Public Policy Forum Blog

The Department of Public Schools?

This summer Mayor Tom Barrett seized control of Milwaukee’s workforce development efforts from the Milwaukee County Private Industry Council. Could – or should – Milwaukee Public Schools be his next acquisition? The authors of a new study would argue that might not be a bad idea. Their research suggests mayoral control can make a difference.

The idea has been around for a long time. The Boston mayor took over the public schools in 1992. Since then, it happened in New York, Chicago, Cleveland and scores of smaller cites where mayors wanted to integrate the management of public education with the overall governing of the city.

Now Brown University education professor Kenneth Wong and his co-authors have taken a comprehensive and balanced look at mayoral control of urban school districts. Their study outlines what school governance looks like under mayoral leadership, how mayoral control affects outcomes, and how mayoral control effects practical changes in classrooms. The research findings indicate that mayoral control of schools can successfully emphasize accountability across the education system, providing more leverage for each school district to strengthen its educational infrastructure and improve student performance.

The authors emphasize a takeover by city hall may not be appropriate for every district. Is it a good idea for Milwaukee? I don’t know, but this study merits consideration by policymakers, civic leaders and politicians in Milwaukee and elsewhere in Wisconsin.