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Published in Print: August 4, 1999, as Panel's Draft Report on Governance Draws Fire at Meeting

Panel's Draft Report on Governance Draws Fire at Meeting

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Members of the National Commission on Governing America's Schools say they aren't afraid of generating controversy if it means getting the education establishment to think of new ways to run schools.

The 18-member group, convened by the Education Commission of the States this past February to come up with innovative approaches to school organization and management, got its first taste of criticism last month when the panel unveiled a working draft of its report on governance during the ECS conference in Denver.

Some education leaders complained that the preliminary report, which lists four different governance models for schools, failed to draw from examples already in place in various city districts.

"In reading the initial document, I thought the report was confusing and at odds with itself," Michael Preston, the school board director of the 47,000-student Seattle district, said during the July 13 session. "We were disappointed that the report did not work with existing structures and bear out what is working well."

Governance Models

Commission member Lynnwood Battle, the president of the Cincinnati school board, said such criticisms resonated with the commission and would likely be reflected in the final report, which is slated for release in November.

At the same time, Mr. Battle noted, part of the commission's charge is to be innovative, and members expect to ruffle some feathers along the way. ("ECS Convenes Group To Explore School Governance," March 3, 1999.)

"We are committed to pushing the envelope to some extremes that probably haven't been considered before," he said. "We agree that is what's necessary now. We can't leave the system as it is, and tinkering around the edges is no longer acceptable either."

The draft report presents four different governance models on a continuum, with each option becoming progressively more decentralized than the one before it:

  • The first model would aim to improve the existing system by specifying and reallocating the roles that states, districts, and schools have in the educational process. It would make states responsible for setting standards and providing resources, districts responsible for instructional guidance and school accountability, and schools responsible for providing instruction and improving student performance.
  • Under the second model, authority would be concentrated at the school level, giving schools more authority over resource allocation and hiring decisions.
  • The third model would take education out of the hands of government and empower independent agencies, or charter districts, to run schools.
  • The fourth would create new local educational authorities, or educational development boards, to manage a variety of independent schools and programs and encourage private investment in schools. Individual schools would primarily manage themselves, deciding the employment, evaluation, and compensation of staff.

Commission members emphasized that they have no intention of promoting the merits of one model over the others.

"The commission is not an advocate of anything except candor," said Theodore R. Sizer, a commission member and the chairman of the reform network known as the Coalition of Essential Schools.

But some critics assert that the commission needs to paint more detailed pictures of the models before they could be fairly assessed.

In an interview last week, Nat LaCour, the executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, raised concerns about the models. "Our main concern is that this is an effort to transfer authority away from the government and locally elected school boards and give that authority to groups that are not accountable to the people," Mr. LaCour said.

Vol. 18, Issue 43, Page 23

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