Our Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has been on a “listening tour” where he’s done most of the talking. He advocates, repeatedly, that mayors should take control of urban schools. Obviously he cannot take an honest look at his own accomplishments under this governance system or–he’d have to shut up.
The usual rationale a mayoral power grab is it brings more accountability and a clear line of authority. School boards are generally elected in off years and few people vote, allowing special interest groups (usually education unions, some claim) to essentially rig the elections. School boards are fractious and try to micromanage. They are amateurs and prisoners of deeply rooted school bureaucracies.
But do mayors do better? Depends on how you feel about democracy. The Spring 2009 issue of Rethinking Schools, said that, as Daley’s man, Duncan “has shown himself to be the central messenger, manager and staunch defender of corporate involvement in, and privatization of, public schools, closing schools in low-income neighborhoods of color with little community input, limiting local democratic control, undermining the teachers union and promoting competitive merit pay for teachers.”
The most important corporate involvement involves the 132-year-old Commercial Club of Chicago. Yet that organization recently published Still Left Behind, slamming Chicago’s public schools as awful and that the reforms they’ve endured were designed to make the adults running the schools look good, not improve the lives of children. You could say the Club stabbed Arne in the back except that they did it upfront in the open, without once mentioning Duncan’s name. The Club report backs up its case with many data.