A COMPARISON OF SOUTH AFRICAN AND UNITED STATES
PUBLIC SCHOOL LEVEL GOVERNANCE STRUCTURES AND
THEIR POSSIBLE INFLUENCE ON SCHOOL EFFECTIVENESS
Johan Beckmann, University of Pretoria
Lars G. Björk, University of Kentucky (USA)
Paper Presented at the
6th International Symposium on Educational Reform: 2010
A South Africa
Introduction: SGBs in the South African education system
Any account of educational reform in South Africa almost inevitably starts with 1994 and the first democratically-elected government that was installed on 27 April 1994. Sometimes the impression is created that it was only the newly-elected South African government that faced the challenges of democratisation, decentralization, equal access, equality, equity, school effectiveness, accountability, giving parents a voice in education while safeguarding the professional integrity and role of educators, decentralising decision-making without sacrificing national interests and priorities and finding and exploiting additional sources of funding for schools. This impression was fallacious because all of these debates were and are alive in most systems comparable with what South Africa was trying to set up. In this contribution we compare the responses to the challenges in terms of school governance as manifested in school governing bodies (SGBs) in South Africa and school management councils (SMCs) in Kentucky in the USA.
We will first discuss SGBs. Thereafter we will discuss SMCs before exploring the possible link between these two structures and effective education. These discussions will be framed within the representation of the South African public school below:
The representation illustrates that:
• The provisions regarding education in the Constitution and other legislation are a product of the negotiated nature of the Constitution which led to compromises among others that higher education (and training) is a national competence whilst there is concurrent national and provincial legislative authority on all other forms of education
• The right to basic education is entrenched in the bill of rights in chapter 2 of the Constitution
• The 9 provincial departments are not necessarily subordinate to the national department of basic education whose powers Are derived from the National Education Policy Act , No 27 of 1996 (NEPA) which provides among others that:
o The Minister [of Basic Education] determines national education policy in terms of the provisions of the Constitution and NEPA (S3(1))
o When determining national policy for education at educational institutions the national minister takes into account the powers of the provincial legislators in terms of section 146 of the Constitution and the provisions of the provincial laws regarding education (s3(2)).
o Subject to the Constitution national policy prevails over any provincial education policy if there is conflict between the national and provincial policy (S3(3))
o Subject to s3(1-3) the national minister determines national policy for planning, provision, financing, coordination, management, governance, programmes, monitoring, evaluation and welfare of the education system (s3(4))
• While the national department of basic education determines policy (norms and standards) for various educational matters, the provincial departments provide education and run educational institutions to provide education
• The various provincial departments of education are organized into provincial head offices, districts / regions / (circuits) and schools which have a professional management component (the School Management Team) and governance component (the SGB)
The aim of the South African Schools Act, No 84 of 1996 (SASA) Act is to provide for the organisation, governance and funding of schools and SGBs therefore perform their functions in terms of this frame of reference. The Preamble to SASA expresses the concern of the legislators with issues such as the redress of past injustices, education of a progressively high quality, the democratic transformation of society, combating racism and sexism and intolerance. It also touches on the eradication of poverty, and commits the government to the protection and advancement of diversity and upholding the rights of learners, parents and educator and also to uniform standards. From this it appears as if school effectiveness was at least implicitly part of what was contemplated when SASA was drafted.
In section 16 of SASA provision is made for the governance of public schools being vested in SGBs. The introduction of SGBs was accompanied by a number of explicit and implicit assumptions:
• A balance had to be struck between centralisation and decentralisation in the South African education system (Sayed, 2000; Beckmann, 2009; Malherbe, 1997)
• All parents had to be given a strong voice in education
• Schools had to be community centred
• A significant majority of parents would want SGBs
• Parents were ready and able to participate in SGBs
• The introduction of SGBs would lead to better education
Section 23 of SASA contains provisions on the composition of SGBs at ordinary public schools:
• The membership of the governing body of an ordinary public school comprises-
(a) elected members;
(b) the principal, in his or her official capacity;
(c) co-opted members (S23(1))
• Elected members of the governing body shall comprise a member or members of each of the following categories:
(a) Parents of learners at the school;
(b) educators at the school;
(c) members of staff at the school who are not educators; and
(d) learners in the eighth grade or higher at the school. (S23(2))
• The governing body of an ordinary public school which provides education to learners with special needs must, where practically possible, co-opt a person or persons with expertise regarding the special education needs of such learners (S23(5))
• A governing body may co-opt a member or members of the community to assist it in discharging its functions (S23(6))
• The number of parent members must comprise one more than the combined total of other members of a governing body who have voting rights (S23(9))
What is of important in a comparative analysis like this is to note that:
• Parents must be the majority on the SGB
• Certain learners are part of the SGB (those in grade 8 and higher)
• Staff other than educators are also part of the SGB
• Community members may be co-opted
A number of problems with SGBs appear from anecdotal evidence and from research, among others:
• Problems getting parents to vote in SGB elections
• Lack of continuity
• Inexperience, lack of skills and even illiteracy among parent members
• Tension between principals and other SGB members
• Uneasiness of provincial departments with the actions and decisions of SGBs and the seeming inability of departments of education to deal with SGBs acting in contravention of their functions and powers
• Financial mismanagement
• Apparent resistance of SGBs of constitutional and other legislative provisions
• An unintentional widening of the gap between the less and the more poor schools because of the power of SGBs to levy school fees
• No apparent improvement of the performance of historically disadvantaged schools since the introduction of SGBs
• The influence of traditional, political and other community leaders and other extraneous role players in SGBs’s decision making
• The perceived continuous efforts by government to curtail the powers of SGBs
The functions of SGBs and their possible relationship with effective schools will be discussed below.
