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School districts see better results when school board members have an academic focus

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Elle Moxley
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KCUR 89.3
A 2014 study found that individual school board members can come from various backgrounds, but those more focused on academic achievement contribute to a district's chances of outperforming others with similar demographics.

A 2014 analysis pinpoints the characteristics of individual school board members that improve a district's chances of outperforming similar districts.

A school board's makeup affects the educational outcomes of a district, says Arnold Shober, professor of government at Lawrence University.

In a 2014 study, "Does School Board Leadership Matter?", Shober and his coauthor found that half of board members around the nation were focused on academics. The other half took a more "whole child" approach, prioritizing factors such as "love, support, encouragement." The districts with academically focused school board members got better test scores.

Other characteristics that are favorable to a district's performance are board members who are selected in on-cycle elections and are informed about things like district finances and class size.

One disappointing discovery according to Shober was that board members who had served as long-time teachers or administrators "were not actually very good at assessing kind of where their district really was."

  • Arnold Shober, professor of government at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.
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As senior producer of Up To Date, I want our listeners to hear familiar and new voices that shine light on the issues and challenges facing the myriad communities KCUR serves, and to expose our audiences to the wonderful and the creative in the Kansas City area. Just as important to me is an obligation to mentor the next generation of producers to ensure that the important conversations continue. Reach me at alexanderdk@kcur.org.
Eleanor Nash is an intern for KCUR's Up To Date. You can reach her at enash@kcur.org