Principal at Barclay, Part Four: In the Spotlight

  • Gertrude S. Williams
  • Jo Ann Ooiman Robinson
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Oral History book series (PSOH)


Kurt Schmoke’s belated attention to the Barclay—Calvert issue was only one example of the complicated politics bedeviling the mayor’s efforts at school reform. Research on the politics of urban public education demonstrates that mayors who focus on this issue are never unfettered in exercising their authority. They must cope with the heavy constraints of a largely intransigent school system bureaucracy and with powerful interest groups within the city. Political scientist Wilbur Rich has identified “a cartel-like governing entity” that encapsulates big city school systems. Composed of administrators, community activists, and union leaders who are “primarily interested in self-perpetuation,” the “cartel” operates on the assumption that no one cares more about the school districts children than its members do, and no one—be he/she the mayor, the most recently appointed superintendent, or some self-appointed critic—is more qualified than they to initiate and oversee any changes that the schools may need. They will block efforts at change that do not originate with them, creating a very low probability of success for mayors who venture into school reforms that reach beyond or in anyway challenge the status quo. Since among cartel members “there is no assumption of permanent tenure for a superintendent,” individuals who assume that position, particularly those who are brought in from outside the district, are also working at a disadvantage.1


Public School Eighth Grade School Board School Reform Baltimore City 
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  1. 1.
    Wilbur C. Rich, Black Mayors and School Politics, the Failure of Reform in Detroit, Gary and Newark (New York: Garland Publishing Company, 1996) 5–8.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The objectives and methods of BUILD, GBC, and BTU are examined in Jennifer Joy-Marie Beaumont, “Factors Contributing to Involuntary Superintendency Turnover in Urban Public School Systems,” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, 1993, chapter V and Veronica Donahue DiConti, Interest Groups and Education Reform (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc., 1996) chapter 4.Google Scholar

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© Gertrude S. Williams and Jo Ann Ooiman Robinson 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gertrude S. Williams
  • Jo Ann Ooiman Robinson

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