So much of today’s headline news concerns the federal elections – not only the presidential race, but also the contests for Senate and House seats. And of course those are important. In some ways, however, the races at the lower end of the ballot – your local elections – are even more critical, as they will have an immediate impact on life in your community. The local school board race is a case in point.
For too many years, school boards have paid more attention to form than to function, spending most of their time on facilities and HR policies, with not much left over for schooling’s primary activity — learning. In fact, a doctoral student studying board minutes in Tennessee found that school boards are spending just 6 percent of their time on student achievement! By getting up to speed on your candidates and their platforms, you can learn who sees the same challenges in our schools that you do, find out what they plan to do about it, and support them accordingly.
Because the fact is, although we do have tremendous challenges in public education, it is possible for schools to excel with the right leadership. In fact, some schools are already doing an exceptional job, boasting student proficiency rates of 40, 50, or even 60 percentage points over their peers in schools that are comparable in terms of poverty rates.
At the Education Consumers Foundation, we see these differences every day. In fact, we have published state-by-state charts that plot 3rd grade reading proficiency rates against poverty rates (see them online at www.education-consumers.org/national.htm). While there is a recognized correlation between poverty and student achievement, one does not determine the other: There are countless examples of high-poverty schools with high proficiency rates as well as significant numbers of low-poverty schools with low levels of proficiency.
Contrary to popular belief, demography is not destiny.
We need school board members who recognize that our schools face challenges but who also understand that those challenges can be overcome — a fact that is demonstrated by many schools in every state. However, even the most informed and dedicated candidate cannot become a decision-maker without your support and your vote. Your schools will have the kind of leadership that you elect.
So take the time to learn about your school board candidates and other local office-seekers. These races may have just as much impact on your life (and those of your children) as the national races, and you can have much greater influence over them if you get involved.
Dr. J.E. Stone is president of the Education Consumers Foundation. Visit TBT's 2012 Voter Guide to get informed on your local down-ballot races.
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