Governance

"But you must remember, my fellow-citizens,
that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty,
and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing.
It behooves you, therefore, to be watchful in your States as well as in the Federal Government."
—Andrew Jackson, Farewell Address, March 4, 1837

At some low point in my tenure on the board of education in my small school district, a friend advised, “Don’t worry. You are like gravity. They always know that you are there.”

Much good can come from keeping institutions honest.

Though I aspired to being more than a reminder of some facts of life as member of a board of education, gravity was at least a starting point. And I appreciated my friend’s larger message: that much good can come from keeping institutions honest. In fact, as I reflect on the last five years of public service, I’m thinking that keeping governments honest may be the single most important duty of every citizen.

And in honor of the holiday, I offer five lessons learned, which to my mind seem close to self-evident truths, about school governance:

1. Don’t underestimate the value of information...

Just in case I buried the lead in my last post, I would love to hear from fellow reform-minded members of boards of education. 

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?

Send your essays (or questions) to me, petermeyer@edexcellence.netpmeyer@edexcellence.net. Your story should be between 250 and 800 words, though, as mentioned, a good haiku or other creative verse will be considered. We will publish as many as we can and, at the end of the summer, Fordham staff will choose the seven best. The seven, in honor of the number of board members on my board of ed, will then convene, by email, and suggest what governance policies are most necessary to improve our public education system.

Tell your friends!...

Curriculum nerds

Kathleen Porter-Magee makes her podcast debut, debating reading requirements with Mike and explaining why the new science standards need improvement. Amber wonders whether upper-elementary teachers outshine their K-2 peers.

Amber's Research Minute

School Based Accountability and the Distribution of Teacher Quality Among Grades in Elementary School by Sarah C. Fuller & Helen F. Ladd - Download PDF

There’s nothing worse for a rogue member of the school board than sitting on a stage with graduating high school seniors, looking into an auditorium packed with adoring friends and relatives. The speeches gush with encomiums for the school that you (i.e. me) have been criticizing for years. “Don’t listen to the negative,” the congressman tells the class. “Unity,” gushes the valedictorian, recounting all the things he has learned from “the great teachers” he has had. The salutatorian cries. Applause.

I have been trying to “fix” my little district (2,300 students fifteen years ago, less than 1,900 today) ever since my son entered first grade (he is now finishing his third year in college). I ran for the board, won, quit, helped start a charter school (which crashed on the shoals of racial politics), started an email listserv dedicated to watching the district, and ran again for the board, winning another five-year stint—and a warning from my wife: Don’t quit again. I didn’t.

Three nights ago I attended my final meeting as a member of the board, after five years and some several thousand meetings. I had outlasted two superintendents and a good half-dozen board members. But despite being the...

Bah humbug

Checker and Mike explain why individual charter schools shouldn’t be expected to educate everyone and divide over Obama’s non-enforcement policies. Amber analyzes where students’ science skills are lacking.

Amber's Research Minute

The Nation’s Report Card: Science in Action: Hands-On and Interactive Computer Tasks from the 2009 Science Assessment - National Center for Education Statistics

This is my first post in two months and I must thank the contributors to TBQ (The BIG Question) for keeping the governance issues on the front burner in my absence (more on what I was doing “on sabbatical” in subsequent Board’s Eye View posts). We had a wonderful group of contributors, from arch reformer Jay Greene to arch establishmentarian Anne Bryant. Michelle Rhee wrote, as did John Chubb, Harold Kwalwasser, David Harris, John Kirtley, Tim Kremer, Darrell Allison, Mark Anderson, and Robyne Camp. It’s an impressive group of people who think hard about the mechanisms of education governance.

Shake It, Start Over
Read all the TBQ essays.

Camp, who just lost a tight re-election race for the board in her small Westchester County, NY, district, offers a fascinating perspective on school reform, suggesting that reform may be harder for the rich. “Education reform here in the leafy suburbs,” she concludes, “will have to trickle up from New York City’s poorest schools.”

Tim Kremer, who directs the...

Rick fades in the fourth quarter

Mike and Rick ponder the future of teacher unions and the College Board while Amber provides the key points from a recent CDC study and wonders if the kids are alright after all.

Amber's Research Minute

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2011 by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Teacher evaluations and Common Core implementation can wait. According to this valuable National Affairs compendium, our education system suffers from more basic ailments. In fact, all policies that have been pushed over the last few decades—from those that relate to the tax code to healthcare, social security to monetary policy—are unsustainable. In his introductory chapter, National Affairs editor Yuval Levin argues that, for decades, America has been slowly (and seemingly inevitably) marching toward becoming a “technocratic welfare state.” Yet, thanks to current social and financial circumstances, that social-democratic ideal is no longer viable. According to Levin, we have “perhaps a decade” to fix things before economic catastrophe strikes. Luckily, the nineteen luminaries who contributed to the volume provide an impressive if occasionally contradictory package of solutions to many of these problems, solutions that, properly implemented, would fundamentally overhaul the shape of American policy and save us from fiscal collapse and public dependence on the “welfare” state. While only two chapters (by Fordham’s Chester Finn and AEI’s Rick Hess) explicitly address schools, all approach systemic flaws with a refreshing aversion to bureaucracy...

Robyne Camp


Guest blogger Robyne Camp served three years on her board of education in Irvington, New York, losing a tight race for re-election in May. Her first career was in financial services, specializing in complex lending to insurance companies. Her second career began in her 40s, after she was widowed, when she became a lawyer. She has worked as a pro-bono assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, representing abused and neglected children in appeals cases and prosecuting domestic violence crimes.

Three years ago, in a landslide election six months after the crash, I won a seat on my local school board in Westchester County. This May I lost my bid for re-election in a hotly contested five-person race for two open seats. I learned some lessons.

When I ran, I was a reform candidate in an affluent district where reform candidates rarely run (and don’t win if they do), but the village was then in turmoil, and the rules had been suspended. I was swept into office and assumed responsibility (along with four colleagues) for oversight of a district whose salient demographics can be registered in a glance:

Projected...

Timothy G. Kremer
Executive director, New York State School Boards Association

Guest blogger Timothy G. Kremer is the executive director of the New York State School Boards Association.

Mark Twain once famously remarked "I'm all for progress, it's change that I can't stand."  Of course, Twain fully understood progress does not happen without changes to the status quo.

What constitutes progress for a school board? Hiring a great new superintendent and forging a harmonious partnership? Often, school board progress is defined in the form of a strategic plan that the entire staff and community rally around. Both are reasons to be proud because they can lead to great accomplishments.

School board members must welcome all rational forms of change that serve the goal of raising student achievement.

Ultimately, though, progress has to be measured in terms of student achievement gains. Unlike Mark Twain, school board members must welcome all rational forms of change that serve the goal of raising student achievement.

School boards have generally been supportive of the New York State Regents Reform Agenda, although it is fair to say that that many boards have a healthy dose of skepticism about grand, top-down initiatives such as Race to the Top,...

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