Since the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony decreed in 1647 that every town of 50 families should have an elementary school and that every town of 100 families should have a Latin school, the public school system in the United States has been evolving. Over the past few decades, we have seen a great deal of innovation due to the public’s desire to see schools operate more effectively, consistently provide access to a quality education, and prepare our youth for the future. The creation of a wide network of private, independent, and public charter schools is one example of innovation that has changed the education landscape of the United States. But what happens when education is politicized and the various state and local jurisdictions that regulate these charter schools affect their capacity to increase student achievement and mission impact?
In a recent publication from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute — “Governance in the Charter School Sector: Time for A Reboot” — Adam Emerson asserts that the politicization of charter schools over the past 20 years has severely hindered charter school boards. Emerson believes that while schools continue to evolve, the regulations on governing those schools have lagged behind, leaving boards struggling under a structure that is simultaneously over-regulated and under-monitored. This battle raises two questions:
- How do charter schools get institutions to amend regulations to catch up (and keep up) with the times?
- What can school boards do to aid in that effort?
One answer is for boards to work from within; to take steps to develop their own efficacy. The education system isn’t often thought of as part of the nonprofit sector when in reality, it is. As such, schools require boards to effectively guide them and ensure that that they are working toward their missions. And while the governance challenges faced by charter school boards are significant, they are not unique. Nonprofit boards across the country face the same battles of accountability, conflict of interest, and oversight.
BoardSource has learned from experience that board self-assessment is integral to board development. BoardSource recommends all boards evaluate their performance every two years. This allows them to identify areas in need of improvement and work to develop more effective practices. In addition to our standard nonprofit Board Self-Assessment and Assessment of the Chief Executive survey tools, BoardSource offers assessment tools specifically customized to meet the unique needs of independent schools that are based on the Principles of Good Practice for School Heads and the Principles of Good Practice for Trustees from the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). Since 2011, BoardSource has conducted more than 300 specialized assessments for schools.
Having committed, empowered, and educated individuals on a board is the worst enemy to a stagnated system. If charter school boards begin assessing their practices and redefining themselves as exceptional leaders, greater change will take place both within their schools and at the policy level. For any kind of transformation to occur, however, more board members must commit to working together to develop their own board practices and to becoming champions for change within the school system.
Are you a champion for change within your school or organization? How have you challenged the status quo to effect transformation and advance your mission?