Peter McPherson writes here about the failure of mayoral control in the District of Columbia. He recites the promises made by its proponents, and the turmoil and scandal and absence of accountability that has followed.

Reformers don’t like democratic control of public schools. They prefer top-down control, by a mayor or a governor or a commission beyond the reach of the voters. The mayor or governor listen to elites, not to those who are most engaged in the schools, especially parents and local communities.

But, writes McPherson, mayoral control does not improve schools. He agrees that the modernization of school buildings has been a success but it was not necessary to eliminate the elected school board to accomplish that goal.

In those 10 years, has a school system controlled by the mayor and administered by the executive’s chosen instrument, the chancellor, been transformed into a gleaming educational edifice of quality and broad academic achievement?

Not really.

The level of turnover and attrition among DCPS teachers has been far higherthan national norms. The same is true of DCPS administrators. DCPS has fewer students than it did 10 years ago. In school year 2006-07, DCPS had 52,645 students and DC charter schools 19,733, with DCPS having almost 73% of students. In the 2017-18 school year, despite growth in the school-age population of the city, DCPS has 47,982 students and DC charters schools 43,340. Alongside the decrease in absolute numbers of students, DCPS’s share of students has declined to a little over half citywide.

Such declines are not evidence of success.

Under mayoral control and like DC’s charter schools, DCPS has judged its progress using statistical measures of student test taking, such as the DC-CAS and PARCC. Sadly, all of DC’s publicly funded schools have shown only modest gains on these tests, while the achievement gap between white and African American students has widened–and while in the wake of a 2012 cheating scandal, it has become clear that many recent DCPS graduates were not, in fact, eligible to graduate.

(There is no independent analysis of what is occurring in DC charter schools regarding meeting standards for graduation.)

In the meantime, DCPS’s pedagogic innovations, like student performance-based teacher evaluations, have been clung to like life preservers in the freezing North Atlantic, with the belief that they alone would save the day..

This governance model allows those running DCPS to act both quickly and unilaterally. In the end, there could be little surprise that former Mayor Adrian Fenty chose Michelle Rhee as chancellor. He installed someone who was indifferent to what a large swath of stakeholders felt, operating like a zealot and atomizing the old order as she went. In her drive to close schools, Rhee was clearly indifferent to the input of affected communities and the negative effects of those closures, which continue to the present day.

Charter schools are booming, because those with money and power get what they want.

This is a governance system with no public oversight or accountability. It has failed.

The same could be said for mayoral control in Cleveland, New York City, and Chicago.

Mayors should have a role because they control the budget. But the people who enroll their children in the schools should have a large role also. The mayor is not uniquely qualified to run the schools or to choose the best person to run the schools.

Democracy may be inefficient, but it is far better as a governance system than one-man or one-woman rule.