Washington, D.C. — Mayor-led school districts can dramatically increase student achievement, according to a new report released today by the Center for American Progress. This reform strategy is often called mayoral control, and it includes replacing an elected school board with a city’s mayor. In a few instances, however, the report found that some cities performed less well under mayoral control.
“In too many urban districts, students are failing to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to graduate and succeed in life,” said Cynthia G. Brown, Vice President of Education at the Center for American Progress. “Improving student achievement in these cities will require rethinking and possibly changing the way these districts are governed. Increasing mayoral control, empowering the mayor with greater authority over the district is a strong alternative to our current approach— and one that can be impactful in the right cities.”
The report, authored by Kenneth Wong, the Walter and Leonore Annenberg professor and chair of the department of education at Brown University, examines the effects of mayoral governance in 11 cities on two specific areas: resource management and student achievement. In analyzing multiple, longitudinal databases on student achievement and financial management, the report found that mayoral governance has improved urban school districts in some cities. The findings will be useful to current and future mayors who may consider taking a greater role in public education.
The following are among the reports key findings:
- Mayoral-led districts are engaged in strategic allocation of resources. Districts under mayoral control are positively associated with investment in teaching staff, more spending on instruction, smaller student-teacher ratios, a greater percentage of resources allocated for K-12 student support, a larger percentage of revenue from state sources, and a smaller percentage of funding from local sources.
- Mayoral-control school districts have generally improved districtwide performance relative to average school district performance statewide.
- Some mayoral-control districts have seen significant increases in student achievement. Of the 11 districts governed by mayoral leadership studied in the report, five made substantial improvements in narrowing the student achievement gap within their states: New York, New York; New Haven, Connecticut; Chicago, Illinois; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Baltimore, Maryland. Four districts showed progress on some academic measures: Hartford, Connecticut; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Boston, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island.
- Fourth- and eighth-grade student achievement and minority student achievement has improved in New York, New York, while the city’s schools have been under mayoral control. The improvement rate ranged from between 1 percent to 3 percent annually. A 1 percent increase in the percentage of fourth-grade students who are proficient on state academic standards means that student achievement increased for nearly 2,000 students.
- In Boston and Chicago, student achievement improvement was strong during the initial period of mayoral governance, but both cities have experienced a relative tapering of performance in recent years.
The findings of the report suggest several policy implications for broadening the positive effects of mayoral governance. Based on the findings, the report’s authors made the following recommendations:
- Mayoral governance is most effective when the mayor is ready to act. Mayoral control works best when the mayor is equipped and dedicated to provide strong educational leadership, and to set a clear and cohesive vision for educational improvement and innovation.
- A city must adapt, not adopt. Given the variation in local cultures and politics, cities considering mayoral control should adapt mayoral control to their unique local context.
- Mayoral control may require reinvention. Once established, mayoral governance cannot simply rely on early success. Reinventing mayoral control—whether through new leadership or new governance practices—is often necessary to continue generating growth in student achievement.
- Diverse providers and charter schools should be involved. It is unlikely that a large number of states will expand mayoral control to their big-city school districts in the near future. Given this unlikelihood, mayors may be best served by finding alternative ways to enhance their city’s public schools, such as the mayoral authorization of charter schools.
- Fact sheet: The Top 5 Things to Know About Mayoral Control of Schools by Juliana Herman
- Event footage: What Ails the Governance of Public Education and What Can Be Done to Cure It
To speak with an expert on this topic, contact Katie Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.741.6285.