Saturday, August 17, 2013

What can a School Board do to promote student achievement?

This is the first in a series of posts focusing on what a school board can do to create the conditions for improvement of student achievement.

On Monday and Tuesday, our school board will be conducting a retreat primarily to discuss issues that can help us look at our board's role in supporting improvements in student achievement.   That has caused us to look, as well, at whether there is research that points to effective school board practices and attitudes that seem to make a difference in student achievement.   As it turns out, the National School Boards Association  and several other state school board organization -- especially Iowa's -- provide some excellent resources, and in today's post, I'm going to link to some of these resources and begin a discussion on what they are telling us.

Why are we spending time -- nearly two full days of time -- examining what our school board can do to promote student achievement?   Our school district has much to be proud of.   If you are a student who comes to us ready to learn there is really no better place to obtain an outstanding education.  We have a broad range of advanced placement courses, the broadest in central Minnesota.   We provide opportunities in science and technology, literature and the arts and music, and our top graduates are placed in some of the top colleges and universities in the country.   When you look at the test scores of our non-disadvantaged students, and compare them to similarly situated students in other districts, the scores of our students are comparable, and frankly the top students are exhibiting stellar performance, however you measure performance.    But in our school district, like many other school districts in Minnesota, there is a growing number of students, many with educational disadvantages, who are not thriving    Like those other districts, we need to do far more to attack the growing gap between the students who are succeeding in school and those who are not.    If we are going to help them succeed,  we need to try new strategies.   So what can we do as a school board to make a difference?

    As it turns out, there is a fair amount of research on what school boards can do, to make a difference.  Some of the best research on school board effectiveness comes from the Iowa School Board's Association's Lighthouse Inquiry.  Over a number of years, the Lighthouse Inquiry studied the activities and attitudes of school boards in districts where student achievement is improving, as opposed to the activities and attitudes of school boards in districts where student achievement is unacceptable and stagnant.   You can link to that  research here:  "Lighthouse Inquiry."       Another excellent resource can be found in an online publication by the National School Board's Association Center for Public Education, called the Eight Characteristics of Effective School Board, which is the summary of a number of studies on school board effectiveness.    The "Eight Characteristics of Effective School Boards" argues that the research tells us that:
Eight Characteristics of an Effective School Board

1. Effective school boards commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction and define clear goals toward that vision
2. Effective school boards have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn, and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels.
3. Effective school boards are accountability driven, spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on policies to improve student achievement.
4. Effective school boards have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community and establish a strong communications structure to inform and engage both internal and external stakeholders in setting and achieving district goals.
5. Effective boards are data savvy; they embrace and monitor data, even when the information is negative, and use it to drive continuous improvement.
6. Effective school boards align and sustain resources, such as professional development, to meet district goals.
7. Effective school boards lead as a united team with the superintendent, each from their respective roles, with strong collaboration and mutual trust.
8.Effective school boards take part in team development and training, sometimes with their superintendents, to build shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts. - See more at: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Public-education/Eight-characteristics-of-effective-school-boards/Eight-characteristics-of-effective-school-boards.html#sthash.0Gp8SeWJ.dpuf
  • Effective school boards commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction and define clear goals toward that vision. 
  • Effective school boards have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn, and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels. 
  • Effective school boards are accountability driven, spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on policies to improve student achievement.  
  • Effective school boards have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community and establish a strong communication structure to inform and engage both internal and external stakeholders in setting and achieving goals.   
  • Effective school boards are data savvy:  they embrace and monitor data, even when the information is negative, and use it to drive continuous improvement. 
  • Effective school boards align and sustain resources, such as professional development, to meet district goals.  According to researchers....effective boards saw a responsibility to maintain high standards even in the midst of budget challenges.
  • Effective school boards lead as a united team with the superintendent, each from their respective roles, with strong collaboration and mutual intent. 
  • Effective school boards take part in team development and training, sometimes with their superintendents, to build shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts.  
1. Effective school boards commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction and define clear goals toward that vision. - See more at: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Public-education/Eight-characteristics-of-effective-school-boards#sthash.a8JgTFVw.dpuf
Eight Characteristics of an Effective School Board

1. Effective school boards commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction and define clear goals toward that vision
2. Effective school boards have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn, and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels.
3. Effective school boards are accountability driven, spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on policies to improve student achievement.
4. Effective school boards have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community and establish a strong communications structure to inform and engage both internal and external stakeholders in setting and achieving district goals.
5. Effective boards are data savvy; they embrace and monitor data, even when the information is negative, and use it to drive continuous improvement.
6. Effective school boards align and sustain resources, such as professional development, to meet district goals.
7. Effective school boards lead as a united team with the superintendent, each from their respective roles, with strong collaboration and mutual trust.
8. Effective school boards take part in team development and training, sometimes with their superintendents, to build shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts. - See more at: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Public-education/Eight-characteristics-of-effective-school-boards/Eight-characteristics-of-effective-school-boards.html#sthash.0Gp8SeWJ.dpuf


1. Effective school boards commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction and define clear goals toward that vision
2. Effective school boards have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn, and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels.
3. Effective school boards are accountability driven, spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on policies to improve student achievement.
4. Effective school boards have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community and establish a strong communications structure to inform and engage both internal and external stakeholders in setting and achieving district goals.
5. Effective boards are data savvy; they embrace and monitor data, even when the information is negative, and use it to drive continuous improvement.
6. Effective school boards align and sustain resources, such as professional development, to meet district goals.
7. Effective school boards lead as a united team with the superintendent, each from their respective roles, with strong collaboration and mutual trust.
8. Effective school boards take part in team development and training, sometimes with their superintendents, to build shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts. - See more at: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Public-education/Eight-characteristics-of-effective-school-boards/Eight-characteristics-of-effective-school-boards.html#sthash.0Gp8SeWJ.dpuf
  In 2007, our board of education adopted the national school boards association's Key Work philosophy of governance.   The Key Work governance philosophy seeks to promote effective practices described in the research.   But adopting these principles is one thing, putting them to practice is quite another.  "Effective school boards take part in team development and training...to build shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts."   One of the questions we are asking at the retreat is, "what should our board agenda look like" if we are actually implementing effective practices?  What should we be spending our board time on?  What information do we need, and how can we better inform our selves so that we can promote student achievement.   

Ok, Jerry.  That's well enough?  But those are just words:  how does a school board put those concepts into practice on a daily basis?     And how does one figure out which practices can actually make a difference in student achievement?   These are great questions.  I'm glad you asked them.   Let's talk about those questions in the next posts. 

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