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Study Makes Case for Mayoral and District Collaboration Instead of Takeovers

By guest blogger Arianna Prothero

Mayoral takeovers of urban school boards do not affect student achievement, but there are benefits in collaboration between the two, according to a study released today by the National School Boards Association and the Center for Public Education, an initiative of the NSBA.

The study, whose title, "Toward Collaboration, Not a Coup," more than hints at its conclusion, examines existing research on the effects of mayoral involvement on school boards at a variety of levels ranging from mayors merely campaigning for school board members to full mayoral takeover of school governance.

"It has been a rare phenomenon where mayors have taken over school districts, mostly in urban school districts," said the report's author, Patte Barth, in a press call. The study estimates there's only been about 20 mayoral takeovers in the United States since 1990. "Ironically, urban school districts were an invention over a century ago when communities began to see that the mayors made running schools more political. So, they invented urban school boards."

The Pros

The study highlights three primary ways mayoral involvement can help schools:

  • Attracting extra funding for schools from both private and public sources;
  • Integrating city services for children and families into school programs;
  • Raising the profile of public schools and increasing the support for them by using their "bully pulpit."

The Cons

In terms of effects on student achievement, the jury is still out, according to the report. The study did not find any conclusive evidence that mayoral involvement in schools translates into measurable student gains.

"Some districts under mayoral control have increased student achievement, some have not," said Barth, "same with elected school boards in urban districts."

One area where the study found consensus among researchers was on the negative effects produced by mayors taking over school boards. They found that doing away with elected boards can disenfranchise some groups, mainly by cutting parents and communities out of school-related decisions. Minority and low-income communities seemed to be most impacted—"arguably, the groups in a city that depend most on public schools," said Barth.

Collaborations, Not Coups

The study concludes that the best scenario is one where the mayor works collaboratively (that being the operative word) with the school board and the superintendent. The report recommends forming a partnership with clearly defined responsibilities and doing it before a crisis hits, not during.

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