Sunday, October 7, 2007

Policy Governance Editorial in Sun News (Myrtle Beach, S. C.) Friday, August 17, 2007

Traditional Process Works: School Governance System Needs Change

To the Editor:

The Sun News desires a nontraditional superintendent for Horry County Schools and wants to keep the system of board governance we have been using for the past seven years. Both ideas would be huge mistakes.

In the spring of 2007, the board decided to take away the authority granted to the superintendent to hire and fire principals, executive directors, and chief officers at will. Under the system created by John Carver, a clinical psychologist from Atlanta, the superintendent (CEO) was granted autonomy over staff decisions and was only limited in his or her actions by specific Executive Limitations devised by the board. The superintendent could creatively operate outside those parameters and control many areas which used to have board input and approval. Obviously, the board saw a problem with some of this and decided to reclaim its advice and consent authority over key staff positions.

In addition, the board decided to move away from Carver’s Policy Governance model to adopt a more user-friendly version known as Coherent Governance, the exclusive model of the consultant firm we have been using since 1999 - the Aspen Group International, which markets both models.

How can the board represent the interests of the people of Horry County, if the people of our district have no idea what is going on? The people never voted to adopt our current system of governance seven years ago. The district administration and the board cooperatively allowed a consultant firm to lead us into a radical, nondemocratic system of board governance. If we continue with a slightly milder version, we will still be getting virtually the same system.

What are the facts about Policy Governance? Less than 1% of school districts nationwide use some form of the model. Carver pointed to Orange County, Florida, as a model district in the year 2000. For the past three or four years, it has not been operating under the model. Cobb County, Georgia, used the model from 2004-2006. A major financial scandal resulted in a criminal investigation and a grand jury’s finding that the board of education was remiss in its duties of proper oversight of the superintendent. Board candidates campaigned against the model, were elected, and traditional governance reinstated. Beaufort County also experienced major financial oversight problems with a bus company, and it has not been operating under the model for the past three years. The model tends to restrict board members free speech and has resulted in numerous cases around the country. A current case is taking place in Racine, Wisconsin, complicated by a major financial scandal. Proper monitoring of superintendents is a common problem, from an outside firm being hired by the Austin Independent School District in Texas to the Jefferson County School District in Colorado placing monitoring reports on their consent agenda.

An extensive investigation into our system of governance across the United States has confirmed my belief that we need to return to traditional governance which entails the use of standing committees and board cooperation with the superintendent in the management of our district. The board need not micromanage, but it must have a deeper understanding and input into all that transpires. It needs to speak with twelve voices, not one, in healthy democratic debate about what is best for students and not accept the rhetoric of the accountability movement and advocates of reform who are benefitting financially from marketing their wares and services in a creative end-around the board.

I urge you to contact your board representative and argue for a return to traditional governance!


Bobby Chandler

722 Pine Drive
Surfside Beach, S. C. 29575

Home Phone (843) 238-0167
Cell Phone (843) 450-0962

An Evaluation of Governance Control in United States' Public Education


Bobby Chandler

Governance Theory in Public Education
Dr. Paul Peterson
Coastal Carolina University
Summer II, 2007

Copyright © Bobby Chandler



Local control of public education in the United States is quickly slipping out of the grasp of communities which have traditionally and by law been given the authority to vest their parental and communal concern for the educational welfare of their children in local boards of trustees. State and national concerns in the past have encroached upon that control for social, economic, and political reasons which have been encouraged by ideological and commercial interests. Some of these efforts have been welcomed as needed changes, but many have not. Although the institution of public education seems to have endured from all external appearances, the American public is largely unaware of the forces attempting to snuff out the last vestiges of their cherished belief of local control. Various reform initiatives, all garnered in rhetoric of what is best for students, are threatening to destroy the institution that has garnered much respect and the endearment of the American people for over three hundred years - the local board of education. More is at stake here than simply public education. Our very liberty is tied to the institution in which we have entrusted the minds of our children. If control is lost to forces not of our own choosing, then democratic principles and practice will be victims. The America we once knew is in serious danger. We Americans must wake up to what is happening and work to reinstate the time-honored concept of local control.


Education has been a focal point of the American experience. Although its first public inception was in Massachusetts in the early 1600s, it was largely a private endeavor for approximately two hundred years in homes, churches, and private schools. Although slow to gain acceptance as a public institution, a significant corner was turned in the early 1800s. Many parents had been reluctant to turn their children over to a public institution for a variety of reasons. One was the fear that the state might not contribute to the religious training that they believed their children needed, i.e. Protestant Christianity. This fear was resolved with the introduction of materials and practices into the classroom that ensured that the school would be an extension of the home. Prayer, Bible reading, The McGuffey Reader, and much more made the acceptance of public education more palatable. One of the biggest hurdles was getting the public to agree that their tax dollars should be spent for the education of others, especially if they had no children in the schools or if they were Catholic, a significant minority at the time” (“Public Education in the United States”). Early opposition slowly waned, the public acquiesced, Roman Catholics went on to form parochial schools, and by the turn of the twentieth century, the institution of public education was as popular as mom’s apple pie.

Under our Federal Constitution, states were given the authority to be in control of education by default. The tenth amendment to the Constitution had reserved all powers “to the states respectively, or to the people” that were not prohibited and which were not delegated to the national government. From the beginning, however, the national government had been involved to some extent, acting under the general welfare clause of the Constitution of the United States. The Northwest Ordinance, functioning under both the Articles of Confederation and the new Constitution of the United States, set aside federal lands and contributed money for public schools in each township. The founders legislated this to ensure, from their point of view, that religious and moral instruction take place in order to provide what was necessary for the development of good government (Northwest Ordinance, Article III). This motive was clearly written into the legislation and consistent with what states, parents, and local communities desired from the institution of public education. However, times have changed.

What has not changed, though, is the American belief in the importance of local control and local boards of education. Americans turned their children over to trustees, those in whom they placed their trust to act in their place for the educational welfare of their children. The public school was an extension of the home, and the public expected local boards of education to supervise their children properly. This tradition was legally established by state legislatures, for although the state was responsible, it recognized the need to locate the greatest power and influence at the local level “Public Education in the United States”), for parents and the public would have had it no other way. Their children and their welfare were too important to allow anyone in far away places to determine what was best for them. They wanted to know those in whom they placed their trust personally, for they might need to call upon them often for assistance.

A Phi Delta Kappa International poll was conducted in 2000 that confirms the American public’s belief in local control and local boards of education. The following is taken from that poll:

The Level at Which Decisions Should Be Made

In a question asked for the first time in this year's poll, 49% of respondents indicate that the federal government has too much of a role in decisions that affect the local public schools. A plurality of 43% feel the same way about the state government. There is general satisfaction with the role of the local board of education, the school superintendent, and principals. There is some ambivalence about the role of the local teacher union. And, in the most significant series of findings, 66% of respondents believe that parents have too little say, 57% feel the same way about teachers, and 56% feel the same way about students. Clearly, the public would prefer to see more decision-making authority vested in the people who are directly affected by the local schools. This is an important finding in that it appears to run counter to many current school improvement efforts, most of which seem to be moving more authority to the state level (Gallup, Alec, and Rose, Lowell).

