businesses. My question is: WHY is putting a mayor in the top position over schools preferable to a superintendent selected by an elected school board, often made up of parents, whose FIRST concern is high quality education for the children of their community?

Kenneth K. Wong:

In large urban districts, the challenge is to clarify who is in charge in improving schools. Big-city mayors who appoint school board members are ready to be held accountable for schooling quality and outcomes. This push for accountability is particularly important in the urban context, given its fragmentary politics among competing interests. Further, when mayors exercise control over education, they are willing to allocate their political and financial resources to create and sustain “enabling conditions” so that principals and teachers can do their job better. School safety, physical facilities, and labor relations are examples where urban mayors can make a difference.

Question from Kay Kirkpatrick, University of Chicago Laboratory Schools:

How has Chicago’s mayoral takeover informed other large cities?

Kenneth K. Wong:

Dear Kay, Mayor Daley took over the Chicago Public Schools in 1995, following several years of extensive decentralization at the school site. The 12-year experience indicates the importance of “integrated governance,” where the voting and taxpayiing public throughout the city can hold the mayor accountable for improvement in Chicago schools. Mayor Daley has the electoral incentives to use his political and financial resources to support and sanction public schools. For example, the mayor and his appointees, unlike an independent school board, can be effective in lobbying for more state and federal dollars and in negotiating union contracts. Because of mayoral involvement, public education is a priority in city hall and other agencies. In this regard, mayoral leadership can enhance what Clarence Stone and others called “civic capacity.” Finally, the Chicago experience is unique in that it maintains the Local School Councils within the framework of integrated governance. System-wide coordination and site-based decisions can co-exist to make public schools better.

Question from Jim Folsom, Principal, Rocket City High School:

Do you find mayors are more successful in turning around school districts when they have the political and financial support of state authorities?

Francix X. Shen:

Jim -- This is a great question because it brings up the issue of partnerships between city and state (and between mayor and state legislators). We argue in the book that strong partnerships are critical for success. Thinking first about state legislatures, state legislators are responsible for crafting (and then reviewing, possibly amending) the state law that will enable the new governance arrangements. A mayor needs support from the state legislature to make mayoral leadership a reality. In New York, for instance, mayoral control will be considered again in 2009 when the current law sunshines. You be Mayor Bloomberg will need state support then! Thinking next about state authorities such as the state board of education or state accountability/assessment teams, partnerships and understanding are once again very important. If the mayor is looking, for instance, for more flexibility in operations or additional resources she/he will often need to turn to the state. Similarly, state authorities can provide political and public support to provide legitimacy to the new governance arrangement.

Question from Peter Phelps, Teacher, MathTeacher, Jefferson Middle School:

DC would seem to be the latest of the big cities to move toward Mayoral control of the schools. It seems apparent that the mayor’s office can control the infrastructure (manage it and improve it) better than the school system can; but, the question is “do they recognize the importance of curriculum development and professional development to the point where they actually make it a priority?”

Kenneth K. Wong:

Our book found that mayors and their school board appointees are well aware of the importance of human capital investment as a way to sustain improvement. Mayoral control systems are keen on leveraging partnerships with university and other professional organizations, including New Leaders for New Schools and Teach for America, for all kinds of in- and pre-service professional development activities. Further, mayors push for core curriculum across the districts. In Philadelphia, the core curriculum includes periodic student assessment so that teachers can make use of the data to fine-tune their instructional strategies on an ongoing basis. As we know, student mobility is a severe challenge in many urban districts. Having a core curriculum with instructional support will ensure student have equal learning opportunities.

Question from Scott Folsom, Parent, Parent Leader Los Angeles Unified:

I will listen attentively - or will review the transcript if I can’t rearrange my schedule. I haven’t read the book and look forward to that. As a plaintiff representing the parents, teachers and students of Los Angeles Tenth District PTA in LAUSD v. Villaraigosa -- which overturned the mayor of LA’s illegal attempt to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District I am a bit of authority -- albeit an opinionated one. The mayor of LA continues to attempt to run the school district, by successfully running a slate of school board candidates at the cost of a couple of million dollars in election with 7% turnout - and most recently by carving off a part of the school district as a “demonstration project” on how well he can do raising money th help schools. This is bake sale reform. And out children are not guinea pigs in civic reform. I have yet to meet anyone in this discussion who champions or defends the status quo - or even seriously believes that the good old days was a golden age. It’s not good out there. Real education reform cannot be accomplished by a politician on a white horse, bemoaning failure and riding in to save the day. Mayors, whether billionaires with a checkbook or ambitious with a bully pulpit are not the answer. The same goes for teacher’s unions trying to drive reform though collective bargaining. Those “solutions” are not even AN answer! Only the engagement of the community: parents, educators, students, elected officials, business and all the rest - committed to work hard and invest the wherewithal, fiscal and intellectual - and the elbow grease-sweat equity - can make the difference. I invite the authors’ and the EdWeek panels’ response.

