Looking for Leadership: Assessing the Case for Mayoral Control of Urban School Systems

Liam Julian

Frederick M. Hess
Show-Me Institute
February 6, 2007

After reviewing the (relatively thin) research on mayoral takeovers of school districts, the prolific Rick Hess emerges with a common-sense conclusion: this reform is not, on its own, enough to cure ailing districts of their maladies. "Mayoral control," he writes, "can do no more than offer a heightened opportunity for effective leadership," noting that "any benefits that inhere in the [mayoral takeover] may well diminish with time." Such cautious warnings are appropriately attached to most reform strategies but especially important for this one. Mayoral control is often accompanied by lots of hype, emotion, and unrealistic expectations--some of that has recently emerged in Washington, D.C., for example. And it's emerged in St. Louis, too. In a section of his paper treating that city as a case study, Hess writes that mayoral control there "would seem a sensible and appropriate step," especially because the city could use some continuity in its leadership. St. Louis has had six superintendents in four years. Check out this paper here.

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