Governance

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,...

Total recall

Mike and Janie discuss the fallout from the Wisconsin recall election and teacher unions’ image problem, while Amber explains what we can learn from the best CMOs.

Amber's Research Minute

Managing Talent for School Coherence: Learning from Charter Management Organizations by CRPE & Mathematica DOWNLOAD PDF

Darrell Allison

Guest blogger Darrell Allison is president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, which supports greater educational choice for all parents and students across the state. For more information, please go to www.pefnc.org.

As president of a statewide organization devoted to ensuring that ALL children—regardless of income or zip code—have access to a quality education, I hear plenty of opposing talking points…that we need to spend more on public education, that education reform measures will lead to the death of public schools, that public tax dollars are being used for private gain.

In spite of tremendous spending, our poorest kids are still missing the mark. And this is totally unacceptable.

When I hear this type of rhetoric I think of how North Carolina has spent over $35 billion on education over the last five years, yet only 50 percent of poor elementary and middle school students passed state tests—compared to nearly 80 percent of their wealthier peers.

In spite of tremendous spending, our poorest kids are still missing the mark. And this is totally unacceptable.

I’m all for “public education,” but I believe “public education” should consist...

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW) examines school boards in 13 cities to see how the business community has played a role in school governance. The cities profiled were Atlanta, Austin, Bismarck, ND, Denver, Detroit, Duval County, FL, Laramie, WY, Long Beach, CA, Los Angeles, Newark, NJ, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Fordham’s hometown of Dayton, Ohio.

School boards impact education big time. They are involved in everything from setting policies on teacher evaluation systems, to hiring district leadership, to negotiating collective bargaining agreements.

The Chamber report analyzed the challenges and successes of school boards in cities with challenging social, political and fiscal issues. The authors studied cities that are in various stages of growth, or in some cases, decline.

Dayton, the only Ohio city profiled, is as a city with a declining population. The report described the Dayton Public School board as in various stages of disarray. Fordham’s own Terry Ryan was quoted as questioning whether Dayton Public Schools’ board can effectively govern a school district in a city that faces profound challenges, including poverty, diminishing financial resources, a weakened business community, and a collapsed housing infrastructure. “I think it’s fair to ask, Can any...

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