Chat: Are Local School Boards Obsolete?
Chat: Are Local School Boards Obsolete?
Produced With Generous Support From The Wallace Foundation.
Thursday, October 22, 3 p.m. Eastern time
Are local school boards obsolete? Or are they an essential part of the American system of K-12 education? As states and the federal government have come to play a larger role in education policymaking, boards have seen their roles change. Some communities, such as Pittsburgh, are making an effort to hold their elected board members accountable by closely monitoring their meetings. In other cities, such as Hartford, Conn., school board members have undergone extensive training with school administrators to get on the same page about a “theory of action” for change. And in some cities, mayors have taken control of school systems, sidelining school boards in the process.
- • Special Report: Leading for Learning 2009 (October 14, 2009)
Anne L. Bryant, executive director, National School Boards Association
Carey Harris, executive director, A+ Schools: Pittsburgh’s Community Alliance for Public Education; founder of the Board Watch program
Lesli A. Maxwell, staff writer, Education Week, moderated this chat.
|Live Chat: Are Local School Boards Obsolete?||(10/22/2009)|
Edweek Producer: Jennifer:
The chat itself will begin at 3 p.m. Eastern time. Thank you for joining us. Thursday October 22, 2009 9:59 Edweek Producer: Jennifer
|3:00||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
Hello, and welcome to today’s chat on school governance. I’m Lesli A. Maxwell, staff writer at Education Week, and moderator of today’s chat. We’ll begin by having our guests Anne L. Bryant, and Carey Harris, introduce themselves and then they’ll begin answering your questions. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:00 Lesli A. Maxwell
|3:01||Anne Bryant: |
Hello, this is Anne Bryant. I’m the Executive Director at the National School Boards Association. I’m greatly looking forward to talking to you today about school governance. So far the questions look great! Thursday October 22, 2009 3:01 Anne Bryant
My name is Carey Harris and I’m the executive director of A+ Schools. A+ Schools is an independent community advocate for improvement in public education in Pittsburgh. We work to inform, engage and mobilize families, youth and the community to work for good governance, equity, and excellent teaching. I am also looking forward to our conversation. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:02 Carey Harris
|3:03||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
Ok, to our first question. Anne, we’ve got one from Nancy on effective board practices. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:03 Lesli A. Maxwell
Thursday October 22, 2009 3:03 Nancy Walser
|3:06||Anne Bryant: |
Nancy, thank you for your question about school board governance specifically. First and most important, the board and superintendent must create a team leadership concept. Together with faculty, students, and other staff, they need to reach out and get these communities involved in setting strategic goals for the district. In my school district, Arlington County, Virginia, the district has established a very impressive set of strategic goals aligned with the work of the district, aligned with principals’ and teachers’ goals, and connected to student achievement in the broadest concept. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:06 Anne Bryant
|3:06||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
Carey, Here’s a question for you about communities with successful models of board governance. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:06 Lesli A. Maxwell
Thursday October 22, 2009 3:06 Peggy Patten
|3:10||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
Anne, can you take this great question from Amy in Milwaukee, where there’s an active debate going on over mayoral control? Thursday October 22, 2009 3:10 Lesli A. Maxwell
Thursday October 22, 2009 3:10 Amy Hetzner
|3:11||Carey Harris: |
Thanks for your question. We had the same question and engaged Michael Usdan from teh Institute for Educational Leadership to conduct a national scan of governance practices that enable community engagement. Michael found interesting examples of specific intiatives and projects communities and districts were undertaking together. Mr. Usdan found that some school boards were functioning as a community liaison for the district and that some boards were supporting the superintendent’s efforts to engage the public. But we didn’t uncover a set of practices or structures that could be replicated. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:11 Carey Harris
|3:13||Anne Bryant: |
Amy, you’ve asked an important question. Namely, what is more effective: school board or mayoral control. In cities like Milwaukee, there is in fact a new and vibrant school board who is more than ready to make dramatic changes in the Milwaukee schools. They need the support of the mayor, because the mayor can bring resources, other city partners, businesses, and community organizations to the table...to benefit our kids. The mayor alone does not have the expertise, the time, or in many cases the political stomach for running the school district. The mayor must be accountable to so many different forces and people that we question whether he or she can truly be the leader for all of the public schools in the city. There is just not the access to the mayor that there is to an elected board. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:13 Anne Bryant
|3:14||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
Carey, Here’s one for you about the Board Watch program in Pittsburgh. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:14 Lesli A. Maxwell
Thursday October 22, 2009 3:14 Thomas
|3:15||Anne Bryant: |
Some good examples, to respond to the former question, where boards have reached out to their communities with good results are Ft. Worth Texas, the recent Broad Foundation Winner, Aldine, Texas, and the CUBE winner Brownsville, Texas. All of these districts and boards have proven that strong community collaboration is a key to children’s success. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:15 Anne Bryant
|3:19||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
Here are EdWeek articles on Aldine and Brownsville http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/09/16/04broad.h29.html and http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/10/16/09broad.h28.html Thursday October 22, 2009 3:19 Lesli A. Maxwell
I can’t ensure that a program like Board Watch will be a success in your community. But I think that public pressure and engagement can be a powerful force for improvement. Things that have contributed to our success are that we have been as transparent, honest, and deliberate as we’ve asked teh school board to be. We’ve also been fair and respectful of the work the board does and the fact that the members are elected officials. We’ve grounded our work in governance research and in the facts.
The volunteers are key. Having 6-10 members of the public at each board meeting evaluating the proceedings puts alot more public focus on what is happening. The volunteers scores are regularly released to the public which also contributes to the visibility and importance of the work the board does.
Finally I think the community/public should have clear and high expectations for the board.
Thursday October 22, 2009 3:20 Carey Harris
|3:21||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
Anne, here’s one for you from Margaret, a sitting board member, who asks what roles, other than hiring the superintendent, school boards should prioritize. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:21 Lesli A. Maxwell
Thursday October 22, 2009 3:21 Margaret Burkholder
|3:25||Carey Harris: |
I agree with you that the most important job is the hiring, evaluating, and if need be firing the chief executive officer. I think another important role is to collaborate with the superintendent on setting goals and direction for the district and to be financial stewards. One component of school board leadership that we are interest in is the role as the community liaison. The idea that the board members share the responsibility for communicating the districts vision and goals and build public support for the difficult work necessary for school reform. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:25 Carey Harris
|3:25||Anne Bryant: |
First and foremost, working with the superintendent, setting the goals for the district, reaching out to the community to ensure that those goals reflect the community’s values, working with the teachers and staff to ensure that the goals are specific enough to drive their work. Second step, making sure that you are measuring the success toward those goals each quarter, and rewarding success, celebrating student learning, and addressing the areas where staff and faculty are not meeting the goals. A most important question for the board is are we aligning our budget to the goals? For example, if every child reading at third grade level by the end of third grade, do we have the appropriate professional development for faculty to do their job. Are English Language Learners getting the right curriculum to bring them up to the right reading level? Next, is the climate in our schools one where teachers love coming to work and students look forward to every day? Do we connect with the community on a regular basis? And finally, are we continuously improving each year? Thursday October 22, 2009 3:25 Anne Bryant
|3:26||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
Carey, can you take this question from Mary about what purpose school boards should and do serve, even as some folks argue that they are outdated forms of governance? Thursday October 22, 2009 3:26 Lesli A. Maxwell
Thursday October 22, 2009 3:26 Mary
|3:28||Anne Bryant: |
In New Brunswick, Canada, the province eradicated school boards about ten years ago. Within four years, the community was so frustrated with the autocratic provincial leadership, that they demanded the school board’s return. And in fact, gave the board more power than they had previously! Just for your information. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:28 Anne Bryant
|3:32||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
Related to our earlier question about examples of highly-functioning boards, see the link below from NSBA about the board in Brownsville, TX. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:32 Lesli A. Maxwell
Thursday October 22, 2009 3:32 Linda Embrey
I am agnostic about the “right” structure for school governance. In Pittsburgh we have a school board and that’s what we’re working with. Its purpose is policy leadership of the school district. It has the power to levy and collect taxes. At issue is how to do this work well in an increasingly dynamic, complex and high stakes enviroment. I am optimistic that it can be done well if there is the will to do so. That requires school board members that understand their role as collaborators with the superintendent - not a check or balance. And it requires a superintendent that considers her board collaborators and works to enable their success.
