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How School Districts Work

Co-authored by Tom Vander Ark, Getting Smart, and Cathy Mincberg, CRSS

School districts have a theory of action but don’t or can’t express exactly what it is. Naming the theories in use is the first step to designing a system of schools that serves a community well.

We recently led a school board retreat where we discussed the theories in use across North America. They range from highly decentralized systems with diverse schools to updates to what David Tyack called The One Best System.

One Best System. Historically, teachers were allowed to close their doors and teach what and how they […]

By |August 10, 2015|Blog|0 Comments
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What school boards need is clarity on direction.

As strange as it sounds, school boards are destined by their design to be dysfunctional.  It takes hard work to create a board that doesn’t operate in chaos.  Why is this so?  Why did Mark Twain write that first God made fools for practice and then he made schools boards?

School boards represent the community with its many interests.  All of the taxpayers, parents, elected officials, staff, students, civic organizations, local colleges, vendors, media, etc.,  want a huge variety of things out of the public school system.  The community’s direction is not clear and so the board’s direction is not clear […]

By |August 20, 2013|Blog|0 Comments
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Put your plan into ACTION.

It is one thing to want to improve student achievement; it is another to actually turn your wishes into action.  Reform policies directed at improving student achievement should be based on a theory of action.

All successful businesses have a theory of action that they believe will lead to their success.  For example, Disney’s theory of action is to “make people happy” and if you have been to one of their movies or theme parks,  you get to see the theory of action actually happening.  I have heard that to reach this goal, Disney even takes every restroom down to the […]

By |April 25, 2013|Blog|0 Comments
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Focus on reform policies.

The true power of school boards resides in their ability to craft and adopt reform policies.  Policies are the “law” of a school district.  Compliance policies are often designed to comply with the state or federal or local laws and to create stability within a school system.   The beauty of policies is that they are hard to pass and hard to change, usually requiring several public readings in either case.

Reform policies are those that are designed to drive change, just the opposite of compliance policies.  Most school districts have zero—yes, 0—reform  policies.  Instead, boards across the country vote to approve […]

By |April 19, 2013|Blog|0 Comments
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Is your school board struggling?

Just think about it.  Every time a new superintendent joins a school district, things change.  It is out with the old and in with the new.  That works well with redecorating but causes havoc in large organizations like school districts.

Most new superintendents want to make a dramatic mark.  This leads to new curriculum approaches, new staff reporting relationships, new leaders throughout the district, cancellation of massive and expensive programs and much more change.  This change often takes a year or more to settle out.  Now teachers who have committed to programs and training must scuttle those and take on new […]

By |August 28, 2012|Blog|0 Comments
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Start making a difference at your very first board meeting.

I ran for the Houston ISD (200,000+ students) school board to make a difference.  Little did I know that it would take me over eight years to figure out how to do that.  At my first meeting, the senior members of the board slammed through a slate of officers.  I was so naive that I didn’t realize that this group had decided it all in advance.  I was on the outs and had no idea how to make my contribution.

As the president and CEO of the Center for Reform of School Systems, I am determined that no board member should […]

By |August 17, 2012|Blog|0 Comments
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Skills that all board members need.

Three skills are needed by school board members to change the world.  School board member training is the only way to make sure that your board has these needed skills: collaboration skills and the understanding and skills to develop and adopt reform policies and a theory of action.

I was once a very wise and “full of it” brand new school board member.  I just knew the answer to our 200,000-student district’s needs.  Of course, I easily shared my “answers” with my more senior colleagues much to their consternation.  Why think about collaboration when I had the answers?

Needless to say, it […]

By |August 1, 2012|Blog|0 Comments