Control of public education by the states and the national government would begin to expand in the early twentieth century and significantly in the latter half but not before becoming firmly entrenched by law and practice in local communities (“Public Education in the United States”). This belief in local control is still highly prevalent today but is under serious attack from many directions. In fact, what was once a reality is now only a myth, for the state possesses more power than local districts over public education. State legislatures have taken back much of the control that they gave to local communities. In essence, the state has become a student’s primary trustee, an entity which has more control over his life than boards of education. The institution that had driven American public education, having been established through law and tradition for over three hundred years, has taken a back seat. In addition, the national government’s influence has increased so much that even though it contributes only about 7% of the monies used by a school district, its influence far exceeds that percentage in what is demanded of districts in return. As such, local boards of education are no longer the dominant influence in the lives of students in public schools. Should they be?

The question of who is in control of public education must be asked, but it is also essential to ask why this is the case. Why have Americans allowed this shift of influence to occur? Who and/or what forces are behind this radical change? Even more important, however, is the need to ask the question of who should be in control? In whom should the American people place their primary trust for the public education of their children?

We will start with an emphasis on the movement to reform governance in public education beginning in the early twentieth century, continue with mid-century change, and then focus on the new wave of reform beginning in the 1980s and trace its influence on governance control to the present. An analysis and evaluation of governance will be followed by a conclusion which will address the question of who should have the primary governance responsibility for public education in the United States and how this might be achieved.

Early Twentieth Century Reform

As the 1900s dawned, America was a very different place from what she had been. Although still more rural than urban, she was moving away from her laissez-faire past. The national government was growing in size and strength and taking a more hands-on role in the lives of Americans in what came to be known as the Progressive Era. Americans had feared strong central government in the past and created a government which gave much power to the states and local government. However, late nineteenth century problems experienced by average Americans with respect to interstate commerce, monopolies, urbanization, and a host of others caused many to work for an increased role of the national government to act on behalf of the general welfare. Coupled with this progressive attitude in government was a belief in scientific progress. The European university, centered in Germany, was having significant impact. Anybody who was anybody, it seemed, studied in Europe or studied under someone who had studied in Europe. These academicians brought to America a new way of thinking and new approaches to many fields. Growing bureaucracy in public institutions stimulated the application of the new science of administration. Education would not be exempt.

Woodrow Wilson was a product of much of this new thought. He received a Ph. D. in history and political science from Johns Hopkins University in 1886, an institution heavily influenced by what was coming out of Europe. That same year, he wrote an influential essay titled “The Study of Administration” which gives us much insight into how the new science of administration would influence American democratic practice and, although not specifically mentioned, the impact it would have on the administration of public education.

Wilson believed that administration was “government in action.” Due to the complexities of the age, he claimed that “it is getting harder to run a constitution than to frame one” (Wilson, 2). Although “developed by French and German professors,” and “adapted to the needs of a compact state, and made to fit highly centralized forms of government,” administration “must be adapted, not to a simple and compact, but to a complex and multiform state, and made to fit highly decentralized forms of government” (Wilson, 3). Wilson recognized that this new science of administration was not born in our very different democratic country but in more unified, hierarchical, or autocratic nations, yet he believed it should be used in our democratic-republic.

Wilson thought that America was at a disadvantage, lagging behind those European states who were taking advantage of this new science (Wilson, 4). He stated that “the field of administration is the field of business” and one in which public office becomes a public trust, “making service unpartisan” (Wilson, 7). Claiming that “administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics,” Wilson writes that “although politics sets the tasks for administration, it should not be suffered to manipulate its offices.” “The broad plans of governmental action are not administrative; the detailed execution of such plans is administrative” (Wilson, 8). “The administrator should have and does have a will of his own in the choice of means for accomplishing his work. He is not and ought not be a mere passive instrument. The distinction is between general plans and special means.” “The problem is to make public opinion efficient without suffering it to be meddlesome. Directly exercised, in the oversight of the daily details and in the choice of the daily means of government, public criticism is of course a clumsy nuisance, a rustic handling delicate machinery. But as superintending the greater forces of formative policy alike in politics and administration, public criticism is altogether safe and beneficent, altogether indispensable” (Wilson, 10).

Wilson’s essay hits the nail on the head as to what was going to be a revolutionary change, and his arguments became typical of those who advanced the idea that the new science of administration should be applied to the governance of America’s public schools. Experts believed that there must be a more efficient way for public education to be governed and administered and pushed states to reduce the number of local school districts. The reason for this, the experts said, was to put education largely into the hands of those who were professionally qualified, professionally trained, and professionally schooled in the new science of administration. Boards of education were no longer considered competent administrators in this complex age. Trust should be placed in a scientifically trained administration to put into effect policies created by local boards (Land, 2-3).

Since the number of people trained in the new science of administration would be much smaller than the over 100,000 school districts across the nation, states should reduce the number of districts. Consolidation would be necessary and would produce greater efficiency (Land, 4). Thus, at the beginning of the twentieth century, a revolution was in its infancy. There would be many years before adulthood, but the science of administration would only grow and mature, and local boards of education would see their numbers decrease to approximately 15,000 today (Land, 3). With the decrease, local boards of education would also see their powers diminish.

Mid-Twentieth Century Reform

Although in theory there should have been many “policy boards” of education increasingly turning over administrative tasks to professional experts by the middle of the twentieth century, such was not the case. Local boards of education, although much fewer in number, continued to have a hands-on role in the administration of their districts, despite the theoretical construct of the new science of administration. Employing superintendents and other staff in an increasingly complex age who had greater professional expertise was occurring, but the board and superintendent generally worked cooperatively in the administration of local school districts. Boards had been hesitant to turn over the control of management to hired professionals. As representatives of their constituents, and as trustees of parents and their local communities, they were still in charge of what went on in the public schools from both a governmental and a management perspective. Since most revenue was generated locally for the operation of public schools through property taxes, local communities wanted to be fully aware just how their money was being spent (Plecki, et. al., 14-15). In addition, parents and other community members were still very much concerned with the daily affairs of the schools, wanted to be involved, and wanted their trustees involved to make sure their wishes and desires for the education of their children were being addressed. They were not willing to turn the reins over to the professional experts for whom they had not voted and in whom they had not placed their trust. However, these trustees were farther away as consolidation occurred exponentially in the years following World War II (Plecki, et. al., 6).

Beginning in the late 1940s, the courts started an ideological war on what had been the exclusive domain of local communities. Decisions that began to erode local control over religion in the public schools would begin and continue, making tremendous impact in the 1960s on the question of school prayer and continuing to the present the controversy that has popularized itself in the phrase “separation of church and state.” The influence of the Court and the execution of its decisions concerning religion and a host of other issues by the executive branch of the national government have even resulted in the Court’s being called a national school board, popularized in a 1949 article by Edward Corwin (Corwin, 3).

The baby boom had produced the need for much new school construction, and the Brown decision of 1954 was the catalyst that underscored the need to address the upgrading of schools to rectify the effects of segregation. The consolidation efforts of the progressives in the early twentieth century now had practical considerations that would help in achieving the goal of finally bringing the new science of administration into public education by driving local boards of education to become, once and for all, policy boards. In South Carolina alone, during the administration of Governor Jimmy Byrnes, school districts were reduced from more than 1,500 to 92 (Study Team on Local Leadership and Quality Engagement, 16). With trustees even farther away than before, perhaps now administration could finally be given control of the means. This would not be the case.

Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and most of the 1970s, local school districts continued to fund over half of a student’s education. As long as dollars ruled, so did local boards. However, in the 1960s, the Serrano v. Priest case saw the Court declare education funding unconstitutional in a number of states, and, for the first time, our nation began to address the question of equity in educational opportunity. Largely because of the tremendous variations in property taxes, many argued that governance of public education must change. By the late 1970s, for the first time in American history, the contribution of local districts across the country dropped from an average of 52% to 43% (Plecki, et. al., 11). States were beginning to spend more than local districts. This meant that the shift of control over public education was finally being accomplished all over the country and would have serious consequences for local governance as the 1980s dawned.

During the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration greatly expanded the role of the national government in public education. His War on Poverty was taken to the public schools through The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 in an attempt to increase educational opportunity for disadvantaged children. In doing so, the national government was growing in its influence on local schools by providing monies that required local school districts’ compliance. Besides race and poverty, the courts and the Congress would afterwards address issues of disability, sex, and limited English skills discrimination, among others, and would increasingly grow in its influence over local public education. Although many of these interventions were welcomed by Americans as areas worthy of national attention through application of the fourteenth amendment and the general welfare clause of the Constitution, others were very much concerned that the local control which they had cherished over the years was quickly slipping away.

The New Wave of Reform

With most states having more monetary influence than local districts and growing entrenchment of the national government in what had largely been locally-controlled school districts, the 1980s would see a new wave of reform, now not only ideological in orientation but commercially-driven. The new Department of Education under Jimmy Carter had just been created, and its first Secretary of Education T. H. Bell brought together a distinguished panel of eighteen persons from across the country to serve on a national commission to look into the state of America’s schools. It was composed primarily of business leaders, university professors, educational administrators, representatives of school boards, nonprofit organizations, and one practicing public school teacher (National Commission on Excellence in Education, “Members of the National Commission on Excellence in Education,” 1-2). After an eighteen month study, the panel concluded that we had a “nation at risk.” It made numerous recommendations to respond to what it saw as a crisis. America was falling far behind other nations and needed to embark on revolutionary change in public education. Besides numerous recommendations concerning traditional academics, it placed a major emphasis on the need for computer literacy and technological understanding, this in the very year that the personal computer was born - 1983.

By the end of the 1980s, the personal computer’s affordability and practical applications had contributed to its acceptance by many Americans. It was not, however, yet making a tremendous dent in public education. The 1983 Nation at Risk report of the National Commission of Excellence in Education had given life to the excellence movement and the accountability movement which closely followed in its wake. This necessitated the creation of standards, the measurement of those standards, and increased pressure on the states to get on board to create the conditions necessary for the success of their schools, for they were now going to be compared to other states for the first time in history on the results they were achieving in specified areas. In theory, people would be able to see just how well one school was doing in comparison to others all across the nation. If this were to be done, the role of technology must increase, and Americans would need to be on board with this new revolution. Many dollars were at stake.

Through the new concept of strategic planning in public education, first introduced by Bill Cook and his Cambridge Group in the early 1980s (Cook), many communities were increasingly developing strategic plans which encouraged a focus on technological development and use in the public schools. Innovative methods of funding and gaining the support of communities that were perhaps not convinced of the need for the massive amount of technology that would be needed to support the excellence and accountability movements would need to be considered. During the 1980s, forty-four states increased education funding and passed large-scale education reform packages (Land, 6). States and local communities would need to do much more, however, to implement such revolutionary change. Even more than strategic planning would be necessary. State legislative action of an increased variety, especially now that most were in control of the dollars, would be absolutely essential. Just how could this be achieved?

A series of national education summits, 1989, 1996, 1999, 2001, and 2005, were designed to advance national education goals, including Goals 2000. None of the goals established have even been close to being achieved. Mission statements were designed, similar to what are required through strategic planning initiatives, bold visions and goals were created, and states were expected to create the means necessary to see them fulfilled. Governors from each of the states were invited to these conferences and participated in huge numbers. Also present at these conferences were representatives of some of the biggest names in corporate America. The 1996 summit which took place in Palisades, New York, hosted by IBM’s Louis Gerstner, was especially particular in focusing on the changing role and powers of governors in the various states (IBM Archives).

A summary of the 1996 National Education Summit by the United States Department of Education included the following:

Secretary Riley joined 41 governors, 49 corporate leaders, and 35 education resource people for the 1996 National Education Summit in Palisades (NY) last week. The governors and CEOs pledged “to help states or local school districts develop a consensus on what children should know and be able to do” and “to support educators in overcoming the barriers that impede the effective use of technology,” according to a Policy Statement on the summit issued by the National Governors’ Association.

Specifically, the GOVERNORS committed “to the development and establishment of internationally competitive academic standards, assessments to measure academic achievement, and accountability systems in our states...within the next two years.” They agreed to support the implementation of standards within their states by reallocating funds to professional development, infrastructure, and new technologies.

CORPORATE leaders pledged to support the work of the governors, communicate clearly to students and parents and schools the types and levels of skills needed in their workplaces, require job applicants to demonstrate academic achievement through school-based records (such as transcripts, diplomas, portfolios, or certificates of initial mastery), consider academic standards, and student achievement as a high priority when making business location decisions, and adopt policies to support parent involvement in children’s education. Business leaders also committed to “developing and helping implement compatible, inexpensive, and easy-to-use products, services, and software to support teaching.”

Governors and CEOs agreed to begin work immediately on these challenges in their states through activities that might include:

“organizing town meetings to build support and engage parents and communities in improving student performance, reaching out to other governors and other business leaders to identify and adopt effective practices to improve student achievement and look for opportunities where states and businesses can work together, arranging for teaching professionals to visit businesses throughout states to help them develop a better understanding of the needs of employers, holding a state-level education summit to design a state-specific plan for developing and implementing standards and assessments, and reviewing current state efforts to report on educational performance and prepare for next year’s report.”

“I believe that this meeting will prove historic,” President Clinton told the governors and CEOs. He pledged his support for their efforts to improve standards, accountability, technology, and other issues; and he promised strong support for starting up charter schools and making all schools safe, disciplined, and drug-free. On the issue of accountability, the President suggested that ‘...every state...must require a test for children to move, let’s say, from elementary to middle school, or from middle school to high school, or to have a ...high school diploma’ ”(United States Department of Education, “ED Initiatives,” 2-3).

Within the two years expected by the participants, South Carolina would pass its historic Accountability Act of 1998. Referring to Goals 2000 in 1997, for which the South Carolina Accountability Act of 1998 would become a means to an end, then United States Representative Lindsey Graham, a leading South Carolina Republican in a movement to abolish Goals 2000, said the following: “I’ve got educators and parents in my district who are very much concerned about letting the federal government control education. Because when the federal government controls education, you are losing control of your children. And nobody will stand for that” (Pope).

As evidenced in Graham’s statement which typified the concern of many, the fear of the loss of local control was very real. The national government and the states had become partners through the support of almost all the states’ governors in an attempt to significantly influence the direction that American public education would take. This would have tremendous ramifications for local school governance, particularly with respect to how much control could be exhibited by district boards of education.

