School Boards in the Digital Age

By John J. Cassel

America is in the midst of what some call the “third wave” of the industrial revolution. Just as the mechanization of the textile industry changed England in the late 1700s, and the assembly line transformed America in the early 1900s, so our current digital revolution is poised to change our entire world in ways we cannot yet see.

How shall we think about school boards in our new digital world? Some assume, or perhaps hope, they will fade into obsolescence. Personally, I am committed to public education as the only way to keep the U.S. strong and democratic. We cannot have vital public schools without publicly elected school boards, as school boards serve to link schools and communities in critical ways. It is particularly urgent that school boards find new practices and habits to stay effective and positive.

The U.S. will not continue to be a key player in the global economy if our public school graduates are not up to the new challenges. But schools and their governance structures cannot continue with business as usual. The vitality of our society requires all of those involved with public education to fully participate in the digital transformation.

The markers of our new age include: anywhere, anytime, now. Clearly, the bureaucracies that have been valuable in the past will not work going forward. My concern is with school governance. Part of the governance job is finding ways to help districts become the nimble organizations our new age requires. Board leadership requires board members to understand their own organizational role and the particular type of institutional power they wield.

What will school boards look like on the other side of the digital revolution? Some of our most effective boards are pointing the way.

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