Special Report
School & District Management

School Board Elections Don’t Get Much Attention. They Should

November 17, 2020 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Even during a month when elections dominate the news, local school board elections get too little attention. While not all members of the nation’s 14,000 school boards are selected by voters in partisan or nonpartisan elections, most are. And these elections arguably embody democracy at its most grassroots level.

While they may not attract widespread media attention, school boards play a critical role in steering the progress of the nation’s schools. They choose curricula, set school-year calendars, and negotiate employee labor contracts. They hire, fire, and evaluate school superintendents and approve their goals and policies.

The more collaborative and productive a superintendent-school board relationship is, the more efficiently a school system runs. Yet the superintendent-school board relationship is often fraught—marked by conflict, attempts at micromanagement, and single-issue politics.

Developing a constructive relationship between school boards and district leaders is especially critical now as school systems wrestle with new demands imposed by the coronavirus crisis. In a recent EdWeek Research Center poll, more than half of school board members characterized pandemic-related remote or in-person learning as the biggest challenges they have faced during their tenures.

As important as school boards are, the EdWeek Research Center poll also found that 30 percent of board members say they came to the job “very” or “somewhat” unprepared, although that proportion shrinks over time as school board members learn on the job and from training provided by their state and national associations. Overwhelmingly white, well educated, and middle-income, school board members often do not reflect the families in the school districts they serve, and they may face an upward climb to understand the needs of the entire district, apart from the geographic subdivisions they come from.

What can school district leaders do to ensure a quick transition and a smooth relationship for their school board members? Plenty, according to educators and experts, and this special report highlights some of those strategies, including broad community training to interest new candidates in the job and governance approaches to help guard against micromanagement. You can also find more results from the EdWeek Research Center poll as well as advice to school board members from peers already on the job. Our hope is that the information will prove helpful in the months ahead as school districts nationwide onboard the next class of citizens joining their local school board.

—The Editors

A version of this article appeared in the November 18, 2020 edition of Education Week


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Letter to the Editor School Mask Mandates: Pandemic, ‘Panicdemic,’ or Personal?
"A pandemic is based on facts. A 'panicdemic' is based on fears. Today, we have both," writes a professor.
1 min read
School & District Management How 'Vaccine Discrimination' Laws Make It Harder for Schools to Limit COVID Spread
In Montana and Ohio, the unvaccinated are a protected class, making it tough to track and contain outbreaks, school leaders say.
4 min read
Principal and District Superintendent Bonnie Lower takes the temperature of a student at Willow Creek School as the school reopened, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Willow Creek, Mont.
Bonnie Lower, a principal and district superintendent in Willow Creek, Mont., checks the temperature of a student as Willow Creek School reopened for in-person instruction in the spring.
Ryan Berry/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP
School & District Management Opinion 'Futures Thinking' Can Help Schools Plan for the Next Pandemic
Rethinking the use of time and place for teachers and students, taking risks, and having a sound family-engagement plan also would help.
17 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
School & District Management Opinion The Consequence of Public-Health Officials Racing to Shutter Schools
Public-health officials' lack of concern for the risks of closing schools may shed light on Americans' reticence to embrace their directives.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty