Parents Fight Low Graduation Rates

Others maintain that Syracuse's independent elected school board provides the best medium for community representation and balances taxpayer and student interests. In another Post-Standard editorial, Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, argued that mayoral control could allow the mayor to make decisions without a public debate on education issues.

"Elected school boards serve as a conduit for community involvement in the schools," Kremer wrote. "By listening to many voices, elected boards make more informed decisions and gain broader acceptance within the community for those decisions."

Linking School Performance to the Future of Cities

In school systems with mayoral control, mayors typically handpick school boards and appoint superintendents to oversee school performance and institute reforms. Mayors take over schools with goals of improving test scores and graduation rates and bringing more accountability to their city schools.

Proponents of mayoral control say it allows mayors to use their positions of power to bring in more federal and state money to schools. They argue it also ties the mayor's electoral standing with school performance. By taking control, mayors put their reputations on the line: If the schools fail, the mayor will not be reelected.

More mayors are linking improving schools with improving cities, said Kenneth Wong, director of Brown University's urban education policy program.

"We are going to see an expansion in the way mayors are going to get involved with public education," Wong said.

"In order to revive large neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty, schools and faith-based institutions are often the only institutions left," Wong said. "Mayors see schools as a focal point to revitalize and stabilize these neighborhoods."

But critics argue that mayoral control breeds school systems that overemphasize standardized test scores and shut out community input from parents and teachers.

"School districts can get worse because they focus on raising test scores rather than improving student learning," said David Hursh, who studies mayoral control at the University of Rochester.

Others maintain that mayors should focus on their traditional roles, bringing jobs back to their cities, keeping their streets clean and making sure their neighborhoods are safe.

"Mayors have a lot on their plate," said Anne Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association. "They've got to keep their cities safe, economically sound, keep the roads clean ... to add schools to that plate is a huge additional agenda item."

Mixed Results for Mayoral Control of School Districts

Bryant dismisses the notion that mayoral control allows for more accountability. School boards, she said, are the only groups working first and foremost for student interests.

"A mayor has to be held accountable to a variety of responsibilities," Bryant said. "What if he's lousy on schools and great at plowing streets? Citizens will return their mayor if they feel he has done a good job in other areas."

Test scores also show mixed results. While state test scores have improved in some cities with mayoral control, performance on the National Association of Educational Progress, which evaluates student achievement on national, state and local levels, shows less dramatic improvement.

"Everyone's looking for the silver bullet on how you fix schools, and there isn't one," Bryant said.

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