School Boards:What Does The Future Hold?

By Del Stover

Want a glimpse into the future of local school governance? Look to a new law in California that forces boards to restructure low-performing schools if parents demand it. Or to last year’s unsuccessful bid to strip Louisiana school boards of their oversight of personnel matters and to make it harder for them to fire a superintendent.

These days, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see the challenges facing school boards in the years ahead. More mandates are on the way. More charter schools are on the horizon. And everyone will expect school boards to keep raising achievement, despite gut-wrenching cuts in state education funding that already are undermining local instructional programs.

Adding insult to injury, there remains a worrisome disconnect between the public’s expectations for education and its understanding of the immense challenges facing school officials. Coupled with frustration at the pace of school reform, this fuels questions about the capacity of school boards to fulfill their responsibilities -- and occasionally spurs efforts to “reform” local school governance.

For all that, it’s important to recognize that the future has promising signs as well. They’re found in communities all across the nation. Look to Texas’ Aldine Independent School District, where the board has overseen a closing of the achievement gap, despite having four of five students living in poverty. Or to Colorado’s Adams County School District 50, where the school board is pushing bold innovations, including doing away with traditional, age-based grades in its schools. (See ASBJ’s March cover story, “Leveling the Field,” at www.asbj.com.)

In the years ahead, school boards will have two things going for them: First, with few exceptions, they do their job well. Second, local control of the public schools remains an enshrined tradition of American democracy, and the vast majority of the public -- as well as state and federal policymakers -- want it to stay that way.

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