Besides the influence that governors would now have on the various state legislatures for the enactment of legislation necessary to bring about all of this revolutionary change, other forces of reform were making their voices heard, as well. All would impact local governance. For the first time since the beginning of the twentieth century, there was a movement to refocus attention on the need for local boards to truly become the policy-making boards that progressives intended them to be. The time had come for a new focus on administration and its role in becoming the scientific managers once envisioned, professionals taking charge of the means of achieving the ends established by policy boards.

The most comprehensive study of school boards conducted by Carol and colleagues entitled School Boards: Strengthening Grass Roots Leadership, published by the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) in 1986, was a significant catalyst (Land, 10) in gaining the support of various organizations and individuals for the idea that district boards of education should focus on the ends and leave the means to administration. Support for these policy boards came from Danzberger, Cunningham, Kirst, Usden, Reid, Goodman, Zimmerman, the Twentieth Century Fund, and the Education Commission of the States (Land, 10-11), among many others.

One of the earliest promotions for policy boards in this new wave of governance reform came from John Carver. Launching Carver Governance Design, Inc., in 1982, Carver promoted a model he conceived to nonprofit organizations, businesses, and government entities, including schools. This specially trademarked Policy Governance model gives to the superintendent of a school district the operational Means to act as he deems necessary, contingent upon a set of Executive Limitations placed on him by the board of education. This corporate model clearly delineates roles and expectations of the superintendent and the board in an attempt to be the most complete theoretical construct ever devised for board governance of any kind (Carver Governance Design, Inc.).

Policy Governance gets boards to focus on setting goals, Ends policies, for the purpose of achieving certain specified results and seeks to keep boards out of the day-to-day affairs of the organization by having them no longer in the business of “micromanagement.” Dispensing with traditional committees mainly comprised of various board members, Carver seeks to promote committees of the whole, and only utilize them as needed. Committees are to be kept to a minimum and are only to be used for helping the board, not the administration. Traditional committee work would have board members serving on certain standing committees to assist the superintendent and the entire board with the management of the district. In Policy Governance, board members are removed from administrative responsibilities, and the board’s only employee, the superintendent (CEO) is held solely responsible for administering the district (Carver, Boards That Make a Difference).

Carver significantly influenced the policy board movement in 1990 with the publication of his first book, Boards That Make a Difference. Carver’s work has been further advanced by the advocacy of many organizations and individuals promoting Policy Governance as consultants (ex. Aspen Group International, LLC., The International Policy Governance Association, Partners in Policy Governance), and others who promote the general concept of policy boards. The Carver model is a very difficult one to implement to the level that Carver envisions, and many boards across the country have one or more areas that would not be consistent with the model, calling into doubt whether they can truly be termed Policy Governance districts (Carver). This being said, an estimated 1% or less of school districts nationwide are using some form of the model, many which would have to at least be called policy boards (Chandler).

Despite the small percentage, Carver’s influence on local school districts, both large and small, from the fifth largest district in the nation in Clark County, Nevada, to one of the smaller districts in Chetek, Wisconsin, has been tremendous and is continuing to influence others, as consultants who market the model increase their clientele. Although a small percentage of school districts at present have experimented with Policy Governance, other districts across the nation are being influenced by the more general policy board concept which was being promoted at the same time Carver’s trademarked Policy Governance model was advancing (Chandler).

One of the more influential supporting organizations has been the National School Boards Association (NSBA) through its advocacy of school boards focusing on the ends that they hope to achieve for their districts, the establishment of visionary goals, and on data for accountability purposes (Land, 28-30). The National School Boards Association through its National School Boards Foundation funds various projects to promote these ideas, one which was directed by Linda Dawson, a promoter of policy boards. Dawson, along with her partner Randy Quinn, created a major consulting firm known as the Aspen International Group in 1993 which markets a particularized form of policy board in Carver’s Policy Governance model and in their very own Coherent Governance model, a user-friendly version of the model (Aspen Group International, LLC). In 2001, under Dawson’s executive direction, and while she was an active agent of the Aspen Group, this project produced “Improving School Board Decision-Making: The Data Connection” to encourage district boards of education to focus on their roles as accountability agents, a major thrust of the NSBA (National School Boards Foundation, 5, 92).

The National School Boards Association has much influence on state boards of education who have significant influence on district boards, many moving in the direction of becoming policy boards of some type. A typical example of this would be a statement made by Angie Peifer, Senior Director of Board Development of the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), who writes, “IASB has been informed by John Carver’s work, along with other well-established practices, in the creation of its principles of effective governance which do encourage boards to get clear about their ends, their operating parameters for the superintendent and staff (similar concept to “executive limitations”) and to then delegate authority to the superintendent to determine means” (Peifer). Illinois and many other state school boards associations have been influenced by the National School Boards Association to have their members move in the direction of becoming policy boards of some type.

Besides the very prominent National School Boards Association, much support for the advancement of policy boards and other governance reform of public education comes from other nonprofit organizations, corporate America, and various foundations. Outstanding examples include the Education Commission of the States, the Institute for Educational Leadership, the Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform, the Superintendents Leadership Network, The Broad Institute for School Boards, the Center for Reform of School Systems, IBM, Microsoft, Bell South, ETS, the College Board, the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, the Annenberg Foundation, and the Broad Foundation, among many others (Chandler).

Goodman and Zimmerman, along with other advocates of governance reform, even called for states to enact legislation that would codify policy boards and increase powers for superintendents in “Thinking Differently: Recommendations for 21st Century School Board/Superintendent Leadership, Governance and Teamwork for High Student Achievement” (Goodman, Zimmerman, 7-15). As an example, South Carolina’s Education Oversight Committee made these recommendations in their 2001 Annual Report (South Carolina Education Oversight Committee, 33).

The most recent debate about which reform models of governance are most effective was probably initiated with the publication of “Governing America’s Schools: Changing the Rules,” a report that was issued by the National Commission on Governing America’s Schools sponsored by the Education Commission of the States. Two major recommendations of the commission were that public school governance should be based on some of the more promising trends within the existing system or based on some of the more promising alternatives to the prevailing system of education governance but with public money (Renchler, 3). This would mean experimentation. Some might want to completely bypass district boards of education and give local schools control of areas such as hiring and firing of staff, financial, curriculum and other decisions. Others might choose to adopt Carver’s Policy Governance or to become some other type of policy board. Still other might desire to be charter schools. Neither time nor space will suffice for an examination of all of the possibilities. Private money and private initiatives working in cooperation with public schools, outsourcing of services, and a host of other strategies could have major impacts on local school governance. Boards of education could become obsolete in some cases or reconfigured in some manner yet to be realized. A revolution is at hand, boards are caught in the middle in a very confusing place, and the public is largely unaware.

Perhaps one of the more innovative reform movements of the recent past which is having enormous influence on local governance is the work of Don McAdams through the Center for Reform of School Systems (CSSR) in Houston, Texas. A former president of the Houston Independent School Board, McAdams was influenced by the work of John Carver (McAdams), and although he promotes the idea of policy boards, he has a very different focus - on large urban districts. McAdams’ model is known as Reform Governance, and the major project which he is promoting all over the country is known as Reform Governance in Action (RGA).

