A Washington think tank has discovered that school board focus on academics affects student achievement. It seems like a logical conclusion that a board’s focus on academics would produce better schools, but now the research proves it.
The study was conducted by the Thomas B Fordham Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to school reform. “In sum, boards with members who have an academic focus and exhibit certain work practices are associated with better student achievement than expected, given their district conditions. They beat the odds.”
Though that conclusion doesn’t seem especially revelatory, this recently released study is in fact an important moment for contemporary education, especially for New Orleans. Until now, there seemingly wasn’t any scientific basis to conclude that school boards casting a laser beam of academic expectation across a district produce more proficient graduates, though members rarely set foot in the schools they govern. Because teachers, principals, curriculum specialists and superintendents direct the day-to-day mechanics of delivery of the academic product, it has never been clear just how much part-time board members matter to students’ overall education.
Turns out, they matter a lot. More importantly the study reveals other aspects about school boards that could be of great benefit to the future of New Orleans schools, if policy makers and voters would just take note.
The study concludes that how and when board members are elected affect academic quality, and so does political allegiance. The study concludes that boards consisting of politically moderate, at-large members are more knowledgeable about district conditions and more likely to focus on the academic bottom line.
People in New Orleans made the connection between bad schools and a bickering school board years ago, just like many urban school systems must have after they, too, switched from at-large board members to district members. Such a trend developed in the mid-1980s to diversify the makeup of boards, a 2010 Bureau of Governmental Research study says. The BGR study says that New Orleans transitioned from an at-large elected board in ’87 to a board of five-district and two at-large members. In ’92, the board shifted to a board of seven district members.