Kenneth K. Wong:

Dear Scott, Your perspective reminds me of one of the works that we cited in our book, Albert Hirschman’s “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.” Parents and community actors can influence the decision making process through various means. While city and school leaders may respond to “competition” from charter and private schools (namely, the exit option), they most likely will pay attention to the voting public (including parental voices and demands). At issue is the extent to which parental involvement can be institutionalized and routinized for a sustained period of time. This is particularly important as mayors try to mobilize the larger community to support schools as part their agenda to improve quality of life in the city. What we found is that mayors are well-positioned to convene stakeholders at the system-wide level. In the LA context, because of Mayor Villaraigosa’s involvement, public education has drawn city-wide (and nation-wide) attention, a first step toward deeper parental and community engagement.

Question from Diane Ravitch, New York University:

Hi, fellows, we have had 5 years of mayoral control in NYC--no school boards, all decisions made at City Hall. The budget has gone up by 50%--from $12.5 Billion to nearly $20 Billion, and according to the latest NAEP TUDA, achievement has not budged. We have a system of corporate management where the only strategy is punish and reward (students, teachers, principals, schools) based on test scores. It doesn’t seem to be working. Does your research explain this? Diane Ravitch

Kenneth K. Wong:

Hi Diane, In examining student achievement data from 1999 to 2003, our sample of 12 mayoral control districts (including NYC)as a group was making greater academic gains that their urban counterparts. We have just received two additional years of achievement data and we plan to extend the analysis to 2005 or 2006. While many researchers use case study approach, our study aims at looking at mayoral control as a big-city reform strategy across the nation. Combining comparative and longitudinal analyses enable us to draw inferences on the effects of mayoral control. With regard to your other concern on corporate management, you may be interested to learn that a key finding of our study is the importance of checks and balances. Mayoral appointive power, when coupled with proper institutional checks (such as nomination commission), shows the most promise in sustaining the achievement gains. In NYC, perhaps political and civic leaders need to revisit the institutional checks.

Question from Patrick Mattimore, Teacher, Saint Ignatius Colllege Preparatory School:

Can you provide a few specific examples which indicate that diffusing responsibility to members of a school board is a superior administrative plan than holding a single individual accountable?

Francix X. Shen:

Diffuse responsibility for school district governance makes sense in a number of institutional contexts. For instance, if a city has a weak-mayor form of government to begin with (e.g. Dallas), the mayor is not likely to be an effective leader of school district reform. We include in all of our statistical models a variable that measures what type of city government the district is operating in (e.g. strong/weak mayor). Second, there are many large school districts for which no city provides more than 75% of the students (e.g. Charleston County School District gets only about 38% of its students from Charleston). Here, diffuse government of the school system is required to allow many different municipalities a voice in governance. Third, there are many cities who send their students to multiple districts (e.g. Houston, El Paso, Sacramento, Oklahoma City, and others). In these cases, again because of cross-cutting political and school district boundaries, diffuse governance is more practical and better reflects pre-existing local governance arrangements. In our analysis, we talk about this in chapter 3.

Question from Don Langenberg, Chancellor Emeritus, University System of Maryland:

For those who may be called upon to articulate an “elevator summary” of your findings, how would you characterize your findings about mayoral control of schools? What would the “grade distribution” for those >100 school districts look like?

