Many of our educational systems and processes have failed to keep up with the current age and a changing student body, nor do they represent our most recent thinking and legislation. This is the case with the roles and responsibilities of a school board, whose governance structures are not always reflective of a commitment to equity, access and excellence in education for all students.
Daniel Gross (2009) introduces his commentary on Matt Miller’s book, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Prosperity to Unleash a New Prosperity (which inspired the title of this article), by reminding us that all too often conventional wisdom “in vital areas – health care, taxes, education, trade, social mobility – government and business remain in the grip of tired old rules that don’t work in the global economy.”
The purpose of this article is to consider an update for existing school board member responsibilities to be more inclusive and responsive to today’s changing demographics and school requirements. Below, we have identified key responsibilities that can benefit from re-thinking to better meet our present and future commitments to equity and college readiness for all students, particularly as we celebrated the 55th anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision in May.
After a brief discussion of each responsibility (taken from Texas’ delineation of school board roles) in the most current language, we suggest a revised version of that responsibility that might serve us better in embracing these principles and encourage an emerging and strengthened role for school board members in a modern democratic society.
Current Responsibility: Ensure creation of a shared vision that promotes enhanced student achievement.
Recent literature and experience demonstrate that school boards are among the most critical factors that determine the success of school reform efforts. Their role as representatives of the community and families of students and with the legislative mandate to protect and guide the quality of education for the community is of greater significance now than ever before. School boards are facing electorates that demand better schools that are effective with all student groups and that are cost efficient in the delivery of services. School board participation in monitoring a school district’s success is being scrutinized carefully by their constituents.
Ensure creation of a shared vision with input from parents and community that keeps schools responsible and accountable for establishing a college-going culture and preparing students to be college-ready.
Current Responsibility: Adopt a shared vision based on community beliefs to guide local education.
The concept of local control is undergoing fundamental changes defined by federal and state policies and judicial mandates that protect students’ civil rights to a quality education. A vision that is entirely based on unfair community beliefs does not uphold the constitutional right for an equitable education for all (Cortez and Villarreal, 2006). For example, in his related 2008 opinion, Judge Wayne Justice stated, “It is equally unjust to perpetually fail to provide the resources and LEP [limited-English-proficient] programs necessary to ensure LEP students catch up” (LULAC-GI Forum vs. State of Texas, 2008). School practices that do not promote academic excellence where all students have access to a quality education are in non-compliance with the law.
Adopt a shared vision based on academic access, equity and excellence for all students to guide education in its community.
Current Responsibility: Focus actions on policymaking, planning and evaluation.
Of the major school board functions, policymaking is perhaps the one with the greatest impact on the quality of education that all children will receive in school. It is not uncommon for policies to be adopted by school boards that are convenient to the educator and negligent of what is best for children. While the functions of the board can be traced back to colonial times, current school boards must be agile in adapting its policies to be more reflective of an equity-based perspective.
Focus policymaking on current research on best practices in an equity-based environment, current legislation and legal mandates.
Current Responsibility: Ensure progress toward achievement of district goals through a systematic, timely and comprehensive review of reports prepared by or at the direction of the superintendent.
Progress monitoring is essential to uphold the democratic principles of our society and to ensure that all students receive equitable treatment and an excellent education that prepares them for college and work. The board must not only ensure these reports are done regularly, systematically and objectively, but also ensure they are shared with constituents, parents and community in a manner that is comprehensible and useful for future planning and ongoing district improvement.
The superintendent is responsible for directing that such reports be produced and accurately reflect knowledge of the interconnectedness of the educational pipeline, from pre-kindergarten through college. This requires a new way of requesting, compiling, analyzing and utilizing data, disaggregated by student groups. It will require that early childhood programs work more in concert with K-12 programs and that K-12 interface in more deliberate ways with local colleges and universities to use data more effectively in streamlining the education pipeline.
Ensure progress toward achievement of district goals through a systematic, timely and comprehensive review of student achievement, graduation, college enrollment, and college success reports, disaggregated by student population, resulting in equal access to a quality curriculum and improved learning for all students.
Current Responsibility: Monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of instructional programs by reviewing reports prepared by or at the direction of the superintendent and direct the superintendent to make modifications that promote maximum achievement for all students.
The sharing and monitoring of reports with transparency is essential to “keeping the public in public schools.” School boards should ensure that their districts have access to the most recent research-based best practices and experts in various fields to assist in the interpretation of reports and in the continuous improvement of each school.
Monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of instructional programs by requesting a panel of experts to review reports and make recommendations for school district and the various schools, and direct the superintendent to make modifications that promote maximum and equitable achievement for all student groups.
Current Responsibility: Develop skills in teamwork, problem solving and decision-making.
In our increasingly interconnected world, the skills of shared teamwork, problem solving and decision-making are crucial. The board must be the guiding light to consistently issue the call for district leaders to work collaboratively and to engage in meaningful partnerships with the local community and parents in creating schools that maintain highest standards of quality in instruction and support to graduate all students college- and workforce-ready. This can be fostered by recognizing, valuing and tapping into the funds of knowledge represented in the diverse communities served by the district and building upon the assets of families, students and the local community.
Build knowledge base about the assets and needs of the various student populations in the district and foster skill development in teamwork, problem solving and shared decision making.
Cortez, A., and A. Villarreal. “Assessing Policies for Success of Minority Students,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, June-July 2006).
LULAC-GI Forum vs. State of Texas, 2008.
Miller, M. The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash a New Prosperity (New York, N.Y.: Times Books, 2009).
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.]