The Center for Reform of School Systems was begun in 1999 with a $100,000 grant from the Houston Endowment, after Rod Paige, then superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, proposed the idea that a center be created to promote reform in urban school districts. In June 2001 the center became a Texas nonprofit corporation (Center for Reform of School Systems). The center has been significantly enhanced by generous financial support from the Broad Foundation.

In 1999 the Broad family established the Broad Foundation with an initial commitment of $100 million, later expanded to $400 million, expressly for k-12 nontraditional education and unconventional solutions to governance. Through several strategic planning retreats which included such notables as the director of Rand Education, a former president of the National Education Association, Rudolph Crew of the Stupski Foundation, Roderick Paige, U. S. Secretary of Education, and Don McAdams, Executive Director of the Center for Reform of School Systems, the Broad Foundation solicited ideas on how to develop policy initiatives that would have high-impact (The Broad Foundation, “Our History”).

The Broad Institute for School Boards was one of the projects designed to meet goals previously established. Don McAdams leads the Broad Institute team. It is a national school board training program which is designed especially for newly elected and appointed school board members from urban areas. The program is run by the Center for Reform of School Systems in Houston. Participants receive training in effective governance during an intensive program that last six days. At present, the institute has trained more than 150 members from 34 cities across the nation who are responsible for close to three million students (The Broad Foundation, “Strengthening Governance”).

The Broad Foundation started Reform Governance in Action (RGA) in 2005 to train entire teams of school board members along with their district superintendents. On site support continues for a two-year period. Districts which are currently participating in this program include: Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N. C.; Christina, Delaware; San Antonio, Texas; Fresno, California; Duval County, Florida, and Gwinnett County, Georgia (The Broad Foundation, “Strengthening Governance”).

Although the focus of Reform in Action is a total package to address multiple concerns faced by urban boards of education in particular, boards are exposed to many of the tenets of Reform Governance and the ideas of Don McAdams, considered by some to be the leading authority on school boards in the nation (Hoover Institution Press).

Some of McAdams ideas which are quite pertinent to our examination of policy boards include the following: “I define governance as the trusteeship of power on behalf of the owners of power. Management is the exercise of power under the oversight of governance. Governance means making the rules; management is rowing. Governing is deciding what is to be done; management is doing it.” “It is universally recognized that in crisis situations power needs to be concentrated. Given the condition of many urban school districts, concentrating power in the hands of superintendents makes sense.” McAdams shares the view that communities “must have boards that provide leadership for reform through core beliefs and commitments vision, a theory of action for change, goals, policies and astute politics” (McAdams, “Whose Job Is It to Lead Reform?” 1-2). This is done by having boards focus on data to bridge the achievement gap.

McAdams and others who share his vision have accepted the challenge of the National School Boards Association and others who are advocating that district boards of education move in the direction of truly becoming policy boards, especially that they leave administration to the professional experts. McAdams continues: “A consultant can help board members recognize that they should not get involved in personnel issues, student discipline cases, or the letting of district contracts. Nor should they try to solve management problems or communicate about district business directly with district employees below the superintendent’s cabinet.” (McAdams, “Training Your Board to Lead - The Board-Savvy Superintendent”).

At board meetings, McAdams says, “Board members should never engage in discussions with citizens or try to solve problems. The board president should simply thank citizens for their comments and refer problems to management (McAdams, “The Short Productive Board Meeting,” 2).

McAdams is also committed to the idea of the “committee of the whole,” popular among policy boards (McAdams). This nontraditional practice of policy boards relies more on oversight mechanisms of administrative performance, encourages trust and strong board-superintendent relations, focuses on good board-staff relations and teamwork, and largely allows administration the responsibility to deal with the day-to-day affairs of the district.

The influence that McAdams and Reform Governance in Action is having is enormous, especially in the expansion of policy boards, and it does not come cheaply either. Six new boards were recently selected for RGA. The cost for Durham Public Schools to participate is $400,000. Fortunately for Durham, the entire cost is being underwritten by the Broad Foundation. Superintendent Carl Harris said, “The opportunity to experience an indepth study of school governance in the effort to improve student achievement is one that we simply could not afford to pass up. The Board and I are very excited about what we will learn as we take on this project, and we plan to apply it to the important work we are doing here” (Yarbrough). Others selected for this generous underwriting from the Broad Foundation were Aldine Independent School District (Texas), Dallas Independent School District (Texas), Hartford Public Schools (Connecticut), Providence Public Schools (Rhode Island), and Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland (White).

Like Carver who has others such as the Aspen Group International marketing Policy Governance, McAdams has assistance from such influential persons as the former U. S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige who markets Reform Governance through his Chartwell Education Group with offices in London and New York (Chartwell Education Group, LLC.). Like Carver’s Boards That Make a Difference (1990) which started a radical move away from traditional governance and encouraged school boards to become policy boards, Don McAdams’ What School Boards Can Do (2006) just might do the same, and perhaps in a bigger way. Affecting millions of Americans and how they are governed in some of the larger school districts in the nation, McAdams’ work should cause us to ask: Who is exercising control over and acting as trustee(s) of students? In theory, both Carver and McAdams would say boards of education, for they are the ones responsible for governing, but in reality, is this the case? Are policy boards of any variety really acting as the trustees that parents desire, and what are they doing to the public’s cherished belief in local control?

Besides those who would like to see policy boards grow in number across the nation, whether they be in the form of Carver’s Policy Governance, in McAdams’s Reform Governance, or in policy board practices not particularly tied to any model, there are those who desire to see boards either eliminated completely or reduced to a point of virtual impotence. Most of this is happening in large urban districts. This is occurring, primarily, in the form of state and mayoral takeovers of schools.

Because of tremendous discrepancies in achievement and the huge problems urban areas are experiencing with drugs, violence, and much more, twenty-four states currently allow the takeover of underperforming schools. New Jersey was the first in the nation to do so in 1989 (Plecki, et. al.). Cities at present which have mayors in control include Providence, Philadelphia, Jackson, Harrisburg, Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago, and Boston (Moore). What happens to district boards when this happens? The state largely vests control in mayors, persons who are geographically close to public education services.

In Providence, Rhode Island, the mayor appoints a nine-member board with approval of the city council. Philadelphia has a five-member commission that has completely taken the place of the former school board. Two members are appointed by the mayor, and three are named by the governor. In Baltimore, the mayor and governor jointly appoint school board members. In Cleveland, Ohio, the board of education has nine voting members who are appointed by the mayor. At least four must have significant expertise in either business, finance, or education. Boston has a mayor appoint a seven-member school committee which then names a new superintendent (Moore).

Los Angeles is a special case. It is the second largest school district in the nation behind New York City, serving over 727,000 students. The California legislature gave partial control of the schools over to the mayor. This was supposed to take effect on January 1, 2007. A group of parents, students, and administrators formed a coalition and sued in October 2006, claiming that the law takes too much power away from the elected school boards. A judge ruled in their favor in February 2007 by saying that the law violated the state constitution. The law would have shifted some power from the seven-member board of education to a new council of more than two dozen other mayors within the boundaries of the Los Angeles Unified School District. The mayor appealed the decision (Moore). On April 17, 2007, the Second District Court of Appeals announced a unanimous decision that the California state legislature had indeed violated the state constitution, upholding local, elected control for the Los Angeles Unified School District (California School Boards Association). Even in a city as large as Los Angeles, citizens are very much wanting to maintain local control and the power of their local trustees.