Section 16 of SASA: Distinction between professional management and governance
Section 16(1) of SASA provides that, subject to this Act, the governance of every public school is vested in its governing body and it may perform only such functions and obligations and exercise only such rights as prescribed by the Act. (The latter part of this sentence was inserted after the Act came into operation and it was an attempt to focus SGBs on the roles envisaged for them and to cause them to refrain from interfering in the professional management of the school). Although SASA does not explicitly provide that an SGB must be established at each public school, it would not make any sense to assign the governance of every public school to a body that does not have to be constituted.
In terms of Section 16(2) of SASA a governing body stands in a position of trust towards the school. Bertelsmann (2000) argues that this relationship of trust should be likened to the relationship of trust between a business and its directors. He also points out this section implies that SGB members collectively and individually may be held liable for damages that might result from unlawful activities.
Section 16(3) provides that the professional management of a public school must be undertaken by the principal under the authority of the Head of Department. This provision is subject to this Act and any applicable provincial law.
At face value section 16 creates a clear distinction between governance and professional management, leaving room for both these activities to contribute to effective school sand quality education. Section 23(1)(b) of SASA provides that the principal is a member of the SGB in his or her official capacity and it seems to reinforce the separation between governance and professional management. It therefore appears as if separation of the powers of the professional management and the governance of schools was seen as a key to the creation of effective schools.
Section 16A and Section 19: The principal and the SGB
In 2007 SASA was amended by the insertion among others of section 16A.
In terms of Section 16A(1) the principal of a public school represents the Head of Department in the governing body when acting in an official capacity as contemplated in sections 23 (1) (b) and 24 (1) (j).
Initially, in terms of Section 23(1)(b), the principal of an ordinary public school formed part of the SGB of a school in his or her official capacity. It should be noted that representing the Head of Department (HOD) in a SGB does not turn the principal into the SGB nor does it give the principal the power to force decisions on the SGB on behalf of the HOD. Taking the principal to task for a letter sent to the HOD by the SGB and claiming the principal had to guide the SGB on how to act would therefore seem unfair to the principal and would tarnish the image of and reduce the perceived powers of SGBs. Such action could also reinforce a notion that the state through the provincial departments is worried that it cannot control SGBs and is now, through principals, trying to control or “get at” SGBS. If such notion were true, it would be regrettable at least.
Section 16A 1(c) (i) provides that the principal of a public school identified by the Head of Department in terms of section 58B must annually, at the beginning of the year, prepare a plan setting out how academic performance at the school will be improved. Section 16A 1 (c)(ii) (bb) specifies that the academic performance improvement plan must be tabled at a governing body meeting,
The schools referred to in Section 58B are schools classified as non-performing or poorly performing or dysfunctional. It is doubtful whether an SGB can do anything more with this improvement plan other than to note it and support it or to advise the principal that they might have different views. The fact that the principal must prepare a school academic improvement plan before it “tabled” at an SGB meeting minimizes the chances of SGBs contributing significantly to the conceptualisation or execution of such plans.
Section 16A (2) further provides among others that the principal must:
• attend and participate in all meetings of the governing body
• provide the governing body with a report about the professional management relating to the public school
• assist the governing body in handling disciplinary matters pertaining to learners
• assist the Head of Department in handling disciplinary matters pertaining to educators and support staff employed by the Head of Department, and
• inform the governing body about policy and legislation.
All of these could conceivably assist the SGB in the performance of its functions and so lead to better and more effective schools. However, ifd the expectations that the principal will do all of tehse through the SGB, it would deny the original intention that schools should be governed by a partnership of among others educatords and parents.
In terms of Section 16A(3) the principal must assist the governing body in the performance of its functions and responsibilities, but such assistance or participation may not be in conflict with-
(a) instructions of the Head of Department,
(b) legislation or policy, and;
(c) an obligation that he or she has towards the Head of Department, the Member of the Executive Council or the Minister.
This could hypothetically place a principal in an awkward position where he or she will have to think carefully on what his or her relationship with the department is and what his or her role as member of the SGB is.
The Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill of 2009, which has not been promulgated as law yet, proposes that the principal should among others :
Assist the governing body with the management of the school funds which include advising the governing body on the legality or otherwise of its decisions relating to financial matters of the school, taking all reasonable matters to prevent any financial maladministration by any staff or school governing body and reporting any mismanagement or maladministration of financial matters to the governing body of that school and to the Head of Department.
