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Katrina Bulkley, (973) 655-5189,
Dan Quinn, (517) 203-2940,

Mayor-Led Schools Report Problematic, Academic Review Finds

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Apr. 23, 2013) – Mayoral governance – where a city's mayor replaces an elected school board – is in use in several major American cities, including New York City and Chicago. A recent report from the Center for American Progress claims that "mayoral-led" districts improve school and student performance. A new review questions whether mayoral control is appropriately credited with the claimed improvements.

The report, Mayoral Governance and Student Achievement: How Mayor-Led Districts are Improving School and Student Performance, was authored by Kenneth K. Wong and Francis X. Shen.  Wong and Shen studied fiscal and student achievement data in an effort expand the discussion around mayoral control of schools.

Katrina Bulkley, Professor of Education Leadership at Montclair State University, reviewed the report for the Think Twice think tank review project. The review was produced by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Professor Bulkley's review finds that the fiscal analysis of mayoral-led cities is "problematic due to inappropriate comparisons and a lack of reliable and valid evidence." Specifically, mayoral-led districts are claimed to have more resources as a result of the governance change but no evidence is provided that shows this is true. Regarding student achievement claims, she found the report highlights selected positive findings in a few districts, but does not address mayor-led cities where such gains were not found nor cities in the country that saw strong gains without mayoral control.

The report's use of research literature is also called into question, as no peer-reviewed journals appear in the endnotes and there is a lack of citations to research that examines finances or student achievement.

Furthermore, the review finds that the report "surprisingly" includes Philadelphia and Baltimore in the sections on student achievement but not the section on finances.  This is surprising because these two cities are cited in the report as "mixed" models – with a combination of state and mayoral control. "Without their inclusion, only three out of the nine analyzed districts would have shown improvement [in student achievement] by the report's own definitions."

On a positive note, Bulkley states, "This report offers useful information about the context for shifts to mayoral control in different cities and the challenges that may arise in such governance changes."

However, Bulkley concludes that the limitations presented in the review prevent the report from being used for serious policy decisions.

Find Katrina Bulkley's review on the Great Lakes Center website:

Find Mayoral Governance and Student Achievement: How Mayor-Led Districts are Improving School and Student Performance on the web:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review is also available on the NEPC website:


The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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