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Friday, November 12, 2010

It's Not Mayoral Control That Schools Need, It's Teamwork

Rutgers University has come out with research that Mayoral control does not improve student performance. Here in New York City we - at least I - have the opinion that raising student achievement was never the focus of Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Joel Klein (privatizing public education was), so the study may not answer the gnawing question of why the Bloomberg/Klein administration is such a disaster for NYC public schools.

However, I may agree with the comment that Mayoral control, valid and consistent accountability, transparency and teamwork with all parties involved will bring about reform. Please leave your ego at the door when you sign in.

Betsy Combier

Newark Mayor Cory Booker's school reforms may not improve student performance, study says
Jessica Calefati/The Star-Ledger, October 12, 2010
                              Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg
and NJ Gov. Chris Christie make their official announcement of the Facebook deal at Robert Treat Hotel.

NEWARK — Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s commitment to reform his city’s struggling schools may not help increase students’ performance in the classroom, according to research being presented today by the Institute on Education Law and Policy at Rutgers-Newark.

The study’s authors examined public school governance models in nine cities demographically and politically similar to New Jersey’s state-controlled school districts and found "no conclusive evidence" that greater mayoral participation in their governance led to improved student test scores.

"Student achievement has been the toughest nut to crack," the report says. "While school leaders tout many improvements in test scores, attendance and graduation rates, in fact we were unable to establish conclusively that the change in governance had any causal relationship to improved performance."

The study, produced by Rutgers staff with specialties ranging from economics to education law, is the latest in a series of national reports to review the effect of mayoral control over a large urban district. It was produced for the state education department as it develops a plan to have local municipalities regain control over schools in Newark, Paterson and Jersey City — three urban districts that are operated by the state.

The study looks at districts in Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Hartford, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Paul Tractenberg, a Rutgers law professor and a principal author of the study, said the investigators who produced the study concluded that mayoral control is not the "magic bullet" for urban school reform it’s sometimes portrayed to be. The process also leaves parents and community groups complaining that they are left out of the policy-making process.

Researchers did, however, find that mayoral control brought stability, greater attention and increased public and private funding to the districts examined.

"Mayoral involvement, if not control, should at the very least be considered as part of an overall district improvement strategy," the report says.

The study’s findings are particularly relevant to Newark, where Booker has formed a partnership with Gov. Chris Christie and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in an attempt to transform Newark’s failing schools. The trio appeared on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" three weeks ago to announce Zuckerberg’s donation of a $100 million challenge grant to jump-start the effort.

While Zuckerberg made his high-profile pledge under the expectation that Booker would lead the district’s reformation, and Christie authorized the mayor to develop a reform plan with input from the community, Booker has no legal authority to fix any part of his city’s broken school system.

David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center in Newark, has threatened to sue the state if Booker makes any decisions about the Newark schools.

In response to the Rutgers report, a spokeswoman for Newark said city officials realize it takes multiple forces, not just leadership, to improve the public school system.

"The reform initiative we will pursue does not include a formal change to school governance as it is explored in the Rutgers report, but is rather a community-driven effort that will solicit the voices of all Newarkers — students, parents, teachers, local leaders and concerned citizens alike — to shape a shared vision for how best to improve our public schools," Esmeralda Diaz Cameron said.

"We recognize that no single governance structure or individual will transform our school district; it will take the collective action and participation of our entire community to ensure that every Newark child has access to a high quality education," she added.

Past research on the efficacy of mayoral control is mixed. Kenneth Wong, an education policy professor at Brown University, studied five years of student achievement data and 10 years of spending data in a dozen urban school districts with mayoral control, and found they outperformed their counterparts controlled by school boards.

"Mayoral control systems do indeed perform better than their peers," said Wong, author of "The Education Mayor," a book that details his findings. "The education mayors were not spending more than their urban peers to achieve success — they were spending differently, like routing more money toward instructional purposes."

Fredrick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., drew different conclusions in a policy paper on mayoral control.

"For all the optimism that Boston and New York City have engendered, there is remarkably little evidence that mayors or appointed boards are more effective at governing schools than elected boards," Hess wrote in his 2008 report, "Assessing the Case for Mayoral Control of Urban Schools."

When asked about what effect, if any, Booker’s involvement in the Newark schools might yield, Hess said Booker could successfully push the system if he chooses to move aggressively, even if his official authority is limited.

"No one should interpret Booker’s involvement as a guarantee of anything," Hess said, "but if he’s smart about it, he will have a better chance of improving Newark’s schools than the current arrangement does."

Mayoral Control Fails To Improve Student Achievement Say Researchers at Rutgers University
By Esme E. Deprez - Oct 12, 2010 2:07 PM, Bloomberg News
Mayoral control, advocated by politicians pushing to overhaul underperforming school systems, fails to improve student achievement, according to a two-year study.

The research, conducted by the Institute of Education Law and Policy at Rutgers University, looked at improvements in nine education systems where there were changes in how the schools were governed, led by Baltimore, Boston and New York City. The study will provide guidance to New Jersey policy makers as the state prepares to return schools in Paterson, Newark and Jersey City to local control after as many as 21 years under state operation, the authors said.
The findings, the subject of a seminar today at the university’s Newark, New Jersey campus, raise questions about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s plans to overhaul the schools in the state’s largest city by putting Mayor Cory Booker in charge, said Alan Sadovnik, professor of Education, Sociology and Public Administration and Affairs at Rutgers and co-author of the report in a telephone interview yesterday.

“Solving Newark’s problems will require more than mayoral control alone,” Sadovnik said. “Governance is one part of urban school improvement, which has to include effective school and administrative strategies and a variety of economic, community and health initiatives at the local level.”

Facebook Donation

Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg said on Sept. 24 that he will donate $100 million to Newark’s schools. Almost half of all students in the district don’t graduate from high school.

Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington and Hartford, Connecticut, were the other school systems that were part of the Rutgers study.

New school leadership helped improve efficiency and reduce corruption in Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington. In almost all the cities, mayoral control was associated with increased funding by either the state or the private sector, the study found.

Increased stability enabled school leaders and the community to concentrate on improving student achievement, the report said. In Cleveland, which had 13 superintendents in 15, turnover ended once the new governance system was installed, while frequent strikes by the unions stopped after mayoral control in Chicago.

Successful Bargaining

Mayoral leadership in New York and Chicago resulted in successful bargaining agreements with the teachers’ union to lengthen classroom hours and allow the creation of charter schools, the report also said.

At the same time, community input has diminished under the new models for running schools, the report noted. New York City parents, seeking a stronger voice in school policy, lobbied for changes in the mayoral control law, while parents in Chicago and Boston have complained they don’t have enough say in school closings, the report said.

“That’s a real negative,” Sadovnik said. “Most of the research indicates that parental involvement is a key ingredient in increasing student achievement.”

Christie has said he will give Booker a larger role in overseeing the district’s schools and its 39,000 students, and the mayor will also get a say in picking a new superintendent. Christie’s plan raises questions regarding the legality of the move without legislative action, the report said.

Mayoral involvement, or control, should be considered as part of an overall systematic approach to urban district improvement, the study said.

“The data certainly do not indicate that forms of governance with mayoral involvement have a negative effect on student achievement, but rather that governance may not be the most important factor; or, at the least, may be one of many factors in raising student achievement,” it said.

The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

To contact the reporter on this story: Esme E. Deprez in New York at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jonathan Kaufman at

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