Just in case I buried the lead in my last post, I would love to hear from fellow reform-minded members of boards of education.
Are you out there? What is it like trying to turn around a tanker with a paddle? Are you a flamethrower or consensus builder? Did you win any fights? Were you able to improve your district? Have you come away from your experience as believer in boards of education or a determined skeptic?
Send your essays (or questions) to me, email@example.com@edexcellence.net. Your story should be between 250 and 800 words, though, as mentioned, a good haiku or other creative verse will be considered. We will publish as many as we can and, at the end of the summer, Fordham staff will choose the seven best. The seven, in honor of the number of board members on my board of ed, will then convene, by email, and suggest what governance policies are most necessary to improve our public education system.
Tell your friends!
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 senior person on the board, I leave sitting in the same seat, literally, as when I began—the very last place in the always-awkward line-up of tables and chairs stretching across whatever room we were in; seven board members, the superintendent, the assistant
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.
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 New York State School Boards Association, is a steady advocate of local control, suggesting that “many boards have a healthy dose of skepticism about grand, top-down initiatives such as Race to the Top, Common Core Standards and the new Annual Professional Performance
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 enrollment school year 2012-13: 1740
Projected per pupil spending 2012-13: $29,400
Reduced-Price Lunch: 2 percent
Limited English Proficient: 2 percent
Black/Hispanic: 6 percent
Asian or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander: 9 percent
White: 83 percent
Small, affluent, majority
- Stretching the School Dollar
- Common Core Watch
- Ohio Gadfly Daily
- Board's Eye View
- Choice Words
About the Editor
Peter Meyer is an adjunct fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Since 1991, Meyer has focused his attentions on education reform in the United States, an interest joined while writing a profile of education reformer E.D. Hirsch for Life. Meyer subsequently helped found a charter school, served on his local Board of Education (twice) and, for the last eight years, has been an editor at Education Next.
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