THINKING FOR OURSELVES
NO to Mayor control. YES to Community.
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, July 18, 2010
The debate over control of Detroit Public schools is intensifying. Last week three important events happened. First, the elected school board selected community activist Elena Herrada to join them. Ms. Herrada brings vision and passion to the board and a long history of working on behalf of the community. Second, citizens under the name of We the People testified before the Detroit City Council, objecting to the very idea of mayoral control of the schools. Finally, Council President Charles Pugh, who appears to be at least willing to listen to new thinking, indicated to Rochelle Riley that he is not necessarily in favor of mayoral control.
The Mayor’s effort to seize control of public schools is wrongheaded and dangerous. It is part of a larger scheme, backed by corporate interests, to destroy the democratic responsibilities of public education and to make money off the bodies of our children while limiting their minds.
All over the country there are increasing attempts, supported by the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, to seize control of the schools. Duncan recently said to a group of mayors and school superintendents, “At the end of my tenure, if only seven mayors are in control, I think I will have failed.”
In the Spring of 2009 Rethinking Schools said that Duncan “has shown himself to be the central messenger, manager and staunch defender of corporate involvement in, and privatization of, public schools, closing schools in low-income neighborhoods of color with little community input, limiting local democratic control, undermining the teachers union and promoting competitive merit pay for teachers.” Having the mayor in control makes these efforts much easier.
While the mainstream press never tires of telling us how bold and exciting mayoral control of schools can be, no credible data exists to support the conclusion that it leads to better education for our children. Here are some examples of what research does tell us.
Professor David Hursh of the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education has studied mayoral control in Chicago and New York. His latest book is High Stakes Testing and the Decline of Teaching and Learning: the Real Crisis in Education. Hursh concludes, “The results that they tout, in terms of rising test scores and other gains, in fact have not really been achieved. They’re really based on test scores that are not reliable, that are not valid. Test scores have gone up in all the school districts in New York State because, basically, the tests have been made easier. We’ve really seen in Chicago and New York City a decline in public input, a decline in accountability, and a lack of debate over what schools should be doing.”
Educational psychologist Gerald Bracey published a careful study of the claims for Mayoral control through the Education in the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Bolder. Pointing to Chicago and N.Y. as the two most consistent examples of Mayoral control, Bracey asks, “Is there evidence that over these seven-year periods (when Duncan was CEO in Chicago) the schools have improved?” His answer is a clear NO.
He concludes, “A close look at the two most visible exemplars of mayoral control, Chicago and New York, yields results that counter the image created by those in control. ‘Reforms’ that are supposed to help children do better are primarily used to make the adults who control the schools look good. Performances on tests that are subject to manipulation show improvement. Performances on tests that are free of manipulation show no improvement and no closing of ethnic achievement gaps. In reading the literature about the mayoral systems, one repeatedly encounters words like bully, authoritarian, autocratic, arbitrary, intrusive, despotic, dictatorial, disenfranchisement, rubber stamp, exclusion (of parents), even ‘Brezhnev-era Soviet Union.’”
We need to stop efforts to shift control of our schools into the hands of a mayor who needs to make himself look good. It is time to start building on the visionary, community- based practices that promise the kind of education we need to create citizens for the 21st century.