School Boards in the 21st Century

By Frederick M. Hess and Olivia Meeks

Whether warranted or not, school boards have been something of a punching bag in recent years. In 2008, The Atlantic Monthly ran a story by the Center for American Progress’s Matt Miller titled “First, Kill All the School Boards.” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has repeatedly touted the virtues of mayoral control of school systems since taking his post in 2009. Meanwhile, the role of boards has evolved in light of a changing policy environment. In the past decade, No Child Left Behind, new state accountability systems, and a relentless focus on student achievement have brought district governance into a new era.

How have boards and their members responded to these pressures? What have these changes meant for board policy and practice? And what does it mean to be a board member today?

This winter, we released a new study that examined precisely these questions. In one of the first systematic national surveys of members since 2002, we collaborated with NSBA, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Iowa School Boards Foundation, and the Wallace Foundation to offer a comprehensive look at who sits on boards, how boards work, and what board members today think. The report -- School Boards Circa 2010: Governance in the Accountability Era -- presents an up-close look at the individuals charged with governing America’s 14,000 school districts.

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