What these amendments contemplate could be argued to be in aid of more effective education in that money will be spent more effectively and serve the purposes of education better and legal requirements will be met. However, it is beyond the training and experience of many principals to give advice on the legality or otherwise of decisions relating to financial matters. Holding a principal accountable for the legality of SGB decisions seems unfair to the principal – and may even be unlawful. Requiring the principal to report on mismanagement or misadministration of financial matters to the SGB and the HOD or to “blow the whistle” in terms of labour law may be a good idea in terms of protecting the integrity of a school’s finances and the way they are utilized. However, it also draws principals into a net of power relations that could hamstring their performance.
Section 19(2) of SASA provides that the Head of Department must ensure that principals and other officers of the education department render all necessary assistance to governing bodies in the performance of their functions in terms of this Act. This is clearly also intended to benefit education through the enhanced performance of SGBs. This is undoubtedly laudable but it assumes that the principal is capable of assisting the SGB while in reality interaction with SGB could be their first experience of working with governors and they may not necessarily have the experience and training needed to provide assistance. It also assumes that the necessary financial and other means (like knowledgeable and skilled human resources) are available to assist SGBs. It begs the question whether such resources are readily available at the school, the district or even the province.
Although there is provision for professional management staff to assist SGBs to perform more effectively in aid of quality education and school effectiveness, there are many justified concerns in this regard.
SGBs assisting in aid of more effective education
Section 20 (1)(a) of SASA is pertinent to the roles SGB should play and provides that, subject to this Act, the governing body of a public school must promote the best interests of the school and strive to ensure its development through the provision of quality education for all learners at the school. This section assumes that SGBs can and should contribute to the provision of more effective education and that they know what the best interests of the school are. This provision can also be viewed as a guideline for all actions of SGBs.
In the rest of the section of this paper we will identify functions of SGBs that seem to be most likely to contribute to quality and effective education and discuss them critically.
Section 20 (1) (b-e) provide that the SGB must:
(b) adopt a constitution;
(c) develop the mission statement of the school;
(d) adopt a code of conduct for learners at the school; and
(e) support the principal, educators and other staff of the school in the performance of their professional functions.
It can be argued that all of these are intended to improve the quality of education. Indeed all of them could make meaningful contributions to that end. However, they are peripheral and theoretical to an extent and lack clear implementation guidelines. Vague at they are, it is easy to argue that they have been complied with even if they have no real impact on school effectiveness.
Section 6(2) of SASA provides that the governing body of a public school may determine the language policy of the school subject to the Constitution, this Act and any applicable provincial law. Section 29(2) of the Constitution provides that everyone has the right to choose his or her language of education where such choice is reasonably practicable provided that a number of legal prescripts be respected.
South Africa is a multilingual country in which 11 languages enjoy official language status. De facto English has become the language of government. There seems to be an attempt to nudge schools in the direction of becoming English medium schools. Speakers of languages like Afrikaans, isiZulu and isiXhosa are not comfortable with this notion and there have been a number of court cases dealing with the language of education used at schools, especially where schools wanted to retain Afrikaans as the only language of education (e.g. Hoërskool Ermelo, Seodin Primary, Laerskool Middelburg and Laerskool Mikro). It can’t be denied that, educationally seen, the mother tongue is the best medium of education. Sat present schools up to grade 3 use this principle and learners then switch to another language, normally English.
It stands to reason that an inappropriate language policy can do more harm than good to the effectiveness of a school and its learners, especially if the teachers concerned are not fluent in the language of education chosen by the SGB.
Section 7(1) of SASA determines that religious observances may be conducted at a public school under rules issued by the governing body if such observances are conducted on an equitable basis and attendance at them by learners and members of staff is free and voluntary. As South Africa is diverse country and home to all the major religions of the world and more, matters of religion are potentially explosive and could tear school communities apart. An incident at Newcastle High School where the principal wanted Christian observances and the chairman of the SGB wanted an impartial approach, the case landed up in the high court but as thrown out. Some newspapers reported that the tug-of-war between the principal and the SGB chairperson tore the school and indeed the entire community apart. Although religion could play an important role regarding values and morals in a school and thus contribute to school effectiveness, it could also b every divisive and counter-productive.
Code of conduct
Section 8(1) of SASA provides that, subject to any applicable provincial law, a governing body of a public school must adopt a code of conduct for the learners after consultation with the learners, parents and educators of the school. Section 8(2) continues and says that a code of conduct referred to in subsection (1) must be aimed at establishing a disciplined and purposeful school environment, dedicated to the improvement and maintenance of the quality of the learning process.
SGBs also have the power to hold disciplinary inquiries against learners and may suspend them or recommended that they be expelled from the school. There is no gainsaying that a code of conduct could play a huge and important role in creating a school climate that will support teaching and learning. It could, however, also have a divisive effect and if it is not applied consistently, the discipline in a school might suffer.
Property, buildings and grounds
Section 20 (1)(g) provides that the SGB must administer and control the school's property, and buildings and grounds occupied by the school, including school hostels. While it true that children deserve functional school buildings that will not be harmful to their health or endanger them physically or emotionally, and that physical facilities need to be maintained properly to prevent unnecessary upkeep costs, the literature suggests that this is not a priority in terms of ensuring that schools are effective.
