Should Mayors Control Schools?

In much of the country, test scores have come down and fewer schools are meeting AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress),  This may not be caused by poorer performance but may be because the bars for passing are being constantly raised as a result of the demands of No Child Left Behind.  What is more upseting is that the gap in student performance between minority and white children seems to be widening.  In New York City, where Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, have control over the city’s schools, the achievement gap which the mayor said that the gap was shrinking, has widened again.

The mayor and chancellor testified before Congress about the city’s impressive progress in closing the gulf in performance between minority and white children. The gains were historic, all but unheard of in recent decades.  “Over the past six years, we’ve done everything possible to narrow the achievement gap — and we have,” Mr. Bloomberg testified. “In some cases, we’ve reduced it by half.”

When results from the 2010 tests, which state officials said presented a more accurate portrayal of students’ abilities, were released, they came as a blow to the legacy of the mayor and the chancellor, as passing rates dropped by more than 25 percentage points on most tests. But the most painful part might well have been the evaporation of one of their signature accomplishments: the closing of the racial achievement gap.

Among the students in the city’s third through eighth grades, 40 percent of black students and 46 percent of Hispanic students met state standards in math, compared with 75 percent of white students and 82 percent of Asian students. In English, 33 percent of black students and 34 percent of Hispanic students are now proficient, compared with 64 percent among whites and Asians.

But the latest state math and English tests show that the proficiency gap between minority and white students has returned to about the same level as when the mayor arrived. In 2002, 31 percent of black students were considered proficient in math, for example, while 65 percent of white students met that standard.

The bulk of Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein’s effort to overhaul the education system has been focused on the lowest-performing students. The city has closed 91 poorly performing schools, established about 100 charter schools and sent waves of new young teachers and principals into schools in poor neighborhoods.

The city has even tried to attack the deeper issue of how children are reared at home, by offering some families monetary incentives to go to the dentist for checkups, for example, or to maintain good school attendance. The three-year-old pilot project was ended in March after it showed only modest results.

What has caused the drop in test scores as well as a widening of the educational achievement gaps between whites and minorities? Could it have been caused by poor economic conditions for poor families or an increase in fatherless black households?  No body knows.  But the real question to my mind is does political control over schools mean school improvement?  Is it the magic answer to narrowing the achievement gap?  I will let you decide!