Academic journal article Planning and Changing

School Board Ethics and Effectiveness

Academic journal article Planning and Changing

School Board Ethics and Effectiveness

Article excerpt

Introduction

Since the early 1980s, educational policy has increasingly been focused on improving student performance (Conley, 2003, Murphy, 1990). School governance in general, and school boards in particular, have often been viewed as either the means of implementing needed reforms or as roadblocks in their way (Boyd, 2003; Delagardelle, M.; 2008; Howell, 2005). Effective governance, it is believed, is necessary for school improvement, yet examples of good governance rarely garner as much attention as do issues such as board member misconduct, nepotism, and overall board corruption (Segal, 2004). This research project provides new insights into the best way to improve local school governance in an era of increasing state and national influence over educational policy and scrutiny of local educational practices (Boyd, 2003; Riede, 2004).

In considering the quality of local school governance, one is immediately confronted with examples of different types of school boards and board members (Tallerico, 1989) - some boards seem quite adept at carrying out their responsibilities, while others seem to have difficulty understanding their role and fulfilling their responsibilities as stewards of the local school district (Grady, 1998; Hill, 2003). It is within this second category (boards having difficulty) that one finds some of the most blatant examples of poor governance. The following quotations are meant to provide a sense of the breadth and depth of the problem:

* "One board member collected over $1 8,000 from a textbook publisher in meals, cash, and a white cashmere coat from her vendors; another got cameras, television equipment, and other items (Segal, 2004, p. 12S).

* A district employee complained that "the board member called her at home, threatened and yelled at her and demanded she return to work at 8:45pm on a Friday to retrieve some reports he had asked for earlier in the day" (Riede, 2004).

* When a board member "lobbied bis colleagues to promote a clearly unqualified person as principal, his only pitch was, 'Why can't you vote for him? He's my son in law'" (Segal, 2004; p. 34).

* "A Bronx grand jury examining all school districts in that borough concluded that fraud and political patronage were a "way of life" (Segal, 2004, p. 121).

While many board related problems never rise to the level depicted here, conflicts of interest, nepotism, and misunderstandings regarding the proper role of board members are persistent issues in school districts both large and small (Hill, 2003; Segal, 2004; Smoley, 1999). In an effort to guard against these types of problems and improve board effectiveness, many states have tried to institute ethics policies for school boards that would more clearly delineate expected board member behavior (Riede, 2004).

By examining the influence of mese ethics policies on school board behavior in one state, Pennsylvania, as perceived by school district superintendents in that state, this study seeks to determine if such an ethics policy had the intended effect of improving board effectiveness. In addition, this study examines school board performance in specific areas associated with effective governance. This aspect of the analysis helps to pinpoint multiple areas of performance that boards should seek to strengthen and offers various suggestions to remedy areas of relative weakness. Overall, this study helps to clarify the link between board ethics and the larger context of board effectiveness.

Before presenting the study, this article lays out the historical and theoretical contexts of school board ethics and effectiveness. This context is helpful in considering the empirical data to follow and also aids in interpreting the implications of the study.

Context of the Study

School boards today find themselves in a rapidly changing and somewhat unpredictable environment. Over the last 30 years school boards have seen the influence of federal and state policy grow while their own influence has weakened. …

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