mm110: Grading Mayoral Control – City Journal

MUDGE’S Musings

It’s a Michael Bloomberg post!

Tying together two of MUDGE’s persistent interests, education (I’ve got a kid in the biz, donchaknow) and the national aspirations of Michael Bloomberg, is this report from a new source for this observer, City Journal.


Lauded in the press, Bloomberg’s education reforms are proving more spin than substance. Parents are losing patience.

Sol Stern
Summer 2007

Mayoral control, the hot new trend in urban school reform, began in Boston and Chicago in the 1990s. Now it’s the New York City school system, under the authority of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, that’s become the beacon for education-mayor wannabes like Adrian Fenty of Washington, D.C., and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles. Influential philanthropic foundations, such as the Los Angeles–based Broad Foundation (headed by Bloomberg friend and fellow billionaire Eli Broad) and the Gates Foundation, are investing in Bloomberg as the model big-city mayor who uses his new executive powers over the schools to advance a daring reform agenda. Meanwhile, the national media’s positive coverage of mayoral control in Gotham is adding to the luster of a possible Bloomberg presidential run.

For New Yorkers, though, the original appeal of mayoral control was entirely parochial. The old Board of Education—with seven members, appointed by six elected city officials—offered a case study of the paralysis that sets in when fragmented political authority tries to direct a dysfunctional bureaucracy. New Yorkers arrived at a consensus that there was not much hope of lifting student achievement substantially under such a regime. The newly elected Bloomberg made an offer that they couldn’t refuse: Give me the authority to improve the schools, and then hold me accountable for the results.

So on June 12, 2002, Bloomberg appeared at the mayoral-control bill-signing ceremony alongside Governor George Pataki. The bill would “give the school system the one thing it fundamentally needs: accountability,” said Bloomberg. The new governance system won enthusiastic support across the political spectrum, from conservative think tanks to the New York Times and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), whose members got a huge pay raise.

Just five years later, that consensus has fractured. Some state legislators representing the city, including influential Assembly education-committee chair Catherine Nolan, promise a tough review process when reauthorization of mayoral control comes up in 2008. There’s also a significant demographic divide on the benefits of the reform. Business leaders, editorial boards, and many education experts remain enthusiastic. Constituents at the grass roots, however, feel increasingly frustrated. More than two dozen parent groups and district education councils have passed resolutions opposing Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s latest school reorganization plans. According to the Quinnipiac poll of city residents, Klein’s favorability rating has fallen to just 37 percent, and a majority of New Yorkers want something like an independent board of education or a commission with oversight powers.

Gigantic urban school systems present a ferocious challenge. Chicago, Los Angeles (whose new supe is well known to Older Son, who worked directly for him in their prior lives), and NYC all face entrenched bureaucrats, intractable unions, and what may be the most dangerous of all, a generation of immigrant parents who, for the first time, don’t consider education their children’s highest priority.

That said, it always boils down to test scores, doesn’t it?

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

City Journal

And of course, basing evaluations of school success on test scores all too often results only in the success of those who learn how to game the system, at the classroom, school, and district levels, leaving our children no better off.

Not trying to make excuses for Bloomberg, I’ve seen similar problems with mayoral control in Chicago, where one trusted Daley technocrat after another has foundered on the shoals itemized above. And watch out, Adm. Brewer of L.A., the aggressive new mayor is grasping after your turf, too.

No child left behind — is there an emptier, sadder symbol of the fruitlessness of the past 6½ years of George III’s reign? But, the good news, we can still afford to borrow from the Chinese the $10billion per month it’s taking to lose in Iraq!

Urban schools didn’t go bad in one generation — I’m afraid it’s going to take at least one if not more to fix them, if we have the will to do so.

And, Michael Bloomberg, is your vaunted education success another Potemkin Village? Independent minded Americans want to know!

It’s it for now. Thanks,



3 Responses to mm110: Grading Mayoral Control – City Journal

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