With these mayoral takeovers, more power has shifted to the executive, a separate branch, unlike traditional structures which give both governing and legislative authority to the local school board. The mayor either has no traditional board at all or one which has been significantly reduced in its authority. Control is in the hands of administration. If this is local control, it is of an entirely different variety than has been in existence since our nation’s beginnings. Trusteeship has been transferred to the executive.

In a 2003 Phi Delta Kappan poll which asked what level of government should exercise control over what is taught in public schools, 61% said the school board, 22% the state, and 15% the federal government. In a 2002 poll in Education Week, the school board was cited as the single most important institution in determining quality of public schools. The school board even beat out “parents, governors, state assemblies, or the U. S. President” (Plecki, et. al).

By and large, most school districts across our nation are still operating with traditional forms of governance. Many, however, have either become policy boards or are moving in that direction, and others are either being eliminated or significantly stripped of their traditional powers and practices. Boards of education are being bypassed, minimalized, or eliminated, as control is shifting to the states through various legislative, court, and structural changes which are being driven by ideological, political, and commercial forces. For whatever reason, district boards of education do not have the power and control which they used to have. Some believe this to be good and others not so good, to say the least. Heavily influenced by the excellence and accountability movements, district boards of education will continue to feel the pressure to conform, accept inferior roles, or succumb to complete elimination. Will any of these options be the best course for the governance of our public schools? Should district boards of education allow local control to completely slip out of their jurisdiction?


As demonstrated over the course of the last century, many forces have been at work to chip away and then later rip away large portions of local influence over public education. Ideological change first came with the progressive movement and accompanying scientific advances that convinced many that a governance shift should involve turning over some of the governance control to authorities farther away than local communities and the placing of much greater responsibility on administrators who were especially trained in the new science of administration. Then, another ideological shift came as the national government and the courts saw the need to expand their influence by ensuring that there be no religious discrimination and that civil rights not be denied students in public education. A political and commercial shift occurred on the coattails of the technological revolution of the 1980s, especially computer related, when governors began to play major roles in getting their states to enact legislation to entice business interests to expand into their states. States which would enact accountability legislation and which would work to put into place practices that would meet corporate concerns would be rewarded with corporate relocation and other benefits that business could provide. Thus, a second ideological shift occurred, influenced by commercial and political interests, which called on local boards to finally become the policy boards which had been called for since the turn of the twentieth century. This was followed closely by a host of various reform governance initiatives, including state and mayoral takeovers, various private initiatives within public education, and the charter school movement, all which threaten the control and even the existence of local boards of education. Especially threatened is the concept of trusteeship that for more than three hundred years has been with local boards of education.

Still, with all of this change, the public is largely unaware of exactly what has happened. They still see school buildings. Students still go to school and study many of the same subjects. They still have teachers, principals, superintendents, and their trusted boards of education, at least in most cases. They can even pick up the phone and call on their board members, or see them in person, just as they always have. There is still much trust placed in all involved in the education of their children. Yes, they are aware that there have been many changes, but life is full of exponential changes today. About forty years ago, Alvin Toffler wrote about something called Future Shock. Well, we have reached and passed that point, and it is common to hear people say that nothing shocks them anymore. In this climate, however, the one thing that seems to go on, at least in its major form, is the public school, supported by its local, district board of education.

We often hear that the American public is apathetic, and that is why there is such little attendance at school board meetings. One of the main reasons attendance is poor is that meetings are often just a little too far away. Some districts are very large geographically, and this does not bode well for public attendance. One solution to this would be to have all district boards of education meetings televised. If more citizens actually knew what took place at board meetings, perhaps they would attend in greater numbers, even if they did have to drive farther than desired. At the very least, they would probably be better informed of issues and consider how they might have input and even how they might vote in the next election. It could involve a letter-to-the-editor of the local newspaper, a conversation with a friend, a discussion at the local market, or perhaps even the creation of a group of concerned citizens. Knowledge and understanding are powerful and necessary ingredients in the life of a democratic-republic. Without them, representative democracy dies.

Do we really think that the American public does not care about their children and their education? Of course, there are many who do not, for a variety of reasons. We are seeing the demise of the family and of many traditional structures, the crumbling of social institutions, monumental problems with drugs, violence, environmental decay, and are even threatened by the new war on terror. In the midst of all of this, many of us are confused, trying to live from day to day with some semblance of normality. We are very busy people, working long hours and sometimes more than one job just to makes ends meet. Time is a precious commodity, and we cherish leisure and personal time in the midst of what often seems to be chaotic circumstances. Some have even paralleled what is happening in America today to what was happening in Rome just before it collapsed. But America still cares. She is not apathetic. She stills wants what is best for her children.

Another reason why it seems that the public is largely apathetic could be that they simply trust those in whom they have given the authority to work with their children. In some cases, even, there is too much trust in this day and age. With that trust, we too have been awed by what science has been able to accomplish and the progressive nature of our democratic society. We can easily get caught up in believing that which is not true. Woodrow Wilson erred in this regard.

Wilson put much faith in the new science of administration and emphasized the need to place much trust in administration. The idealist that he was, he wanted to believe that administration would carry out policies and law enacted by the policy-makers and legislators. In his famous essay on administration, he stated, “If to keep his office a man must achieve open and honest success, and if at the same time he feels himself entrusted with large freedom for discretion, the greater his power the less likely he is to abuse it, the more he is nerved and sobered and elevated by it. The less his power, the more safely obscure and unnoticed does he feel his position to be, and the more likely does he relapse into remissness” (Wilson, 9).

We would like to think that all teachers, principals, and administrators have the best interests of our students at heart, but we must accept the responsibility to follow-up regularly. Changing times and scientific advance can help us do very many things, but they cannot change our human nature. Science can do many things, but it cannot give us integrity. Trust is a valuable thing, but we must be very careful to verify that all which we delegate to others is being properly administered. Wilson might have had a Ph. D. in history, but even he failed to heed Lord Acton’s warning that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We would do well to listen to Acton more than Wilson, at least on the subject of human nature, power, and control.

However, many today are calling for the same thing in public education that Wilson wanted to see for public administration, to have boards of education change their focus from cooperating with administration in the management of school districts to trusting administration with much more discretionary action. Governance reformers want administrators to largely be in charge of the means to the ends which boards establish. They desire for boards to change their traditional roles, focus on student achievement, and become more accountable for results. They desire this, even though there has been no substantive evidence indicating that any form of governance has made any significant difference in student outcomes (Land, 33). Yet numerous individuals and organizations are promoting governance reform that will seriously hurt the survival of district boards of education and the concept of local control.

Much of the promotion of reform governance is coming from various school board consultants who often market their own ideas. Boards are captive audiences of a particular ideology, one that always comes with a price. Many times, it is taxpayer dollars which are funding these services, other times various foundations and philanthropic interests promoting their own philosophical take on governance. Nonetheless, many are doing very well for themselves in marketing reform ideas to boards of education.

How many consultants are there who primarily market traditional ideas and work to help boards with democratic practice, who strive to keep boards in tune with their responsibilities as both governors and managers of administration with whom they should work cooperatively, who take it upon themselves to help maintain an institution that has weathered many trials through many years and has helped produce the greatest education system the world has ever known? Would boards of education hire them for their advice and help? Would any foundation fund them?

