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Governance in the Accountability Era
View related content: K-12 Schooling
For more than a century, school boards have endeavored to govern America’s schools and school systems. Collectively, the nation’s nearly 14,000 school boards are responsible for the well-being of 52 million children, the expenditure of $600 billion per year, and the supervision of six million employees. Despite the magnitude of this responsibility, school boards and their work are little examined and poorly understood.
That remains true even as the state of school governance has occasioned much discussion in the past decade. In the wake of the No Child Left Behind Act, amidst an unprecedented wealth of data on student achievement, and in an era of renewed attention to achievement gaps and international competitiveness, many observers have focused on the critical role of school board governance. In the past two years, the challenge of upholding high academic performance has grown more urgent due to a new daunting financial burden. The real estate bubble, the resulting financial crisis of 2008, and the ensuing recession have forced districts to wrestle with unprecedented declines in revenue.
Notable, however, is how rarely discussions about performance in these times of heightened scrutiny are informed by substantive information on school boards and board governance. Though a handful of noteworthy studies of school boards emerged in the early 2000s, little empirical research on national board practices has been conducted since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001.
To update and deepen those earlier studies, the National School Boards Association, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Iowa School Boards Foundation, and the Wallace Foundation have joined together to support new research on school boards and their members. The following report presents the results of that research so as to provide parents, voters, policymakers, advocates, and educators with an informative look at the individuals and bodies charged with governing America’s schools.
The survey sample was drawn from the National School Boards Association’s database of school boards and superintendents from 7,100 districts throughout the United States. The sample was stratified, including 100 percent of the board members and superintendents from 118 urban districts belonging to NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE), as well as board members and superintendents from a random sample of 400 other districts with enrollment of 1,000 or more. In total, the survey was sent to 3,805 board members and to the appropriate superintendents in 518 districts. Of those surveyed, 900 board members and 120 superintendents from 418 different districts responded, for a response rate of 23.6 percent for board members and 22.5 percent for superintendents. At least one response was received from 80.1 percent of the districts surveyed.
The report addresses six areas of interest. Among the key findings:
Who Serves on School Boards
What Board Members Think
How School Boards Go About Their Work
How School Boards Are Configured
School Board Elections
School Boards and Their Superintendents
Frederick M. Hess is director of education policy studies at AEI. Olivia Meeks is a research assistant at AEI.
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