Use of facilities
Section 20(2) of SASA provides that a governing body may allow the reasonable use of the facilities of the school for community, social and school fund-raising purposes, subject to such reasonable and equitable conditions as the governing body may determine which may include the charging of a fee or tariff which accrues to the school. This could potentially raise funds for the school and such funds could be put to good use to improve the effectiveness of the school. It Is. however, not likely to be a major contributor to school coffers.
Recommendations for appointment by the SGB and appointments by the school
Sections 20 (1) (i) and (j) of SASA provide that SGBs must recommend to the Head of Department the appointment of educators and non-educator staff at the school, subject to the Employment of Educators Act, 1998 (Act 76 of 1998), and the Labour Relations Act, 1995 (Act 66 of 1995). Such recommendations must be made within a prescribed time frame (Section 20 (1) (jA) of SASA). This time frame is two months from the date when a SGB was requested to make a recommendation (Employment of Educators Act, No 76 1998 (hereafter EEA), Section 6(3)(1)). In terms of Sections 20(4) and (5) of SASA schools are also allowed to establish posts for educators and non-educators and employ educators and non-educators additional to the establishment determined by the Member of the Executive Council for Education (MEC) of the specific province. i
This is a vital function as the quality of education and the effectiveness of a school are largely dependent on the quality of staff. The above references to SASA might suggest that SGBs have considerable power in this regard. While one cannot deny that SGBs have considerable powers in this regard, their power is significantly curtailed. Schools (acting through their SGBs):
• May only employ educators who are registered with South African Council for Educators (SACE) and who are thus subject to the professional discipline of a professional registration council (Section 7 of SASA)
• Must see to it that the staff contemplated in subsections 20 (4) and (5) of SASA are employed in compliance with the basic values and principles referred to in section 195 of the Constitution, and the factors to be taken into account when making appointments including, but not limited to-
(a) the ability of the candidate;
(b) the principle of equity;
(c) the need to redress past injustices; and
(d) the need for representivity (Section 8 of SASA)
This brings affirmative action into play. If not handled judiciously, affirmative action could severely constrain a school’s ability to become or remain effective
Sections 6(3) (b - f) of EEA provide the following in regard to recommendations concerning post for educator staff:
(b) In considering the applications, the governing body must ensure that the principles of equity, redress and representivity are complied with and the governing body or council, as the case may be, must adhere t -
(i) the democratic values and principles referred to in section 7 (1) of EEA namely equality, equity and the other democratic values and principles which are contemplated in section 195 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa;
(ii) any procedure collectively agreed upon or determined by the Minister for the appointment, promotion or transfer of educators;
(iii) any requirement collectively agreed upon or determined by the Minister for the appointment, promotion or transfer of educators which the candidate must meet;
(iv) a procedure whereby it is established that the candidate is registered or qualifies for registration as an educator with the South African Council for Educators; and
(v) procedures that would ensure that the recommendation is not obtained through undue influence on the members of the governing body.
(c) The governing body must submit, in order of preference to the Head of Department, a list of -
(i) at least three names of recommended candidates; or
(ii) fewer than three candidates in consultation with the Head of Department.
(d) When the Head of Department considers the recommendation contemplated in paragraph (c), he or she must, before making an appointment, ensure that the governing body has met the requirements in article 6 (3)(b) of EEA.
(e) If the governing body has not met the requirements in paragraph (b), the Head of Department must decline the recommendation.
(f) Despite the order of preference in paragraph (c) and subject to paragraph (d), the Head of Department may appoint any suitable candidate on the list.
As is to be expected Section 6(3)(f) of EEA is vigorously contested. It opens up the way for possible malpractices like nepotism where the HOD can appoint candidates that are not the best for the school. It also reduces the already closely-defined functions of SGBs. Although the intention of Section 6(3) of EEA is ostensibly to ensure that the best candidates are appointed to positions in schools, it could have unintended consequences that could militate heavily against school effectiveness.
Funding and finances
Section S 36(1) of SASA provides that a governing body of a public school must take all reasonable measures within its means to supplement the financial resources supplied by the State in order to improve the quality of education provided by the school to all learners at the school. This clearly intended to improve schools’ financial positions but it had the negative effect that it helped widen the gap between haves and have-nots.
The de facto position is that there are two types of schools: those who enjoy Section 21 status and some who dot have it. Section 21(1) of SASA determines that , subject to SASA, a governing body may apply to the Head of Department in writing to be allocated any of the following functions:
(a) To maintain and improve the school's property, and buildings and grounds occupied by the school, including school hostels, if applicable;
(b) to determine the extra-mural curriculum of the school and the choice of subject options in terms of provincial curriculum policy;
(c) to purchase textbooks, educational materials or equipment for the school; and
(d) to pay for services to the school.
This leads to the question why some schools would apply for section 21 status if it requires them to pay for some services and resources that the state should normally carry and provide. If a school can afford it, paying for certain services or resources itself can make sure that the school receives them and that learners are not disadvantaged where the state fails to pay. In such a case more effective schools would be a more realistic expectation.
