Mayoral Control Of Providence Schools

One issue that hasn’t come up yet in the Providence mayoral elections is transforming the Providence School Board into an elected body. No one’s advocating for it yet (to my knowledge), but let’s be clear anyway: it’s a bad idea.

In 1980, Providence became one of the first cities in America to experiment with mayoral control of public schools. Since then, the trend around the country has been to follow our example: witness heavyweights New York, D.C. and Chicago to name a few. Still, other cities like Milwaukee and Detroit steadfastly retain the antiquated model of subjecting public education to partisan politics.

Kenneth Wong of Brown University has literally written the book on the subject. In his book, Wong analyzes over 100 urban school districts and finds — to be intellectually honest — a pretty complicated picture. But, the bottom line is unequivocal: Mayoral control does lead to higher levels of student achievement.

Is it surprising? I don’t think so. A mayor can put education on the top of the agenda, allocate the right resources and hire a superintendent that shares her vision. An elected body squabbles, micromanages and — if you’re in Texas — omits references to evolution, rap music, suffrage and Harriet Tubman from textbooks.

The idea of an elected school board that is more responsive to parents and communities has some appeal. But if we’re really serious about raising student achievement in Providence, we’ve got to stick with what works: mayoral control.

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