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Debate over turning Detroit schools over to mayoral control

The big push is on for Detroit City Council to put on the ballot a proposal to have mayoral control of schools. Below is an article from Detroit Free Press, and a comment I submitted to it. Oh, as I went to post, seems the Council won't decide today - here is link to an article with some good comments from community people who are up against deep pockets that want to turn the schools over the Mayor Bing: http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100727/NEWS01/100727016/1319/Council-decides-against-taking-up-DPS-issue&template=fullarticle


Duncan: Let Voters Decide Mayor's Role With Detroit Schools

By Chastity Pratt Dawsey, /Detroit Free Press/ (MCT)

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last year the Detroit Public Schools were ground zero for public education and the district's crises kept him up at night, but today he said the system faces a "tremendous" opportunity.

In an interview with the /Detroit Free Press/, Duncan said he is hopeful partly due to the public discussion about giving the mayor authority over the DPS. He is encouraging Detroit and other big cities to consider this path, saying that, with broad support, it can work.

Tuesday's Detroit City Council meeting could be the third and final chance for a vote on whether to place a non-binding question on the November ballot asking Detroiters whether the mayor should have authority over DPS. If the issue gets on the ballot and voters approve, the state Legislature would then have to pass a law to hash out the details.

It's "common sense" to let voters decide, Duncan said. "What's the downside to letting people's voices be heard?" he asked. "For children to reach their full potential and ultimately for the city reach its full potential, you need to rally the entire city behind these efforts."

Duncan: Stability, Vision Needed

DPS faces some of the nation's most dire academic and fiscal woes, making it essential for the entire community to unite and rally behind a mayor to take charge of the schools, Duncan said today.

Duncan, who has been traversing the country advocating for mayoral oversight in the nation's largest school districts, said the work to be done to improve DPS is "so difficult and Detroit has to go so far, the system can't do it by itself."

Eliminating the school board could be the way to attract new, long-term leader and plan to DPS.

"You need stability and you need a willingness to make tough decisions and you need a vision of what's possible," he said.

Duncan's remarks come as a group called Change for Better Schools is pressing the city council to approve a November ballot measure to ask Detroit voters if they want the mayor to run the schools, removing the elected school board.

The group has the support of the mayor and governor and is raising millions to market the issue to Detroiters.

The council did not vote on the issue during two crowded, heated meetings over the past two weeks.

Supporters suggest replacing the school board would help recruit big name, qualified superintendent candidates who would have political protection needed to stay in the job and work on a consistent academic plan for several years.

The school board's last superintendent search in 2006 did attract big name candidates.

DPS has had seven leaders since 1999, including the emergency financial manager put in place by the governor and two leaders put in place by mayor-appointed school board members.

The last attempt at mayoral oversight, 1999-2005, didn't work, said Anthony Adams, president of the school board.

"The rhetoric around mayoral control is fake because it doesn't address what we need it to address---there's been no discussion on how this is going to improve education."

Duncan was chief executive officer from 2001-08 of Chicago Public Schools where the mayor has appointed the CEO and the school board since 1995. Chicago's has been both celebrated for up ticks in graduation rates and test scores, and vilified for not solving problems of violence in schools and questionable spending.

Some other large urban school districts under mayor authority, such as New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. the schools have seen some improvements, but nationwide the results are mixed, said Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Henig, an editor of "Mayors in the Middle: Politics, Race and Mayoral Control of Urban Schools."

"I don't think we can say it's been associated with success, but in some cases it's been associated with action."

Central questions for cities like Detroit that are considering a governance change, is whether "mayoral control" is more likely to lead to more vision and sustained support or divisiveness, Henig said.

Duncan acknowledged mayoral authority is not the "magic bullet" to kill the problems facing urban districts. However, he added, it can be used to rally people around improving schools.

"You need all hands on deck you need every body working and pushing and rowing in the same direction."

"When you look at the facts---2% of Detroit Public high school students have college-ready math skills that's just unacceptable. How is that possible," Duncan said. "The status quo is clearly not going to get the city where we need it to go."

Copyright (c) 2010, Detroit Free Press <http://www.freep.com>. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

from Monty:

The text of the article if far too kind to Duncan in Chicago. Several independent studies, including the Consortium for Chicago School Research (partly funded by Chicago) and the Chicago Tribune (a Duncan-Daley backer), found that Duncan's centralized 'reform' plans largely did not work, at least in boosting test scores. Tony Bryk, then of the Chicago Consortium and U Chicago, did an analysis of test score gains in the pre-Duncan but still mayoral control period (under Paul Vallas, now of New Orleans), and found that the gains were illusory, due to assorted tricks, score inflation, etc. There had been real gains in the previous period in which school control was greatly decentralized and local school councils, with parent majority boards, hired principals and oversaw the schools. Rather than work to improve inadequate LSCs, Daley persuaded the legislature to allow him to appoint the school board and for the school board to have re-centralized authority. That whole period, on which Duncan largely rests his case, has been a mess. Meanwhile, the touted grandest accomplishments of the Bloomberg-Klein regime in New York, rising test scores, have been roundly exposed as mostly score inflation, in this case due to the state lowering the cutoff scores and acting like it did not.

Test scores are a bad measure of school quality and improvement. But when people whose primary goal is to boost the scores cannot honestly do that, their whole premise -- both mayoral control and turning schools into test-prep programs, collapses. However, they manage to continue to get away with the pretense, with billions of dollars in federal money - and a group (no doubt largely corporate, high-tech richies and the like) raising "millions" to "persuade" the voters of Detroit to drink the koolaid.
Monty Neill, Ed.D.; Interim Executive Director, FairTest; 15 Court Sq., Ste. 820; Boston, MA 02108; 857-350-8207 x 101; fax 857-350-8209; monty@fairtest.org; http://www.fairtest.org; Donate to FairTest: https://secure.entango.com/donate/MnrXjT8MQqk