Survey Finds Gap Between Public, Board Members on Urban Schools

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America's city schools get far lower marks from the general public than from the school board members charged with overseeing them, according to a survey conducted for the National School Boards Foundation.

That perception gap should prompt urban school leaders to rethink their roles and focus more clearly on the urgent need to improve academic performance, the foundation concludes in a report to be released this week.

"We feel a lot of boards are dealing with more political and emotional community problems, rather than the things that boards are voted in to do, which is to create a quality educational system," said Terry Crane, the chairman of the foundation's board of trustees and the president of Jostens Learning Corp., an educational software company based in San Diego. The foundation, an offshoot of the National School Boards Association, was formed in 1995 to conduct research on issues affecting boards of education.

As part of a broader look at urban school boards, the foundation polled residents and board members in large cities last May on a range of educational issues. Among the findings:

  • While more than two-thirds of school board members gave their local schools an A or B for overall performance, less than half the general public did so.
  • Three-quarters of school board members said their teachers and principals were doing a good or excellent job. Among the public at large, just 43 percent rated principals that highly, while 54 percent gave teachers similar votes of confidence.
  • More than eight in 10 board members said their districts were doing a good or excellent job in combating violence and drugs, but only a third of the public agreed.

Dimmer Public View

The survey also found that fewer than half the respondents from the public rated their districts as good or excellent in teaching reading, writing, and mathematics, compared with 69 percent of board members.

Fewer than four in 10 members of the public gave their districts such ratings in: preparing students for college; maintaining high academic standards; teaching workplace skills; sparking parental involvement; employing high-quality principals and superintendents; and providing up-to-date textbooks. The marks were even lower for maintaining student discipline, teaching children who don't speak English, and keeping class sizes small. In all cases, board members were far more generous.

The report concludes that boards must focus intensively on four areas: improving academic expectations, resources, and accountability; increasing parental involvement; attracting and keeping highly qualified teachers; and providing a safe and disciplined learning environment.

"Don't spend all your time on where the water fountains are going to go in the schools," Ms. Crane said, "but focus your attention on the kind of educational products we're delivering in our schools."

Copies of the report, "Leadership Matters: Transforming Urban School Boards," are available by calling (800) 706-6722.

Vol. 18, Issue 27, Page 9

Published in Print: March 17, 1999, as Survey Finds Gap Between Public, Board Members on Urban Schools
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