The problem is that reform sells, tradition is derided, and money usually wins. As such, we are finding tremendous reform efforts reshaping and destroying what Americans worked so hard to put into place. Many are being sold a bill of goods with the accountability movement. It was never about student achievement but was about technology sales, including high stakes testing. More dollars than most of us can imagine are driving all of this, all framed in language that focuses on student achievement and what is best for their overall welfare.

Trust is a good thing, but there is nothing wrong with verification. In addition, trust that is spread out helps keep things in balance, especially in complex organizations. That is why the early creators of local boards of education were wise in placing their trust in numbers of persons who would represent them. Even with the growing complexities of our age, knowledgeable, involved board members can involve themselves in the proper management of a school district. Of course, this is not an easy job. It never has been. It does require sacrifice, commitment, and concern. An old proverb states that there is wisdom in the counsel of many. We would do well to heed this advice before it is too late.

Have we done anything right in the shift of control that has occurred, and just where did we go wrong? Well, we were not wrong in facing up to the fact that local control of public education used to mean the denial of many American rights. There is a proper sphere of national influence through legislation and the courts in demanding equal treatment and opportunity. It is also true that we were not wrong in recognizing the power of the states over education through the tenth amendment to the Constitution. Both the states and the national government have major interests in public education. However, we did go wrong in not standing up for the primary principle on which public education was established - that parents and local communities should have the primary responsibility for governance and administration through representatives who act as trustees of our children. This fact has been forgotten or has been dismissed as no longer practical, and, as a result, many have never begun or have given up the fight to maintain appropriate levels of local control. They have done so primarily out of ignorance. They are intelligent people, but they are being destroyed for lack of knowledge. They are largely unaware of the forces that control public education. Their naivety is much greater than any argument related to apathy.

The American people have always shown their grit and perseverance in the midst of crisis and have always seemed to come out victorious whenever their backs were against the wall, but they must be convinced that they are indeed in a crisis. Although concerned about public education being in trouble, even serious trouble, they do not believe this is a crisis of the magnitude experienced in the Great Depression and World War II. If they were so convinced, perhaps they would not still be asleep. Will the masses of Americans, Yamamoto’s “sleeping giant,” ever be awakened to what they are losing?

Some who have indeed been aroused from their sleep have recognized the crisis and believe that local control must be restored but have not engaged the battle because it is difficult to fight forces that seem to be greater than themselves. They prefer comfort and leisure to personal sacrifice. They realize that it would be a tremendous struggle and would require much time and energy to wage not only a battle but a war against ideological, political, and commercial forces who have many resources and concentrated power. Only a few zealots beat their heads against a stone wall, hoping against all hope to make a loud enough noise to awaken the masses.


Public education has served America well. Americans institutionalized what the founders recognized as a necessity to preserve the republic which had been born with much sacrifice, for they knew that a free people would need to be educated, participant citizens in order to make this great experiment among nations work. Giving to the states the primary responsibility of this education, the states saw the need to hand it over to local boards of education for both governance and administrative authority, for they knew that education was first and foremost a concern of parents and local citizens who demanded that they oversee what happened in the daily lives of their children. They were not interested in turning their children over to powers in far away places. Instead, local representatives of the people would become trustees, those who would act in the interest of parents and others who had direct concern for the welfare of their communities. By law and tradition, local control of public education was a well-established belief. It still is. Yet, it is no longer a reality, and it is in danger of completely disappearing. If we Americans believe in the concept of local control and in the trusteeship of local boards of education by huge margins, as polls would indicate, then why are we letting them slip away? Should we be trying to ensure their survival?

District boards of education and citizens who support them have a duty to restore the primary control of public education to local communities. The principles upon which American public education is based have not changed. Parents and local communities still have the greatest vested interests in their children. Their values and concerns should be honored first. After all, students have yet to become possessions of the state. An educated citizenry is still needed, schooled in the principles of our democratic-republic that will work to ensure its continued existence.

Although utilitarian concerns are very real, they are not antithetical to these principles and can be incorporated with measured balance with choices we make, not with choices made for us by those who have agendas other than our own. Students can still explore various job opportunities, become computer literate, and learn how to face a changing world in the public schools. They need not do so, however, at the expense of the loss of local control. The greatest crime in all of the change that has taken place is that we have let ideological interests and commercial interests overpower the will of the majority. These interests have cleverly maneuvered themselves into positions of influence and have bypassed, minimalized, and in some cases even destroyed democratic practice. At what point did the public decide, by majority vote, to destroy the principle of local control?

Persons in positions of public trust, representatives at the national, state, and local levels have either intentionally or inadvertently participated in the shift of control away from local communities. Many of our representatives do not even know what they have done to participate in this loss of local control and are unaware of all the forces and interests behind it.

At the national level, perhaps the most important piece of legislation on education in our history has only been read by a very few, yet it is the law of the land. The No Child Left Behind Act (2001) is an expanded, reauthorization of the Improving America’s Schools Act (1994) which was a reauthorization and expansion of the Johnson administration’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. This legislation is so long and so complicated, in excess of 1000 pages, that hardly any, even its sponsors, have read it. States are largely at its mercy and local boards must comply.

At the state level, monumental acts are affecting local education. Many state legislators think they are acting in the best interest of their states and students, but even they are largely unaware of the damage they are doing to the concept of local control and the idea of trusteeship. They are also often ignorant of the forces at work behind the scenes to nationalize education and to shift power and control to distant places, first to the state, then to the nation, and some think even beyond.

Even local boards of education themselves are caught up in a whirlwind of change, a ride which never seems to stop, and is quite dizzying, to say the least. Many board members are unpaid or poorly paid and lead busy lives. They more often than not hold down full-time jobs. The confusion that manifests itself in trying to learn who is responsible for what, what law applies, and where in this maze they happen to be at the moment leaves many board members with little time or energy to try to hold onto what little control they have left.

Contributing to the loss of local control, powerful ideological and commercial forces are behind legislation and marketing of various reforms in governance, and through sheer ignorance, many of our very own trusted representatives have contributed to immense encroachment on the principle of local control. Many do not intentionally want to do harm or cause a retrenchment of local control, but the effect is still the same. Shifting control of dollars equals shifting control - period. Trusteeship follows the money.

Although boards of education now generally control less than half of the monies on which a district operates, they still have the legal authority to control where dollars go that have not been specifically allocated by the state and national governments, and that is still quite a large amount. They still have the authority over multiple decisions that have an impact on the daily lives of students. Just how much should they be involved with these? The answer to this question should be in taking a serious look at what their constituents want. It should be to them that they listen and on their concerns that they should act, not on the ideas and interests of those they do not represent who think they know what is best.

Even at the local level, many of our trusted boards of education have washed their hands of any responsibility for the maintenance or revival of local control. Overwhelmed by forces coming from many directions, they have chosen to comply rather than participate in what many see as a losing battle, that is if they have been aroused from their sleep. Many are still in a deep sleep and are experiencing pleasant dreams. Now and again some may experience nightmares, but they often quickly awaken to simply acknowledge that times have changed and that it is just easier to go with the flow. They no longer dream deeply of what once was or what could be.

