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New York Post

 

Beyond Bloomberg

October 27, 2008

By Marcus A. Winters

PRINTER FRIENDLY

SCHOOLS NEED MAYORAL CONTROL

STATE lawmakers must soon decide whether to reauthorize the law grant ing control of New York City's public-school system to the mayor. Last week's City Council vote to extend term limits, allowing Mayor Bloomberg to seek a third term, may color that decision—but it shouldn't.

The issue of mayoral control is much bigger than any one mayor. The real question is what setup makes the most sense for governing a large urban school system. In that light, most arguments against reauthorization just crumble.

In the era before mayoral control, Gotham's public schools were run by a board whose seven members were appointed by six different city officials. No single person was in charge—and so no one was really responsible.

Under mayoral control, by contrast, no school reform sees the light of day without at least the mayor's implicit approval. If voters and parents don't like what's going on in city schools, they know whom to blame. If they approve, then they know whom to praise.

Many critics will concede that the concept of mayoral control is appealing but still oppose it because they dislike the job that Bloomberg has done. But this position is tangential to the larger issue.

As empirical research becomes available over the next few years, we'll come to know more about whether Bloomberg's changes—substantially higher funding, an end to social promotion, grades for schools' performance—have brought real and lasting educational improvements. But we know now who is responsible for those changes, indeed for the direction of public education in New York. And we know whom to hold accountable.

And Bloomberg, third term or not, will leave City Hall someday not so far off—and a future mayor (with help from his own schools chancellor) will decide whether to rescind those, build on them or do nothing. That mayor, too, will be held responsible for the results.

The question before us now is whether future mayors will have the power to govern schools when the time comes.

And it's difficult to think of a better place to have the buck stop than in the office of the mayor—any mayor.

Still others argue that the mayor shouldn't have control over so much information pertaining to the schools. They charge that the Bloomberg team manipulates data via a sophisticated marketing operation and worry that future mayors could do so as well. They say that we shouldn't reauthorize the law unless it includes the creation of an outside organization, similar to the federal General Accounting Office, that would be the official arbiter of "truth."

An outside auditor might not be a bad thing, but it's hardly required. Exactly what data isn't available now?

Yes, the administration has trumpeted somewhat misleading numbers, such as gains in the percentage of students meeting particular benchmarks. But press releases from the Department of Education are hardly our only source of information.

The state and city report mean test scores overall, by subgroup and by school, and provide this information to parents, researchers and journalists on the Web or by request. Researchers at a variety of think tanks and universities have independently gained access to student-level data and are using it to study the city's schools.

In fact, enough such data are available to fuel a sophisticated dissenting voice—one that uses the already available data to argue that the city's educational gains are an illusion.

Yet most people believe that the reforms are working—that is, they are unconvinced by the dissenters' arguments. The dissenters point to this fact as proof of a coverup—a claim that defines arrogance.

That said, naysayers are welcome to argue that this administration is unresponsive and that the recent reforms have been unproductive. The benefit of mayoral control is that such people know exactly where to address their displeasure. Their issue is with the mayor, not with mayoral control.

Failing to reauthorize mayoral control wouldn't increase the probability of good education policy—it would only decrease our ability to know who is responsible.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/seven/10272008/postopinion/opedcolumnists/beyond_bloomberg_135427.htm

 

 
 
 

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