Five Characteristics of an Effective School Board
In Fayetteville, Arkansas, a parent complained about a controversial book in a school library and then threatened, “ There will be a next step” when the school board accepted the recommendation of a school-materials evaluation committee and let the book stay on the shelves. More recently, the Seattle school board required that high school administrators review a school newspaper before its distribution; students sued in federal court, claiming their free-speech rights had been violated. The ruckus in Washington continues.
School boards often deal with controversy. That’s part of the job. But their predominant duty is to establish policies that serve as administrators’ guides for the day-to-day management of schools. Most of the school board decisions are not controversial or inflammatory, and few of them are reported in the news. As a result, the public often holds inaccurate perceptions about what they really do.
Historically, school boards have been formed to keep the “public” in public education. They are uniquely American and provide the conduit that delivers the community’s values and will into its schools. This truth implies that in our democracy, the functions and decisions of school boards are important. Certainly, we believe this. It’s not an exaggeration to say that decisions they make often have a greater long-term impact on our communities than those of any other elected body at any other level of government. However, in the dialog about meaningful school improvement and reform, due to a misunderstanding of their policy-making responsibilities and their relevance to the American way of life, school boards are sometimes left out.
Today, the relevance of school boards is dependent on doing what matters. A panel of educators from across the country recently convened by CTB/McGraw-Hill, the leading publisher of standardized achievement tests for children and adults in the United States, explored the role of school boards and outlined five characteristics of an effective board of education. Our direct experience in working with school boards over the years suggests the panel was right in its analysis. The five characteristics, and discussion about them follow:
Effective boards focus on student achievement
The best school boards understand that student learning is job one. This emphasis necessarily means that policies and resources of schools are targeted to promote achievement for all students. School practices, which have their genesis in policy, ought to have a laser-beam orientation on high standards, a rigorous curriculum, and high-quality teachers. Issues a school board must consider are evaluated against the contribution toward student learning—the core business of schools.
Effective boards allocate resources to needs
Not all students walk through the school doors with the same needs. Good school boards recognize this fact and allocate resources such as time, money, and personnel and adjust practices accordingly. Documents of the school district, such as the annual budget, are viewed as tools to reach student-learning priorities, and the district’s spending and practices do not protect sacred cows.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. © 2007, Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
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