Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Governance is Just Governance

Even as New York is wrestling with what to do about mayoral control of the schools, other cities across the nation are considering adopting mayoral control in some form or another. The latest city to be considering taking the plunge is Milwaukee.

However, Milwaukee - not content to just jump right in and sort out the effects later - wants to see how it worked in other cities first. Thus, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation commissioned a report by the Public Policy Forum on mayoral control of major city school systems. Completely unshockingly, the results are mixed.

Here's a key sentence from the report to roll around in your mind a little bit. The report found that, "In the end, governance reform may result in improvements in a district's fiscal condition, but may not have sustainable impacts on student achievement, especially of low-income and minority students."

In other words, governance affects the administrative side of schools, but less so the pedagogical sides. Seems pretty obvious to me.

When we talk about mayoral control we talk about larger systemic issues that may or may not filter down into the individual classrooms. At the root, the level of success enjoyed by schools and school systems depends on the quality of teachers in the classrooms. Unless the mayor takes over control of each classroom, then we shouldn't expect achievement in those classrooms to magically reform itself on his or her whims.

That said, this is not to say that mayoral control isn't still a worthwhile structure. After all, a district in poor financial shape will have more difficulty providing teachers with the resources they will need to be successful. But Milwaukee (and New York) shouldn't expect some achievement gap closing miracle just because authority for the school system rests in City Hall.

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