Chicago teacher, activist, writer, media strategist
Chicago school reform under mayoral control has consisted of policies based on two premises: first that top-down management will lead to more accountability of leaders and therefore better educational outcomes; and second that competition will spur ingenuity. Two programs that adhere to these philosophies are charter schools and turnarounds. Charters and turnarounds have received mixed reviews. However, mayors who have been granted complete control of the school system through state law have forged ahead with these programs. These management-based reforms have led to a hybrid form of government where the top executives choose outside agencies to run schools on the local level. Under mayoral control, all of the decision-making power is funneled to the mayor through appointed functionaries.
Kathy Hayes of Southern Methodist University and Semoon Chang of University of South Alabama in their piece “The Relative Efficiency of City Manager and MayorCouncil Forms of Government” describe two forms of governance: the mayor-council form (MC) which consists of an elected city council and an elected mayor with authority to hire and fire city officials and the council manager form (CM) which is structured
similarly to private businesses where voters are like stockholders, a city council plays the part of the board of directors, and an appointed city manager is the chief executive (Hayes and Chang 1990). Chicago’s system is a combination of both. I will refer to Chicago’s hybrid form of governance as the Chicago School Model (CSM). Top-down, “integrated” organizations, demonstrated by the Chicago model of school organization lead to a culture that recreatesthe same structure on the local level.
Mayoral control was passed as a reaction to the democratic reforms passed during a populist bottom-up era. The democratically-led model allowsfor flexibility and quick responsiveness to the needs of the community by amplifying student, teacher, and parent voice. This hybrid form of governance has allowed the politically connected, not the popularly elected, to run Chicago Public Schools. These agencies insulate the mayor and his direct appointees from accountability. Top-down, integrated governance does not allow for careful analysis and recalibration of policies because of the entrenched interests and political calculations. The CSM model can increase the number of agencies in schoolgovernance, but takes power away from the communities it serves. There is no one-size fits-all model for deeply neglected school communities. Schools that fared well under democratic control should be studied deeply and the building-site reforms could be piloted in schools that continue to struggle.