Do We Need 700 Local School Boards in NYS?  Should Teachers Serve on School Boards? 

Back in 2008 as President-elect Obama was musing over selecting a Secretary of Education Louis Gertsner, the former CEO of IBM penned an op ed for the Wail Street Journal (Read here), “Lessons from 40 Years of Education Reform: let’s abolish school districts and finally adopt national standards.”

Gertsner rejected 16,000 school districts with lay elected school boards and recommended,  “… 50 to 70 school districts with a national set of standards for math, reading, science and social studies, as well as a national testing regime and national certification for teachers. Within that system, he said schools should be encouraged to find creative, innovative ways to achieve set goals. ‘Do what we would do as CEOs,’ he said. ‘Set very clear goals … free up our people to go and deliver, and then if they don’t deliver,’ boot those educators.”

He also proposed merit pay for teachers, renewable tenure and a number of other ideas all of which not sit well with teachers, school boards and the education bureaucracy.

While his ideas never gained traction the Common Core did, adopted by the National Governors Association and by many states, pushback from the left and the right accelerated and the Common Core faded into state standards varying by state. New York has recently adopted what they are calling Next Generation Learning Standards. (See here

While Gertsner’s ideas did not gain traction, the criticism of thousands upon thousands of school districts and the absence of any national standards is alive and continues to pop up.

Vladimir Kogan in Education Next revives the local school board debate.

The events of the past two years underscore a question that has long been a subject of debate among education-policy researchers and reformers: Is our school-governance model—featuring decentralized control and locally elected school boards—the most effective and efficient approach to educating America’s youth?

The author sees local school boards as a “historic artifact” and his research finds who gets elected to school boards is not determined by the educational outcomes in the district determined by test scores.

Even in the rare cases where student achievement does matter for school-board elections, the effects have been surprisingly modest, typically increasing or reducing the share of votes won by individual candidates by fewer than 5 percentage points. This differential is far lower than the margin of advantage enjoyed by incumbents in local races, and it appears to be a fraction of the electoral boost conferred by securing the teachers union endorsement. If school boards are asked to choose between a policy that improves student achievement and one that benefits teachers, the pressures of seeking reelection perversely encourage school-board members to prioritize adult employees over the education of students. These dynamics are likely amplified in large, urban districts, where teachers unions tend to enjoy stronger organization and access to greater political resources.

So, teacher unions are the “bad guys” impacting school board elections by favoring teachers over students and even if scores on standardized tests don’t increase vote out the current boards are not evicted.

In several recent papers examining school-board elections in various large states, my coauthors and I found that voters who turn out in these elections typically do not have kids of their own and are generally much whiter as a group than the students that local schools educate….. elderly white voters without children appear to be the pivotal voting bloc, and there is little reason to believe that these voters are any more motivated to improve student outcomes than school-employee interest groups are.

Low turnout is the bane of all elections, from presidential down to villages.

The author’s suggestions are meager with the hope that “right” parents will prevail; we are seeing the opposite with Critical Race Theory, taught in no K-12 schools, sex education, book banning, etc., dominating elections. The “culture wars” have moved to schools.

When the policy window opens, reformers should remain laser focused on improving school governance—to ensure that the reform process prioritizes the interests of kids rather than the demands and political agendas of adults. Such reforms should include holding school-board elections on cycle, when participation among parents is highest; reworking accountability systems to ensure that district-performance ratings emphasize each school’s contribution to student learning rather than the demographic mix of students it serves; and timing the release of school ratings to coincide with school-board election campaigns. Every crisis brings an opportunity, and we cannot afford to let this one go to waste.

The author seems to support undefined teacher accountability systems. abjures the role of teachers and their unions and basically supports school boards hostile to teachers.

First of all while Gertsner’s call for abolishing local school boards and a number of other suggestions hostile to teachers are not creditable; however. 700 school districts in New York State is an “historic artifact.”  

There are hundreds of school districts with one school, wouldn’t it make more sense to merge into county school districts, or in large counties a number of districts?   An example is the absence of locally available Career and Technical Education (formerly known as vocational education) and integration with community colleges is unacceptable and calls for regional high schools has never gained traction.

To see teacher unions (btw, whose members are teachers) as an enemy of change or good educational practice is at the core of chasing away potential teachers and in-service teachers. Teachers need a larger role in setting education policy: teachers need a seat at the table.

In Germany there are “work councils,” workers have a seat on boards of major corporations.

New York State requires school and district leadership teams, parents and teachers serving with school and district administrations to set policies, unfortunately I doubt the councils play a role in most schools and districts.

Teacher unions members should serve on school boards, maybe elected by union members, to quote a descriptive term: “better inside the tent peeing out than outside the tent peeing in.”

I served on the district leadership team in a district that went “all in.”  Every school had bylaws, a definition of “consensus” created at the school level, the district leadership team had a dispute resolution procedure, and school-based budgeting. Teachers felt part of the team, collaboration on all levels.

Collaboration, teacher leadership, is at the heart of effective schools and school districts

2 responses to “Do We Need 700 Local School Boards in NYS?  Should Teachers Serve on School Boards? 

  1. Eric Nadelstern

    Teachers unions are neither the problem nor the panacea. They accomplish considerably more for their members in matters of salary, benefits, working conditions and retirement with dignity than most school districts accomplish for the benefit of their students.

    Further, whether governed by school board or mayoral control, those who manage schools would do well to remember that students can’t succeed unless their teachers are empowered in matters of curriculum and instruction, exercise ownership of their classrooms and schools, and are treated as respectfully as we want teachers to treat students.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree, Eric Nadelstern. I cannot imagine another profession in which laymen are elected weigh in on how the professionals do their work or in which people not trained in the field have power over those who are so trained.


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