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N.S.B.A. Endorses Alternatives to Traditional School Governance

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The National School Boards Association should assist local boards interested in contracting out school services by creating a technical-assistance network for them, a report released last week suggests.

The report, by a task force on public school governance, was unveiled in New Orleans at the organization's annual meeting. It was expected to be approved by the N.S.B.A.'s board of directors.

Titled "A New Framework for School Governance,'' the report endorses school-based decisionmaking, charter schools, and other alternatives to traditional governance structures, provided they meet local needs.

It also argues, however, that the retention of elected school officials at the local level "guarantees that policymakers are ultimately accountable to the community.''

The association's board of directors created the task force last year after a series of scathing reports took local boards of education to task for micromanaging schools and lacking a broader vision.

"We had been more reactive than proactive,'' explained E. Harold Fisher, the chairman of the task force and the immediate past president of the N.S.B.A. "Those people who actually dealt in governance had not been heard.''

Much of the report focuses on improving the alignment of government services at all levels so that children can meet high academic standards. School governance, Mr. Fisher asserted, "is really a collaborative effort.''

The report also recommends that the N.S.B.A. release an annual report card on the state of school governance. It would include such information as how many board members in each state participate in annual training conducted by the N.S.B.A. or a state school boards' association.

That way, said Mr. Fisher, "we can tell from the various states how well the school boards are doing.''

Child-Development Goals

The task force endorsed the creation of a national board to help set voluntary learning standards for students, as required by the Goals 2000: Educate America Act signed into law by President Clinton late last month.

The N.S.B.A. panel also offered support for the creation of "opportunity to learn'' standards that would measure the delivery of education by assessing the resources, practices, and conditions needed for effective performance.

In addition to the national education goals, the new report advocates the creation of national goals for child and youth development.

"The line between services offered by schools and those offered by health, welfare, and other agencies is changing,'' the report notes. "Establishing explicit, substantive goals based on children's needs will allow providers to coordinate services more effectively and insure that help is available to those in need.''

At the state level, the report calls for statewide youth-service plans that would cut across traditional bureaucratic boundaries and focus instead on clients' needs.

States should also provide "stable, predictable, adequate, and equitable funding to fulfill the state-level youth-service and education plans,'' it argues.

Vision and Structure

The report notes that the N.S.B.A. in 1992 adopted a policy statement outlining four major responsibilities of local school boards. It urges boards to:

  • Set a vision for education--including the adoption of goals and outcomes--with broad community participation.
  • Establish a structure that reflects local circumstances and works through a strategic-planning process.
  • Create an accountability system that includes a provision for staff and board training.
  • Advocate on behalf of students and schools in the community and among other units of governance.

"These four functions--vision, structure, accountability, and advocacy--will help local, elected governance bodies avoid activities counter to educational improvement, such as micromanagement of school district affairs,'' the report says.

The report also suggests that boards require teachers and administrators to participate in professional-development networks that expand their knowledge.

The 23-member task force included representatives from a number of state school boards' associations, as well as the leaders of the black and Hispanic caucuses and the council of urban boards of education. The task force met six times and reviewed 67 articles and reports, as well as consulting outside experts.

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