School Boards Matter

By Phil Gore, PhD, Division Director of TASB Leadership Team Services

Trustees talking around tableFor the past two years, TASB has been sharing research and emphasizing that school boards matter when it comes to student achievement. For some state and national policy-makers, it is difficult to accept that school boards make a difference when it comes to student learning in a classroom. Four years ago, the Fordham Foundation cautiously came to this conclusion. In a 2014 paper published by Fordham— “Does School Board Leadership Matter?”—the authors wrote, “The fact that board members can influence achievement, even loosely, merits much more attention—surely by scholars but also by voters, parents, taxpayers, and other policy-makers.”

Not perfect, but valuable

Fordham concluded, “Board members are fallible; yet they are also, for the most part, doing their best with the system that they’ve been given.” Our heritage of democratically selected school governance needs not only to be preserved but also advanced. As a group, the nearly 7,200 publicly elected school district trustees in the state of Texas are amazing and highly capable people. The challenge is, how do seven of these amazing people come together, set aside personal differences and agendas, and focus on activities and outcomes that are best for students? While a school board may never achieve perfection, their dedication to improvement contributes significantly to the success of students.

Continuous improvement is key

We’ve written about the value of learning together as a team; this was one of the key findings of the Iowa Lighthouse Study. Boards that learn together lead systems that learn. We can do this through conferences and special events; we can also do this through work sessions and facilitated learning in-district. Several districts have pursued the XG Board Development; others have used TEA’s Lone Star Governance; still others have benefited from Center for Reform of School Systems’ (CRSS) governance training. There’s not any one method that is perfect for each of the more than 1,000 school districts in Texas, but taking steps toward improvement makes all the difference.

Have a plan

The main thing is to have a plan. Just as Ivan Lorentzen found that districts that follow an aligned plan improve student learning, school boards that have a plan for their own improvement will improve in the work they do. We encourage every trustee and every single school board in Texas to pursue a plan for intentional improvement of the governance of your district. The cause is worth the commitment.

Call for more research

TASB hosted the first Texas summit on school governance research and practice in 2017. In addition to national research, the January 2019 XG Summit will highlight Texas-specific research into governance practices that affect student outcomes. If you or someone you know is currently researching this, e-mail LTS@tasb.org for more information about how to participate.

This bulletin, produced by TASB Leadership Team Services, examines research and shares philosophies to inform and
promote exceptional governance within school boards across Texas.