The Rochester City School system is a mess and has made precious little progress over the past several years. It’s time to let Mayor Duffy step into a phone booth, put on a cape and get to work, right?
Not so fast.
There are two reasons why Rochester city schools should not be controlled by City Hall- 1) it’s wrong and 2) it doesn’t work.
This summer at a School Board candidate forum sponsored by Metro Justice, we asked candidates if they supported caps on classroom sizes and where they stood on cultural competency and racial justice. We then shared the candidates’ responses with voters. That’s democracy- residents organize to hold elected officials accountable on the issues. The Superintendent reports to the elected School Board members. The School Board also controls the budget.
But what happens when we don’t like the results? If the solution to dysfunctional legislative bodies is to throw up our hands in dismay and turn over the reins of power to one person then why bother with legislatures at all? Frustrated with the how health care reform got handled by Congress? Let’s just get rid of Congress and let President Obama take care of business. But what happens if the next president is Sarah Palin? Would you want David Paterson to call all the shots in Albany? Democracy might be a lousy system but the alternative is worse.
And red flags should go up when the movement to take power away from voters keeps building momentum when those voters are African American and Latino. Could you imagine the mayor of Pittsford telling residents he could do a better job in appointing the School Board?
OK, our Rochester city schools are in crises. Maybe we might be willing to hand over our voting rights for the sake of our children. Does mayoral control actually work? How has mayoral control worked in NYC?
Under Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein teachers were fired (increasing classroom size), arts programs were slashed, yet the central administration staff was increased (the public relations department was quadrupled). The NYC comptroller called the city school district accounting a “shell game.”
Bloomberg has also been widely criticized for cooking the books on student performance. Here’s former Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch calling out Bloomberg’s claims of improvement in a NY Times Op Ed, “On the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress — widely acknowledged as the gold standard of the testing industry — New York City showed almost no academic improvement between 2003, when the mayor’s reforms were introduced, and 2007.”
In her opinion piece Ravitch also exposes Bloomberg’s claims about increasing graduation rates, “(T)he city’s graduation rates have been pumped up with a variety of dubious means, like ‘credit recovery,’ in which students who fail a course can get full credit if they agree to take a three-day makeup program or turn in an independent project. In addition, the city counts as graduates the students who dropped out and obtained a graduate-equivalency degree. To further raise the graduation rate, the city does not include as dropouts any of the students who were ‘discharged’ during their high-school years.”
Mayor Bloomberg also wrapped mayoral control in the language of civil rights, telling parents, “We are enacting these reforms so we can make sure whatever your skin color, wherever you live, your kid will get the education he needs and deserves.” But, according to Columbia University sociologists Jennifer Jennings and Aaron Pallas, “[R]acial achievement gaps in New York City have remained stubbornly persistent between 2003 and 2008… in many cases, growing.”
How has mayoral control worked in the rest of the country?
There are different degrees of mayoral control (the Mayor of Cleveland can pick the school board but has to check with the board about firing the Superintendent, and then only after 30 months. The Mayors of NYC and Chicago have much more control.). Looking at all cities with various forms of mayoral control there are some indications that average NAEP scores have gone up a bit but the when you break out the results by race and ethnicity the results are alarming.
In The Bracey Report, Gerald Bracey of the University of Colorado, analyzes the data on race and ethnicity, “In 2003, Chicago eighth-grade math scores [NAEP] for white students showed 25% of them at or above the proficient level, a percentage that rose only to 35% in 2007. The vaunted improvements in test scores do not appear for Chicago’s black and Latino students. In 2003, only 4% of black eighth-graders were proficient or better in math; that figure rose to only 6% in 2007. Of the remaining nine cities in the NAEP trials, only Cleveland and the District of Columbia, both under mayoral control, showed less growth for black eighth-graders. For Latino eighth graders in Chicago, the 8% proficient or better in math in 2003 rose to 12% in 2007. Among the other nine cities studied, only Charlotte and New York showed less growth. Moreover, gaps in achievement between black and white students and between Latino and white students were large (25% of white eighth-graders scored at or above proficient, with 4% of black and 8% of Latino eighth-graders at those levels), and they grew between 2003 and 2007 for grades 4 and 8.”
Bracey also points out that, “Teacher stability has decreased, especially in low-income schools and predominantly black schools. Black, white and Latino teachers have all been moving out of those schools at increasing rates.”
Many people are pointing to a book entitled, The Education Mayor: Improving America’s Schools, as proof that mayoral control is a panacea. But Kenneth Wong and his co-authors clearly show that under mayoral control the achievement gap between the races has grown.
Mayor Duffy says he wants to ask the NY State Legislature to allow a change in RCSD governance. He has not been specific about how much control he would like to exert over the district but he has been clear about his motives.
Mayor Duffy has publicly lobbied against the “maintenance of effort” rule for large urban school districts like Rochester. Under the maintenance of effort rule, city taxes that are earmarked for schools can’t be diverted to be used by the city. The City School budget dwarfs the Rochester municipal budget. This clearly has bothered the Mayor and some City Council members.
Moreover, in explaining his support for a mayoral control system the mayor has said that it costs “$23,000” per pupil to teach a Rochester City School student. This would be a cause for concern because that figure is way above the statewide average and way out of line with the Syracuse and Buffalo expenditures.
But the figure is bogus. According to the reporting every district in the state is required to make to the state, RCSD is spending about $16,500 per pupil. That’s pretty much in the middle of the pack. And School Board members have tried to explain this to the folks in City Hall, showing how the City Hall folks are using the wrong denominator (funds are passed through the district, eg. to charter schools).
Is Duffy in the dark about RCSD costs, or is he playing politics with the numbers? Neither answer bodes well for our children.
Public schools in cities with high concentrations of poverty are having a hard time all over NY and the United States. Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo are pretty much in the same boat. There is no magic bullet. Metro Justice/AQE and other parents and community members are approaching the challenge holistically, looking at a variety of issues. There are many things that can be done and many people are working hard to make it happen. But mayoral control is a move in the wrong direction. We won’t improve the school system by throwing up our hands in despair and handing the district over to the Mayor. We’re the people we’ve been looking for. The community needs to get more involved, not less involved.
And about the claim that Mussolini made the trains run on time- according to Snopes.com it is false.No tag for this post.