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Boards and student achievement connection

A common misconception in communities around the country is that board members and superintendents do not have an impact on student achievement. Do boards and superintendents really matter? According to Ivan J. Lorentzen, professor at Flathead Community College, and William P. McCaw, professor at the University of Montana, the answer is not only do they matter, they matter a great deal.

In a Montana research study examining the relationship between school board governance and student achievement, results showed that schools functioned best when balanced governance is practiced -- a slightly overlapping system of community engagement, board governance, and superintendent leadership. 

While several works have cited a correlation between board governance and test scores, this is the first time a quantitive relationship has been established. Results clearly show that if the board governs effectively, the district has high student achievement. By the same token, when board members and superintendents are unclear about who is responsible for what, conflicts, inefficiencies, and frustrations are inevitable.

There are myriad ways the board can participate in district efforts to raise student achievement, but these particular practices were found most effective:

  • Evaluate the superintendent on clear and focused expectations
  • Create a district plan that shows the way forward for the next five years
  • Conduct board and district business in a fair, respectful, and responsible manner, remembering that when convening in public, the board is a reflection of the school system
  • Make data-based decisions
  • Engage the community and staff in decision making
  • Create conditions districtwide for student and staff success by providing for learning essentials, including rigorous curriculum, technology, and facilities

What practices should school boards seek to avoid? 

  • Micromanaging
  • Deference to administration
  • Making unrealistic demands
  • The killer Bs: buses, buildings, books, budgets, basketball, bonds
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