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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Monday, November 09, 2009

Final Bracey Report: Mayoral control "disturbing," "undemocratic and ineffectual"

by folkbum

One of the things that the late Gerald Bracey did for years is produce his annual "Bracey Report," which is a look at the various education reform efforts over the course of the past year, good and bad, with a careful examination of the data.

This year's report (.pdf), released today, is particularly timely for us here in Milwaukee and Wisconsin. Today, a group of well meaning but seriously misguided Democrats are introducing a bill, announced two weeks ago, that would strip meaningful control of the Milwaukee Public Schools from the elected board and place it in the hands of the mayor. (Details here.)

Bracey takes the idea of mayoral control on full force, and he is not kind to the idea. Using National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, Bracey looks at claims about New York's and Chicago's schools under mayoral control, and finds the claims of great success to be flat-out false. He comes very close to literally calling Arne Duncan, late of Chicago and now US Secretary of Education, a liar, and he is no kinder to Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein New York.

Bracey finds that the achievement gaps are wider, graduation rates are no better, and the regimes established under the mayors in those cities are oppressively undemocratic.

(As an aside: I still get angry thinking about the abomination that is No Child Left Behind, and that its existence is entirely premised on the utterly mythical "Houston Miracle" supposedly spearheaded by George W. Bush's first Secretary of Education Rod Paige. Now we have this "Race to the Top" premised on the mythical success of Chicago's schools under Arne Duncan. I thought history was supposed to wait a bit longer before repeating itself.)

Here's Bracey's conculsion:
A close look at the two most visible exemplars of mayoral control, Chicago and New York, yields results that counter the image created by those in control. 'Reforms' that are supposed to help children do better are primarily used to make the adults who control the schools look good. Performance on tests that are subject to manipulation show improvement. Performance on tests that are free of manipulation show no improvement and no closing of ethnic achievement gaps. In reading the literature about the mayoral systems, one repeatedly encounters words like bully, authoritarian, autocratic, arbitrary, intrusive, despotic, dictatorial, disenfranchisement, rubber stamp, exclusion (of parents) even 'Brezhnev-era Soviet Union.' [. . .] Now, Arne Duncan aids, abets—and requires—this version of reform with the lure of big government grants.
In short, Bracey is just the latest in long series of policy and educational researchers to raise serious questions about the efficacy of mayoral control of urban school districts. Every data-backed, peer-reviewed study I have seen of the question comes to the same conclusion: mayoral control doesn't change achievement rates of large urban districts. Given the significant downsides to making such a change in Milwaukee--including opening a racial rift in this city the size of which we haven't seen in decades--and the absence of any data suggesting city schools do better under mayoral control, it would behoove our legislators to reconsider the proposal on the table.

Yes, yes, I get the whole thing about "Race to the Top" money and whatnot. But as I have written before, chasing worthless reforms in pursuit of grant money is a proven losing proposition. It's demeaning and degrading and distracting, and, again, not worth the consequences. If what it takes to earn the money is ultimately to do further disservice to our students, the screw the money, I say.

I don't want to dance to Arne Duncan's music, especially knowing that the melody is a pack of lies to begin with. Our legislators shouldn't give in to the music, either.

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