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Distinguishing a mayor from his control takes "mental jiu jitsu"

Unfortunately, I’m not able to be in Queens today for the first State Assembly education committee hearing on mayoral control, the official opening event in the battle over school governance. (The next hearing is next week in Manhattan; I’ll be there.)

But I’m guessing, based on having been to a number of events that previewed the showdown, that those who are testifying at Queens Borough Hall might be having trouble separating their thoughts on the idea of mayoral control with their views on the way Mayor Bloomberg has ruled the city’s schools since 2002. Learn NY, the pro-mayoral control lobbying group, thinks the distinction is important, but they’re not the only ones: The commission convened by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum in 2007 to study mayoral control also did so without evaluating Bloomberg’s reforms. That commission ultimately argued in favor of a constrained form of mayoral control.

At Teachable Moment, John has a very good summary of how this distinction complicates the mayoral control debate. He writes:

Our image of mayoral control is so linked to Bloomberg that it’s hard to see it any other way.

This is, of course, not helped by the fact that Bloomberg, Klein, and Learn NY aren’t really even playing by their own rules. They will undoubtedly be highlighting rising test scores and graduation rates as evidence that mayoral control is working. They will point out the major dysfunctions that existed under many of the local school boards that mayoral control replaced. But that isn’t playing fair. If we’re really supposed to look at a governance system as a governance system, then we shouldn’t be looking at the successes under one man (who the system is designed to eventually replace) or the failures of the previous administrators.

What’s going on is a very sophisticated kind of mental jiu jitsu where every success under Bloomberg is hailed as proof that the system works while the failures are faults of the man and shouldn’t affect our view of the system. We’re also being asked to compare the platonic ideal of mayoral control (because we’re not looking at the policies Bloomberg implemented through it) to the very messy realities of the previous governance structure.

This isn’t exactly up is down thinking, but it certainly makes it hard to get a hold of a clear idea of what the terms of the debate actually are.

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