Although Section 21 also provides that the MEC may, by notice in the Provincial Gazette, determine that some governing bodies may exercise one or more functions without making an application contemplated in subsection (1), if -
(a) he or she is satisfied that the governing bodies concerned have the capacity to perform such function effectively; and
(b) there is a reasonable and equitable basis for doing so.
However, it seems that some provinces have declared all their schools Section 21 schools even if the schools are clearly not capable of handing the Section 21 responsibilities. It also appears that such MECs delegated such authority to lessen their own financial obligations. If that is the case, one can hardly expect such schools that were declared Section 21 schools to be able to cope and be very effective.
Section 36(1) of SASA provides that a governing body of a public school must take all reasonable measures within its means to supplement the resources supplied by the State in order to improve the quality of education provided by the school to all learners at the school. This illustrates the belief that more money will lead to better schools – which is a contestable notion. In a limited number of cases more funds can in themselves lead to more effective education.
Section 37(1) of SASA requires the governing bodies of public schools to establish a school fund and administer it in accordance with directions issued by the Head of Department. Section 37(6) deals with the use of schools funds and states that:
The school fund, all proceeds thereof and any other assets of the public school must be used only for -
(a) educational purposes, at or in connection with such school;
(b) educational purposes, at or in connection with another public school, by agreement with such other public school and with the consent of the Head of Department;
(c) the performance of the functions of the governing body; or
(d) another educational purpose agreed between the governing body and the Head of Department.
These are clearly meant to make sure that school money is not abused but used to finance effective schools.
In terms of Section 38A (1) of SASA) a governing body may not pay or give to a state employee employed in terms of the Employment of Educators Act, 1998 (Act 76 of 1998), or the Public Service Act, 1994 (Proclamation 103 of 1994), any unauthorized -
(b) other financial benefit; or
(c) benefit in kind.
However, in terms of Section 38A(2) a governing body may apply to the employer for approval to pay a state employee any payment contemplated in subsection (1).
These provisions are not directed to the improvement of the effective schools as much as it tries to prevent affluent schools from widening the gap between performing and poorly performing schools by hiring more and better educators.
Section 39 of SASA provides for the levying of school fees to be paid by parents. This is laudable and can lead to more effective schools in a number of ways. However, the state has also decided to divided schools into quintiles 1 – 5 from poorest to least poor. State per capita funding of learners / students now favours quintiles 1 – 3 schools and such schools are not allowed to levy school fees. They are all funded up to the threshold level necessary to offer quality education. The result is that poorer schools now have more money to expend on education and the less poor schools are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet and pay for the services and resources allocated to them. It is doubtful whether the quintile system will contribute significantly to school effectiveness. The literature suggests very clearly that the quality of human resources, effective pre-schooling and good handbooks all play a more significant role in s school effectiveness than financing.
B. The United States of Ameerica
Introduction: The Relationship Between Public Schools and Local Communities in the United States
The history of American education describes an integral relationship between schools and local communities (Cremin, 1988). They were viewed as extensions of local communities and were organically related and bound together by shared circumstances, agricultural work, notions of family, and religion (Beck & Foster, 1999; Tyack, 1974). During the middle of the 19th century, the notion that schools were bound to local communities provided a foundation for Horace Mann’s idealistic vision of a common school system that not only served neighborhoods but also helped unify a highly decentralized nation (Tyack & Hansot, 1974). The notion that the primary purpose of schools was to serve the nation by preparing numerate and literate citizens and workers by institutionalizing prevailing cultural norms, values, beliefs, and attitudes persisted throughout the close of the century. The social, economic, and political life of the nation changed dramatically as the nation expanded in geographic size, population, and complexity during this era.
Throughout the first two decades of the 20th century, the nature of schooling changed to reflect industrial and technological developments, urbanization, population characteristics, corporate values of efficiency and productivity, and abiding faith in bureaucratically structured and scientifically managed organizations (Beck & Foster, 1999). As was the case during previous eras, schools sought to prepare youth for work in corporate and industrial settings and adopted many of the organizational and managerial practices of business. Tyack (1974) observed that school boards and superintendents embraced the notion of centralized control and created large, comprehensive school systems. In addition, they adopted new bureaucratic organizational structures that divided schools into grades (Goodlad & Anderson, 1963) and managed school affairs and directed activities of principals, teachers, and pupils through hierarchical chains of command. In doing so, they instituted roles and practices that had an indelible effect on schooling throughout the remainder of the 20th century (Tyack, 1974). As a consequence, the role of boards of education and superintendents changed dramatically. Boards adopted decision making models used in modern business, superintendents employed corporate notions of management to administer district affairs, and principals abandoned notions of being principal teachers to serving as executive managers. In retrospect, school boards and administrators made every effort to align schools with “economic and social conditions of an urban-industrial society” (Cubberly, 1916, p.126).
Changing demographic patterns and social characteristics of the nation as well as the composition of students who attend public schools in part influence changing public expectations for public education. Release of education reform reports through the reform era (1983-2010) provided a forum for a protracted public debate among educators, politicians, economists, business leaders, and ideologues about aligning schooling with the needs of a more diverse student population and demands of a global, information-based service economy. Although education reform reports were highly critical of American public schools, they also affirmed the belief that education is linked to individual success and that a sound education system is essential to the national well-being and public faith in schools (Brogan, 1962; Cuban, 1990; Murphy, 1995). Bringing the national debate to the school room door and engaging teachers, parents and community citizens was viewed as central to the transformative effort. In these circumstances school-level governance was considered the most viable mechanism (Björk, 2005).
