Saturday, April 30, 2011

Key Work of School Board Model focuses Board Governance on Student Achievement

On Wednesday, I'll be leading a short discussion on the District's use of the National School Board Association's Key Work of School Board's model.  This is the cover memo for the discussion materials which will appear in our online Board Book on Monday.

In 2006, our Board of Education adopted a new governance model recommended by the National School Boards Association (NSBA) called the “Key Work of School Boards.”  The decision to adopt the Key Work model resulted from a consensus on the Board that we needed to replace the Carver-base modeled that had been adopted by the Board in 2003.   Adoption of the Key Work model was preceded by a great deal of study and committee work and several work sessions.   The purpose of the presentation Wednesday evening is to refresh our recollection of what the Key Work model calls upon us to do and how it may be integrated into our governance and our board meetings. 

The Key Works is a systems approach designed to promote educational excellence and accountability through vision, standards, assessment, alignment, and continuous progress.   It is modeled in part on the Malcolm Baldridge Excellence model that leads to the  Baldridge awards in education and business. 

Board Policy 5(B) adopted in 2006 states:
The Board of Education operates under the National School Boards Association Key Works Framework. It focuses governance on the Vision and Mission, High Standards of Excellence, Assessment, Accountability, Alignment, Climate and Culture, Collaboration, and Continuous Improvement.

The Key Work model is a robust model supported by the highly respected National School Boards Association.  It has been adopted by an increasing number of school boards across the country and is supported by many state school boards associations, including the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, which has launched a website to support the governance model. 

The purpose of the Key Work process is to focus the school board on things that count--the big picture issues that involve policy such as standards, goals and accountability.   The Key Work process envisions a collaborative process that allocates operational and leadership responsibilities to the Superintendent and his leadership team, and policy making functions to the Board of Education.

The National School Boards Association’s Key Work model has not remained stagnant.  The NSBA is attempting to integrate the model with emerging research on school board governance practices that result in improved student achievement.  Attached to this cover memo is a document entitled “eight characteristics of effective school boards” based upon research, including the “Lighthouse” study that looked at districts which significantly improved student achievement.  The NSBA argues that boards in high-achieving districts exhibit habits and characteristics that are markedly different from boards in low-achieving low-achieving districts.   The Key Work model asks us – if student achievement is important, where is it on your agenda?  If student achievement is important, what work should a board of education be doing to focus on student achievement?   You will see in the slide show Wednesday that we are asked to think about where the components of Key Work appear on our agenda.  By that NSBA does not mean, do you put the words from the model on the agenda, but how do you integrate the work that you do into your board discussions? 

Effective school boards are accountability driven, spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on policies to improve student achievement. In interviews with hundreds of board members and staff across districts, researchers Goodman, Fulbright, and Zimmerman found that high-performing boards focused on establishing a vision supported by policies that targeted student achievement. Poor governance was characterized by factors such as micro-management by the board.
Effective school boards are data savvy: they embrace and monitor data, even when the information is negative, and use it to drive continuous improvement. The Lighthouse I study showed that board members in high-achieving districts identified specific student needs through data, and justified decisions based on that data. Board members regularly sought such data and were not shy about discussing it, even if it was negative. By comparison, board members in low-achieving districts tended to greet data with a “blaming” perspective, describing teachers, students and families as major causes for low performance. In these districts, board members frequently discussed their decisions through anecdotes and personal experiences rather than by citing data. They left it to the superintendent to interpret the data and recommend solutions.
How do we focus on student achievement?  The NSBA is telling us that we must do more than celebrate examples of student achievement.   If we receive a presentation from science teachers on how they are improving elementary science, there is nothing wrong with that, of course.  But that is a communication function.    Effective boards that care about elementary science focus like a laser on data that tells the board whether the district is making progress in elementary science by examining data.

It is the Key Work model that drove us to support the Vision Card system.   The Vision Card system is designed to fulfill several important components of the Key Work model.  It is designed to provide us data.   It is designed to set standards of excellence.  It is designed to assist us in assessing the progress that we are making towards our standards of excellence.

The Key Work model and research regarding effective school boards suggest, then, that we must spend a significant portion of our board work on understanding data, especially the data that measures student achievement, evaluating our progress towards measurable objectives in Vision Card 1A.  

The Key Work model says that when a school board does not focus its work on measurable objectives, the data that measures our progress (or lack of progress) towards those measurable objectives, and aligning resources to meet those objectives, we necessarily tend to focus instead on operational matters.   Instead of focusing on whether our students are learning science, we focus on who is teaching it, what curriculum we are using, or which teachers are using fabulous techniques.  

As you look at the material regarding Key Work, you might want to ask the following questions:

  • Does the Board still support and believe in the Key Work principles?
  • If so, does the work we do at the board and in board committees reflect the Key Work philosophy, and especially the focus on the use of data on student achievement?
  • Does the work we do in committees support the focus on student achievement and data reflecting student achievement – what is the balance between operational issues and work on understanding the data and connecting that data to our deliberations at the board level?
  • What does each of the components of the Key Work model look like on our agenda:  at business meetings and at workshops? 

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