Paper Sample on Urban Education in the Mayor's Purview: Power, Politics, and Ulterior Motives

Published: 2023-11-16
Paper Sample on Urban Education in the Mayor's Purview: Power, Politics, and Ulterior Motives
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Education School Government
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1760 words
15 min read


The 1990s saw the emergence of a “new style” of mayors showing interest in administrating instead of having bureaucratic control over public school systems. Two mayors, Chicago’s Richard M. Daley and Boston’s Thomas Menino, were at the forefront of this radical movement. On October 25th, 1996, Mayor Daley visited Boston and made a joint appearance with Menino. Both mayors made it clear where they stood on the mayor’s role in public education. “As president of the US Conference of Mayors, I believe that education is the greatest challenge facing our cities today,” to which Menino agreed (Brown, 1996).

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The last 20 years have seen dramatic shifts in education policy, including changes in governance and increasing federal mandates on states to hold schools accountable for their performance. No Child Left Behind (NCLB), passed in 2002, required that states test students annually and that mandated districts and schools should publicly report the scores. There is now more publicly available information than ever concerning the performance of local public schools. Where citizens used to be able to rely only on reputation and social demographics to assess the quality of local schools, they now have “hard” data.

In the over twenty years since both mayors made these proclamations, nearly a dozen US cities have followed suit by stepping up their role in public education (Wong & Shen, 2013). Some cities, such as New York and Cleveland, have adopted the Chicago-Boston model and have approved the mayor the power to appoint a majority of the city’s school board members.

The most prevalent form of the school system is a locally elected board that governs the school independently without the mayor’s influence or any other political figure. However, the Boston model is radical because it takes power from the elected school board which makes decisions on hiring and firing the school’s principals and the general school management, and gives it to the mayors who in some cases have the authority to appoint people who will replace some if not all members of the school board.

This research is essential in the context of the centralization of power by executives in the school system. Throughout the process of making decisions about the school management, there were several parties among them the citizens in the school district, involved in school management and the selection of board members (Wong & Shen, 2013). The new system raises the question of how the mayoral system reduces the distribution of power by giving the mandate of school administration to a few individuals. The previous system relied on the votes of the community members for the appointment of the board of directors. However, the mayoral system gives the mayor the power to appoint the school board members hence turning some or all of them from elected officials into appointed officials. That is a reason to be concerned because, as appointed officials, the school board answers to their appointer, who is the mayor. Meanwhile, the citizens get little say in the school’s administration and the kind of education that their children receive.

More importantly, something that should be addressed by political scientists is whether the adoption of the mayoral system, says something about the effectiveness of democracy and decentralized power political systems. The schools that are opting for the mayoral system are those that have failed to have proper management and provide quality education under the elected school board system. The shift from democratic-decentralized power systems to autocratic systems follows worldly trends that have been happening in political systems in the rest of the country and the rest of the world. It signifies an increased tolerance for autocratic systems of governance, even within democratic countries such as the United States.

Given the different types of involvement, mayors can have in city schools; I seek to understand how integrated governance, as a formal structure, compares with school districts where an elected board insulates schools from formal mayoral influence. By including integrated governance and elected school boards in my analysis, I can put the formal versus informal debate to an empirical test. Research Question

The spread of mayoral control raises new questions about the institutional structures and consequences of governance for our nation’s city schools. This research seeks to answer this question drawn from the existing body of knowledge on the mayoral impact on city school academic success:

Does mayoral control of Chicago Public Schools result in lagging academic performance outcomes for African-American high school students?

The hypotheses that I will test are as follows:

1a Mayoral control and model of integrated governance have given rise to centralized power.
b. Centralized power is a weak predictor of school performance.
2. Parental Income is a strong predictor of school performance.
3. The race is a strong predictor of school performance.
4. Resource-rich schools are a strong predictor of school performance.
5. Strong community involvement is a strong predictor of school performance.
6. High levels of voter registration in a neighborhood is a strong predictor of school performance.

Utilizing four case studies, both large-scale, quantitative, and qualitative, I will aim to describe how mayoral control is currently organized in Chicago, how it operates within schools and classrooms, and the short- and long-term consequences for optimal student performance. I will examine how Chicago’s neoliberal politics and growth machines have enabled local-state practices of public educational exclusion and incorporation that play a crucial role in managing reforms. This analysis seeks to contribute to broader conceptions of contemporary urban governance by showing how a distinctive set of local institutions may underpin the flexible regulation of political challenges. This ongoing project lies at the heart of neoliberal urban power.

