On Monday, The Wall Street Journal ran a piece chronicling the attempt by Robert Duffy, the mayor of Rochester, New York, to take over his city's schools from its elected school board. The practice of mayoral control of schools has become popular in recent years, as cities, such as New York and Washington, D.C., have switched to the models and claimed big gains, in the process.
The argument for mayoral control, according to the story, is that relative to a board of elected officials, mayors can act more quickly to make sweeping changes (something evidenced especially in D.C., as well as Chicago, where current Education Secretary Arne Duncan was previously the city's school chancellor). They are opposed by the boards themselves and teachers' unions, which argue that mayoral control takes power away from the people who can no longer elect a board—as well as that other popular trends are likely to follow with mayoral control, such as performance pay for teachers.
Up until a few weeks ago, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein could puff their chests out and point to rising test scores, as proof of the mayoral control principle. However, when state officials decided that the New York State tests were too easy and took steps to make earning proficiency in subjects more difficult, New York City test scores took a perilous tumble.
Diane Ravitch, a critic of mayoral control, used those downward-revised test scores as an occasion to make her case in The Washington Post, remarking that New York City's attempt to pass itself off as an example for other cities around the country "went up in smoke."
She also cited another example, this time pointing to Cleveland:
Before promoting mayoral control as the answer to urban education, Secretary Duncan would do well to consider Cleveland, which has had mayoral control since 1995.
Like New York City, Cleveand has participated in national testing from the inception of urban district assessment. Cleveland has made no gains in fourth grade reading or eighth grade reading or fourth grade mathematics or eighth grade mathematics.\n
In fact, according to an infographic accompanying The Wall Street Journal piece, over the six years from 2003 to 2009, reading scores for fourth graders in Cleveland have dropped a point.
What do you think? Could mayoral control, if done correctly, be the panacea that Ravitch says it definitely is not? Or are school boards preferable?