Great Boards for Great Schools

Two decades of experience with performance contracting in the delivery of public education has wrought some hard earned lessons. We know what good authorizing looks like. We know how to open great new schools.
What if we put these to recently developed capabilities together? Here’s a radical idea: what is every school operated under a performance contract and with a board that supports the schools mission? A system of performance contracting, with local and state authorization, could provide an effective accountability system and would result in more high quality options for families. Some schools could operate as part of a multi-campus network and wouldn’t require their own board. But that’s still lots of good board members supporting good schools. That’s why I recently joined the board of Charter Board Partners (CBP) — to promote quality at scale by recruiting and training great boards for great schools.
Perpetual governance has a better chance of sustaining the common intellectual mission of a great school or network than political governance, which is prone to oscillation. The most promising urban districts of the last decade saw boards swing, superintendents fired, and a harsh reversion to the mean of miserable performance and status quo agreements. The Fordham Institute seems to be the only one paying attention to this root problem of the anachronistic patchwork of American education governance (read their report on rethinking education governance.)
By perpetual governance, I’m referring to that which is common in the nonprofit world and private enterprise — board members recruited for their ability to support and advance a mission. That makes it much easier to recruit and sustain a team and an improvement and expansion agenda. CBP believes, “A highly effective charter school board believes in and commits to the mission of the school, and understands that if the school is to achieve its mission, the board must:

  1. Focus relentlessly on student achievement
  2. Recruit and retain an exceptional leaders
  3. Invest in exemplary governance
  4. Act strategically and hold the board accountable
  5. Raise and use resources wisely; and
  6. Commit steadfastly to legal and regulatory compliance”

CBP measures board effectiveness, provides tailored support, and helps recruit new board members. CBP is focused on Washington D.C. but has broader impact agenda.
As noted by the charter authorizers association last week as many as a fifth of charters should be non-renewed because they perform no better than traditional schools. The fact that we can have that conversation is the good news. That’s how the system should work. Schools should earn the right to continue to receive public funding. Recruiting and training good board members is part of the equation.
We need more good schools. Good schools have good boards. That’s why I support Charter Board Partners.
This blog first appeared on EdWeek.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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