School Boards

Government has proposed the dissolution of the elected board of St. Georges Preparatory school in favor of an appointed board responsible for a cluster of schools.  While this follows one recommendation of the Hopkins report, it also directly contradicts another.  While their choice cannot be instantly overruled when considering recent research from the American Journal of Education, a fine line must be followed to ensure that regardless of what type of board prevails, they stay on track with the goal of improving education and pursue a path of transparency and community involvement in the process.

In a recent Royal Gazette article it was suggested that Government is considering replacing the school’s trustee elected board with one that is appointed by government.  When questioned of government’s intentions Education Minister Randy Horton is suggested to have responded:

“Government is considering this because it implements the recommendation of the Hopkins Report to have one standard for all school boards”

However, when comparing this to another recommendation of the Hopkins Report, the move may be in direct contrast of their suggested intentions.

“The review favours the appointment of boards, filled largely by election, to run schools or federations of schools, building on the current example of aided schools.”

Changing and not following the model of the aided schools seems to be a contradiction to what was recommended in the Hopkins report and would be very concerning as government appears to be working backwards by taking aided schools down a level rather than bringing lagging schools up.  The very notion of a government appointed board raises many questions of whether the education system will be marred by politicking and patronage that will leave us no better off in the future than we are today.

However, when considering a recent article from the American Journal of Education, one may well wonder what the difference really is.  Indeed, when reviewing what had to say about the article, one could wonder what difference the type of board really makes when transparency and community involvement may have the greatest impact.  Indeed, it is suggested that both types of boards have been tried in American cities for decades. 

During the Progressive era, roughly the years 1890-1920, large cities installed elected school boards to save the education system from the politicking and patronage that marred local politics at the time. By the time that Boston’s city council placed the schools under mayoral control in the early 1990s, the elected school boards became known for precisely the political intrusion, low standards, inflexibility, and micromanagement that they were created to combat.

Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute who wrote the AJE article suggests that appointed boards can also fail if they mayor in question did not have an unusually high abundance of  political capital.  Using New York as an example he suggests that without strong leadership and a coherent strategy for the appointed board, the plan can quickly fail, especially if a strong mayor leaves office.

However, also cited are high profile failures and half-measures of appointed boards in Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles which showed that “appointed boards can repeat the mistakes of the past, falling prey to the temptations of micromanagement and lack of transparency that plagued their predecessors.”

Most notable is that regardless of who has control over the boards Hess found that there exists limited measures of actual educational success to prove that one was more beneficial than the other.  Suggesting that:

Regardless of the form of the school board, a clear mission for the education of the city’s children must be accompanied by a flexibility to address the problems of a rapidly changing society.

From this we can wonder if the greatest measure of success for any school board is not whether it is appointed or elected but whether it ensures flexibility and encourages transparency and community involvement in its efforts to address problems.  Indeed, one of the other recommendations of the Hopkins Report cited by the gazette article suggests:

“Harness the power of parents, business and the community in the reform effort. The review team believes that stakeholders should have greater direct involvement in the management of schools and have greater opportunities to support learning.”

A large question is whether or not this recommendation has been fulfilled to it’s fullest extent.  While government has proposed the dissolution of the elected board in favor of an appointed one, one could wonder what impact this really shall make.  Why does it appear to contradict the recommendations of the Hopkins report?  What shall be done to ensure that regardless of the type of board that they shall stay on track?  Indeed, can the goal of improving education be achieved through a pursuit of transparency and community involvement in the process and just as importantly, has such a pursuit been occurring to the depth that it shall yield the greatest success for our future generations?

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1 thought on “School Boards

  1. Great post, Denis.
    The efficacy of a board is only as good as the parents of the students for whom the board is responsible. As both a parent and a prior school-board member, I can attest that when committed parents see that there is a board that they can approach, a board that will listen to their concerns, then both groups tend to work together in a successful manner, vis-a-vis St. George’s Preparatory. This is because they both are vested in the process and the results.
    When you have the typical Government education board scenario, they refuse to even entertain the concerns of parents, and march along on their own failing agenda. The dig at St. George’s is just payback for the to-do a couple of years ago over children being blocked from going there by the Ministry. The case went to court, and the Ministry lost.
    It’s odd that a successful government school is being targeted. Watch Whitney be next. If they are looking to follow a suggestion from the Hopkins report, then they should start with firing most of the Ministry.

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