This brief discussion of the emergence of American public schools illustrates that schools are inexorably bound to local communities and that changes in social, economic, political, and industrial/technological contexts influence the nature of organizational structures, administrator roles, and the nature of governance. Understanding the dynamic relationships between society, schools, and the nature of governance may provide a useful framework discussing the devolution of some aspects of governance form the district to the local school level. The organization of this section of the paper provides an overview of the decentralized system of education in the United States of America; discussion of public school district governance; a brief review of the Kentucky Education Reform Act and the nature of School-based Decision Making Councils.
Overview of the Decentralized System of Education in the United States
A national system of education does not exist in the United States in the same sense that it does in most European countries where education is centralized and controlled through a ministry of education. Education in the United States is considered as state function and responsibility is handled by local boards of education that may be organized by counties (provinces) or cities. There are fifty different state systems and many differences exist among local school systems within the same state. There are approximates 15,000 different local school districts-each has their own board, philosophy and goals
The U.S. Constitution makes no mention of education, but the Tenth Amendment reserves to states all powers not specifically delegated to the federal government or prohibited to states by the Constitution. This provision is the basis for allocating responsibility for public education to states. However, states have delegated to local districts the responsibility of the practical day-to-day operation of schools to local districts.
The Role of the Federal Government in Education:
The schools have always been a responsibility of towns and cities in the United States, rooted in Colonial tradition of the nation. However, the federal government has always had some say in public education. The welfare clause of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress to tax for the common good and for general purposes. The language is broad enough for the federal government to use public tax monies to support the nation’s school and enact educational laws for the welfare of the people. The federal government provides support through state governments that transfer funds to local schools. The United States Department of Education administered by a secretary of education, provides oversight of federal education programs (i.e.) distribution of tax funds, collects data on the condition of education in the nation and supports long-term research on important issues facing schools.
The Role of the State Government in Education:
Every state has a by Constitution, laws, and practice responsibility for the support and maintenance of education within its borders. States give local boards of education responsibility for managing school districts. Schools are funded by local property taxes (60%), states allocations (33%) and the feral government (7%). Being responsible for schools, states legislatures make laws regarding education, determines school taxes and financial support to local districts, sets minimum standards teacher and administrative licensure and personnel salaries, determines the curriculum, and special services (buses, books, and programs). The state school code is a compilation of laws that guide the operation of school districts and conduct of education in states.
State constitutions and laws provide for the establishment of a uniform system of schools and specify how they are governed. The typical state hierarch includes a school board that may be either elected or appointed by the governor. The state board of education hires a commissioner or secretary of education to oversee the state department of education. State departments of education have separate departments and experts that are aligned with different aspects of education and provide oversight of local school operations.
Local School Districts
The local school district is the basic administrative unit in the education hierarchy. It exists at the pleasure of the state, which has complete control of its boundaries, jurisdiction, funding, and powers of the board of education. It is the primary point of education access of citizens in education policy making. Policy making at the local level is constrained by the need to comply with the state constitution, state rules and regulations. In other words, local policies can’t conflict with the state constitution or laws.
Local School Boards
Local school boards are delegated powers by the state to act on its behalf to ensure that schools are operated properly and all children learn. Although constitutional provisions, state and federal statutes, regulations and policies limit board decision making, boards have considerable discretion in making education decisions with regard to raising revenue through property taxes, managing school property, employing professional and support staff and, influencing instructional programs. Responsibilities common to most local boards of education include engaging in two-way communication with citizens, parents, teachers, and special interest groups to help understand their needs and expectations; providing a platform for open discourse on important issues; and informing the community on district affairs. This provides a basis for formulating policies, rules, and regulations to enhance organizational effectiveness and support student learning. Other responsibilities include monitoring the effectiveness of academic curricula and instructional programs, approving budgets and maintaining fiscal responsibility, levying taxes and approving capital projects, negotiating contracts with labor unions, establishing school attendance boundaries, and ensuring that constitutional due process provisions are followed when grievances are adjudicated. In most instances boards of education rely on superintendents to handle day-to-day administrative responsibilities (Kowalski & Reitzug, 1993, Lunenburg & Ornstein, 1991; Norton, Webb, Dlugash, & Sybouts, 1996).
The local school boards’ primary responsibility is legislative (i.e.) making policy and providing oversight of school district operations. Because citizens who are not experts in school affairs are members of boards of education, they must ensure that school professional personnel carry out these responsibilities. Districts are comprised of many schools that include grades Pre-schools, elementary schools (grades 1-5), middle schools (grades 6-9) and high schools (grades 10-12). A board of education is elected and holds staggered terms to ensure continuity of decisions over time. Boards tend to have 5-9 citizens however cities may have large boards of 12-15 members.
