NY state education officials unveil 300-page report on mayoral control. Here’s what they found.

A man wearing a dark blue suit holds a black binder and stands in front of an American flag.
State education officials unveiled a highly anticipated report on New York City’s polarizing mayoral control system on Tuesday. Here, Mayor Eric Adams arrives at a press conference at City Hall on March 19. (Luiz C. Ribeiro / New York Daily News via Getty Images)

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State education officials unveiled a highly anticipated report on New York City’s polarizing school governance structure on Tuesday — compiling months of public testimony and decades of the city’s history into a nearly 300-page document.

In the report, state officials did not directly advocate for or against extending Mayor Eric Adams’ control of the city’s schools, instead outlining a series of broader findings and recommendations from the public.

Those findings could have major implications for ongoing negotiations in Albany about mayoral control. The report comes as part of a deal state lawmakers struck in 2022 — extending Adams’ control for two years, while giving Albany time to assess the effectiveness of the long-standing system.

Since September, the state’s Education Department has worked with the CUNY School of Law to conduct a study of school governance models. The department also held a series of public hearings across the five boroughs, soliciting feedback from the public. The results of both efforts were included in the report.

At a press conference hours before the release of the report, Adams questioned the methods employed by the state’s Education Department. He took particular issue with the involvement of the CUNY School of Law, suggesting the school was biased against him due to an incident last year when graduates turned their backs on him during a commencement speech.

“So I’m concerned: Is this more political?” Adams said. “Or is it about the way we have done it and what Chancellor [David] Banks has done?”

He also questioned whether the testimony at public hearings was truly reflective of a city as large as New York.

In response to the mayor’s comments, JP O’Hare, a spokesperson for the state’s Education Department, said “we believe the report speaks for itself.”

“This report is a thorough, research-based presentation of school governance models in New York City and elsewhere that meets the law’s requirements with fidelity,” he said. “As intended by the legislature, the report provides thoughtful information and testimony concerning mayoral control of schools.”

Later in the day, after the release of the report, Education Department First Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg called the report “disappointing” and a “missed opportunity” for failing to adequately highlight the city’s progress in closing achievement gaps compared to the rest of the state during the period of mayoral control.

Here are some of the key findings of the state’s report:

NYC model unlike most others in nation, according to report

Mayoral control, which centralizes power over the city’s schools in the hands of the mayor, has been regularly extended since 2002. The system gives the mayor the power to choose a schools chancellor and appoint a majority of members to the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, or PEP, a city board that votes on major policy proposals and contracts.

That model is unlike most others in the country, according to the state report.

Nationwide, a majority of public schools are governed by elected school boards or superintendents, rather than those appointed by a mayor. But even among cities with similar school governance structures, New York City’s model grants more power to the mayor, according to the report.

In other U.S. cities with mayoral control systems, appointments are in some cases picked from a list of names designated by a nominating panel, or require the approval of a city council. The report looked at school governance structures in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and Yonkers — finding New York City’s model granted the most power to the mayor, followed closely by Yonkers’ system.

Calls for reform in public testimony

Over the past two decades, mayoral control has faced both fierce critics and ardent defenders.

In the report, state officials noted that a majority of speakers at public hearings sought reforms to the current system — expressing that they felt unheard or excluded by the current school governance structure. Further, speakers felt that centralizing authority in the hands of the mayor and chancellor resulted in an ill-suited “one-size-fits-all” approach to the nation’s largest school system.

Many members of the public pointed to the PEP, arguing that the disproportionate number of mayoral appointees created a system that lacks sufficient “checks and balances.” Others raised concerns over a lack of continuity in programs and policies whenever a new mayor comes into office.

But the report also acknowledged that few people have called for a return to the local school board model that predated mayoral control. Defenders of mayoral control have argued that the current structure allows for more effective and accountable leadership than the previous school board system.

Research ‘inconclusive’ on school governance

Research, meanwhile, remains unclear when it comes to school governance models, according to the report. While some studies suggest that mayoral control can garner more resources for schools and increase efficiency, others found “persistent issues with inefficiency and the misuse of resources.”

The report stated research has found “no conclusive relationship between school governance structures and student achievement,” as well as “little evidence that any governance structure has reduced longstanding inequities in educational access and attainment among students.”

Still, Adams, Banks, and other officials have pointed to test scores and other metrics in defending the current system.

“Clearly, what you see is sustained improvement in graduation rates and proficiency rates for our students,” Weisberg said Tuesday.

He pointed specifically to shrinking gaps between New York City students and the rest of the state on standardized exams over the past two decades and called it a “missed opportunity that the report didn’t compare and contrast.”

The report does, however, have an extensive section on the test score gaps between city students and the rest of the state’s, which have shrunk significantly since 2005, according to data in the report. But researchers were cautious to draw any kind of causal link between mayoral control and the shrinking gaps, noting that there are a number of other factors that influence test scores and that it’s nearly impossible to distinguish the effects of a specific education policy from the effects of mayoral control as a whole.

Weisberg countered that it’s valid to compare the results of city students to kids in the rest of the state taking the same test as long as you take demographics into account.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for City Hall also emphasized graduation rates and test scores had risen in the years since mayoral control was adopted and called the report a “sham.”

After report, debate over mayoral control will continue

In recent weeks, as lawmakers continued deliberations over the state budget, Banks ramped up his arguments for extending mayoral control. In meetings with lawmakers and public comments, he argued that his track record over the past two years warranted an extension.

But lawmakers have repeatedly pushed back on efforts to include an extension in the upcoming state budget. Some had also refrained from weighing in on the future of the city’s school governance structure before the release of the report.

In a statement Tuesday, State Sen. John Liu, a Queens Democrat who chairs the Senate’s New York City education committee, noted the report would be “invaluable in legislative deliberations and decision-making.”

“We are highly appreciative of Commissioner Betty Rosa and her team of educational professionals at the State Education Department and look forward to thoroughly digesting their findings and recommendations as we take up the important matter of school governance in NYC once the state budget is enacted,” he said.

In addition to its findings, the state report highlighted a series of recommendations from the public’s testimony — including potential tweaks to the makeup of the PEP, and to the roles of Community Education Councils and School Leadership Teams, in order to strengthen the input of local communities in the city’s decision-making process. Members of the public also called for a commission to consider longer-term reforms to the city’s school governance structure.

David Bloomfield, a professor of education, law, and public policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, called the report “a mild reprimand of the current system,” adding it “is careful to couch its recommendations as what came out of the hearings, rather than some sort of independent consensus for what should be done.”

Still, “the three-word summary of the report is: ‘We want change,’” he said. “What that change is, is left out.”

Meanwhile, the recommendation to establish a commission to study longer-term reforms could actually offer mayoral control “a reprieve,” Bloomfield said, noting “it has the effect of extending mayoral control in the near term.”

And as discussions over the future of the city’s school governance structure continue, the precise impact of the report remains unclear, said Jonathan Collins, a professor of politics and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

“If you were looking for a clear referendum on the impact of mayoral control, you’re looking for the wrong thing,” he said, adding the report showed widespread feelings of a disconnect between the needs of kids and the city’s decision-making processes. “But, if you read this report as a clear rejection of mayoral control, I would temper expectations. While we can see at-length the issues with public engagement, there isn’t clear evidence that NYC schools are doing poorly as a result of being under mayoral control.

“Ultimately, though, Governor [Kathy] Hochul and the state legislature will have to decide if the juice is worth what’s been a major squeeze,” Collins added.

Michael Elsen-Rooney contributed reporting.

Julian Shen-Berro is a reporter covering New York City. Contact him at jshen-berro@chalkbeat.org.

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