Mayoral control of schools will not improve education
Frustration with issues ranging from low graduation rates to superintendent turnover in Buffalo has led to talk recently about putting the school system under the control of the city’s mayor.
This is a relatively rare approach. Of the 13,500 school districts across the country, only about 20 have come under formal mayoral control since the early 1990s. In New York State, only two districts – Yonkers and New York City – have mayoral-appointed board members.
When the power to select school board members is transferred from the public to city mayors, what happens to the quality of education? Researchers have looked at measures including test results, per-pupil expenditures, student-teacher ratios, staffing and survey data, but no strong patterns have emerged.
What is clear is that switching to mayoral control is a turn away from democracy. A comprehensive report last year by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education found that when mayors take charge of public schools, the role of parents and the community, especially among minority groups, can be marginalized.
Factors that contribute substantially to gains in urban schools are strong and stable leadership, strategic vision, relentless focus on student achievement, and skilled staff and good data on which to base sound decisions, measure progress and hold people accountable. What a public school system thrives on are genuine parental involvement, a supportive community and successful results. Mayors can help improve education, but they are not the silver bullets. These other things matter more.
Timothy G. Kremer
New York State School Boards Association