Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Local Education Governance: Perspectives on Problems and Strategies for Change

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Local Education Governance: Perspectives on Problems and Strategies for Change

Article excerpt

The local system for governing the nation's public schools has had little coherent attention and - except for the movement toward site-based decision making - remains largely untouched by the nation's education reform agenda. Eight years ago, the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) published School Boards: Strengthening Grass-Roots Leadership, a report expressing concern about school board leadership and the role of the school board in the context of the greatly increased state activity and prescriptiveness that characterized the first wave of education reforms. The school board community received the report with some interest, but state policy makers and university-based reformers felt little sense of urgency about the issues raised.

Since then, concern about how schools are governed locally has escalated, as shown by the number of national groups that have been convened to consider local governance issues - e.g., the Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on School Governance and the Committee for Economic Development's Subcommittee on Education Governance, Management, and Organization - and by the number of articles in both the popular press and the education media. A few states, notably Kentucky, West Virginia, and Massachusetts, have enacted laws that specifically change certain aspects of the responsibilities of the local school board. Other states have enacted laws that directly affect the configuration of policy making and management in school districts, without explicitly redefining the roles of school boards and superintendents.

The escalation of interest in the issue of local governance is directly attributable to the current emphasis on systemic change in the national agenda for education reform. As long as reforms focused on doing more of the same within the existing structures of schooling, school boards could continue to be viewed in their traditional role. Like most other groups, school boards are very good at doing more of what they have always done. With the change in the reform agenda, however, the capacity of school boards (as currently structured) to respond to the political and policy challenges facing them is being increasingly questioned. This scrutiny is particularly intense in urban school districts, where, after a decade of reforms, students' school experiences and achievement outcomes show little improvement.

U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, in an address during the 1993 convention of the National School Boards Association, underscored the importance of full inclusion in education reform of all parts of the nation's education system, including school boards. …

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