Monday, January 11, 2010

Leave it to the Times-Picayune to go where nobody here is going in this mayoral election because right now, it hasn't much relevance...but it might in the future.

Check the reasons why we might go for mayoral control of the schools in this study done nine years ago. This idea isn't new. And the growing realization that the health of a sustainable community goes hand in hand with school quality is what fuels the decision:
In the past, mayors avoided the political tangle of education, but this has become more difficult in the current climate that focuses on the role of education in a city's overall health....mayors can no longer avoid school related issues politically, because of the increasing view among business leaders and others that schools are a critical piece of urban economic development. In addition to an interest by mayors in using education as a part of a broader urban improvement plan, there are financial incentives for mayors to become more involved with education..."Increasingly tight city budgets also place pressure on mayors to keep taxes down. Schools consume a large portion of that tax dollar, and in some cities the mayor has little direct control over decisions made by urban school officials." Thus there are both ideological and budgetary reasons for mayors to seek greater control over their city's system of public education.
One big reason why we can't do it right now: we can barely take care of basic city services here, forget the schools.

And all is not perfect on the mayoral takeover front, either:
First, although mayors have won some important initial victories after assuming control of school districts, the record suggests that the long-term benefits of takeovers are more elusive, especially when it comes to improving student achievement. In Boston, for instance, Mayor Thomas M. Menino scored a major coup when he tapped Thomas W. Payzant, a highly regarded former U.S. assistant secretary of education, to lead the city’s school system in 1995. Payzant ushered in a much-needed era of stability to the Boston schools, which at the time of his appointment were still dealing with the aftermath of painful experiences with school desegregation in the 1970s. With Menino’s strong support, the superintendent promoted several valuable reforms, such as the establishment of in-district charter schools called "pilot schools," a collaborative coaching program to augment teacher skills, and initiatives to expand afterschool programs and technology in the schools.

Yet after a decade of mayoral control under Menino and Payzant, the Boston Public Schools still have significant room for improvement. In 2005, the percentage of Boston students scoring in the "needs improvement" and "warning/failing" categories of the state’s standardized testing program, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, was roughly twice as high as the statewide rate across all grades and subjects (Massachusetts Department of Education, 2006). And while Boston fares better than other urban districts on standardized assessments, it still faces a yawning achievement gap. For instance, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the gap in math scores between White and Black eighth graders in Boston grew between 2003 and 2005, and the gap between Whites and Black and Hispanic fourth graders in reading also grew (Jan, 2005).

...Beyond test scores, we find other good reasons to view mayoral takeovers of school districts with concern. Mayors in takeover cities — and now Villaraigosa — often suggest that mayoral control of the schools will increase democracy by allowing citizens to hold the chief elected official of the city directly accountable for the school system’s results, rather than a disparate collection of low-profile school board members. However, there is one fundamental flaw in this argument: Most citizens do not base their votes for mayor solely on the performance of the school system. While it is true that school board elections typically have low voter-turnout rates and are often influenced by powerful organized interests like business coalitions and teachers unions, school boards retain one big advantage: They are the only mechanism that provides a direct point of entry for citizens — especially parents — to express their concerns about education to the very officials who make education policy.

...although a school district takeover may produce a policy environment that is conducive to dramatic reform, there is a difference between quick reform and meaningful reform. Mayoral takeovers of school districts may be a way to get things done — but the challenge is to figure out the right things to do.
Strangely enough, Rob Couhig may be right for the time being...
...the mayor should focus on the more pressing issues of crime and blight.

"We have one of the most beautiful schools in the country being built in Gentilly, but we don't have people habitating the area who can live there safely and affordably," he said. For the mayor to preoccupy himself with school governance, he said, amounts to "talking about angels on the head of a pin."
Even if the recession is driving more kids out of the pricey private schools. (thanks, Clay)

Oh, and my favorite quote from a nifty article touting the charters in this town in my nemesis in print, New Orleans magazine:
Critics insist that charters skim the best public school students from the student population, and that’s why their scores are higher. They say that students who get into charters through lotteries have more motivated parents. The Stanford study debunks this theory because it compares lottery winners to lottery losers. In other words, each group of parents is equally motivated.
Ummm, uh....huh. Consider the Stanford study itself. Maybe I'm still addled from my cold, but I can't see where it discusses parental involvement anyplace, much less degrees of involvement.

All I can do is refer back to G on this one:
Why do we here so admire the extraordinary, over-the-top efforts of parents to get a decent education for their kids? Why does this irritate so few? Or seemingly so? Does anyone realize, or believe, that education is not a privilege, a game you have to be lucky enough to win? That parents should not have to fight or bargain with any number of devils just for a school? Why is this so radical in LA?
Of course parents will be motivated to get their children into a good school. As parents, we all want our kids to have better opportunities than we did, not worse ones. Don't tell any parent that he/she is still motivated even if his/her child didn't hit the charter school sweepstakes' jackpot - that's just stating the obvious. The idea is how to make this accessible for everybody without driving us all up the wall and, eventually, out of the city for no want of trying and failing to get into a good charter and for a serious need for money to pour into a private school that is the only other possible option for a good elementary and secondary education in these parts - an option which, by the way, New Orleans magazine is only too happy to plug after it has listed the traditional public schools and the charters.

Update, 2:19 PM: Oh, yes, the Cowen Institute is more than willing to go there as well in telling the mayoral candidates what they can do for the schools - and it amounts to helping take care of the truancy, coordinating the city's master plan with the SFMPOP, and boosting the afterschool programs. It's really all that can be done by mayoral candidates anyhow.


Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

With Vallas and Pastorek in charge of the schools, there is only one way to trade down: Ray Nagin in charge of the schools.

Leigh C. said...

Just what we need, right? Then the schools would be closed on Fridays as well as City Hall and the liberries...and that's the tip of the iceberg that would most likely be major mayoral mismanagement.

coldspaghetti said...

Maybe my standards are suffering, but I'm simply happy that the TP was able to figure out who was still in the race. Heck, I can't keep track...