Statement of the Problem

Most urban public school districts in the United States are facing a myriad of problems (Wong et al., 2007). The effect of these problems is systematic dysfunction, and students lacking proper education, which compounds social problems later in life (Wong et al., 2007). Also, this urban education dysfunction may exist with elected school boards or elected school boards that are held responsible are seen to be responsible or are unable to address the crisis (Payne, 2008; Hess, 2008). According to A Nation at Risk (1983), the chief problems facing most elected school boards in urban public school districts were improving student performance (i.e., low standardized test scores, low graduation rates, and high dropout rates), improving fiscal responsibility with district funds, and increasing accountability among district leadership (Wong et al., 2007). For example, A Boston Globe editorial described the Boston School Committee as a “disaster,” and that “the buck does not stop with anyone” (Portz, 1999; Hess, 2008). When other urban public school districts have been faced with similar dysfunctional issues, voters, parents, business leaders, and the media in several cities around the country have advocated for urban school governance reform moving from elected school boards to mayoral control (e.g., Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, New York City, Oakland, Philadelphia, and Washington DC).

Student performance on standardized tests, poor graduation, and dropout rates have been cited as reasons for having mayoral control in urban public schools (Wong et al., 2007; Portz, 1996). Recently, standardized testing has been highly scrutinized in urban cities such as Atlanta, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC due to the indictments and subsequent prosecutions of cheating conspiracies, testing inflation allegations, and allegations of cheating conspiracies (Rich & Hurdle, 2014; Mathews, 2012; Severson, 2011). Therefore, this study looks beyond standardized testing data as the only measurement of the effectiveness of urban school governance reform on institutional progress. Most of the literature on urban school governance reforms focuses on quantitative data (i.e., pre and post-standardized testing data or financial data) to determine the effectiveness of urban school districts. This study will develop a theory about how governance, educational leadership, education reforms, and policies can affect institutional progress from a qualitative perspective.

This study will contribute to the existing literature in the following ways:

First, the investigation will address why racial, and ethnic wealth disparities place constraints on the ability of the most innovative school boards, administrators, or mayors to improve school performance significantly.

Second, the literature review will explore why family and community social capital or resources matter when it comes to educational performance.

Third, the literature will explore what we know about national attempts to reform education and its limitations starting with the No Child Left Behind initiatives, Four you will explore innovative local programs or policies before moving to the Fifth section, which explores Chicago and proposes an alternative framework for school governance and assessing educational performance.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to understand how school governance reforms have impacted institutional progress in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) from 1995-2014. Additionally, the purpose of this study is also to understand how political decision-making and centralized mayoral could have impacted Chicago Public Schools from 1995-2016. The goal of this dissertation research is to understand the impact of internal and external barriers to African American performance progress in Chicago Public Schools.

The study seeks to characterize and differentiate successful educational leadership styles, estimate and evaluate the influence of school governance reforms in Chicago Public schools, and develop a theoretical model of what might work in Chicago. The study will:

perform an appraisal of corporate management of urban public schools in comparison to other traditional models in terms of specific outcomes such as dropout rates, communication with parents and teachers, retention, school violence, suspension rates, percent seeking and graduating from college, university, community college and the like after six years; and focus on Chicago in comparison to other urban schools in the state of Illinois such as East Saint Louis, and Springfield, Illinois, that may be directly supervised by the State of Illinois Board of Education.

Literature Review

The urban school system had its roots in the 19th century when the US education system underwent most of its reconfigurations (Massey et al., 2014). American society was undergoing massive demographic changes at the time, with immigrants from various parts of the world flocking to the US sub-continent. Public schools became overwhelmed by the sheer number of children, and education reformers such as John Dewey wanted to make the education system the engine of transforming these children into useful citizens. Dewey’s philosophy emphasized on progressive education. According to Sikandar (2016), Dewey believed that the child was the center of the whole academia, and his reforms were primarily concerned with the same. Progressive education emphasizes the practical aspect of learning, also known as “learning by doing” (Sikandar, 2016).

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