Education Letter to the Editor

Boards: An ‘Outmoded Relic’ for Today’s Needs

January 08, 2008 1 min read

To the Editor:

Anne L. Bryant, the executive director of the National School Boards Association, argues unpersuasively in her recent Commentary that mayoral takeovers of school districts are the “wrong solution to the complex challenge of raising student achievement” (“Should the Mayor Be in Charge?,” Dec. 12, 2007). Instead, she writes, partnerships are the key to school success—specifically, partnerships with school boards.

Ms. Bryant cites as a successful example of such a partnership the relationship between the mayor of San Francisco and that city’s school board. She obviously does not live in San Francisco. The school board here is a largely fractionalized amalgam of individuals who rarely achieve consensus about anything important. When the board does act, it is often to the detriment of the city’s students, as in the recent decision to abandon the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, which is supported by a majority of San Franciscans.

As the former San Francisco Examiner reporter Mark Twain wrote many years ago: “In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards.”

It’s curious that before offering her somewhat disparaging remarks about the mayoral takeover of schools in New York City, Ms. Bryant does note that the city received the most prestigious award in urban education, the Broad Prize, this year for the work it is doing. Similarly, Boston, another city that has benefited from a mayoral takeover, received the Broad Prize last year.

What school boards really do is allow finger-pointing and blame-shifting. They are an outmoded relic ill-suited to modern-day educational needs.

Patrick Mattimore

San Francisco, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2008 edition of Education Week as Boards: An ‘Outmoded Relic’ for Today’s Needs