Literature Review Chapter: American School Boards

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[. . .] 97). The reality of the situation, though, was that opportunities in the local rural communities demanded a far different skill set that the industries of the larger cities (Theobald, 1995).

In sum, the type of education that rural school boards wanted to provide their students depended on their perspectives of what their society needed from the schools (Theobald, 1995). As a result, modern observers must recognize what challenges were faced by these early school boards and how and why their policies emerged in the fashion they did (Theobald, 1995). As Theobald emphasizes, "Rural Midwest society was marked by various intolerances, the end result of which -- when successfully applied to outsiders -- left a small community of like- minded owners and tillers of the soil. That rural schools came to reflect these prejudices should not be surprising" (1995, p. 97).

Other researchers have focused on the significant educational reforms that took place during the period 1900 through 1920 and their effect on school board roles and operations in their studies of school boards. In fact, some authorities maintain that by the 1900s, urban school boards experienced some fundamental changes in their structure that would have implications for their rural counterparts. For instance, Kirst reports that, "Around 1900 a decentralized, ward-based committee system for administering the public schools provided the opportunities for a nationwide reform movement" (1994, p. 380). One of the most significant trends identified by Kirst that would have an effect on rural school boards was the growth in the constituency of urban school boards. For example, Kirst reported that, "While there were great variations, 16 of 28 cities with populations over 100,000 at the turn of the century had boards of 20 members or more" (1994, p. 380).

The evolution of school boards experienced another series of reforms during the 1910s that would have implications for rural school boards. For example, Kirst reported that, "By 1910 the conventional wisdom had evolved among the schoolmen and the leading business and professional men who spearheaded the reforms" (1994, p. 380). The conventional wisdom of the day that shaped school board member thinking included many of the same changes that were taking place in the business world, including centralizing and professionalizing services, adopting and sustaining a nonpolitical perspective, and generally using modern business principles to facilitate the delivery of educational services. As Kirst pointed out, "The watchwords of reform became centralization, expertise, professionalization, nonpolitical control, and efficiency" (1994, p. 380).

Moreover, it was also during this period in the evolution of school boards that efforts were made to divest boards from influence of a few elite members of the business and political community on the educational process. According to Kirst, "The governance structure needed to be revised so that school boards would be small, elected at large, and purged of all connections with political parties and officials of general government, such as mayors and councilmen" (1994, p. 380). These trends would have special implications for rural school boards. In this regard, Kirst advised that, "These reform concepts spread rapidly from large cities to small, in part through the efforts of the National Education Association, which at the time was dominated by school administrators" (1994, p. 381).

Following the end of World War II, Davies (2011) reports that school boards increasingly assumed the role of facilitating collaboration between the disparate educational resources in their communities. Reiterating a common theme that also emerged from the relevant literature, Davies (2011) likewise emphasized that many of these resources, including some of the roles traditionally played by school boards, were no longer appropriate in a changing educational environment. In this regard, Davies reported that, "Times have changed, and so should the ways in which systems boards do that work. Many of these boards (or agencies) were created in the 1950s and 60s, when the U.S. faced the great challenge of rapidly building capacity to accommodate large numbers of students" (2011, p. 44).

Like many other educational authorities writing on school boards in the United States, Davies (2011) resorts to describing the evolution of school board roles by drawing on the secondary literature concerning the educational reforms that were reshaping the American landscape during the second half of the 20th century. For instance, Davies (2011) cited the impact of the GI Bill in refocusing high schools throughout the country in helping young people prepare for college and the role of school boards in influencing these changes. In addition, like a number of other authorities, Marino (2011) concluded that school boards remain central in helping identify ways to improve curricular offerings in ways that are congruent with the needs of real-world businesses today.

By the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a growing effort to consolidate what was known about school boards across the country. One example of this trend was a national study of school superintendents that was conducted in an effort to identify the main issues that were involved with negotiations between education boards and teacher organizations:

1. The composition of the board's negotiating team,

2. The role of the superintendent,

3. The advantages and disadvantages of having board members participate in negotiations;

4. The situations which occur as a result of having board members negotiate,

5. The relationships, if any, between these factors and the size of the district,

6. Whether teachers have gone on strike, and,

7. The experience of the superintendent (Sharp, 2002, p. 31).

Another finding to emerge from the Sharp (2002) study was that during the period from the 1970s through the 1990s, school superintendents were required to devote increasing amounts of time to collective bargaining issues. In addition, Sharp describes the evolution of the role of school superintendent during the second half of the 20th century: "The superintendents' national organization suggested in 1961 that the role should be an independent third party, and in 1968, said that the superintendent should be a consultant for both groups" (2002, p. 31).

By the last decades of the 20th century, other educational authorities were recommending that school superintendents should serve in a transactional capacity rather than identify with the board of education or teachers; other authorities have recommended that school superintendents should serve as a source of information, facilitate the clarification of divisive issues, and generally serve as an educational resource for both groups (Sharp, 2002). This diversity of views is reflective of the general themes that emerged in the relevant literature during this period in American educational history concerning the proper role of school board members and superintendents, with some roles representing the antithesis of others. For instance, Sharp (2002) noted that when the role of superintendent involves negotiating on behalf of the board of education, it makes superintendents "adversaries of the professional staff," an outcome that inevitably adversely affects their effectiveness in curriculum leadership roles and makes them "the bad guy" in an adversarial role (p. 31).

Just two studies to date, though, have investigated the proper role of the superintendent in general and none with respect to rural settings in particular (Sharp, 2002). On a final note, Sharp noted that any duality in the role of superintendent will inevitably result in suboptimal and potentially even damaging performance. For instance, Sharp (2002) concluded that, "The NEA reduces the superintendent to the go-between; the AASA sees the superintendent in a 'dual' role; the National School Boards Association (NSBA) regards superintendents as a 'channel or interpreter.' None of these roles are dynamic and they will result in destroying the effectiveness of the superintendent with his own staff, with the community, and ultimately with the school board" (p. 52).

Researchers such as Newton and Sackney (2005) have also examined the structure and group knowledge of school boards using a number of research methodologies, including conversation analysis, surveys, observation, and the Critical Decision Method (CDM). Based on their findings, Newton and Sackney (2005) determined that school boards are increasingly influenced by group communication patterns in ways that also influence their political and structural environments. In sum, Newton and Sackney (2005) concluded that, "Most importantly, the results suggests that the affective, axiological, and cognitive dimensions of group knowledge are not discrete, but interact with each other within the processes of knowledge transformation and knowledge transfer" (p. 434). In other words, school board members not only have a wider range of resources available to them for decision making purposes, they are taking advantage of these resources to facilitate their roles with other educational stakeholders (Newton & Sackney, 2005).

Most recently, the literature concerning the proper role of school boards and superintendents has focused on accountability and identifying best practices for both urban and rural boards. For instance, van Alfen & Schmidt (2007) reported that, "Local boards, especially in rural areas are still the natural leaders of education. Local school boards have lost the overall vision of their governance role; roles [should] be… [END OF PREVIEW]

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