Francix X. Shen:

A three line summary of the findings is that the move from an elected to a mayoral-appointed school board is associated with a significant, if small, improvement in standardized achievement in reading and math. Mayors have the potential to provide a political shield for professional educators as they implement reforms. Mayoral appointed boards are not by themselves enough to turn around struggling urban school districts, but if successfully implemented they can be an important starting point for collaboration with many stakeholders. A point of clarification is probably in order, however, on the methods we used. In this book we asked generally about the effects of mayoral control, and therefore included in our data analysis every school district that in this first wave of modern mayoral control might have gone to mayoral control, i.e. every large, urban school district co-terminus with its major city. The vast majority of the 104 school districts in our sample, just as the vast majority of districts in the country, have traditional school board governance. We wanted to see how these traditional school board districts were performing, as compared to the mayoral control districts. In doing so, our analysis predicts the general trend without necessarily recommending for or against mayoral control in specific situations. We stress in the book that policy prescriptions must be sensitive to local conditions.

Question from Mark Alberstein, Teacher, Woodlake CA Public Schools:

How would an typical child’s learning experience change in an typical classroom, after the mayor takes the lead of the school district? What would teacher’s be doing differently?

Kenneth K. Wong:

Chapter 6 of our book discusses the effects of mayoral control on teaching and learning. Drawing on extensive field-based evidence in Chicago, including 62 hours of classroom observation in three high schools, we found both system-wide and school/classroom specific changes. The district-wide curriculum and assessment framework would mean that students who move from one school to another will be exposed to the same curriculum within the same grade. Further, academic promotion policy raises the stakes in teaching and learning. Teachers have benefited from mayoral control in terms of the resources they receive. We found that mayoral control districts are moving more resources for instructional purposes while not growing the central office staff. Finally, mayors are particularly skillful in leveraging public attention and engagement in education reform issues. In their interviews, teachers in Chicago told us that their work are better appreciated by the parents and the public following mayoral control. To be sure, mayoral control is work in progress in enhancing the quality of teaching. Our classroom analysis shows that high school teachers continued to focus on lower-level academic tasks. Teachers whom we observed seldom engaged students with classroom texts beyond the level of identifying basic information or making simple inferences. These instructional challenges need to be addressed as mayoral control systems mature.

Question from M Gunter - teacher - Ron Jackson (Brownwood ):

My concern is the lack of training. Anyone who is going to evaluate the classroom and its outcome needs to have been in the classroom. How will this be addressed in the office of the mayor?

Francix X. Shen:

This is a great question, and a question that many educators have about mayoral control. One of the points we make in the book is that, although they are often characterized as such, mayoral control is not really about a single person (the mayor) wielding power over the school district. In practice, mayoral control is about a partnership between the mayor and the district superintendent. It is the superintendent, along with her/his staff of professional educators, who is there to make the classroom evaluations you ask about. The mayor’s role is to provide institutional and political support for the district’s central office. The question we look at in this book is how the institutional and political support provided by a mayor compares to the management climate created by traditional school boards. Also, on the issue of classroom level effects, I’m happy to note that our co-authors, Dorothea Anagnostopoulos and Stacey Rutledge, consider the effects of mayoral control on classroom instructional practices in high schools (Chapter 6).

Question from Dan Cherry, Consultant:

Are there core themes emerging? Is accountability at the root of successful ‘take overs’?

Francix X. Shen:

Accountability is certainly an emerging theme, but in several distinct ways. First, mayoral control has emerged in a state and federal climate of increased accountability that focuses increasingly on student achievement as the measure of success/progress. A focus on improving student achievement has clearly been a focus of mayoral-led reforms. Second, mayoral control forces mayors to deal with a new type of accountability -- *electoral* accountability for the schools. Under a system of integrated governance, where school management is integrated with broader city management, voters are more likely to hold the mayor accountable for the schools’ performance. The presence of electoral accountability is very important in distinguishing mayoral control from a state “takeover”. In a takeover, a state appointed leadership team runs the district and city residents have no electoral option to have their voices heard. Under mayoral control, however, city residents have an option if they don’t like the new system: they can vote the mayor out of office. In addition, mayoral governance regimes can be set up to have a specific referendum on the question. In Boston and Cleveland, residents voted to keep mayoral control; in Detroit, residents voted to return to the traditional system. This democratic mechanism enables accountability through electoral means.

Question from Michael Novick, teacher/union rep, Abram Friedman Occupational Center (LAUSD):

In L.A., the mayor has been fairly open about his interest in the schools being connected to “upgrading” neighborhoods (gentrification). LA is already losing students as neighborhoods get too pricy. Doesn’t mayoral control subordinate sound educational approaches to economic and political priorities of financial, real estate and corporate interests?