The vast majority of school board members are elected, which is in concert with prevailing democratic notions that this ensures that they will be responsive to public demands and accountable to the community (Kowalski & Reitzug, 1993; Lunenburg & Ornstein, 1991). The number of members serving on local school boards varies by state, however, the average number falls within a range of 7 to 9 members. Demographic characteristics of school boards reflect the political dynamics of local communities. For example, most boards are composed of members who are older than the general population (79% over 40 years of age), are predominantly Caucasian (93%), male (60%), and are college educated (68%). They also tend to be professionals (50%), many own their own businesses (12%), and have incomes above $70,000 per year (46%) (Lunenburg & Ornstein, 1991).
Problems faced by local boards of education over the past several decades have remained relatively unchanged and include inadequate financial resources, conforming to state and federal mandates, developing and aligning curriculum, and responding to disciplinary issues and drug abuse. Although citizen responses to public opinion polls may indicate a different order with regard to perceived severity of problems faced, they are in agreement as to what problems are most severe (Lunenburg & Ornstein, 1991). Glass et al, (2000) found that superintendents identified five significant problems: the lack of adequate financing, difficulty in assessing learner outcomes, state accountability, demands for new teaching strategies and changing curriculum priorities. Their analysis of previous AASA ten-year reports on the American superintendency suggest that these problems are enduring and may stimulate political interest group activity that contributes to tensions among citizens, board members, and superintendents. The press for accountability and control over educational change creates another set of structural (organizational) tensions between the school district and the state education agency (i.e.) “Who is in charge”.
The District Superintendent
Local school boards hire a district superintendent who serves as a chief executive officer and manages its day-to-day affairs. They have a “central office” staff that varies in size with district size. The central office staff provides oversight and support to local schools. Superintendents are hired on multiple year contracts (usually 3 years in length). Over an average superintendents career lasting 16 years they serve in about 2 districts spending about 7 years in each. Superintendent duties include: (1) Advising the board of education on education and policy matters; (2) Making recommendations to the board regarding personnel hiring; (3) Ensuring compliance with directives of state and federal authorities; (4) Preparing district budgets for board review and adoption; (5) Leading long-range planning activities; (6) Providing oversight of instructional programs and student performance; (7) Determining the internal organizational structure of the district; and (8) Making recommendations regarding school building maintenance and new construction needs.
The School Principal
In most states, superintendents who recommend individuals to be hired by the board of education interview principals. In Kentucky, an education reform state, school based councils made up of three teachers and two parents interview principal candidates and recommend them to the superintendent who in turn presents the names of individuals to the board for employment. Superintendents however evaluate and may fire principals.
Usually each school has a single administrative officer, a principal who is responsible for the operation of the school. It is common practice for principals to work closely with some type of community
group for improvement of the school; this group may be a Parent Teacher Association (PTA), school based management council (SBMC) or a site based decision-making council (SBDMC). During the education reform movement in the United States (1983-2010) the role of principals shifted from management to instructional leadership and ensuring that all students learn. Characteristics of effective principals evidence leadership in areas of curriculum and instruction and who has implemented:
1. High expectations for student achievement.
2. A coherent curriculum across grade levels
3. Well articulated instruction
4. Clearly defined goals and objectives that are aligned with standards
5. Maximizing learning time.
6. An emphasis on reading and math skills
7. Staff development programs
8. A sense of order in classrooms
9. Monitors student academic progress
10. Incentives or rewards for students and teachers
11. Parent-community involvement
12. Positive school climate.
During the past two decades, many states devolved some aspects of school district governance to the building level. During the post Nation at Risk (1983) era these initiatives were embedded in broad-based educational reform initiatives that are often referred to a school-based management, site-based management or school-based decision making councils. They shared some common characteristics including stressing building level accountability for increasing student learning, linking with parents and community citizens to support learning, and engaging teachers who are central to the success of educational improvement. The move towards distributed leadership and more inclusive governance systems was consistent with broad changes in the role of principals that shifted from hierarchical management towards working with and through others (transformational leadership). Although the size and membership of school-based councils vary in size and membership is dominated by school personnel. For example, in the Commonwealth of Kentucky SBDM Councils include 3 teachers, two parents and the principal as an ad hoc/ex officio member. The devolution of governance to schools gives voice to groups that have not been empowered to be part of the school’s governance and decision-making structure in the past. The central purpose of school-based management councils is improving schools and increasing student learning. Councils tend to focus on school policy making however in some reform states like Kentucky they also have authority over selecting the principal, curriculum and instruction, the school budget, planning and hiring teachers and support staff.
The Kentucky Educational Reform Act (KERA)
A legal challenge to the manner in which Kentucky funded its system of education brought by the Council for Better Education resulted in a decision by Kentucky's Supreme Court declaring the state's entire system of public education unconstitutional. The Council, composed of sixty-six property poor districts, was joined by seven other others and twenty-two students and contested funding disparities among all districts in the state. The Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed a ruling made by a lower court in Rose v. Council for Better Education, Inc., in July 1989, that struck down Kentucky's system of education as it failed to provide a constitutionally ordered "efficient system throughout the state". This ruling set in motion an unprecedented level of reform in Kentucky.
