Sunday, April 13, 2014

School Boards: Do they matter?

Arnold F. Shober (a St. Lawrence University assistant professor of government) and Michael T. Hartney are authors of a new study, Does School Board Leadership Matter? (March 2014 - Thomas B. Fordham Institute) 

Thought-Provoking Questions Posed by the Study:

~ Are school boards leading school districts effectively?
~ Do board members have accurate information about the condition of their districts?
~ Is there a link between school boards and student achievement?
~ Are voters "choosing candidates with an overriding commitment to student learning?"

School Board Members - Educational Leaders or Petty Politicians? 

According to the study, some believe school boards are vital because local board elections compel district leadership to be responsive to community sentiments. "Others maintain that the notion of a board member as a leading citizen committed to protecting the public good is outdated, replaced by aspiring politicians, single-issue oligarchs, representatives of employee groups, and aggrieved former employees or community members with grudges to settle." Which is it?    

A disinterested public?

The authors point out the voter turnout in school board elections is extremely low. They note that only one in ten voters casts votes in board of education elections. It is my opinion that if board of education members are to be truly representative of their communities, voter turnout must increase.

Does your school board have a "vision"?

The study contains the following statement: " board members should possess a particular vision for the schools that they oversee. Here, we include their support for improving student learning - what we call an academic focus... After all, it is critical that board members prioritize educating students over the needs of adults and other political considerations if they are to fulfill their responsibility to provide students with a high-quality education."
During my two stints on the PCS Board of Education, I recall long-time member Judith Rich repeatedly pressing for the board to discuss and develop a vision for the education of students. Her efforts (and mine) were met with ridicule and disdain. She only half-jokingly said to me that every time she brings up the the vision thing, they decide, instead, to build something. (In other words, bury the Board in minutiae about drainage, heating problems, and co-axial cables so they could avoid the vision discussion. So they could avoid discussing how to improve learning.)

One of the study's conclusions is that "boards with members who have an academic focus and exhibit certain work practices are associated with better student achievement than expected, given their district conditions. They beat the odds."

There is much more to read in this important study. Read it at:

No comments:

Post a Comment