Kenneth K. Wong:

Our study suggests that mayors have taken a strategic approach to these broader economic and structural challenges. Learning from their predecessors during a fiscally stressful period of the 1970s and 1980s, mayors maintain fiscal discipline to make sure that taxpayers continue to support public schools and that the district does not run huge deficits. We found that mayoral control districts tend to improve their bond ratings, thereby reducing the cost of borrowing for capital improvement projects. Further, mayors look at schools as part of their overall strategy to improve quality of life in the city. From the mayor’s perspective, middle class presence in the city’s schools is a key part of their overall effort to revitalize the city’s neighborhood. Interestingly, we found that in mayoral control districts, both the higher performing and the lowest performing schools are making academic gains. The mayor’s interest is to keep the middle class families as well as improving inner-city low performing schools.

Question from Rashid Johnson, Race, Gender Educational Equity Specialist, Mid-Atlantic Equity Center:

What do you think about Mayor Adrian Fenty’s most recent school reform efforts in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS)? Keep in mind that his initial plan was plagiarized.

Kenneth K. Wong:

Washington DC has gone through several phases in its school governance system since 1995. Mayor Anthony Williams, for example, exercised partial control with appointment of four of the nine members in the school board. He brought in Paul Vance as the CEO, who made serious attempts to change the culture of the central office. The latest reform under Mayor Fenty is a bold strategy. The differentiation of the State Office of Education and the district office will clarify the functions and responsibilities of these offices both internally as well as from an intergovernmental perspective. Clearly, Mayor Fenty has the passion and the will to address the challenge of DC schools. He has gained the support of the teachers’ union and seems to be willing to work with the advisory school board. At the same time, the current reform allows for City Council involvement in the operation of the district since the Council controls the purse strings. There is a potential for logrolling and for slowing down the mayor’s accountability agenda. What is clear is that the voting public of DC can decide if the mayor and his appointees are doing a good job in public education at the next mayoral election.

Question from JuanitaHollingsworth-Johnson, ECE Consultant:

1. Why didn’t just mayors sit down with school board members and other stakeholders to weigh the value of their service before making assumptions relative to boards’ ineffectiveness, and the least valued support for families. 2. If there were studies completed on school boards, what would the outcome. Some cities have endeavored to abolish school boards under mayor’s takeovers.

Kenneth K. Wong:

Your question gets at an issue we address in the final chapter of the book -- the importance of partnerships and timing. Mayoral control should not be based on assumptions about district performance, but rather on credible evaluation of the current and historical performance of the school system. It is important, as you note, to include traditional school board governance in the analysis. The question for evaluation is not simply “How is mayoral control performing?” but “How is mayoral control performing RELATIVE TO what would be there in its place?” Put another way, if a traditionally elected school board had been running Boston and Chicago over this past decade, what differences would we have seen? The social sciences run into this problem all the time -- how can we compare two policies when in reality only one was actually enacted? Our approach, the standard in empirical social science, is to look across districts to see how Chicago and Boston compared to other large, urban school districts that also might have turned to mayoral control. 80-90% of these other districts stuck with traditional school board governance, and our goal is to see (using rigorous statistical methods to control for lots of other differences across the districts) if the choice to go with mayoral leadership produced different achievement and financial outcomes.

Question from Kerry Brown, teacher in the Indianapolis Public Schools:

Why do mayors think they know how to improve schools?

Kenneth K. Wong:

Our book suggests two driving force behind mayoral involvement in public schools. First, mayors are responding to public demands for better schooling quality and better student outcomes. These demands are heightened by the federal NCLB and the associated climate of accountability. Second, mayors are motivated by their sense of institutional mission. Mayors see public schools as a neighborhood “anchor” (to use Mayor Daley’s term) upon which they can build and revitalize the community. Providence Mayor, David Cicilline, for example, champions afterschool programs in inner-city neighborhoods, while Boston’s Mayor Menino is keen on engaging the community in making key decisions in public education. These leadership efforts constitute a new culture of school governance, one which broaden the engagement of the public on what works and why in public schools.

Question from Sofia Bahena, Research Asst, Alliance for Excellent Education:

What are the implications of mayoral takeover on federal policy, if any? In instances when mayoral takeover has the potential to be successful, what are the federal, state and local government roles to support such a system?

