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Mayoral control moving to mid-sized cities as Race To The Top pushes Chicago plan across the USA

Mayoral control is being pushed by politicians and the U.S. Department of Education in mid-size U.S. cities as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's staff continues to move the Chicago plan, via "Race To The Top" across the USA.

Two years before he was elected President of the United States, Barack Obama was one of two U.S. Senators from Illinois who showed up to support controversial candidate for President of the Cook County Board Todd Stroger (above right, with smile). Before he became an international celebrity, Obama, as an Illinois State Senator and later as U.S. Senator, was a full supporter of the education "reform" policies of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (who also appeared at the rally sponsored by "Labor for Stroger" at which the above photograph was taken on November 6, 2006). In the foreground in the above photograph are: State Rep Monique Davis (red dress), U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, (then) U.S. Senator Barack Obama, and Todd Stroger, candidate for President of the Cook County Board. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Last month, members of Chicago CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators) met with activists in Milwaukee who are trying to head off mayoral control there.

As January moved along, school activists in Rochester, New York, were facing mayoral control in their city, and the local press in Rochester, New York, did a more complete job covering the pitfalls of mayoral control than has yet to be done by the major media in Chicago. For 15 years, Chicago media has been censored and reporters required to promote the "Chicago miracle" in corporate education reform, despite massive evidence to the contrary. Without ongoing media support, Daley's Chicago boasts would quickly collapse. The evidence after 15 years is conclusive.

One of the most comprehensive articles outlining the problems associated with mayoral control appeared on Rochester, New York. Although the article quotes extensively from a recent book praising mayoral control, it also notes the skeptics and critics, including Gerald W. Bracey, whose final "Bracey Report" included a detailed analysis of the failure of mayoral control.

Barcey's annual report was first published in November by Arizona State University and the University of Colorado. It was published in Substance in December 2009 and is now available on line from Substance at

http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=1106§ion=Article

Bracey's annual "Bracey Report" began appearing annually in Substance after the Report, and its companion "Rotten Apples," began being shortened in the pages of the Phi Delta Kappan magazine. The censorship of Bracey and his writing began in the Phi Delta Kappen long before the Kappan began being subsidized by the Broad Foundation (which became clearest last April), so Gerald W. Bracey received circulation elsewhere.

Overlooked during some of the optimism surrounding the 2008 election of Barack Obama as President of the United States was the fact that prior to his election, Obama was a loyal member of the political organization headed by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Obama's uncritical support for Daley's education policies began while Obama was an Illinois State Senator and continued after Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate. Obama's appointment of Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education (the appointment was announced in December 2008 and made following Obama's inauguration in January 2009) was simply a continuation of Obama's longstanding support for Daley's policies and mayoral control. Duncan is now supporting mayoral control as part of the "Race To The Top" policies of the U.S. Department of Education. Race To The Top is simply the Chicago Plan gone national.

The following article appeared in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on January 25, 2010.

January 24, 2010. Should Mayor Duffy control Rochester schools?, Nestor Ramos, Staff writer

If there was a moment when Mayor Robert Duffy decided to seek control of the city's public schools, it came one year ago.

"He would never say this, but I know when this came to him," said Joseph Klein, Klein Steel Service CEO and a charter school trustee who supports Duffy's push for control of the Rochester School District. "It was talking about the kid."

The kid was Tyquan Rivera, then a 14-year-old Rochester delinquent who dropped out of school after sixth grade. Rivera had just shot police office Anthony DiPonzio in the head.

"First he looked so sad," said Klein, who saw Duffy soon after the mayor, a former police chief, learned of the shooting.

"And then he looked furious."

Duffy's desire to dismantle the city school board and install himself at the top reaches beyond the education of the district's 33,000 students. Schools, Duffy says, are critical to the city's future in ways that touch on crime, finance and governance.

The push is in line with reforms in several major cities, and mayoral control of schools has the support of some of the most influential education experts and officials around the country.

But in Rochester, it is opposed by powerful union leaders and comes at a politically delicate moment, just months before an election that will see every elected state seat — including the governor and those in the Senate and the Assembly — up for grabs.

And district parents, even some who are fed up with the status quo, say they're reluctant to blindly throw support behind a proposal they've heard little about. Hundreds of protesters chanting "City Council take a stand, Duffy doesn't have a plan" crowded City Hall Tuesday night to raise their concerns with City Council.

