Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Board of Education Involvement in School Decisions and Student Achievement

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Board of Education Involvement in School Decisions and Student Achievement

Article excerpt


Some extant research suggests that the politics of education may have an effect on students' achievement. This study explores the extant to which school board involvement in decisions made within school buildings affects students' performance. Structural equation modeling suggests that a "small but meaningfu" negative effect of what is, essentially, school board macromanagement within school buildings. Implications for policy are discussed with several specific proposals evaluated.


Many critics argue that American public education has failed our children. Analysts have tried to identify the factors affecting educational outcomes (e.g., Peak, (1996). Others believe that we must develop indicators of educational quality and amass data over time to track whether or not education is improving (National Education Goals Panel, 1997). One element in the larger picture might well be the political organization of the educational process.

The exercise of authority within school buildings has educational consequences. This is one of the assumptions of the "effective schools" literature: as autonomy in school buildings increases, students' academic performance will be enhanced (e.g., Purkey and Smith, 1983; Bickel, 1990). For a biography of relevant research, see Eagle and Carodonio, 1988).

Still another point of departure to consider the effects of authority structures in a school system is the school choice literature. For instance, one of the most important recent works advocating choice is Chubb and Moe's (1990) Politics, Markets, and America's Schools. They present a three-part argument: (1) private schools have lower levels of bureaucratic influence; (2) less bureaucratic influence makes school organization more functional; and (3) better organized schools produce greater achievement gains among their students. Three separate regression analyses provide merely modest support for their contention.1

From these different perspectives, analysts contend that the greater the power at the top of the school district, the less effectively are schools organized.2 And one most note that the Chubb and Moe's argument is predicated, in part, on the validity of the effective schools research.

Indeed, some work suggests that political pressures on elected board of education members drives them to consider demands made by specific interest groups; many are elected to boards to represent narrow interests. Based on a comparative study of 51 communities throughout the United States, Weeres (1988:25) says that:

The board is often incapable of formulating and maintaining a coherent educational program. Moreover, because board members individually represent narrow interests with intense preferences, they feel pressured to cross the boundary that municipal reformers had set between policy and administration. One symptom is that board members begin directly to site administrators for information or to give advice or to inspect the school programs without going through the superintendent.

In other words, challenging economic circumstances drive board members to "end run" their superintendent and to try to micromanage at the school building level. Given the emphasis of the effective schools literature on autonomous buildings, this use of power within the building should undermine school effectiveness and, therefore, reduce student performance. Michael Kirst (1988:77) emphasizes the importance of the effective schools literature and contends: "Much of the effective schools literature suggests ... that the most significant improvements in student achievements are the result of increasing school-site responsibilities" (although site-based management does not automatically lead to enhanced student performance, e.g., Oswald, 1995; Peterson, 1991).

John Goodlad has argued that the energy necessary for renewing our schools is located in the schools themselves, stating (1992:354):

We readily admit the general effectiveness of mandated, top-down efforts to change schools when we read about them in the growing literature on such approaches. …

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