Kenneth K. Wong:

Since a central feature of mayoral control is to improve outcome-based accountability, federal policy will play an important role in this reform strategy. First, NCLB creates the demand for local districts to align their agenda and leverage their resources to focus on academic achievement for all schools and all children. City mayor, being an elected office system-wide, is in a unique position to lead and convene the stakeholding process. Second, NCLB has identified city takeover as a restructuring option. It should be noted that mayoral control predated NCLB (for example, Boston in 1992, Chicago 1995, Cleveland 1999 etc). Now that our book offers hard evidence to show that mayoral control works in big-city systems, urban reformers may give this option a more serious look in the NCLB context.

Question from Joe Petrosino, EdD, Vo Tech:

How will the stakeholders learn to trust mayoral control and all decisions?

Francix X. Shen:

Another great question. Trust may be affected at different levels. At the institutional level, stakeholders may be more willing to initially trust mayoral control if there are built-in safeguards to the governance arrangement. The state legislature has a lot of flexibility in how they craft the law. Two safeguards that have been used are (1) to simply have the legislation run out in a certain year (forcing re-authorization debate); and (2) requiring a citywide referendum on the arrangement after an initial period of years. At the personal level, the individual mayor her/himself can do much to help/harm their cause. If the move for control comes suddenly, or doesn’t seem genuine, more suspicions will be raised. If the plan comes after years of planning, or with the pre-negotiated support of at least some key constituencies, then others may be more likely to offer their support. At both levels, trust will generally be built with successful performance over time.

Question from Kun Shi, Director of K-12 Chinese Flagship Program, The Ohio State University:

“The Education Mayor” can be an innovative (but temporary) idea for some large city school districts where the mayor is strong and school boards are disfunctional. Mayoral control should be the exception, not the norm. The key is to improve the school boards. Without changing the school funding system and the democratic decision-making system, can you encourage other mayors to take over their school districts? Do they have the time and wisdom to make schools better?

Francix X. Shen:

There are a lot of great questions here. First, as we stress in the book, to be an “Education Mayor” can mean many things. The specific policy we talk about -- appointing the school board -- is, as you say, the exception and not the norm. We talk in the book of “big city” mayors. If we define “big” to mean 40,000+ students (128 districts as of 2005-06 data), less than 1 percent of all school districts are big. Even if big is defined as 20,000+ students (approximately 375 districts), only 2.7 percent of all districts qualify. But if we look at the number of students being educated in these big school districts, we’re talking about over 40% in the top 375 districts, and over 25% of all students in the country in just the top 129 largest districts. The question we ask is whether in these exceptional situations -- where the budgets are huge, city politics is messy, and stakeholders are numerous and powerful -- can mayoral control be an institutional solution? We think it can.

Question from Rhodell Fields, Professor retired, St. Petersburg College:

What is it about mayoral control of public school systems that makes this office (and officer) better able to improve the condition of public schools in large metropolitan areas given their complete faliure at cleaning up the “bad parts of town?”

Kenneth K. Wong:

We have about 14,000 school districts across the country and mayoral control is not going to work in all cases. Our study only focus on the largest 100 urban districts. These districts have encountered structural challenges (such as concentrated poverty) and political problems (such as teachers’ strikes). Mayoral control in these large systems, when compared with their non-mayoral control counterparts, have provided leadership stability and labor peace. While urban superintendents, on the average, last for less than 3 years, superintendents in Chicago, Boston, NYC and other mayoral control systems, have much longer tenure. The key here is that mayoral performance in education is subject for public scrutiny in the electoral process.

Question from Linda Leddick, independent researcher:

Some individuals state that the loss of city population is caused by poor school systems. Others state that declines in city services, population shifts, job availability, etc. causes a declline in city populations which is then reflected in the schools. Do you have any evidence or opinions about this “which came first” issue?

Francix X. Shen:

Hi Linda -- what a great “chicken and egg” question. In the book, our analysis is designed to isolate the effects of mayoral control (given all of these factors floating around). So while we can’t speak to the big question of causation, we can say with confidence that the effects we see for mayors on achievement aren’t just the result of those cities having rising income, more stable populations, etc. Also, we saw that the education mayors themselves see schools as anchors. Mayor Daley in 2005 said this: “So how does government help build stronger neighborhoods? … You start by building what I call community anchors: schools, libraries, parks and police and fire stations. The most important anchor, by far, is the school”.

