Mayoral Governance and Student Achievement: How Mayor-Led Districts Are Improving School and Student Performance

Mayoral Governance and Student AchievementIn the world of education reform, the biggest, baddest elephant in the room is, without question, the broken manner in which American schools are governed. This latest attempt to dispel our romantic attachment to the traditional school board comes from Kenneth Wong, who has long studied the impact of mayoral control and who here examines the effects of it on student achievement and resource allocation. He and his colleague analyze eleven districts that were governed by some version of mayoral control from 1999 to 2010—meaning, the mayor had direct authority over at least some of the schools. They find that mayoral-control districts have generally improved district-wide performance relative to average school-district performance statewide, though the results vary from place to place. Specifically, five of the eleven cities (New York, New Haven, Chicago, Philly, and Baltimore) significantly narrowed achievement gaps, while the other six (Hartford, Harrisburg, Boston, Providence, Yonkers, and Cleveland) saw patchier outcomes. The researchers also looked at performance on the NAEP for the seven districts that participated in the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) and found that students in New York, Boston, and (to some extent) Chicago outpaced their peers across various subgroups. What’s more, an in-depth, school-level analysis in New York showed that mayoral control increased the percentage of students in a school who are proficient on state standards by 1 to 3 percent annually, which can add up quickly in a large district. Finally, the study revealed a positive relationship between mayoral-control districts and increased spending on instruction. One must, however, remember that these are not causal findings—and that a city’s choice of mayor, the mayor’s specific powers, and the reform agenda he or she advances make a great deal of difference.

SOURCE: Kenneth K. Wong and Francis X. Shen, Mayoral Governance and Student Achievement: How Mayor-Led Districts Are Improving School and Student Performance (Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress, March 2013).

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