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Are We on the Same Page? Determinants of School Board Member Understanding of Group Accountability Perceptions

Abstract

This article connects the accountability and small group dynamics literature by testing several hypotheses related to the link between perceived dynamics on American school boards and board member agreement on accountability perceptions. The authors conclude that board members who view their boards as productive, low-conflict, and active, are more likely to be in agreement with their fellow members’ perceptions of accountability. The results are of use to scholars seeking to understand the relationships between small group dynamics, accountability, and performance on governing boards.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    A complete copy of the governance survey is included in Appendix A.

  2. 2.

    Note all states are included in the analysis except Hawaii, which has a single non-elected school board.

  3. 3.

    The authors caution that a number of survey respondents preferred not to respond to this specific question on the survey. Comparisons of the demographics of respondents and non-respondents, including exploratory logistic regression models predicting non-response, yielded no evidence of response bias. Nonetheless, the reluctance of some board members to specifically address this question should be kept in mind when interpreting results.

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Author information

Correspondence to Michael Ford.

Appendix A: School Board Survey Instrument

Appendix A: School Board Survey Instrument

1. What is your sex?

2. Which best describes your race?

3. What is your age?

4. Would you identify yourself as:

Liberal
Conservative
Moderate
Non-Partisan

5. Do you share political beliefs with:

All of your fellow board members
Some of your fellow board members
Few of your fellow board members
None of your fellow board members

6. Have you held elected office prior to serving on your school board?

Yes
No

7. Do members of your board serve under term limits?

Yes
No

8. How long have you served on your school board?

0-2 years
3-4 years
5-6 years
More than 6 years

9. In your last election did you have an opponent?

Yes
No

10. Do you have a job outside of the school board?

Yes
No

11. If yes, which best describes the nature of your non-school board job?

Education
Business/commerce
Labor/production
Transportation
Farming/fishing/forestry
Sales
Construction
Professional services (law, medicine, etc.)
Nonprofit
Government
Homemaker
Other

12. Which best describes your education level?

Did not complete high school
High school Graduate or GED
Some college or other post-secondary education/ training (including AA or AS degree)
Bachelor’s degree
Advanced degree (MA, MS, Ph.D., Ed.D., MD, JD, DVM, etc.)

13. Have you ever been employed as a teacher in your district?

Yes
No

How strongly do you agree with the following statements?

14. My school district has adopted a performance budgeting process. Programs must show and document activities and levels of program success in order to continue receiving current levels of funding.

Strong, intense agreement
Agreement
Neutral, mixed agreement and disagreement
Disagreement
Strong, intense disagreement

15. Conflict among some school board members is high.

Strong, intense agreement
Agreement
Neutral, mixed agreement and disagreement
Disagreement
Strong, intense disagreement

16. Cooperation among school board members is high.

Strong, intense agreement
Agreement
Neutral, mixed agreement and disagreement
Disagreement
Strong, intense disagreement

17. Disagreements between board members often become personalized.

Strong, intense agreement
Agreement
Neutral, mixed agreement and disagreement
Disagreement
Strong, intense disagreement

18. Conflict over issues on the school board usually results in a clear solution to the problem.

Strong, intense agreement
Agreement
Neutral, mixed agreement and disagreement
Disagreement
Strong, intense disagreement

19. School board coalitions (two or more individual members joining forces) tend to form along predictable lines (e.g. political party, male/female, etc.)

Strong, intense agreement
Agreement
Neutral, mixed agreement and disagreement
Disagreement
Strong, intense disagreement

20. During board negotiations, prior conflicts often resurface.

Strong, intense agreement
Agreement
Neutral, mixed agreement and disagreement
Disagreement
Strong, intense disagreement

21. The school board has a clear leader.

Strong, intense agreement
Agreement
Neutral, mixed agreement and disagreement
Disagreement
Strong, intense disagreement

22. The clear board leader is also the board president.

Strong, intense agreement
Agreement
Neutral, mixed agreement and disagreement
Disagreement
Strong, intense disagreement

23. The board is highly productive.

Strong, intense agreement
Agreement
Neutral, mixed agreement and disagreement
Disagreement
Strong, intense disagreement

24. Board decisions are supported by all members once made.

Strong, intense agreement
Agreement
Neutral, mixed agreement and disagreement
Disagreement
Strong, intense disagreement

25. How often do you meet as a board?

Less than Once a Month
Once a Month
2-3 Times a Month
More than 3 Times a Month

26. Do you think your fellow board members share your definition of accountability as it relates to academic outcomes in your district?

Yes
No

27. Please rank the following topics in order of your school board’s priority.

Strategic Planning
Setting Academic Standards
Making Assessment Policies
Making Student Behavior Policies
Hiring the Superintendent
Holding School Staff Accountable for District Performance
Collaborating with Interest Groups
Interacting with the Public
Board Development
Monitoring Fiscal Performance

28. Which best describes the way in which your board governs?

The board governs and oversees operations through committees established along functional lines (finance, human resources, programs) but delegates the management functions to the superintendent – traditional
The board manages, governs and performs the work of the organization. – Operations boards
The board governs through policies that establish organizational aims (ends), governance approaches, and management limitations. These policies also should define the relationship of the board with the superintendent. The superintendent broad freedom to determine the means that will be used to achieve organizational aims. – Policy Governance board
The board manages operations through functional committees that may or may not have a staff coordinator. – Management Board

How much do the following statements describe the members of your board?

29. Members take responsibility for past decisions.

Very Little
Little
Some
Greatly
Very Greatly

30. Members freely admit when they are wrong.

Very Little
Little
Some
Greatly
Very Greatly

31. Members can take each other at their word

Very Little
Little
Some
Greatly
Very Greatly

32. Members do what they say they will do.

Very Little
Little
Some
Greatly
Very Greatly

33. Members willingly try new things without fear of ridicule.

Very Little
Little
Some
Greatly
Very Greatly

34. Members willingly try new things without fear of retribution.

Very Little
Little
Some
Greatly
Very Greatly

35. Members are open about how they feel about other members’ preferences.

Very Little
Little
Some
Greatly
Very Greatly

36. Members are open about their own preferences.

Very Little
Little
Some
Greatly
Very Greatly

Please choose the extent to which each of these statements describes your board

37. We do not regularly update our strategic plan.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

38. We engage in planning when the academic and/or fiscal direction of the district needs to be changed.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

39. We engage in strategic planning at regular intervals, such as every 5 years or after each board election.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

40. We engage in continuous strategic planning, our plan is frequently updated

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

41. We use the academic standards set by the State Board of Education (or Department of Public Instruction).

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

42. We set and tweak district academic standards in response to student needs.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

43. We set and update district academic standards at regular intervals, such as every 5 years or after each board election.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

44. We consistently set academic standards more rigorous than those required by the State Board of Education (or Department of Public Instruction).

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

45. We solely use standardized tests required by the State Board of Education (or Department of Public Instruction).

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

46. We set and tweak district assessment policies in response to student needs. For example, if we see our students struggling in math we will increase the use of math assessments.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

47. We set and update district standardized assessment policies at regular intervals, such as every 5 years or after each board election.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

48. We consistently use standardized assessments that are more rigorous than those required by the State Board of Education (or Department of Public Instruction). We also use student portfolios and/or alternative ways to measure student performance.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

49. We use the behavior policies required by the State Board of Education (or Department of Public Instruction).

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

50. We set and tweak district student behavior policies in response to incidents.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

51. We set and update district student behavior policies at regular intervals, such as every 5 years or after each board election.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

52. We set and consistently update student district behavior policies that are more rigorous than those required by the State Board of Education (or Department of Public Instruction).

