Voters typically don't replace ineffective school board members and rarely demand reform from failing districts, an education policy expert told the Columbus Education Commission yesterday.
Voters typically don’t replace ineffective school board members and rarely demand reform from failing districts, an education policy expert told the Columbus Education Commission yesterday.
About half the districts nationally that switched to mayoral control of schools have realized academic improvements — and, obviously, the other half have not, education consultant Susan Bodary told the panel.
“Rarely do we have a community really demand change” to a new form of school governance, leaving struggling districts to plod along, Bodary said.
Is an elected board the best system for running the Columbus City Schools?
Changing government structures from time to time in the pursuit of excellence is the American way, said Eric Fingerhut, who has been guiding the debate for Mayor Michael B. Coleman’s commission.
“I understand that there are concerns that arise whenever you talk about changing governance, in particular that people worry that we’re somehow going to diminish democracy,” Fingerhut said. In fact, “it’s in the greatest tradition of our democracy that we continue to improve the way we govern ourselves.”
But the debate yesterday among the 25-member commission indicated the panel likely will not agree on whether the Columbus school board should be replaced with another model.
Commission member Alex Fischer, who represents a group of local business leaders, said the city needs to focus on changes that would unite all segments of the community behind the schools.
“Our current system is failing our children, plain and simple,” Fischer said.
The Rev. Otha Gilyard, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church, said there needs to be change and he does not want to belong to a group that does nothing.When Bodary mentioned that such decisions usually are made by smaller groups of civic leaders than the commission, Gilyard speculated that “ some decisions have already been made” about what governance model the panel will recommend.
“There’s clearly no evidence that one structure is the perfect structure” that will unite the community, said Mary Lou Langenhop, CEO of Children’s Hunger Alliance.
“Now may be the time for transformational change,” said Tanny Crane, CEO of The Crane Group.
If nothing else, the district needs an independent auditor, said Janet Jackson, president of United Way of Central Ohio.
Lolita Augenstein, president of the Columbus Council of PTAs, urged the panel not to “overthink” the issue. “It could just be that we need to get rid of the bad teachers.”
Lois Carson, president of the union representing nonteaching school employees, continued to charge that the commission is bent on taking away the rights of district residents to elect their leaders. Her parent union, the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, presented a report charging that appointed boards have been ineffective.
“I didn’t get the sense from anyone that this is a slam-dunk decision, or we’re going in any direction at this point,” school board President Carol Perkins said after the meeting.
Bodary gave a sneak-peek of a study to be released today by the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C., think tank, that will say districts taken over by mayors have seen improved student performance, narrowed the achievement gap between whites and minorities, and sent more financial resources to the classroom.
But mayors have not found a magic bullet that guarantees student success, Bodary acknowledged.
“Are they hitting it out of the park?” Bodary asked. “I would posit, not yet.”
The commission will resume the debate in April.