Can We Have Qualifying Tests for School Board Members? (A Rant)

I just got off the phone with a colleague who had returned from a business trip. After visiting with various school districts, she presented remedial reading products to a school board in an affluent suburban school district. When she finished presenting the need for her product, the school board member asked, "Why are you bothering to build remedial reading products when there are so many kids who are performing in the middle of the pack?"

This school board member is a real estate broker. Does he know the statistics about kids who can't read properly? Does he know whether a kid is in the inner city or in the affluent suburbs? Does the school board member know that the student's life may well be determined by whether someone brings him into the world of literacy? Is this school board member qualified to serve?

Sometimes I think that all the media coverage about NCLB has made the public weary of the notion that reading is fundamental. And, for good or bad, school board members reflect the public's sentiments. So what is the process for a member of the community to become a school board member?

I know that the National School Boards Association and the local state affiliates have many training materials for school board members. I've met committed school board members at NSBA's conferences who care deeply about kids and come to exhibits to learn more about technology and instructional practices. But in an age of accountability, how do we hold the feet to the fire of the school board member who is obstructionist and anti-public school?

I had a good friend who became an area administrator of one of top 50 largest school districts in the United States. She said that after fighting with parents of kids who had been expelled, her next biggest challenge was several school board members who brought no real talent or constructive insight to the table but spent the board's time complaining about existing school policies.

I would love to run for the school board. I'm a former teacher, a founder of a successful company and am knowledgeable about current best practices in education. But what Weird Science would I have to use to present my self to the electorate as a qualified candidate? Should there be some kind of pre-screening for school board candidates to ensure that only those who are qualified can run? I believe that screening would encourage qualified candidates who want to make a difference to run and might eliminate some of the nut cases.

Don't get me wrong. I love the notion of the Wisdom of Crowds, but I believe that wisdom is only operable with some real visibility. Just seeing campaign verbiage and reading someone's resume doesn't give the average voter enough information on which to judge candidates.

We've spent a lot of time discussing the requirements for a qualified teacher over the last few years. And that's good. But we also need to look at the process (or lack thereof) for hiring school board candidates who really want to make a difference and not just have another bullet on their resume of community service.

About the author: Jeanne Hayes is president of The Hayes Connection, an education market research and database firm in Littleton, CO, and founder of Quality Education Data Inc., a Scholastic company. She also assists RedRock Reports, a funding consulting service, in making known their consulting services regarding funding opportunities.

About the Author

Tom Graves and Jeanne Hayes of Project RED, along with Leslie Wilson and Michael Gielniak of the 1-to-1 Institute, are co-authors of the 2010 Project RED survey, a national research study focused on the academic results and financial implications of education technology.