Most researchers agree on one negative consequence — when mayors take charge of public schools, the role of parents and the community, especially among minority groups, can be marginalized and can further compromise democratic control of schools (Harvard, 2006; Moscovitch et al., 2010; Hess, 2003, 2011).
The answer to raising student achievement in urban districts won’t be found through less democracy. Rather, cities and their citizens should put their energy into making sure that school governance by school boards works, that it is transparent, responsive to the community and their diverse needs, and accountable for results.
The Mayor is having an Education Summit, styled after the former Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan’s extravaganzas, to figure out all that ails our public schools. Is this the preface to appointing board members as he wanted to do while a Washington State Senator or the first pass at advancing the idea of mayoral control as his donors would like to see? Will there be a focus on schools and programs that work in spite of a serious lack of funding? Maybe. Or will the focus be on test scores and how there is such an “achievement/opportunity gap” that drastic measures must be taken? Will there be talk about “Quality Schools”, whatever that means, and those other buzzwords used by corporate reformers ad nauseam like “Achievement Gap”, “Innovation”, “Quality” and “Excellence”?
Sure, there will be “listening tours” and “community involvement” but from past experience, I would say it is simply window dressing as was Arne Duncan’s “Listening Session”, or our former Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson’s “listening” engagements or the “Conversations” that we had with NCTQ when they came to town talking about merit pay based on test scores and referring to teachers as “human capitol” or the Universal pre-K farce when we were to all talk about what curriculum the schools should have even though that had been pre-determined. Are you starting to see a pattern here? They “listen” but they don’t hear us as a community because they have established an agenda, a pre-determined course, but want the rest of us to feel that we are a part of the decision making process.
According to a recent article by Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times, much of the strategy will be discussed behind closed doors. That’s right folks, the fate of our public schools will be determined in secret.
In Westneat’s article
At the first meeting, a facilitator presented some rules, or “norms,” for the group. Here’s the first one:
“Norm 1: Meetings will be closed to the public and press. Mayor wants a robust conversation where people can speak freely and question one another.”
Hmmm, not very democratic. So much for transparency.
Looking at the list of attendees in this secret meeting, the Seattle NAACP seems to be conspicuously missing and yet the Urban League will participate.
What’s up with that?
Will there be talk behind these closed doors about a lack of librarians, nurses, any form of social support for our students, splitting grades and sharing classrooms to accommodate the demand for smaller class sizes, the sharing of principals between schools to cut cost as well as janitors? Will there be discussion on somehow easing up on the children by allowing them enough time to eat their lunch and play outside an adequate amount of time so they are ready to focus in class rather than spending more time on test prep? Will there be discussion about how to pay for all those un or underfunded mandates like the Common Core Standards and computer based testing such as the SBAC and the MAP tests?
“The best results have come in cities where the mayor is in charge of the school system. So you have one executive, and the school board isn’t as powerful.”
One of my questions to the Mayor is, “If you are so concerned about public schools in Seattle, where were you during the 2016 Washington State legislative session when the legislators were to come up with a way to adequately fund our schools per McCleary? Did you speak on the behalf of the students in Seattle in open testimony? Did you write an editorial on the tremendous gap between the needs of our public school system and the budget?”
My second question is “Why closed door sessions?” Can we at least, as Sanders keeps asking Hillary, see the transcript?
And what do Ron Simms or Brad Tilden, President and CEO of Alaska Airlines, have to do with any of this? I don’t think either are qualified to negotiate these waters. Education, even though many think otherwise, is a specialized field and there is much to understand before wading in particularly these days with politics and money swirling around us and no understanding of the ramifications of either on our children.
Many are wary of someone who appears to be a Wannabe Rahm. When Mayor Murray was a Senator in our state congress, he was the prime sponsor of a bill in 2007 providing the option of a fully appointed school board. More recently, Representative Eric Pettigrew, who faithfully carries water for the corporate crowd, floated a bill proposing that two school board directors be appointed by the mayor wherever there is a population of 400,000 or more in a city in Washington State.
Hmmm, I wonder what (one) city that might be?
Thing is, it doesn’t work, at least not for the children.
In Chicago, where they have closed most of the public schools and converted them into charter schools , the racial divide has grown worse since mayoral control began. Mayor Rahm Emanuel added insult to injury three years ago by selecting investment banker Deborah Quazzo, a charter-school advocate and advisor to education companies to replace wealthy businesswoman Penny Pritzker. See Rahm’s Pick For Chicago’s School Board Is Sure To Make Some People Mad.
It has gotten so bad in Chicago that education advocates, parents, educators and concerned citizens are working to pass a bill in their state to bring back a democratically elected school board.
