Talk to education reformers about the potential for district school boards to bring about positive change, and they’re likely to channel Nietzsche: School boards are dead. But are they? May’s Governing magazine profiled the school board in our hometown of Dayton, Ohio, which over the past several years has measurably improved Gem City’s perennially failing schools. After recruiting committed people to serve on the board and implementing simple steps (by developing, for example, a partnership with the nearby University of Dayton), the city’s test scores rose, allowing the district to compete more effectively with local charter schools. Other cities—such as Houston, St. Louis, and Portland, Oregon—also have reform-minded school boards that run their districts like forward-thinking businesses. The vast majority of American school districts operate under elected boards, and Don McAdams, who directs the Center for Reform School Systems, has confidence those elected boards can be effective. “The voters don’t always send us ideal candidates,” he said, “but democracy’s a messy business.” Indeed, and that’s why it’s often a poor method for micromanaging schools. Nietzsche went crazy, so we’ll stay away from eschatological pronouncements and keep an open mind about the potential for school board reform. But we aren’t holding our breath.
“Battered School Boards,” by Rob Gurwitt, Governing, May 2006