If state lawmakers give Duffy what he wants — and he appears to have the support of Gov. David Paterson — he would follow mayors in some of the country's largest and most embattled school districts: New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., and a handful of others.

Granting mayors control of schools is gaining popularity nationally, and it starts at the top: U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was head of the sprawling Chicago school system under the city's mayor before being chosen by President Barack Obama. He has urged mayors around the country to take control of their city school districts.

"Even during the first year, there ought to be some significant improvement in terms of financial management, transparency, and allocation of resources to the lowest-performing schools," said Kenneth Wong, a political science professor and the chairman of the education department at Brown University, who is an expert in urban education policy.

"After the mayor has taken over, these systems have moved more toward strategic planning," Wong said.

But some say improvements in school districts operating under mayoral control exist only in the eye of the beholder.

"Scores on New York's two state tests suggest there has been improvement, but results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress suggest just the opposite," wrote Gerald Bracey, a researcher at the Education and the Public Interest Center at University of Colorado at Boulder in his annual report on education last year.

Released in November 2009, the final Bracey Report — he died last year — studied mayoral control in New York City and elsewhere. "It does not seem that they are furthering democratic goals," Bracey wrote of mayoral-controlled school systems in New York and Chicago, "nor improving achievement."

The school board

At the heart of the proposal in Rochester is a simple question: Who is best suited to oversee the education of more than 30,000 city children? A board of directly elected officials whose sole purview is the school district? Or the mayor, who can be held singularly accountable for successes and failures? The push comes at a time when the board is widely perceived as dysfunctional, a view substantiated by the results of a state audit of the district that was deeply critical of the board's oversight in recent years.

"If they were extremely functional as a board, no mayor would even propose this," said Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski, who opposes Duffy's effort and, as one of the most influential teachers' union leaders in the country, is best positioned to thwart it.

"I think that (board members) have allowed the mayor one argument for mayoral control. If they don't learn from it now, eventually there will be mayoral control," Urbanski said.

But school board President Malik Evans said he has long believed that "there is a concerted effort by many in the community to put people on the school board for no other reason than to cause disruption. They use that as a way to get rid of the board."

For Duffy's proposal to become reality, state lawmakers must pass and Paterson must sign legislation putting Duffy in charge of the district and abolishing the school board. City Council would surely have some oversight role, and Duffy has said a new advisory board, with most members appointed by him, could deal specifically with school issues. But the details won't be clear until the legislation has been made public.

Duffy and Assemblyman Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, said that could happen before the end of the month.

City Council is a nine-member legislative body that sets fiscal policy, approves spending and oversees land use — but it does not make operational policy or staffing decisions beyond affirming appointments to the mayor's senior management team. The school board, as currently conceived, sets district policy and approves virtually all staffing decisions.

"The whole idea of redefining school governance under the leadership of the mayor is to have one office accountable," said Wong, who visited Rochester this month to speak to Duffy and others about mayoral control.

And once the mayor is held accountable, Wong added, he would have "the incentive and the sense of responsibility to use the resources and the political will to make things happen."

Duffy has promised as much, though details of his plan remain vague.

City Council President Lovely Warren said she received a draft report on mayoral control from Duffy on Saturday and that it might be discussed at a council work session today. Duffy said Tuesday that the report would be released to the public in a week or two.

But while Duffy is asking to be held accountable for the school system's success, he said he doesn't intend to involve himself in decisions about teaching and learning that are better left to experts.

"I supervise the fire department," Duffy said. "You didn't see me out at the Dollar Store fire holding a hose."

Instead, Duffy said, his education agenda would primarily involve empowering Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard to push forward unimpeded.

"I would turn him loose," Duffy said, allowing Brizard to aggressively implement bold and potentially controversial reforms. The school board, he said, has stood in Brizard's way on key initiatives such as an in-school suspension program that Duffy said has helped reduce crime.

But Evans said his board has been anything but obstructionist.

"The superintendent has enjoyed a supermajority of support from the board," Evans said. "Any intelligent observer would see that."

The superintendent

If officials on either side of the mayoral control debate agree on one thing, it is that Brizard is the right person to lead the district.

Hired two years ago despite Duffy's clear support of interim superintendent William Cala, Brizard has been reluctant to share his opinion about working for the mayor.

But the nation's best-known reform-minded superintendents and chancellors — Joel Klein in New York City, Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C. — operate under mayoral control.

"The model for all that is Klein and (New York City Mayor Michael) Bloomberg. They communicate a lot, but basically, the ball is Klein's," said Paul T. Hill, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell in Seattle.

"There are pros and cons on both sides," Brizard said. "There are some in this country who would not take this job without mayoral control ... and there are some who would not take it under mayoral control."

Brizard is a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy at the Broad Foundation, where he is now a fellow. Broad trains superintendents, has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into urban schools and school programs, and strongly supports mayoral control.

"(W)e have become convinced that our country's best chance for dramatic change and improvement in our public schools rests in those districts that have mayoral control — cities like New York City, Chicago and Boston," the Broad Foundation's founders wrote in a 2008 report.

But though the governance change has powerful supporters, including Duncan and presumably Obama, it remains controversial.

"What we have in New York City is that the mayor is in control of everything," said Diane Ravitch, research professor of education at New York University. "He has a board of 13 people, and eight are appointed by him."

Ravitch said gains in test scores under Bloomberg and Klein have been, to some extent, illusory.

"They believe the more they test, the higher the scores go. I'd have a hard time saying (students) are better educated," Ravitch said. "In the national assessments, the lowest-performing cities have mayoral control."

A mayor such as Duffy, seeking control under a system like New York City's, "must be wiser than Socrates if he thinks he knows everything about how to improve schools," Ravitch said.

Key to the success of mayoral control, Hill said, is a mayor who is willing to use his political clout.

"It's a political act that makes possible some things that would be impossible (otherwise). But it's not the whole solution," Hill said.

"If the school board is a barrier to fundamental reform ... mayoral takeover can break some logjams," Hill said. "For the most part, I think takeovers are often efforts to get hold of the money that's there and make better use of it."

The parents

Urbanski said money is indeed what's driving Duffy, but the goal isn't necessarily to make better use of it.

"We ... would like to alert the public to what we think is the true motivation behind this," Urbanski said.

"The first year of mayoral control, the city will give the City School District $11 million less," he said, a charge Duffy denies, though he declined to say how much of the $119 million the city currently pays to the school district he would continue to allocate to education.

Urbanski said he's confident that state senators — partly at the urging of the state teachers union, which he said "will do everything that can be done" — will kill the proposal. But Urbanski said he will not push the issue unless he senses that parents agree with him.

"Beyond that, I don't have answers — I have questions. Parents: Where do you stand? Because if you are for this, I will express my reasons for opposing it and back off."

So far at least, it's difficult to gauge where the majority of parents stand.

A vocal group of parents and activists have held meetings and planned protests, including the one Tuesday at a City Council meeting, but others are frustrated with the school board and the district.

"I think a lot of us wanted to learn the details and wanted to understand this complex system, and we're glad there have been gains in the last couple of years — and yet they aren't anywhere near the gains we need to see," said Kate Bennett, who has a daughter in 10th grade at School of the Arts.

A week ago, Bennett said, she was undecided. Now, she's behind the mayor's plan.

"I've been learning as much as I can about what kind of effect this would have," said Bennett, who is president of the Rochester Museum & Science Center. "From everything I can see, it's an idea that has merit."

Others aren't so sure.

Maurice Brooks, who has two young children at School 3 and the Franklin Montessori school, said he feels the mayor has pushed too hard and too fast for something parents don't yet understand.

"I don't want to be blindsided by something that's going to affect my kids," Brooks said.

"They're at a turning point," Brooks said of his children, a 3-year-old and an 8-year old. "The ultimate goal is to make sure these kids have the opportunity to learn."

Duffy said he doesn't think parents — including those who've left the city because of the school district — require much convincing.

"If our graduation rate were at 70, 80 percent or more, it would take a sell," said Duffy, who has vowed to be part of a vigorous public information campaign once legislation is introduced.

"What we have today is a system that has not worked well. It's a system that requires enormous amounts of money to operate with results that everyone understands are not acceptable," Duffy said.

"I refuse to accept that we can spend $23,000 on each student and not have a higher level of success."

NRAMOS@DemocratandChronicle.com 



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