May 21, 2009

Kibitzing mayoral control

I hope that my friends in New York will forgive this intrusion, but after Randi Weingarten's op-ed this morning, which I suspect will break the legislative logjam on mayoral control in NYC, I have a few perspectives for denizens of New York or any other entity considering mayoral control:

  • Any governance system requires an independent body that has access to information and can investigate issues in a school system. If mayoral control means one-person rule with no checks, that's a recipe for arrogance (which is what thousands have complained about in NYC). The odd-duck status of the NYC Department of Education should end in the same way that Dick Cheney's claim to be a fourth branch of government: I don't care if an entity is officially a city department, state agency, or a Little Furry Creature from Alpha Centauri, someone's got to be able to audit the books and watch what's going on. More importantly on the policy side, the cowboy PR flacks in the NYCDOE have to have someone watching over their shoulder with authority to request ANY data. See my arguments about the need for regional/local independent investigatory bodies.
  • There is a broad middle ground between the chaos of the pre-2002 system and a Putin-like plebiscite dictatorship. I've picked up scents of the latter in the pro-mayoral-control arguments, and that's disturbing. But neither is necessary. One potential solution is the idea of fixed terms for mayoral appointees (and I suspect that'll happen in NYC). Another way to put governance in the middle ground is to give a broadly elected body a limited number of times per year that it can overturn an executive decision (and possibly structured so that it can veto n decisions in areas of school openings/closings, m decisions on pupil regulations, etc.). That would make the PEP or any school board the public conscience of the system without giving a board enough authority either to create havoc or to create incentives for political corruption.

As most education historians would point out, restructuring governance is the relatively easy reform, and there is no guarantee that different governance translates into better schooling. But to the extent that we're going to focus on governance, it's probably wise to think about concrete issues instead of championing a supposed panacea model.

[minor editing 10 pm 5/21/09]

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Posted in on May 21, 2009 9:20 AM |