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GOVERNANCE AND URBAN SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT: LESSONS FOR NEW JERSEY FROM NINE CITIES [edit] [delete]

The Institute on Education Law and Policy, based at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey in Newark, studied innovative models of public school governance in nine cities:  Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Hartford, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.  Our purpose was to provide information to policymakers in New Jersey as they consider options for Newark, Paterson and Jersey City, cities that are in the process of returning to local governance after fifteen, nineteen and twenty-one years, respectively, of state operation.  We selected the nine cities because their demographic and political traits are similar to the New Jersey cities, and because their school systems face similar challenges of historically low student achievement and poor public image.

In each of our study cities new governance models were implemented in the expectation that they would produce greater efficiencies in the business of running a public school system and greater student achievement in the classroom.  Our goal has been to explore whether those expectations have been realized.

Each of the governance models in the nine cities is unique and they have been in place for varying lengths of time.  The oldest system, Boston, has been in effect since 1991, while the newest, Washington, D.C., was adopted in 2007.  One city, Detroit, tried an experimental governance model for five years; then the citizens voted to return to a traditional elected school board.

In Section I, we review the analytical and scholarly context for studying school reform in general and governance changes in particular.  We also explain the methodology used in the qualitative and quantitative portions of our report.

In Section II, we examine the political history of how new governance models came to be adopted in each city and the legal framework under which each operates.  We also look at the current legal framework for school governance in New Jersey.

In Section III, we share our findings.  We report on how various stakeholders in public education — superintendents and CEOs, teachers and unions, parents and community groups, and the business and philanthropic communities — view the strengths or shortcomings of the governance models.  We also look at quantitative data, including student achievement and demographic trends, to learn whether there is objective evidence that the goals of new governance, including higher achievement and attracting businesses and middle class families to the city, are being met.

Finally, we share our conclusions about how the new governance models have fared in our nine cities. 

In our final section, we make recommendations for broadening the menu of choices for governance in New Jersey’s urban school systems beyond the traditional appointed and elected independent school board models, to include variants that give city leaders a greater stake in public education.  Of the nine governance models we reviewed, no single one is ideal, but several offer options that are worth considering.  Any model, however, should include guarantees for transparency and accountability, as well as assign parents and community representatives a meaningful role in governance alongside strong city leadership.

A full copy of the report is avaliable at: http://ielp.rutgers.edu/docs/MC Final.pdf