Governance

Andrew Blumenfeld

This is the fourth 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?

Andrew Blumenfeld is a senior at Princeton University. He began serving a four-year term on the school board in La Cañada, California in December, 2011. Andrew is also a founding member of Students for Education Reform.

When I decided to run for a seat on the La Cañada Board of Education in Los Angeles, I needed to be aggressive. That I had graduated from this district was certainly a mark in my favor. I suspected that benefit would be overshadowed by two concerns: (1) that graduation happened only two years prior (I was twenty years old), and (2) I was a junior at Princeton University—as in, New Jersey.

Luckily, my passion could be characterized as “aggressive.” As a student, I had been frustrated by the uneven quality of the...

Georgia voters are fortunate to experience a debate that’s dominated largely by policy wonks. In the fall, they’ll get to decide who has the power to authorize charter schools. The November ballot will ask whether the state and local school boards can share that responsibility. That question shines a spotlight on the issue of local control, and provides an opportunity to rethink what that means.

Citizens of the Peach State have this question before them because their state Supreme Court last year declared the Georgia Charter Schools Commission unconstitutional. Four of the seven justices ruled that only locally elected boards of education could authorize charters. The commission, an independent state panel, had authorized sixteen schools, and it did so over the objections of local boards.

Georgia voters are fortunate to experience a debate that’s dominated largely by policy wonks.

But if voters renew the state’s power to authorize charters (which I hope they will) they’ll do more than just re-establish the charter commission. They’ll be saying that local boards can’t be the only authority to say yes or no to charters. In essence, they’ll be re-affirming the concept of local control.

Voters last affirmed the constitutional language that governed...

It started as a fairly typical funding-equity lawsuit and ended with a startling Wall Street Journal headline, “Michigan City Outsources All of Its Schools.” The story, about the poor performing and all-but-bankrupt Highland Park school district, raises all kinds of questions about our nation’s public-education system. (More from my colleague Bianca Speranza about implications for Ohio of Highland Park's plan here.) Why is it failing our poor children (which I wrote about last week)? Can it be fixed? Can it be fixed by turning schools over to charter-management organizations (CMOs)? And if we do turn them over to CMOs, do they have to be nonprofits?

As many defenders of the status quo are beginning to realize, the road to improvement cannot be paved with the same defective asphalt.

According to a report by Jenny Ingles in the web-based Take Part, in early July the ACLU and eight students from the Highland Park school district, located just outside of Detroit, filed a class-action suit against the state because students in the district weren’t learning: On a college-ready state exam, 90 percent of the district's eleventh graders failed the reading portion, 97 percent failed the math...

Guest blogger Anne L. Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association, analyzes Fordham’s latest report, How Americans Would Slim Down Public Education.

Looking at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s new survey, How Americans Would Slim Down Public Education, it’s abundantly clear that Americans are interested, engaged, and supportive of their local schools. There is also an overriding sense that many of these hard choices must be made at the local level with a community’s input—thus showing clear evidence for the need for local school boards.

The authors have created a scenario of choosing between critical programs and staff for public schools—choices such as laying off teachers, instructional leaders, arts and music classes, and extracurricular activities. However, this survey is about four years late—many public schools are already operating on a bare-bones administration and have been forced to make tough choices to lay off teachers and cut academic programs. And with the federal government looking to implement sequestration this January, K-12 programs may see further across-the-board cuts.

While reducing the number of administrators seems like the obvious answer, as 69 percent of...

Winning the gold for gab

Mike and Rick ponder public perceptions of education spending and whether it’s Rick—not teachers—who needs a dress code. Amber explains why penalty pay works.

Amber's Research Minute

Enhancing the Efficacy of Teacher Incentives through Loss Aversion: A Field Experiment by Roland G. Fryer, Jr., Steven D. Levitt, John List, and Sally Sadoff - Download the PDF

Melanie Kurdys
Former school-board member

This is the third 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?

Melanie Kurdys, who graduated from the University of Michigan with a BS in math and worked in Systems Development for IBM, AT&T, and Owens Corning Fiberglas, is a fulltime mom of three children, and has, for the last twenty years, lived and volunteered in schools in Michigan, Louisiana, Georgia, and California. She served on the Portage, Michigan, School Board from 2007-2011 and on the Portage Curriculum Committee from 2004-2006.

I was on my local school board, but lost my last election because I was part of a six to one majority that voted to pay off our superintendent to get her to leave before her contract expired.

A compulsory monopoly cannot be led, directed, bribed, or coerced into better performance.

When I started on the board, in...

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...

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