Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Braking Mayoral Control

The state senate has issued a report on school governance-and despite the efforts of the NY Post to mock its message-the document clearly identifies the inherent defects of the current mayoral regime: "The draft set of recommendations even calls for resurrecting an "independent" Board of Education that would evaluate the schools chancellor and have more "explicit authority" over budget and policy issues than under the mayoral-dominated system. The report stresses the need to create a "countervailing body as a check on the chancellor."

Which sounds a lot like the critique that we have been outlining over the past year; and it is precisely the message that uber-school expert Diane Ravitch laid out earlier this month in the NY Times: "Not every school problem can be solved by changes in governance. But to establish accountability, transparency and the legitimacy that comes with public participation, the Legislature should act promptly to restore public oversight of public education. As we all learned in civics class, checks and balances are vital to democracy."

A view that was reinforced in Monday's NY Daily News by Andrew Wolf: "Mayoral control of the schools can be a good, bad or indifferent enterprise. It could be a fraud like Enron. But the schools belong not to one official, but to the public. The Legislature must reform the law and put the public back into the public schools, so that any control at the top is subject to the oversight of the people. That's just good business."

All of which leads the Bloomberg/Klein team to regurgitate the stale and tiresome straw man arguments. As the Post points out: "Mayor Bloomberg's office slammed the report as a return to a failed past. "This report, which we have been told is a draft, explicitly advocates a return to an unaccountable central policy-making board. That model failed our kids for decades, and we would not support returning to it," said Bloomberg spokeswoman Dawn Walker."

Which begs the question of just how much of an educational breakthrough the current arrangement really is-tendentious rhetoric aside. Senator Martin Dilan, the lead on the report, gets the last word: ""In striving to achieve a system with more accountability, the law that established mayoral control of school governance has created a system in which the mayor and chancellor have unilateral decision-making authority and are answerable to no one," state Sen. Martin Malavé Dilan, co-chair of the Senate Democratic School Governance Task Force, wrote in his draft report to Smith."