This is the title of a recent conference sponsored by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Center for American Progress. The discussion was based on a new book Education Governance for the 21st Century: Overcoming the Structural Barriers to School Reform edited by Paul Manna and Patrick McGuinn.

Five themes underlie the conclusions of the book:

  • Local control is obsolete. Whether “local” refers to geographical boundaries, elected school boards, or other local entities, it is not working in the United States. In most countries that surpass us, public education is administered by states, provinces or even the national government.
  • Separate governance does not work. Public education should not be administered separately from other human service organizations that impact the same populations.
  • Monopoly does not work. No one system should dominate public education. Charters and other models should be part of the solution.
  • Too many cooks. There are too many layers of governance influencing public school systems.
  • Present governance arrangements are captured by adult interests. Adult interest groups benefit from the status quo and therefore resist change.

One of the presenters was Kenneth Wong, author of a new book Mayoral Governance and School Achievement: How Mayor-led Districts are Improving School and Student Performance. This work is a continuation of the research in Wong’s earlier book When Mayors Take Charge that provided part of the basis for Do The Right Thing for Kids’ assertion that outside intervention will be necessary to turn the Kansas City Public Schools around in a meaningful way. Wong’s research indicates that mayor run school districts continue to perform better than districts with traditional governance.

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