Thursday October 22, 2009 3:32 Carey Harris
|3:32||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
Anne, here’s an important question from Margaret about length of service on school boards. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:32 Lesli A. Maxwell
Thursday October 22, 2009 3:32 Margaret
Thursday October 22, 2009 3:35 Anne Bryant
|3:36||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
A former school board member wrote a long comment and question about how much school boards ought to be involved in decisions about hiring, firing, and evaluation of school staff, including teachers. Anne, can you take a crack at this one? Thursday October 22, 2009 3:36 Lesli A. Maxwell
|3:39||Anne Bryant: |
The board’s primary employee is the superintendent. Although some state laws state that the board is the employer, most boards have delegated this to the superintendent. If they are outside of the hiring, firing, and evaluation process, they can better deal with the emergencies. They can better respond to the outlier case where the superintendent needs the community’s support to reprimand or fire a problematic employee. The board should be the policy developer and leave personnel to the superintendent. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:39 Anne Bryant
|3:39||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
Carey, Jean wants to hear more about how you launched Board Watch in Pittsburgh Thursday October 22, 2009 3:39 Lesli A. Maxwell
Thursday October 22, 2009 3:39 Jean Johnson
If you are interested in learning more about how we developed it and how it works, we’ll be hosting a free webinar on November 18th at 4 PM through the Public Education Network. You can go to our website to register www.aplusschools.org and click on the Board Watch logo on the left side. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:42 Carey Harris
|3:42||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
Anne, we’ve got a really good question from Doris about what mayors have to know and be trained in before they assume control over a school system. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:42 Lesli A. Maxwell
Thursday October 22, 2009 3:43 Doris Johnson
|3:48||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
Carey, can you address this question from Dakarai about micromanagement and tell us how Board Watch has so far graded the Pittsburgh board on that front? Thursday October 22, 2009 3:48 Lesli A. Maxwell
Thursday October 22, 2009 3:48 Dakarai I. Aarons
Would the codes have to change? In most states, the legislature does have the ability to give more power to the mayor, but they do so at their own risk. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:48 Anne Bryant
|3:54||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
Anne, Con wants to know if new school board members should have required training, and if so, what should it consist of? Thursday October 22, 2009 3:54 Lesli A. Maxwell
Thursday October 22, 2009 3:54 Con Spirrison
Another factor that contribute to micromanaing are the school code. In Pennsylvania, the code calls for the board to approve field trips and operate cafeterias - among other managerial and administrative tasks. This just invites micromanaging.
In Pittsburgh, we’ve noticed that when the board is discussing matters other than its own goals, its not talking about policy. This is when the board gets “in the weeds” and its role clarity scores go down. The Board has scored C’s for role clarity in our first two report cards. WIth the last report card, we recommended that the board set aside time to discuss policy and strategy at each legislative meeting and that they support a change to PA School Code that would elminate many of the micromanaging functions from their role.
Thursday October 22, 2009 3:54 Carey Harris
At these conferences, board members and often their superintendent teams are exposed to best practices in governance, the latest trends in technology integration, an understanding of how to turn around struggling schools, exposure to 21st century learning and content, and the most effective ways to connect to their communities. Always the focus in our meetings is to make sure the board’s major work centers around student achievement and learning. Thursday October 22, 2009 3:59 Anne Bryant
|3:59||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
Carey, can you address Mary’s question about whether school boards ought to take on the role of advocating for more resources for schools and asking the public to join them in doing the same? Thursday October 22, 2009 3:59 Lesli A. Maxwell
Thursday October 22, 2009 4:00 Mary
|4:01||Anne Bryant: |
Absolutely! School board members can be the most effective advocates with their state legislatures and members of Congress fighting for additional funding. They often know these individuals personally, know their children and their families, and can articulate why public education is the best investment in the nation. Thursday October 22, 2009 4:01 Anne Bryant
Thursday October 22, 2009 4:02 Carey Harris
|4:03||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
Our final question of the chat is for you Anne, and it comes from Ann who wants to know if the lack of public interest in school boards is a weakness of the governance model. Thursday October 22, 2009 4:03 Lesli A. Maxwell
Thursday October 22, 2009 4:03 Ann
1. The general public does not understand what the board does or should be doing. In Pittsburgh for example, the District’s budget is bigger than the City’s budget. The District has more employees and the lives of 26,000 children in its hands. Many people don’t realize how much is at stake.
2. Many people do not have children in the school system in Pittsburgh. Only 13% of Pittsburghers have children in the public schools - the other 87% may not believe that the board’s business matters to them.
Okay - time is up. Thanks for the opportunity to chat with you all. I enjoyed it!
Thursday October 22, 2009 4:07 Carey Harris
In the case of Pittsburgh, we’ve clearly seen what the A+ program has brought to that community. Three cheers for Carey’s work. Thursday October 22, 2009 4:07 Anne Bryant
|4:07||Anne Bryant: |
Thanks for your thoughtful questions and a lively discussion. The topic is a rich one! Anne Thursday October 22, 2009 4:07 Anne Bryant
|4:08||Lesli A. Maxwell: |
This concludes our chat. Thanks to our readers for smart questions and a special thanks to our guests for their insightful answers. For more on this topic, read Ed Week’s recent report. http://www.edweek.org/ew/collections/wallace/index.html Thursday October 22, 2009 4:08 Lesli A. Maxwell
Edweek Producer: Jennifer:
Today’s chat “Are Local School Boards Obsolete?”, produced with generous support from the Wallace Foundation, is now closed. A transcript of this chat will be available shortly on this page. Please make sure to check out Education Week’s other upcoming chats at www.edweek.org/go/chat
Thursday October 22, 2009 4:09 Edweek Producer: Jennifer