Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On How the School Board Should Function: Facilities Master Plan, Diversity Policy, Aspirational Class-Sizes, and More

Holly Hines wrote a piece in the P-C recently describing what I see as the fundamental problem our school board has.

"Lucas Elementary parent Michael Tilley, who blogs about education issues in the district, said he thinks the School Board has taken on roles that should be left to district administrators, such as the superintendent, and vice versa, when it comes to setting policy and cutting the budget.  
 He said board members seem too focused on the details of policies they create rather than the goals of the policies themselves.
"I'm not sure that they're functioning well in the sense of getting accomplished what needs to be accomplished for our community," Tilley said."

To expand a bit, you can read what I've written about this topic previously:

In one post written about 10-months ago, I identified the problem as a case of the tale wagging the dog: see here. In that particular case, I illustrate the phenomenon with respect to the Facilities Master Plan. My conclusion in that post:

"I'd much rather see them discuss how we should prioritze our values than debate minor financial or logistical issues in board and committee meetings. Is achieving equity of student achievement our highest goal? Or is it low student-teacher ratios? Or is it minimizing tax payer expenses? Or is it protecting a particular geographical area of town? Is primary or secondary education more important? How should we order these values, once we have determined what they are? Those are the types of questions the board should be discussing publicly at board and committee meetings. They can be spurred by the practical issues at hand, but we can only truly deal with disagreements about these matter if we are clear on where the disagreement lies. Furthermore, if the administration knew clearly what the board thought (as the representative of its stakeholders, the community), then the administration could more effectively achieve its goals by knowing how to implement those goals."

In another post, I explain that the board missed the boat on the diversity policy. They focused on specifying percentages to be achieved, implementation, and time-frames rather than articulating a goal and holding the administration accountable for meeting the goal. As a result, we didn't do much of anything with regard to the Diversity Policy over the last 18 months, and the administration wasn't held accountable. Here is what the goal should have been:

"So, the spirit of the DP -- the DP as it should be understood rather than the particular requirements specified in the document itself -- is to (a) stop reinforcing and making the achievement gap worse (as a wise person has said about our budget, maybe we can get out of the hole if we just stop digging!) and (b) attempt to restack the deck in favor of all of our kids, particularly our at-risk children."

In a third post, I go into greater detail about how the Diversity Policy should have been structured with a clear goal, clear standards of evaluation for the administration that go beyond mere increases in test schools for students with certain barriers to education, and strong accountability to make positive moves toward achieve the goals according to the measures. Here is what I said there:

"Ultimately, I think this sort of approach is more in line with the spirit of the Diversity Policy that I've discussed elsewhere, and it is also closer to the intended model of policy governance for our school board, i.e., the Carver model. Specifically, it focuses on ends, delegation of implementation/means of the policy, and monitoring of success."

These are but two examples I've written about on the blog, but I could give a similar account with respect to how the board has handled the budget, class-size issues, and turning the diversity policy into aspirational goals. Here is what I've written about the "aspirational goal" language in class-sizes and the proposal to use that for the DP (in a comment on another P-C article):

"I'm most concerned about the application of the aspirational goals. I've been disappointed by how the aspirational class size goals have been implemented (in practice, it still seems like the squeaky wheel still gets oiled), and I was disappointed in the administration's proposal based on something akin to aspirational goals for Cluster 2 redistricting. For example, in the board's decision to keep the Breckenridge island (a concentrated FRL group currently assigned to Lemme--a low-FRL school--but that under the administration's proposal to the board was reassigned to the high-FRL school Alexander), the administration's proposal made the FRL goals "aspirational" while following the letter of the island language. Superintendent Murley's argument was that they tried to eliminate islands when they could, but apparently, they didn't try to reduce FRL disparities when they could (i.e., in the Breckenridge situation specifically)? I'm glad the board saw fit to make that change, but what if Paul Roesler didn't suggest it at the last minute? 
My hope is that the board and the committee will think about crafting a sustainable long-term goal for addressing the achievement gap, and let the administration determine the best means to accomplish that goal while holding them accountable for achieving it. It seems to me that we've been too focused on specifying the means for accomplishing our goals (e.g., specific numerical targets, removing islands, etc.), and that the administration focuses too much on using the specified means rather than doing what they think is in the best interest of all the district (i.e., reducing the achievement gap by bringing the bottom up)."