Action by the State Supreme Court compelled the state legislature to systemically and comprehensively redesign its education system. In the Spring of 1990, the General Assembly passed the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) that put in place arguably the most far reaching, research-based outline for educational reform introduced in the United States. The major thrust of KERA is to improve teaching, learning, and student performance. To accomplish these goals it institutes high stakes accountability at the school-level, authorizes school districts to throw out restrictive state curriculum guides and bureaucratic regulations, empowers teachers through School-Based Decision Making (SBDM) Councils to take responsibility for formulating school policies, defining instructional programs, allocating budget resources, and hiring principals. In this regard, it created opportunities for teachers, parents, and principals at the building level, to take greater responsibility for designing and managing instruction, assessing and communicating results to students and parents, evaluating programs, and providing professional development. These new decision making and instructional formats captured the essence of the shift towards improving teaching, enhancing student learning, empowering parents and educators, those who work directly with children, to make important decisions about policy, programs, and budget allocations. KERA dramatically altered the landscape of education in the state, opening up broad opportunities for introducing innovative practices.
C Conclusion and comparison: The possible influence of school level governance bodies on effective schools
South African SGBs have a wide array of functions, including the power to determine rules for religious observances in schools. They have to function in collaboration with the school management team (SMT), the relevant provincial education department and even the national department of basic education. Almost all of their functions appear to be contested and the education authorities constantly change legislation in what may seem to be an attempt to rein in SGBs and to render them accountable to the provincial and national departments concerned. It is difficult for national and provincial education departments to exercise control over SGBs among others because they have functions that have been articulated in legislation, they represent among others parents whose role as primary or first educators is still recognized and unchallenged and they have functions which relate to human rights entrenched in the Constitution of 1996 for example the right to education in the official language of one’s choice, religion policies, codes of conduct, admission policies, etc.
All of the above puts the principal in an unenviable position of having to be a member of the SGB and also to represent the HOD in question in the SGB. Although the functions of SGBs seem to allow for significant inputs into effective schools, the problems that crop up and the different interpretations and expectations resulting from the functions militate strongly against the achievement of the intended functions.
The innovative facets of South African SGBs such as the voice given to parents, non-educators, learners and other community representatives as well as the power to levy school fees have not succeeded in making them uncontested and unquestioned instruments of decentralistion, power empowerment, school improvement and equal education.
During the past several decades (1983-2010), the press for educational reform in the United States of America has influenced changes in nature and locus of governance. A loss of confidence in institutions and leaders, increased levels of interest group activism, and public demands for involvement in local policy making processes contributed to a shift in policy making to the state level and the devolution of decision-making authority to the school-level (Björk, 2005). Concurrently state education agencies have been held accountable by their respective legislatures for increasing student academic performance and accountability has shifted to the school level. In a very real sense state education agencies are conflicted with how best to accomplish educational reform. On the one hand (under state statute) they are expected to support the devolution of governance and decision making authority to the school level. On the other hand, they are expected to accomplish state-wide reforms through legislated mandates in a timely and uniform manner requiring centralized authority. In these circumstances policy conflicts are evident that consequently confound administration of schools and may interfere with accomplishing the primary goal of improving learning and teaching.
Insights into the complex relationships between society and schools as well as between school-level and state level agencies may be explained using theoretical perspectives on organizations and interest group politics. For example, Talcott Parsons (1956) and others posit that organizations are social inventions and are both fluid and dynamic, move in time and space, act and react, and are shaped by a combination of historical and external environmental factors. These factors both threaten their survival and provide the impetus for change (Fullan, 1993; Meyer & Rowan, 1978). This notion suggests that when significant changes in an organization’s social, economic, political, and technological environment occur, it seeks to adjust by modifying internal structures (Meyer, 1978; Senge, 1990). The nature of these adaptive responses may be patterned according to both historical precedent (Meyer, 1978) and sources of the organizational legitimation (Pfeffer, 1978). A decade later, Parsons (1967) underscored the importance of organizations maintaining connection with the community and viewing these linkages as central to adaptive process. In his general theory of formal organizations, he posits that rather than existing in isolation, organizations are interdependent with the larger social system from which they derive legitimacy, meaning, and support. With regard to public education, this relationship is rather straightforward: Society supports schools in exchange for their creating numerate and literate citizens. The inability of schools to meet these expectations can jeopardize continuing public support and threaten their survival. Thus, faced with widespread lack of public confidence in schools states have embraced democratic processes that value local input and devolved governance to the school level by adopting School-based decision Making Councils. This may have been accomplished with consideration of a second and contradictory policy initiative that mandated state education agencies to adopt standards, rules and regulations to ensure that significant reform is accomplished in a timely manner. Decentralization and re-recentralization were instituted concurrently in the Commonwealth of Kentucky-many chaffed under the apparent policy contradiction but most viewed it as normal operating procedure. Organizational theorists also note that bureaucratic organizations tend to be self serving in that they are more concerned with maintaining control than giving it away (Bolman & Deal, 2007)(i.e.) decentralizing governance and decision making authority. This inherent tendency of state education agencies contradicts legislated intent to reconnect schools with local communities as a vehicle through which to achieve significant education reform. In these several instances we can observe decoupling of policy and operational realities.
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