Question from M.L. Education Specialist, D.C.:

I’ve heard many education experts say that it takes 5 years for long-lasting systemic change to take hold... given that the political cycle is shorter than 5 years, will a mayor ever have the political patience necessary to allow education reform initiatives to take root? As we have seen in Washington DC, the pressure to have quick and tangible results often undermines long term strategy.

Kenneth K. Wong:

You raise an important question. We see mayoral control as an effort toward institutional redesign, so that the urban school policy system clearly shows who is in charge. In this regard, the enabling legislation for mayoral control often sets a start and an end date. This duration often goes beyond the tenure of a particular mayor. In other words, state lawmakers who write the law and citizens who approve changes in the city charter ought to think about the current governance reform as an institutional response to the accountability challenge. We also think that mayors are seeing their leadership role as sustaining the educational institution (leaving behind a legacy) and not simply as winning re-election.

Question from Scott Folsom, Parent, Parent Leader Los Angeles Unified:

Scott Folsom again. You guys are essentially saying that Mayoral Control is the greatest thing since sliced bread - and your responses to me and to Diane Ravitch (whom I’m honored to be on the same chat with) is: Mayoral Control is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. It’s the same for hogwash as shampoo. I’ve been to NYC, parents and differing opinions are kicked to the curb. Bloomberg’s famous retort to criticism from parents is: “If they don’t like it they can boo me at parades”. Boo.

Kenneth K. Wong:

Hi Scott -- I hope we are not communicating a monolithic message about mayoral control. I’ve tried to stress in this chat, and we repeatedly say in the book, that mayoral control is neither for all cities nor for all mayors. We hope that debates and conversation will be vigorous, grounded in evidence, and articulating the principles on which evaluations should be judged.

Question from Jo Ann Yee, Senior Director, Urban Affairs, California School Boards Association:

How did your study control for student mobility in these districts? (i.e. Were you measuring the achievement of the same students over time?) How did your study measure the achievement gaps in these districts? Were the districts successful in narrowing the gaps? What were the direct relationships between mayoral control and the district’s ability to close the achievement gaps?

Francix X. Shen:

Hi Jo Ann -- these are very good questions. First, our analysis is built up from school-level data to get to district averages. We are covering 100+ districts over 5 years (1999-2003), and didn’t have individual student level data across all those years/districts. We always control in our models for previous year achievement, and also looked at year-to-year change. We were also concerned with the achievement gap, and spend an entire chapter (chapter 5) addressing it. We traced the performance of the lowest performing schools over our time period to see how they fared. We also looked at the distribution of achievement across schools within each district, and asked if the gap between high- and low-achieving schools was related to mayoral control. We find that while all schools improved, schools at the top saw even greater gains. We discuss in more detail in the book some reasons for why we see these results.

Question from Lori Finch, NYC Public School Parent:

The Children First reforms under NYC Mayor Bloomberg place great emphasis on Accountability. Repeated large scale systemic reoganizations, however, have failed to produce significqant advances in student achievement as the recent NAEP scores undicate. In the case of NYC, how do parents and taxpayers who are not pedagogues or psychometricians best understand the scope of this stagnation and the consequences for our 1,1 million students when a new mayor/chancellor team takes office in January 2010?

Kenneth K. Wong:

Mayoral involvement in education has broadened city-wide attention to the challenge of school improvement. Mayor Bloomberg’s role, for example, has often made headlines in the New York Times. Mayors, albeit powerful offices, are not going to be able to turn around schools by themselves. Mayoral leadership is a necessary, enabling, but not sufficient, condition for academic improvement. Public awareness, from our perspective, constitutes an important basis for community mobilization and engagement. In NYC, in particular, there are civic, business, and foundation resources being channeled into all kinds of school reform initiatives. These investment and commitment from diverse sources will play a key role in keeping the public focus on student learning.

Question from Rhonda K., CS, Rochester School District:

Is a mayoral control successful for students, or is this another way for cities to cut finance or to have more control of funds given to schools?

Francix X. Shen:

Hi Rhonda -- We find that mayoral control is positively associated with gains in student achievement. At the same time, we find evidence on the finance side that mayoral control is not associated with greater revenues flowing into the district, and may even be linked to fewer per-pupil resources. In short, mayors may be doing more for the same, or even fewer resources.

