Special Report
School & District Management

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

November 17, 2020 2 min read

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

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

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
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

7796 - Director of EAL (K-12) - August '21
Dubai, UAE
GEMS Education
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools

Read Next

School & District Management Student Mental Health and Learning Loss Continue to Worry Principals
Months into the pandemic, elementary principals say they still want training in crucial areas to help students who are struggling.
3 min read
Student sitting alone with empty chairs around her.
Maria Casinos/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Opinion A Road Map for Education Research in a Crisis
Here are five basic principles for a responsible and timely research agenda during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robin J. Lake
4 min read
Two opposing sides reaching out to work together
J.R. Bee for Education Week
School & District Management 1,000 Students, No Social Distancing, and a Fight to Keep the Virus Out
A principal describes the "nightmare" job of keeping more than 1,000 people safe in the fast-moving pandemic.
4 min read
Dixie Rae Garrison, principal of West Jordan Middle School, in West Jordan, Utah.
Dixie Rae Garrison, principal of West Jordan Middle School in West Jordan, Utah, would have preferred a hybrid schedule and other social distancing measures.
Courtesy of Dixie Rae Garrison
School & District Management A School Leader Who Calls Her Own Shots on Battling the Coronavirus
A charter school founder uses her autonomy to move swiftly on everything from classroom shutdowns to remote schooling.
3 min read
Nigena Livingston, founder and head of School at the URBAN ACT Academy in Indianapolis, Ind.
Nigena Livingston, founder and head of school at the URBAN ACT Academy in Indianapolis, makes swift decisions in responding to the threat of COVID-19 in her school community.
Courtesy of Nigena Livingston