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ECS Governance NotesDecember - January 2002

Governance Notes Archives


Welcome to ECS Governance Notes, a bimonthly e-mail publication with links to key information on education governance.

CHARTER SCHOOL AUTHORIZERS are the linchpins in the charter school policy trade-off of greater operating autonomy in exchange for greater accountability for results, say Greg Richmond and Margaret Lin. In this column, they discuss the various roles of charter school authorizers and highlight the increasing recognition of the importance of these roles.

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On December 22, 2001, PENNSYLVANIA took over the Philadelphia School District, the largest district in the nation to be taken over and operated by a state. A five-person school reform commission, with three members appointed by the governor of Pennsylvania and two members appointed by the mayor of Philadelphia, will assume control of the school district and begin implementing plans for reforming the district. The changes may include the privatization of up to 60 schools in the district.

In their 2001 legislative session, the ARKANSAS legislature created two study committees, each of which will examine the governance of public education in Arkansas as part of its efforts. H.B. 2169 creates the State Board of Education Advisory Committee to Study the Structure of Public Elementary and Secondary Education, and S.B. 907 establishes the Arkansas Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Education. Both study groups will submit reports to the legisature in 2002.

On November 8, 2001, the WEST VIRGINIA Board of Education took over the McDowell County Schools based on an audit report that indicated the county was failing to provide a high quality education for students, and that unhealthy and unsafe conditions in many schools place employees and schools in danger. Since 1992, West Virginia has taken over four school districts, one of which has been returned to local control.

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"Rhetoric Versus Reality: What We Know and What We Need To Know About vouchers and charter schools," a 2001 RAND study, reviews evidence on questions about academic achievement, choice, access, integration and civic socialization in VOUCHER programs and CHARTER SCHOOLS. Most significantly, the study found that many of the important empirical questions about voucher programs and charter schools have not yet been answered, and that none has been answered definitively. The authors say the scarcity of evidence should send a note of caution to policymakers and both supporters and opponents of choice.

"Does School District Takeover Work? Assessing the Effectiveness of City and State Takeover as a School Reform Strategy," a 2001 study by Kenneth K. Wong and Francis X. Shen, examines the potential for city and state TAKEOVERS to promote higher-quality teaching and learning, improve management and enhance public confidence. They find that takeovers placing mayors in charge of school districts are linked to student acheivement increases in the elementary grades. On the other hand, placing the state department of education in charge of the school district sometimes produces administrative and political turmoil, resulting in a decline in student achievement.

Public Agenda recently released "Trying to Stay Ahead of the Game: Superintendents and Principals Talk About School Leadership," an in-depth survey of 853 public school superintendents and 909 public school principals, all randomly selected. The survey found that superintendents and principals believe POLITICS AND BUREAUCRACY get in the way of their doing their jobs; more than half of those surveyed said they have to work around the system to get things done. The key issues, according to the survey, are AUTHORITY and AUTONOMY. In fact, about nine in 10 respondents said giving administrators "more autonomy . . . while holding them accountable for getting results" would be an effective technique.

"Educational Performance and Charter School Authorizers: The Accountability Bind," a 2001 study by Katrina Bulkley, suggests that contract-based accountability for educational performance in CHARTER SCHOOLS may not be working as proponents argued it would. According to the study, charter school authorizers are in an "accountability bind," wanting to enforce accountability through the process of renewing charters, but finding it difficult to do so. Strengthening charter schools' accountability to their authorizers, the author says, will require the creation of an ongoing relationship focused on accountability rather than the enforcement of accountability at a single decision point, i.e., contract renewal time.

Through the lens of a set of policies to improve mathematics teaching in California's public schools, a 2001 book by David K. Cohen and Heather C. Hill studies the effects of STATE POLICIES on classroom practices. In "Learning Policy: When State Education Reform Works," the authors examine the role of the state in this effort, discussing the successes and highlighting the areas where improvement is warranted. They say effective state reform depends on coherence in policy and practice, as well as opportunities for professional learning.

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ECS' National Center on Governing America's Schools recently completed an Issue Site on POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION GOVERNANCE. This feature, under "Governance- Postsecondary" in the Education Issues section of the ECS Web site ( contains an overview, information on what states are doing and summaries of selected research and readings. The Issue Site also houses the new POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION STRUCTURES DATABASE, an interactive database that allows users to run customized reports on postsecondary education governance, such as state profiles or state comparisons.

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The National Center on Governing America's Schools is building a network of state and district policymakers and practitioners interested in creating ALL-CHARTER DISTRICTS. The effort is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Public Charter Schools Programs. If you are interested in being a part of this network, or in learning more about this project, please contact Todd Ziebarth, program director, at (303) 299-3652 or

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To read more about Education Governance, visit the ECS Issue Site on Governance.


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