NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Evolving Role Of School Boards

June 7, 1999

In an era when schools are graduating too many students who can't read or writer, divide or multiply, overhaul of America's education system has become a hot political issue. Reformers are suggesting a variety of school choice programs aimed at wresting control of schools from a unionized and bureaucratic establishment and placing responsibility in the hands of parents.

In such an atmosphere, what is happening to traditional school boards?

  • About two dozen school boards overseeing the education of more than one million students have already had their powers abolished by state legislatures or Congress -- including those in Detroit, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
  • Takeovers are also being discussed in Dallas, Los Angeles, Oakland, California, and New York.
  • Observers charge that the boards are still hiring principals, building schools and overseeing curriculum much as they did 150 years ago -- while student performance is plummeting, finances are being mismanaged and there is so much bickering that fundamental missions are being overlooked.
  • In most districts, the solution to troubled schools is to fire the superintendent -- an official whose average term now is only 2.7 years.

As charters, vouchers and for-profit school management companies emerge, some experts predict that school boards will abandon such duties as building schools and hiring staff. Instead they will award contracts to education providers -- and withdraw them if academic performance slumps.

Paul Hill, professor of public affairs at the University of Washington in Seattle, is studying that idea for the Education Commission of the States. The "charter district" plan, as it is known, would give parents -- who could shop around for the best schools -- greater control over their children's education.

Source: June Kronholz, "School Boards' Role Shifts With New Education Choices," Wall Street Journal, June 7, 1999.


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