A Changing Context Means School Board Reform

Michael W. Kirst
Stanford University

One major problem plagues all attempts to understand and prescribe policy for school boards: there are too many school boards (about 15,000) and too many board mem­bers (some 97,000) to be able to gener­alize about the behavior of all boards. Consequently, the research base is con­ fined to the study of a single case, a few comparative cases, or some nonrepresent­ative sample chosen for a particular pur­pose. Moreover, the research techniques employed range from surveys to self-assessments to full-scale case studies. The body of comprehensive self-assessment data collected by the Institute for Educa­tional Leadership (IEL) from 266 rural/ small town, suburban, and urban school boards between 1987 and 1990 is an ex­ceptionally large database. Most research focuses on metropolitan areas or big cities. Horror stories dominate the media, and special attention is paid to con­flict and operational failures. We know the least about the most common type of school boardthe board of small dis­tricts.

However, one way to analyze the need for and direction of school board reform is to analyze overall trends that affect most school boards. In this article I sum­marize these trends and stress the way they interact in favor of major changes in school board roles, functions, and op­erations. If we wait for representative data on all school boards, it will be a very long time until any changes are made to improve board policy making.

This article was originally published in The Phi Delta Kappan by Phi Delta Kappa International and Journal Storage (JSTOR).

Suggested citationKirst, M. W. (1994, January). A changing context means school board reform [Article]. Policy Analysis for California Education.