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

53. We rarely change superintendents (or principal if a charter board). When we do we look for someone local.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

54. We conduct a broad search for a superintendent (or principal if a charter board) with expertise on the pressing needs of our district.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

55. We tend to hire a new superintendent (or principal if a charter board) at regular intervals, such as once every 5 years of after a board election.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

56. We look for a superintendent (or principal if a charter board) that shares the values of, and is willing to be a collaborator with, the school board.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

57. We primarily support and defend the decisions of the Superintendent (or principal if a charter board).

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

58. We support and defend the decisions of the Superintendent (or principal if a charter board) until concerns with those decisions arise.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

59. We allow the Superintendent (or principal if a charter board) to manage the district as he or she sees fit, but regularly monitor and review his or her performance.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

60. We view the Superintendent (or principal if a charter board) as a full partner in the governing process.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

61. Organized interest groups have significant influence over board decisions.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

62. We regularly listen to the ideas of organized interest groups and act on their input when we deem it appropriate.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

63. Organized interest groups are generally only active during board elections.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

64. We do not consider the input of organized interest groups when making board decisions.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

65. Community members have significant influence over board decisions.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

66. We regularly listen to the ideas of community members and act on their input when we deem it appropriate.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

67. We do not consider the input of community members when making board decisions.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

68. We do not engage in any formal board development.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

69. We engage in board development activities when obvious dysfunction arises.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

70. We engage in board development activities at regular intervals, such as every 5 years or after each board election.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

71. We frequently and consistently engage in board development activities.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

72. We follow the fiscal practices mandated by the State Board of Education (or Department of Public Instruction).

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

73. We set and tweak district fiscal practices in response to problems.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

74. We set and update district fiscal policies at regular intervals, such as every 5 years or after each board election.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

75. We set and consistently update district fiscal policies that are more rigorous than those required by the State Board of Education (or Department of Public Instruction).

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

76. In the past 5 years our school board has had very little board member turnover.

Does not describe at all
Describes a little bit
Somewhat describes
Describes a great deal
Perfectly describes

Which best describes how your board handles....

77. Financial Decisions

The board as a whole deliberates and makes decisions
The board makes decisions based on committee recommendations
The board delegates decisions making authority to the superintendent (or principal if a charter board)
The board follows its established policies when making decisions

78. Personnel Decisions

The board as a whole deliberates and makes decisions
The board makes decisions based on committee recommendations
The board delegates decisions making authority to the superintendent (or principal if a charter board)
The board follows its established policies when making decisions

79. Decisions about the academic direction of the district

The board as a whole deliberates and makes decisions
The board makes decisions based on committee recommendations
The board delegates decisions making authority to the superintendent (or principal if a charter board)
The board follows its established policies when making decisions

80. Decisions regarding the public perception of the district

The board as a whole deliberates and makes decisions
The board makes decisions based on committee recommendations
The board delegates decisions making authority to the superintendent (or principal if a charter board)
The board follows its established policies when making decisions

81. Decisions regarding interactions with state government

The board as a whole deliberates and makes decisions
The board makes decisions based on committee recommendations
The board delegates decisions making authority to the superintendent (or principal if a charter board)
The board follows its established policies when making decisions

82. Using the continuum below, indicate who bears responsibility for the following organizational functions, where:

5 means the Board is fully responsible for the function;

0 means the Board and Superintendent (or principal if a charter board) equally share responsibility for the function; and

5 means the Superintendent (or principal if a charter board) is fully responsible for the function.

Day-to-Day Operational Management
On-Going Financial Management
Strategic Planning
Stakeholder and Public Relations
Program Evaluation
Public Advocacy

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Ford, M., Ihrke, D. Are We on the Same Page? Determinants of School Board Member Understanding of Group Accountability Perceptions. Public Organiz Rev 17, 451–479 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11115-016-0350-6

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Keywords

  • Accountability
  • Governance
  • School boards