On July 12, the South Carolina Board of Education decided to maintain the status quo at seven low-performing schools around the state, likely ensuring yet another school year marked by low achievement rates. The state board voted against a takeover or instituting any meaningful reforms of these chronically failing schools, abdicating its responsibility to ensure the best education for hundreds of children.

What these schools require are fundamental changes in school governance.

South Carolina is not alone in refusing to take bold action and intervene in lousy schools but its continual resistance to school-governance reform in the face of persistent low achievement indicates that a new model is needed in the Palmetto State.

The state school board did approve school improvement plans that include teacher evaluation (including, but not limited to, tying teacher employment and pay scales to student performance) and the consolidation and reorganization of schools. But these plans are merely a tweak to the status quo. The seven schools they apply to need more than tweaks—each received an “at-risk” grade for at least eight consecutive years. What they require are fundamental changes in school governance. Even members of the state board who voted for these...

One of the recurring themes at the recent Program on Education Policy and Governance conference on improving education was that the more you expand the franchise (i.e. allow people to vote), the better the education. Good education seems to be one of the first things people with voting power demand.

Good education seems to be one of the first things people with voting power demand.

This is why I tend to see America’s current education free-fall as a sign of a diminished democracy as much as it is a pedagogical failure. And this is why a fight in East Ramapo Central School District, a growing suburb of New York City (just twenty miles north of Manhattan), is so fascinating.

As the New York Times’ Peter Applebome describes it in Saturday’s paper, Orthodox Jews have taken over the district’s school board (they have seven of nine seats). The problem? Eighty-five percent of the students in the district schools are black or Hispanic. Even worse, reports Applebome, most of the Jews in the district send their children to private schools (where the enrollment is 19,000, compared to 8,000 students in the public schools).

Not surprisingly, a group called Padres Unidos...

Sophomoric videos are our thing

Mike and Adam dissect StudentsFirst’s take on the Olympics and debate whether the parent trigger is overhyped. Amber wonders what Maryland and Delaware are doing right when it comes to education.

Amber's Research Minute

Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance - Download the PDF

Dee Selvaggi
Former school-board member

This post is part of a series by guest bloggers who know first-hand the strengths and flaws of America's dominant form of education governance: the local school board. Each author will draw on their personal experiences to answer the question posed for the Board's Eye View Challenge: Can school boards improve schools?

Guest blogger Dee Selvaggi served on the Matawan-Aberdeen (NJ) Regional School District board from 1990--1991, attended board meetings in the Holmdel (NJ) Township School District from 1991-1998 (as a parent), coordinating over 200 volunteers for the district’s Operation Get Out the Vote initiative and serving on multi-year district committees. She also coordinated a statewide (NJ) information network for board members and parents and engaged in advocacy as an individual at state board of education meetings and legislative hearings. She also served on the Monmouth Academy Board of Trustees, Howell, NJ, from 2005-2008.

What’s it like, trying to improve schools from the inside?

Perplexing, frustrating, and exhausting. Yes, I’ve taken on issues, but the idea of “winning” seems elusive—you’re defeated either by blatant digging-in-of-heels by opponents or by...

Gene Maeroff
Senior fellow at Teachers College

This is the inaugural post in a series by guest bloggers who know first-hand the strengths and flaws of America's dominant form of education governance: the local school board. Each author will draw on their personal experiences to answer the question posed for the Board's Eye View Challenge: Can school boards improve schools?

Gene I. Maeroff has adapted this excerpt from his book School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy. He is president of the board in Edison, N.J. and is serving his second term as a member. He is a senior fellow at Teachers College, Columbia University. His biographical and contact information are available at

America’s school boards are too easily diverted from larger purposes. They may get bogged down in issues better left to staff. Some school board members want to meddle and they get more involved in administrative matters than they should. Boards sometimes invest precious hours in matters of little consequence. In other words, school boards too readily waste time and effort.

School boards too readily waste time and effort.

Ultimately, a school board should...

Who should control education? That’s the subject of a new study analyzing forty years of polling data assessing public opinions on education governance. Michigan State University researchers Rebecca Jacobsen and Andrew Saultz mostly examined survey results from the often-cited annual Gallup poll to conclude that “the public often expresses strong support for local control.”

Who should control education?

Gallup poll questions aren’t known for nuance and complexity. So it’s no surprise that the conclusions from this study are just as simplistic.

Jacobsen and Saultz begin their report by carping that folks like Fordham’s Checker Finn say that school boards and current notions of local control have become antiquated in the twenty-first century. Reformers and policymakers, Jacobsen and Saultz argue, should realize that the public sees a role for federal and state governments in education, but not when it comes to local decision making.

But the authors suggest the only alternative to the status quo of “local decision making” is federal or state control. In fact, Finn has argued for a re-invention of local control, and more recently wrote in the journal National Affairs that enhanced levels of parental influence and choice have allowed new forms of local control...

Move to the head of the class

Mike and Rick reunite to talk social mobility, the NEA’s membership woes, and what sequestration would actually mean for schools. Amber explains where parents stand on digital learning.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning in the 21st Century: A 5 Year Retrospective on the Growth in Online Learning - Project Tomorrow

Einstein famously opined that one only understands a subject that he can explain to his grandmother. If that’s the case, then Council for Great City Schools chief Michael Casserly understands a great deal. This AEI Outlook by Casserly culls the findings from the CGCS’s dense report on urban school improvement (released late in 2011), making them accessible to the grandmother in all of us. The study, which analyzes fourth- and eighth-grade NAEP scores for reading and math, finds that urban school districts have improved student outcomes more in recent years (2003-07) than has the nation as a whole, but that some have been markedly more successful than others. To probe the reasons, study authors profiled four districts: Atlanta (which made great gains in reading achievement, assuming its test scores are to be believed), Boston (which significantly boosted math achievement), Charlotte-Mecklenburg (a consistent high performer), and Cleveland (a persistently low performer). Researchers found several common characteristics that worked in tandem to create a purposeful and coherent “culture of reform” in the first three of those districts. Each had: strong leadership, robust accountability systems, a standard and consistent curriculum over the study period, meaningful professional development, solid central-office support, and clear data and assessments. Notably, each...

Many people believe that school boards—nearly 14,000 of them in the U.S—are what’s wrong with our education system. Many believe they are what stand in the way of school improvement.

I spent five years on a school board and don’t think they are the problem, but do believe that more often than not they stand in the way of school improvement. Are there any other school board members who have tried to reform their districts? 

Are you out there? What is it like trying to turn around a tanker with a paddle? Are you a flamethrower or consensus builder? Did you win any fights? Were you able to improve your district? Have you come away from your experience as believer in boards of education or a determined skeptic?

If you are out there, I’d love to hear from you. Please follow this link and get in touch with me,

Thank you,

Peter Meyer

Mike is from Mars; Kathleen is from Venus

Kathleen and Mike wonder how to hold states accountable in twenty-seven different ways and debate whether gender-specific curricula make sense. Amber dives deep into census data on edu-spending.

Amber's Research Minute

Public Education Finances Report - United States Census