The shortcomings of elected local school boards are only the most obvious of the many problems of education governance in the United States in 2011.? To be sure, those boards are a fundamental part, maybe the largest part, of our customary governance arrangements, but my discontent with them is just part of my larger dissatisfaction with all traditional governance and structural arrangements for K-12 education on these shores.
These arrangements, though they differ some from place to place, generally display four characteristics that make them obsolete at best and dysfunctional at their all-too-common worst:
First, while formal constitutional responsibility for educating kids belongs to the states, the actual delivery of that education falls squarely on local education agencies, typically called districts, which are geographically defined, most often by the boundaries of a city, town, county, or other municipality. Kids are generally educated in public schools operated by these districts.
Second, though states have shouldered some responsibility for financing public education, usually by decreeing a minimum or ?foundation? level of per-pupil spending, sizable portions of education revenue are locally generated through property taxes, bond levies, and such. Those amounts differ enormously from place to place within the same state and are uncommonly vulnerable to interest
Education ?reforms? abound today, yet the sluggish pace of actual changes wrought by those new policies, programs, and practices demands a fresh look at public education's basic structures and operating arrangements. What America needs in the twenty-first century is a far more fundamental approach to ?re-forming? K-12 education. Our ?marble cake? policy structure of overlapped local, state, and national responsibility for schools has proven more adept at blocking or slowing needed change than at advancing it?a problem aggravated by our practice of (in most places) separating ?education governance? from the regular leadership structures (and election cycles) of cities and states. Indeed, ?local control? as traditionally construed needs a makeover, too. We are gearing up a three-year effort?in partnership with the Center for American Progress?to put governance at the center of the education-reform conversation. Expect to see much more from us on this important topic in the coming months.
In case you missed it, here is the video of our April 26 event, Are Local School Boards Vital in 21st Century America? It was a great discussion; our excellent panel consisted of: Anne L. Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association; Gene I. Maeroff, founding director of the Hechinger Institute, Teachers College, Columbia University and author of School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy; Christopher S. Barclay, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education, Maryland; and our own Chester E. Finn, Jr., president of the Fordham Institute. The group was moderated by Fordham Institute Executive Vice President Mike Petrilli.
Obviously you can watch the video in full. But here's?one overview/summary that was written about the event. NSBA has posted a write-up about it, too.?And below we've pulled together a few highlights of our own as well?. thanks to Fordham's Daniela Fairchild, who tweeted the entire event. (paraphrased)
Anne Bryant: School boards are the connection to the community. ? Not all school boards are perfect. Nothing is perfect. Checker Finn isn't perfect. (laughter erupts) ...School boards are transparent and accountable to public and members want reform.
The Centennial State has a great track record in education reform--bipartisan, even--which is why it was so disappointing to so many people when Colorado didn't win Race to the Top funds last summer, and now it looks like we're going to be disappointed once again. Not by Washington this time but by the state's very own Board of Education, which yesterday named a thoroughly lackluster pair of finalists for the key role of education commissioner.
No doubt they're both swell fellows. One is a veteran school administrator (and current acting commissioner), the other a former Air Force general who has recently been running a mid-size district in suburban Denver. They have acceptable credentials. But there's precious little evidence that either is a dedicated reformer, a visionary leader, a rocker of education boats, or a fit colleague for the burgeoning crop of "chiefs for change" in places like NJ, NM, TN, LA, VA, RI and on and on and on.
Never mind Colorado's honorable past as a reform leader in charter schools, teacher evaluations and more. This is no time to rest on laurels. The heavy lifting is really just getting underway. (There's reason to worry, for example, that IMPLEMENTATION of historic Senate Bill 191 is off to a vexed start; there's reason to fear backsliding on "common core" standards; there's talk of canceling future assessment of student writing; the state's U.S. history standards suck. Etc. Etc. Etc.)
In short, it's a time
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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