nter professor Kenneth K. Wong of Brown University in Providence, R.I., lead author of the 2007 book “The Education Mayor: Improving America’s Schools.” It was the fullest examination to date of the range of ways mayors have become involved in school governance in dozens of cities across the United States.
The book was generally favorable to well-executed mayoral involvement, broadly saying mayoral control creates a political environment for stronger decision making about improving schools. But the conclusions on academic impact were more tepid – Wong and his associates said there were improvements in reading and in math in many cases, but that, overall, getting the mayor involved didn’t help and sometimes harmed efforts to close the achievement gaps between have and have-not students.
Both supporters and critics of mayoral control have cited things in the book as supporting their side.
Wong spent three days in Madison and Milwaukee, guest of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs, both based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Wong was more assertive about the merits of mayoral control than he was in the book. “Mayoral control has a statistically significant positive effect on student achievement in reading and math at both elementary and high school grades,” he said.
Mayoral control, he said, eliminates the “nobody’s in charge culture” that leads to many school systems just keeping on doing things the way they’ve been done, even though they aren’t succeeding overall. With a clear point of power, there is clear accountability and motivation to make needed changes, he said.