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Community Support for Mayoral Control of Urban School Districts: A Critical Reexamination

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Shen, Francis X.
Education and Urban Society, vol. 44 no. 3, 342-367, May 2012

Abstract

This article challenges the view that citywide referenda alone are an effective means of ensuring accountability for mayoral control. Through new empirical analysis of the referenda results in Boston and Cleveland, the article shows that rather than establish genuine democratic legitimacy, the referenda in fact mask strong class-based, and in Boston race-based opposition to the reform strategy. The article proceeds as follows. The Literature Review section presents a review of the relevant literatures on mayoral control and issues of urban political representation. The Data and Analytic Framework section discusses the specific hypotheses to be tested, and the data and methodology utilized. The Results section presents the results of the analysis. The Discussion section synthesizes these findings and discusses their implications for the future of urban education policy under the Obama administration.

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Additional Information

The elected school board has been a traditional cornerstone of American public education, but with support from the Secretary of Education there is increasing pressure in many districts to change the law so that the school board is appointed by a mayor or county executive. What happens when elected school boards disappear? Will the voices of all district residents still be heard? In this new study, empirical legal scholar Francis Shen finds that citywide referenda on mayoral control are not an adequate safeguard for ensuring accountability for mayoral control. Through new empirical analysis of the referenda results in Boston and Cleveland, the article shows that rather than establish genuine democratic legitimacy, the referenda in fact mask strong class-based, and in Boston race-based opposition to the reform strategy. The results suggest that legislatures considering mayoral control would do well to think carefully before adopting a referendum as the only or primary solution to the mayoral control accountability dilemma. About the author: Professor Shen is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota, where he teaches Education Law and Policy. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University, his J.D. from Harvard Law School, and his B.A. from the University of Chicago. He has published numerous academic articles, and co-authored two books, including The Education Mayor. Additional information on Professor Shen’s research is available online at: www.fxshen.com and a copy of this article is available on Professor Shen’s SSRN page.