School boards are still needed

February 21, 2011

James Campbell's op-ed ("Is it time to abolish school boards?" Feb. 17) is concerning. The report he cites does indicate school boards are cautious in supporting much-touted "reforms" such as charter schools and year-round calendars.

But let's put that in context. The same report shows the vast majority of school boards see improving public schools as job No. 1, with 95 percent citing an urgent need to improve student learning and achievement. School board members are deeply concerned that dire economic conditions are gutting the progress made in recent years. As for their cautious views on charter schools, the very limited evidence to date indicates that fewer than 1 in 5 charter schools are performing better than traditional public schools, and more than a third actually perform worse. And given that a single additional day of school adds millions of dollars in taxpayer expense, there are financial concerns in developing year-round school calendars.

In Maryland, school boards — including Baltimore City, Montgomery County and Calvert County and so many others — are doing the tough and important work that has made the state a national leader in K-12 education. School boards know that great teachers and great principals matter. They value investing in these professionals and are clear that collective bargaining agreements and state and federal laws get in their way of removing ineffective educators. They know a good test is a diagnostic tool, not a punitive measure, a distinction that seems to have been lost in recent education reform legislation.

There are no quick fixes to improving student achievement. School boards are your neighbors, volunteering to be the common-sense gateway that balances a drive to improve results for your community's children with a cautious take on often-political and unproven "reforms." Their role may be evolving as our concept of "community" evolves, but their place is as important as ever.

Anne L. Bryant, Alexandria, Va.

The writer is executive director of the National School Boards Association.

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