The first question every board member should ask him- or herself, and the question that opens up the entire Reform Governance Framework, is, Am I satisfied with incremental improvements in the status quo, or am I profoundly dissatisfied with the status quo and determined to change it as quickly as possible? This is the big question. One answer leads to governance primarily as oversight, the other to governance primarily as leadership for change.
Why would a board member be satisfied with only incremental improvement in the status quo? Is there a district anywhere that has all children performing at grade level, all children peforming at their potential, and no academic achivement gap?
Leadership starts with core beliefs and commitments. Beliefs and commitments go together, for beliefs not tied to commitments are of little value. There is a big difference between "It can be done" and "It will be done".
The book then proposes a set of five core beliefs and commitments:
All Children at Grade Level
Can all children perform at grade level? Indeed, some children by birth or accident have severe learning disabilities and cannot. The U.S. Department of Education accespts only 1% in this category. Even if the number is as high as 5%, the rest - a reasonable definition of all - can.
Of course, not all children can earn a doctorate in physics. Not all can become brain surgeons. Ball all can earn an academic high school diploma. Some will work harder and longer, but the standard is attainable. The experience of many high-performing low-income schools in America and the high performance of some low-income countries support this core belief.
All Children to Potential
All children performing at grade level is not enough. Because human ability varies enormously, because some children learn faster than others, because some children can become physicists and brain surgeons, school boards should commit themselves to the goal of all children reaching their learning potential. A child who can perform well above grade level but is not given the opportunity for advanced learning may not be seriously damaged for life, but he or she is not well served and society is the loser for it.
No Achievement Gap
Urban boards must have a third core belief and commitment: The academic achievement gaps between White and Asian children as compared with African-American and Hispanic children can and will be eliminated. This may seem redundant to those who beliecve that if all children perform to their potential the achievement gap will be eliminated. But it is important to state this core belief and commitment separately.
Doubters of these commitments will point out that the school effect is not 100%; families and societies contribute to or impede learning. This is certainly true. The question, however, is whether the school effect is small or large. If what a child learns is determined solely by what happens outside school rather than by what happens in school, then schools are not important and there is little reason to make them better. But if schools can fundamentally affect what children learn and how well and fast they learn it, then school matter and improving them is an imperative.
Effective School Districts
One essential core belief and commitment remains: Urban boards must believe that urban districts can become high-performing organizations. A lot of people don't think they can. Some believe urban districts and the boards that govern them are so hopeless that they should be abolished. Let charter schools and vouchers meet the educational needs of urban children, they say. Indeed many urban districts have been gioverned and managed poorly. And not many come even close to the performance standards of America's best private companies. But notwithstanding the challenges of public-sector management and urban politics, school districts can become high-performing organizations if board members make this a priority.
Boards must accept no excuse for ineffective and inefficient business operations. Finance and accounting, human reource management, purchasing and inventory management, facility maintenance, food serive, transportation, and construction management in school districts are more like than ulike business functions in other organizations. School districts can and should be world class in business operations. A few are approaching this standard in some areas and perform a well as many private-sector companies. Boards must believe that their districts can become high-performing orgainizations, insist that they do, and give their superintendent the power to make it so.
You may be surprised to learn that these extensive quotes come from "What School Boards Can Do - Reform Governance for Urban Schools" by Donald R. McAdams. This is the textbook for the course on Reform Governance that the Broad Foundation offers to School Board directors.
This book calls for strong, demanding boards who hold their superitendents accountable for results. This book is not ready to surrender to Charter Schools at all. And, more than that, this book insists that Boards do what I want to do on the Board and insists that Boards strenuously avoid the style of the current Seattle School Board.
Our Strategic Plan, "Excellence for All", calls for the weak incremental improvement that Mr. McAdams scorns. Excellence for All sets a goal of increasing the number of third graders reading at grade level from 72% in 2006-2007 to 88% by 2013. That is a classic example of incremental increase. The five year goal is to have 80% of 4th graders working at grade level in math. Really? Are we really willing to accept 12% of our third graders below grade level in reading? Which ones? Point them out. Tell me the names of the kids who's lives we don't regard worth supporting. And 20% of the 4th graders are acceptable losses in math? Acceptable to whom? To them? To their families? To our city? To the Board and the superintendent? It is NOT acceptable to me.
Let me tell you folks. You can be suspicious of the Broad Foundation, but don't believe that what Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson is doing in Seattle reflects that institutions ideals. It does not. Don't believe that what the Seattle School Board is doing reflects that institution's ideal because it does not.
I'll tell you something more. There is a discussion of "Managed Instruction" in this book. It is described in familiar terms:
"all children in a district must be taught the same comprehensive and aligned curriculum and all teachers must know how to teach it. Building on content and performance standards, the district constructs a curriculum that covers every subject for every grade in elementary school and every course in middle and high school. The curriculum is coherent, aligned, an detailed down to individual lesson plans, teaching materials, and sample assessments (all of which are available to teachers but not necessarily required).
Professional development is centered on the curriculum and how to teach it, and it is required of all teachers."
You will be interested to learn that the author of this book rejects managed instruction. He writes: "Managed instruction does not create incentives for the adults in the system, does not stimulate innovation, does not build stakeholders, and does not create a performance culture. Rather, by challenging teacher autonomy, it provokes resistance. The phrase used by critics of managed instruction is, Teachers are deskilled: They become production workers instead of innovative professionals."