Question from Jo Ann Yee, Senior Director Urban Affairs, California School Boards Association:

While school boards do not directly cause student learning, their actions and decisions do make an impact. What specific actions and decisions do mayors make that can be DIRECTLY related to improved student achievement? How are these actions and decisions different from those of school boards? Could these decisions be made without the mayor’s direct control of the district? Why or why not?

Francix X. Shen:

Another great question, which goes back to an earlier question about comparing traditionally elected school board governance to mayoral-appointed school board governance. The benefits of integrating school and city services primarily rest on the potential ability of the mayor to engage more in system-wide and citywide policymaking, which may be hampered by many local interests that prevent reform from moving forward. In big city school systems, where there are many strong and diverse political interests, mayors may have more institutional capacity to overcome these challenges. The link to teaching and learning then happens through the professional educator (and professional education leadership team) that is brought in. Mayors may have the potential to prevent the superintendent turnover that is so common in many large school districts, and provide smooth transitions from one superintendent to the next.

Question from J. Swain : Law Enforcement/ engaged citizen:

Is there a list of the cities covered in the book/working under this model. If a City is not in the Mayor controlled model; and if it has definite benefits, are strategies discussed for bringing it into play in places where contol currently lies elsewhere.

Kenneth K. Wong:

Our book looks at a dozen districts that are under mayoral control, including Boston, Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, Providence, New Haven, among others. Technically speaking, Philadelphia and Baltimore are “hybrid,” since the school board is jointly appointed by the mayor and the governor. From our perspective, these are the first wave of mayoral control districts. We see an emerging mayoral interest in a second wave of districts, including LA, St. Louis etc. The second wave will have the benefit of hard evidence on what works and what doesn’t work (namely our book) on student performance, management, teaching practices, and public opinions.

Question from Greta Pruitt, Retired Educator and Professor:

Has mayoral control actually resulted in coordination of city/social services at inner-city schools? The concept of a powerful “resource coordinating council” at these schools that includes housing, police, fire, libraries seems promising, but has it happened in these cities?

Kenneth K. Wong:

Mayoral control is keen on building partnership between school department and other municipal agencies. Mayor Daley, for example, issues executive order to make sure that the snow is removed by the department of street and sanitation so that parents can walk their children to schools. Providence Mayor Cicilline makes sure that the school department coordinates with libraries and cultural centers to promote reading. In many of these districts, schools are used as a “hub” for GED classes, health clinics, and other social and sports activities for the neighborhood. In large urban districts, the building engineers used to have the only key to the building. Those days are gone. The princpals are now in charge and are expected to work with other partners to promote community engagement.

Question from Kent Osborne Union rep- salary negotiation:

How can I get info to compare cost of living changes to teacher salaries for Denver. Plus is there any where to compare average teacher salaries for more experienced teachers in various cities i.e. 15 years experience, 20 years, 25 years... etc

Francix X. Shen:

Hi Kent -- For comparing cost of living across cities, we used the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Constant Dollar Employment Cost Index. I don’t know the URL from memory, but or an internet search should get you started. They have series specifically for State and Local Governments’ Educational Services. For your second question, I don’t know of a single place where that data is published, as it is the product of specifically negotiated employment contracts between districts and their unions.

Question from Rhodell Fields, Professor retired, St. Petersburg College:

Professor Ravitch stole some of my thunder. Nevertheless, we all know that mayors are politicos in the first degere. What is it that will prevent an elected mayor in an urban situation such as NYC, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles from catering to wealthier interests when it comes to the distribution of resources across the city schools?

Francix X. Shen:

Hi Rhodell -- This is a great question which identifies a concern about electoral accountability. If mayors want to get re-elected, and certain segments (i.e. richer, more educated parts of the city) are more likely to vote and donate to the re-election campaign, you’re pointing out that a mayor’s incentives would be to distribute benefits disproportionately to those wealthier segments. We tried to get at this in the book in chapter 5 -- one of the inferences we make is that mayors may be making strategic investments in education based on concerns about brain drain of high-achievement students / middle class families to competing suburban school districts. We don’t find that the lower-performing schools, however, are getting worse. In sum, it leads us to a question of trade-offs and by what measuring stick we will evaluate mayoral control.

Question from Barb Bolson, Director, Kodiak College, Univ of Alaska Anchorage:

1. Are already overburdened urban mayors able to give troubled school districts the time they require and deserve? 2.Does it create a conflict of interest to stand for regular reelections and have to make often unpopular decisions for school districts?

