I sit next to columnist Kyle Wingfield in the AJC newsroom, and we have been discussing the SACS report on APS. Wingfield has a post up today echoing a commentary I ran a few weeks ago questioning the focus of SACS on school board politics rather than on the CRCT cheating scandal or the disputed graduation scores. Take a look at his column.
When I read the AJC story on the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and its parent organization AdvancED, I wondered about the stated purpose of the accrediting agency — to improve student achievement — and its efforts of late — to sanction rambunctious and bickering school boards.
As someone wrote about the SACS report at the Get Schooled blog: First, the report seems to be premised in part on a questionable basic assumption that any board which divides itself by a close vote on important issues is somehow dysfunctional and deserving of sanctions. (Are not sharp and close differences to be expected occasionally on democratically elected bodies?) In fact, the report expressly warns the board not to elect the new superintendent by a 5-4 vote. While this is probably a very wise policy recommendation, how and why it possibly relates to whether the system should be accredited is difficult to fathom.
In the Sunday AJC story on the accrediting agency, AdvancedED CEO and president Mark Elgart said, “Although leadership issues appear to get the most attention in the media and community, most of our work centers on helping schools and school systems improve conditions for student learning. In fact the vast majority of our accreditation sanctions and required actions relate to teaching and learning.”
Do we have any evidence that school boards influence student achievement and student learning? I certainly believe that a strong superintendent can affect achievement. I will point to J. Alvin Wilbanks in Gwinnett and Andre Alonso in Baltimore as proof. And school boards hire the superintendent.
But once the superintendent is in place, how much of a role does a school board play in just how good or bad the schools are or become?
I wonder how much payoff there is to focusing energy on whether the school board plays nice or whether it plays politics? (By the way, applying the SACS standards for conciliatory and cohesive school boards to city councils or the Legislature would put many government bodies in the state on probation.)
Yes, the Clayton board was a mess, but the schools were slipping into atrophy and under achievement long before that particular set of rogues ran for office and took over. I admit they were a distraction, but were they the main problem with Clayton’s slow march to under achievement?
Are there examples of school systems that soldier on even while their school boards duke it out? And aren’t there school boards that vote unanimously a lot and still have weak schools?
And to the question I ask again and again: Are elected school boards still relevant when school systems are now massive entities with budgets in the hundreds of millions? Would schools lose any ground if there weren’t elected school boards?
–By Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog.