Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Claims on Mayoral Governance Don’t Stand Up to Scrutiny

A recent Center for American Progress report purports to find that school districts led by city mayors are raising student achievement while improving the districts’ fiscal health. A new review finds some useful information in the report, but says it is too flawed to rely on for policy guidance.

The report, Mayoral Governance and Student Achievement: How Mayor-Led Districts are Improving School and Student Performance, by Kenneth K. Wong and Francis X. Shen, was reviewed for the Think Twice think tank review project by Katrina E. Bulkley, Professor of Educational Leadership at Montclair State University.

Her review is published today by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

Bulkley has published broadly on issues related to school governance, including mayoral control, and is the co-editor of Between Public and Private: Politics, Governance, and the New Portfolio Models for Urban School Reform (Harvard Education Press, 2010), a book that examines reform in several of the cities included in the report.

In her review, Bulkley finds that the fiscal analyses suffer from inappropriate comparisons and lack reliable and valid evidence supporting the central claim that mayoral control influences the amount or distribution of school resources.

The portion of the report examining student achievement highlights positive findings in a few districts, but says little about two other sets of school districts: mayor-led districts that did not see gains and districts where achievement improved without mayoral control.

“These issues call into question whether ‘mayoral control’ is appropriately credited with the improvements identified in the report,” Bulkley writes. “The paper does not provide or explain the statistical methods or provide the findings essential to supporting the authors’ claims.”

Bulkley says the report does shed some light on the contexts in which school district control has shifted to mayors, as well as the challenges that such shifts can present. Nevertheless, she concludes, the report’s limitations “preclude relying on either the report’s findings or recommendations in making policy decisions.”

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