Kenneth K. Wong:

Good questions on mayoral priority. Our study found that mayoral commitment to education reform is translated into organizational structures for policy change. For example, in several of the mayoral control districts, the central office is restructured so that a new office accountability is established for more rapid intervention in schools that are not making progress. It is not uncommon to see that the mayoral appointed board has diverse expertise to address the multi-faceted challenges of the district. These board members may come from higher education, non profit, for profit, and non-education governmental backgrounds. Within the central office, we also found a more diverse pool of staff to manage programs and units. The analytic and evaluative capacity of these districts will form a solid basis for taking improvement strategies to the next phase. Finally, the conflict of interest is always a challenge. We found that mayoral control can promote greater transparency as more parents and community actors engage in school affairs.

Question from E. C. Hayes, Educator, St. Louis, MO:

I applaud your academic research and am intrigued with the impact of the mayoral-led school systems. As an educator what stares at me daily are the children in the classroom coming from very chaotic, impoverished homes where often the parents are not a voice in their school community. Regarding the poverty level of the families attending our urban schools, are you maintaining that mayoral-led schools could possibly improve the poverty level of the students and their parents?

Kenneth K. Wong:

Dear E.C. -- Thank you for your comment. We discuss in the book that we are in agreement with many others (and many of those who have offered comments here today) that it does “take a city” to ultimately produce successful education reform. We know that student performance is linked to so much beyond the schoolhouse, and mayors may be able to lead the coalition to integrate educational improvements with other city progress -- better jobs, less crime, greater civic capacity. While this is beyond the specific scope of the book, the Education Mayors most often cited (Daley, Menino, Bloomberg) have clearly too tried to be “Economic Development Mayors” -- the two may go hand-in-hand.

Question from Athanase Gahungu, Associate Professor, Chicago State University:

1. What are the benefits and challenges of such large cities as Chicago being constituted in only one school district? Should there be more districts? 2. Can we predict the end of the movement of mayoral control of public schools in the near future?

Kenneth K. Wong:

Your question suggests a need to think about efficiency in large urban districts such as Chicago. Mayoral control, while galvanizes public attention on education across the entire city, does not preclude site-based autonomy or diverse service providers. Chicago’s Renaissance 2010 is an example where mayoral-appointed school board works closely with diverse service providers and Local School Councils. Regarding the future of mayoral control, we believe that there will be another wave of urban districts that are ready for mayoral leadership. We hope to return to do another book in a few years on these new mayoral control districts.

Question from Ibrahim Duyar, Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas-Little Rock:

Traditionally the governance of public education is assumed and carried by the school district. 1. Would you discuss some of main reasons that created an environment for the involvement of city/mayor in the governance of public education? 2. How do school districts react to the involvement of this new actor in the governance of public schooling? The dynamics and interaction between these two actors -school districts and city/mayors? 3. What has changed under the new actor’s (mayor) governance? Would you offer a comparison of governance by school districts and city/mayors? 4. What does the early research say on the implications of mayoral involvement in the governance of public schools? Any positive impact on student learning and achievement? Thank you.

Francix X. Shen:

Good questions, and we try to address them all in the book. We’re running out of time, but a few quick summary points are that mayoral control is linked to a small, significant change in standardized reading and math achievement in the period 1999-2003. Mayoral control is still the exception, but increasing numbers of big city mayors are looking to it as a possible reform option because they are concerned that traditional governance arrangements are not producing the level of district performance city residents desire.

Question from Karen G. Cohen-Former NYC Teacher:

After seeing what has been going on inside the NYC since the mayoral take over, how can outsiders say a business man and a lawyer are more capable of running a school system than one who has been trained to be an educational leader?

Kenneth K. Wong:

Our study suggests the importance of partnership. Given the challenge in New York and other large cities, it will take the whole community to work together to turn around the schools. Mayors are in a unique position to leverage community and civic resources toward that goal. Our study also show that mayors know that they are not educational expert. But they can support educational experts (principals and teachers) to do their job.

Mary-Ellen Deily (Moderator):

That’s all the time we have for our chat today. Thanks to everyone who submitted a question. Thanks especially to our two authors, Kenneth K. Wong and Francis X. Shen, for their thoughtful responses regarding The Education Mayor and their findings. The transcript of this chat will be posted shortly on

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