• by Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D., and Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • June – July 2010 • Rosana RodriguezDr. Abelardo Villarreal

Access, excellence and equity in education and eliminating achievement gaps among various student groups are two major outcome areas that a school board should use to assess the overall performance of its school district and for which they should hold individual schools and their leadership accountable.

Robledo Montecel (2005) has identified two fundamental elements as critical for student success: fair funding and governance efficacy. Governance efficacy “strengthens school holding power when administrative and supervisory personnel have the capacity to deliver quality educational services to all students, along with the policymaking and pro-active support of a school board to hold on to every student” (2005). As elected officials, it is precisely the challenge and responsibility of school board members to take a pro-active stance in fulfilling their governance duty to the communities they serve.

While not an all-inclusive list, the following standards are intended to raise school board awareness of equity as a lens through which to view and assess school performance and to rethink their role as guardians of a school district’s progress.

School leaders at all levels need to create a shared vision of success for all students. But school board members in particular have the unique responsibility of ensuring that systems for equity are in place and are operating effectively within each school. (See IDRA’s Six Goals of Educational Equity online.)

Standard 1: All students graduate college ready and career ready.

Anything less than the 90 percent standard represents a huge loss of human capital and potential innate in each and every one of our children. Identification and development of this human resource are the greatest charges that our society and educational systems, in particular, must address. While we can quantify the economic cost of school dropouts in terms of a loss of consumers and producers to a society, loss in human creativity, spirit and innovation is immeasurable whenever we under-educate students or lead them to drop out.

As a world leader, our country must not allow this situation to continue unchallenged. The future of our nation is dependant upon the youth of today.

Griffin and Ward (2006) have identified the focus on student achievement as a school board’s number one job. To this end, each school board must have a set of expectations around each of the following student performance indicators: academic achievement, college readiness, graduation rates, college enrollment, workforce success, and scores in college entrance exams.

Key questions for school board members to ask are:

  • Do all policies and practices support high achievement for all students?
  • Do achievement gaps among different student groups exist?
  • Is this prevalent in all schools in the district?
  • What policies are needed in order to increase the achievement level of our schools and close an achievement gap among schools and the state?
  • Is there evidence of comparable support, assistance and guidance for all students to be college ready?

Standard 2: All students, including English language learners and students with disabilities, have access to a curriculum and a graduation plan to meet college and workforce readiness requirements.

Every school in a district must promote a college-going culture where all students are expected to graduate with the requisite knowledge and skills to be successful in college and/or become a highly productive member of the workforce. In his book, The Global Achievement Gap, Wagner (2009) identifies seven survival skills in today’s highly competitive world that must be addressed in curriculum: critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration across networks and leading by influence, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurialism, effective oral and written communication, accessing and analyzing information, and curiosity and imagination.

Tracking students into anything less than a rigorous and relevant curriculum undermines the democratic process and represents an unconscionable practice that leads an inadequate education and loss of human capital and potential. School board members should not allow any of their schools to be lulled into a “sea of uncertainty” created by preconceived and deficit ideas of children or a defeatist attitude about the potential of the school to make a difference.

Schools must reflect and clearly articulate the belief that all children will learn and have the conviction and commitment to act appropriately in order to provide equitable support and opportunities for all children to have an excellent education. In fact, each school board member should communicate high performance expectations for college readiness throughout all levels of the school hierarchy and generate district-wide support by redefining the role of auxiliary staff in supporting this goal.

Key questions for school board members to ask are:

  • Are college readiness and workforce skills integrated into the K-12 curriculum?
  • Does each school differentiate instruction in a manner that does not water down the curriculum?

Standard 3: All students have access to highly qualified teachers, administrators and support staff to ensure that a high caliber curriculum for college readiness is implemented with integrity and rigor.

Without teachers and administrators who are highly qualified and possess a genuine desire to make a difference for all students, a school district can never reach its full potential to provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to graduate college ready and become a success in a highly competitive market. An exemplary school district is one that has highly qualified teachers, administrators and other support staff equitably distributed among all schools.

Key questions for school board members to ask are:

  • What mechanisms ensure that various district leaders are accountable and supported for promoting student academic success and college readiness?
  • Are teachers teaching outside of their areas of certification and expertise?
  • What are we doing to take care of teacher shortages in this area?
  • Is there equity district-wide to ensure the placement of master teachers in every school?
  • Do teachers and administrators have the knowledge and skills to work in schools and classrooms with students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds?

Standard 4: Each school has established meaningful partnerships with parents and the community wherein high expectations and shared accountability for student success become the norm.

Parents and community members have much at stake in ensuring that the education of their children is of the highest quality. School board members, as representatives of the community, also have a legal responsibility to protect the interests and educational welfare of their constituents.

It is imperative that schools establish partnerships where planning and implementing strategies for student success becomes a shared responsibility among educators, community and parents. The community and parents have much to offer schools, but all too often, schools are lax in valuing them and seizing opportunities to partner.

Key questions for school board members to ask are:

  • How are parents being involved in the planning and implementation of strategies for student success?
  • Are there mechanisms in place for ensuring continuous communication, information, planning and feedback regarding parent involvement in the teaching and learning process?
  • Is there meaningful participation of parents and community in the planning and implementation of student success activities?
  • Do schools have partnership agreements with parents and community members to ensure student success?
  • Are requirements for graduation and college readiness shared with parents in a language that is understood?

These four standards are critical to ensuring equity and success of a school district in serving and building upon assets of its various student groups and community. As a representative of the community, the school board member has a major role to play in college readiness, as well as a responsibility to many stakeholders, including students, parents and future generations to come.


Griffin, A., and C. Ward. “Five Characteristics of an Effective School Board: A Multifaceted Role, Defined –How does your school district measure up?” Edutopia (San Rafael, California: George Lucas Educational Foundation, March 21, 2006).

National School Boards Association. Key Works of School Boards, web site: www.nsba.org/MAinMenu?Governance?KeyWork.aspx

Robledo Montecel, M. “A Quality Schools Action Framework – Framing Systems Change for Student Success,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2005).

Wagner, T. The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need – And What We Can Do About It (New York: Basic Books, 2008).

Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D., is director of IDRA Field Services. Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., is director of development. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2010, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 2010 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]