Are City Mayors Taking Control Over Public Schools?

UpdatedJune 20, 2016 |
Are City Mayors Taking Control Over Public Schools?
Across the nation, city mayors have increased their role and control over the local public school system. Learn about the controversies and the ramifications of mayoral control.
How well do politics and education mix? From New York to California, residents across the country are concerned that their public schools are being taken over by local mayors. Most controversially, New York City's Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has been confronted by loud opponents, with protesters arguing that Bloomberg is overstepping his boundaries in making major changes in the city's local schools. However, Bloomberg is not the only mayor under the spotlight.
  
The Recent Battle: Do Mayors Have Too Much Control?
 
As the New York Times reveals, there has been an "increasingly acrimonious battle over mayoral control of New York City's public schools."  According to reports, Bloomberg took control from the "fractious Board of Eduction" in 2002 to make needed changes to help improve the public schools' test scores and graduation rates. While Bloomberg's intentions seem to have been noble, opponents argue that one mayor alone cannot have such authority and control over 1,500 schools and 1.1 million students. Although the mayoral oversight plan officially expired on June 30th, Bloomberg still retains the ultimate control over the schools.
 
As a result, 10 democratic senators held a news conference in July, demanding that Bloomberg make concessions before attempting to enforce any additional educational reforms. The conference became increasingly tense as some of the senators labeled Bloomberg as a "dictator," stating that his tactics of intimidation are resulting in negative public school changes and reforms.
 
Furthering the controversy, some senate democrats claim that Bloomberg's control is not only dangerously authoritative, but it is also misleading, as some believe that his reported school improvements are inaccurate. As the New York Times declares, "(The senators) questioned his claims of improvements, which they said were a result of massaging statistics and focusing on teaching to standardized tests."  These senators not only want to establish more checks on the mayor's authority, but would also like to implement public education reform that would increase parental involvement.
 
Mayoral Controversies Continue
 
While Mayor Bloomberg is currently gaining the most noted attention for his influence in New York City's public schools, other mayors have come under fire as well. For example, the former mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick, recently faced criticism for his controversial choices that may have resulted in a declining Detroit Public School system. As Newsweek reports, Kilpatrick, who was sentenced to prison after being forced to resign in 2009, is blamed as one of the leading causes of the city's economic decline. According to trial allegations, the Mayor's irresponsible use of public funds and reckless behaviors helped to deplete the city's limited dollars, hurting the school district and students in the process.
 
Other mayors are willing to face controversy in order to take advantage of President Obama's new federally subsidized education competition, entitled "Race to the Top."  According to the Wall Street Journal, Boston's Mayor Tom Menino hopes to win federal funding in order to correlate a teacher's pay with their students' academic performance, as well as the ability to turn traditional public schools into charter schools.
 

Pros and Cons to Mayoral Control
 
When mayors begin to exert control over the public systems, the action is typically a response to a failing school system.  Some believe that education boards are controlled by special interest groups, trapped in controversy and bureaucracy.  Mayoral control over public schools is thought to bring about greater accountability, as well as a defined authority, according to the Huffington Post.
 
On the other side of the argument, opponents believe that mayor control lends itself to an undemocratic process, one wherein autocratic decisions are made.  Touching back upon Mayor Bloomberg, critics call his mayoral Panel for Educational Policy the "Panel of Educational Puppets," one to which Bloomberg refers, "Mayoral control means mayoral control, thank you very much.  They are my representatives, and they are going to vote for things I believe in."
 
As public schools struggle to meet educational standards amidst budget cuts, it is inevitable that more mayors and politicians will exert their influence over public schools. While the ramifications of mixing politics and education are yet to be seen, the increased attention surrounding public schools will hopefully translate into a better education for students.

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