Learning our lesson: A study on the state of public participation in the New York City public schools system

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration


Public participation, School reform, Citizen participation, Education policy, Urban studies, Urban politics

Subject Categories

Education | Educational Administration and Supervision | Political Science | Public Administration | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Social and Behavioral Sciences


In June of 2002, New York State Governor George Pataki signed legislation granting New York City mayoral control of its public school system. The law dissolved the former Board of Education, replacing it with a schools chancellor to be appointed by the mayor. The system long reflected a shared pattern of authority, with power divided between the central Board of Education and the local community school boards. Under the new reforms, the community school boards were dissolved and replaced by community education councils, essentially policy advisory panels composed primarily of parents of children in the public school system.

In this case study, I utilize the social goals framework to assess the quality of the functioning of the community education councils. Through an analysis of documents, personal and telephone interviews, and observations of four community education councils, I find that these bodies can indeed produce some policy and administrative outputs and outcomes, some being of moderate significance, despite a lack of formal statutory powers. The community education councils appear capable of prompting minor policy and administrative changes relevant to local community school districts as well as some more substantive changes affecting the greater school system. The ability of these structures to produce such changes appears to be driven by a number of factors, including the working styles employed by CEC members when engaging Department of Education administrators, the nature of the political values emphasized within formal policy advisories, and the levels of social capital existent within community school districts. However, the community education councils do not appear capable of affecting the most significant systemic school policies stemming from the 2002 centralizing reforms.


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