School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy

Barring a scandal, school boards fly under the
education-media radar. Yet these bodies spend nearly $600 billion in public
funding and employ millions of Americans. This book offers a detailed and
nuanced look at the history, practicality, and future of these darlings of
local control—and asserts that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. While
they may be outdated—like the mom-and-pop corner store or the local bank that
holds your home’s mortgage—there is still a place for school boards in American
education culture: They represent democracy in our nation’s public schools, and
there’s scant evidence that we’d do a better job governing schools without
them. In reaching this conclusion, author Gene Maeroff spins the reader through
a whirlwind of education-reform debates, from accountability to teacher quality
to funding—all through the eyes of the local school board. He provides
case-study examples of successful school boards (like that of Denver Public
Schools) and those that have been far less so (like that of Clayton
County, GA
) as well as scores of interesting data points. (Did you know
that LAUSD’s school-board members who are not otherwise employed make $45,600 per
annum? Or that the average school-board member spends twenty-five hours a month
on board business?) In the end, though Maeroff acknowledges inherent and systemic
flaws in school boards, he offers up reasonably mundane suggestions for
righting them—including having appointed and not elected boards, and increasing
professional development—leaving us still searching for the most viable
governance arrangement for our schools.

Gene Maeroff, School
Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy
, (New York, NY:
Palgrave MacMillan, December 2010).