In Los Angeles, where Eli Broad was pulling the strings of two consecutive mayors, Broad has stopped pretending to be the man behind the curtain and has come out to say he wants to see at least 50% of the public schools converted into charter schools.
My final question to Mayor Murray is “Why did you bring Robert Feldstein on board?” Feldstein was the chief of staff for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Office of Policy and Strategic Planning. Mayor Murray called it a “real coup”. Mayor Bloomberg also had a tight grip on the public school system in New York City as mayor.
Robert Feldstein is now the director for the newly created Office of Policy and Innovation within the City of Seattle. Mayor Murray said the office will function as an in-house consultant and expects staff members to be able to work on a variety of policy issues. Will one of those policy issues be public schools?
If you check out Robert Feldstein’s LinkedIn page, you will find that his two most recent jobs, before working for Mayor Bloomberg, were working as a teacher in two charter schools. Was the Office of Policy and Innovation established so that Feldstein could eventually become Seattle’s Charter Czar?
In the New York Post the following article was published in August of 2009 and titled:
America’s richest man chipped in to help preserve mayoral control of New York City schools.
Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates — a pal of fellow billionaire Mayor Bloomberg — has secretly bankrolled Learn-NY, the group that joined the campaign led by The Post to extend mayoral control.
Gates funneled about $4 million to the pro-mayoral-control forces during the fierce, dragged-out legislative debate, The Post has learned. A spokesman for Gates confirmed the donation and the approximate size.
The donation helped pay for Learn-NY’s extensive public-relations, media and lobbying efforts in Albany and the city. The effort include advertisements, parent organizing and canvassing — including a five-borough bus tour and trips to the state capital.
Gates gave the money from his personal pocket — not from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has pumped $150 million into the city to develop small schools.
He made it clear that he liked having city CEOs in charge of education decision-making and accountable for results.
“You want to allow for experimentation. The cities where our foundation has put the most money is where there is a single person responsible. In New York, Chicago and Washington, DC, the mayor has the responsibility for the school system,” Gates said during a CNN appearance.
In Seattle, with mayoral control of the school board, the mayor could make the school board a charter authorizer. The Seattle School Board voted against being a charter school authorizer last year. Mayor Murray could reverse the decision on discontinuing the districts contract with Teach for America, place more private Universal Pre-K enterprises into already overcrowded school buildings and turn school buildings over to charter schools.
The Mayor and his staff have enough on their plates and should not take on public schools in Seattle. The city’s oversight of the police department and the transit system has not been stellar. The high homeless rate of families and teens in Seattle has not been adequately addressed. There is also the crumbling infrastructure of our streets and sidewalks, the questionable way of paying for our public schools with levy money along with other issues that the Mayor needs to deal with before even considering taking on public schools and taking it out of the hands of parents and educators. We have seen what has happened around the country and it has always met with disastrous results.
It was reported yesterday in the Stranger that the City Council voted to add $500,000 to their operating budget to hire more staff because the Councilmembers feel overburdened due, in Councilmember’s Bruce Harrell’s words, to the city being divided into districts with a council member representing each district is adding to their workload.
Per the Stranger:
“I think voters voted for the district setup because they want their representatives in the field, in the community,” Council President Bruce Harrell, who represents south Seattle and the International District, told me this morning. “The expectation is much higher now… The workload has increased.”
The increase seems counterintuitive, as others have also pointed out. Seven of the nine council members are now representing fewer people and smaller swaths of the city, yet asking for more staff.
If the City Council can’t manage now, how is the Mayor and his crew supposed to have the bandwidth to manage running an entire school system?
To contact Mayor Murray:
Mayoral Control Ain’t Done Squat For NYC, http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2013/03/mayoral-control-aint-done-squat-for-nyc.html
Diane Ravitch, The Myth of Mayoral Control of Schools http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diane-ravitch/the-myth-of-mayoral-contr_b_191072.html
Diane Ravitch: Mayoral control means zero accountability, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/education-secretary-duncan/ravitch-mayoral-control-means.html
Market-oriented education reforms’ rhetoric trumps reality: The impacts of test-based teacher evaluations, school closures, and increased charter school access on student outcomes in Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C.
We’re closer than ever to an elected school board in Chicago, http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20160303/BLOGS02/160309916/were-closer-than-ever-to-an-elected-school-board-in-chicago
Resolution to Oppose Appointed School Boards Respectfully presented to the 34th Legislative District http://www.34dems.org/sites/34dems/files/Resolution-Oppose-Appointed-School-Boards-02-10-15.pdf
How to Sell Off a City: Welcome to Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago, the privatized metropolis of the future.