How we restore local control could take a variety of avenues. It will not be easy, and it will not be quick, but it must start with the resolve of each one of us to do whatever we can. If we are not willing to make a commitment wherever we are, in whatever position we hold, then we will be responsible, to some extent, for whatever happens. What that might be could be quite alarming.

If education does not remain unfettered and free, in the hands of those to whom it is most closely situated, then a tyranny of the worst sort will likely transpire. Jefferson called this a “tyranny of the mind.” If standardized control of our nation’s education is transferred up the ladder to places farther and farther away, if it is aligned and orderly, and the trustees of our children become nameless entities that we never see, we can rest assured that safety and order will rule our lives but at the sacrifice of the liberty for which so many have fought and paid the ultimate sacrifice.

We need our local boards of education or something very close to the concept. We need local people in control and working for what they see to be in the best interest of their children, with minimal interference from ideological, political, and commercial forces that might be contrary to the desires of local communities. If the principle were ever true, it should remain true.

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Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Viability of the Carver Policy Governance Model for District Boards of Education in the United States


Bobby Chandler

Politics and Education
Dr. Paul Peterson
Coastal Carolina University
Summer II, 2007

Copyright © Bobby Chandler






District boards of education in the United States have traditionally and by law been granted permission to act in the stead of parents and communities as trustees for the educational well-being of their children. Through the years, their powers have been reduced. Still retaining much legal authority, they have been reticent to change. Pressures on boards from many sources are weighing heavily, and more are succumbing than attempting to stay the course. Many factors have contributed to this phenomenon, but over the last decade the accountability movement has begun to urge school boards to reinvent themselves, to focus on the big picture, especially student outcomes, and to leave management to the professionals. One of the more radical reform initiatives that advocates this philosophy is John Carver’s trademarked Policy Governance.

This largely corporate model of governance is being marketed by Carver and many who have trained under him to the non-corporate world of public education. Is Policy Governance viable for district boards of education and the administration of public schools? An examination of the history, philosophy, tenets, marketing, and practice of Policy Governance in public education reveal that Carver’s model is not consistent with the principles of democratic-republicanism, does not fit the political realities of the American experience, and is operating without the understanding or consent of the public at large. However, if one wishes to see the end of local control, the erosion of democratic practices, and more power shifting to authorities in far away places, then Policy Governance has much to offer.


Waves of reform in public education in the United States have washed ashore on numerous occasions in the brief history of our democratic-republic. A Nation at Risk appeared in 1983, and advocates of reform called for the restructuring and systemic overhaul of public education. This was low tide, a time when many proclaimed that a state of emergency existed in our nation’s schools, and nothing less than a radical transformation of public education would suffice.

American students were said to be falling far behind students of many nations, and our public schools were receiving much of the blame. If the United States were not to fall prey to worldwide competitors, she must rethink just about every aspect of public education. Couched in the jargon of measurement, student success would be evaluated and reported to a public more demanding of results, especially since significant investments of time, energy, and money were being called for from the public and private sectors. The bar would need to be raised and much more required of all who had anything to do with public education. A new age of accountability would ride a strong wave of reform.

Through the 1980s and most of the 1990s, reform centered on school redesign and curriculum innovations. Strategic planning, leadership issues, teaching methodologies, and standards dominated reform efforts. New technological advances were also figuring heavily into the massive changes that were transpiring. The advent of the personal computer and its potential use for public education took front and center stage. In the late 1990s, however, school governance began to emerge as a prominent issue, with a particular emphasis on local boards of education. The one phenomenon that seemed to elude most reform initiatives was part of a long, American tradition.

Local boards of education were tried and true relics of the earliest days of institutionalized public education. Having begun as legal entities, separate and parallel to other governmental structures, boards of education were vested with authority on behalf of citizens who were concerned with the transfer of parental rights to trustees for the educational welfare of their children (Land, 2-3). Most reform efforts until recently, however, have not focused on local boards of education but have occurred at the school, state, and national levels, bypassing those who have been valued as the guardians of the time-honored local control philosophy. Why is this the case?

Up until the turn of the twentieth century, local boards of education were quite numerous. More than 118,000 dotted the landscape. Increasingly, during this Progressive Era, boards of education were considered incapable of running local districts efficiently and effectively because they did not have the skills necessary to perform complex tasks in a complex age. Trust would now be placed in those who had professional expertise and who bought into the new ideas of scientific management, especially the concept of efficiency. As such, a push began for consolidation of local school districts, moving the locus of control further away from local communities. The number was drastically reduced over the century. Today, there are only approximately 15,000. The progressive ideal was to give more authority to professional educators for district management, with boards of education taking on roles of policy makers rather than policy managers (Land, 2-4).

Despite this radical shift, boards of education and the public have been reluctant to fully cooperate with this progressive move. More than 96% of the nation’s school boards are elected (Land, 4) and part of a democratic-republic which values constituent representation. Boards must answer to voters who are as much concerned with the means as they are the ends of public education. In addition, because boards have traditionally controlled a substantial portion of taxpayer dollars via local property taxes, decisions with strong local interests at heart have often frustrated, delayed, or in many ways undermined the efforts of many state and national interests.

Things are changing, however, for states are contributing larger amounts of money than ever before. Governors and legislatures are contributing significantly and states are benefitting from increased business activity, if conditions are created which are desired by corporate entities. National legislation such as the No Child Left Behind Act and various court rulings are continuing to reduce the traditional power of local boards. Boards of education are at a crossroads. On the one hand, they enjoy the support of much of the American public, and, on the other hand, they are largely seen as impediments to reform by those seeking to fulfill progressive ideals. The strategy is to bypass and transform them. Both initiatives are currently at work.

The placing of greater control of public education into the hands of professional educators, although a primary goal of progressive thinkers, has been a very difficult reform to accomplish. Boards of education have continued to have their hands largely in the means of operations and management issues. However, since the 1990s, local school boards have been targeted as accountability agents and are being encouraged by many reform interests to reorient their practices toward student outcomes or results in order to focus on the primary mission of education - the academic success and overall welfare of students, this despite the fact that there is no direct correlation to the effect that forms of governance have any positive impact on student learning (Land, 39). The goal of the progressives is to convince boards to finally get their hands out of operational means, leaving management to the experts.

Forces from the public and private sectors interested in the restructuring and systemic overhaul of public education are now in a greater position than ever before to push local school districts in the direction of various reform initiatives related to school governance, thereby giving the progressive movement a second chance to fully implement its ideals. Some have advocated extensive changes in how boards are structured and how they operate, from an increase in appointed and nonpartisan boards to perhaps the elimination of boards altogether.

A variety of reform initiatives are currently making their way into the area of local public school governance. A number of large urban districts such as Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago have seen mayoral takeovers of public schools and either the elimination or drastically reduced roles of boards of education. Some of the more prominent reform initiatives in governance include Doug Eadie’s High-Impact Governing model for local boards with its highly structured committees for greater effectiveness, Don McAdams’ Reform Governance and his emphasis on what can be done to deal with the unique challenges of large urban districts, Kentucky’s experiment with a shift of governance to local schools and a true emphasis on site-based management, a concept that was popular in the 1980s and early 1990s but which has largely fallen by the wayside, and the charter school movement, with the suggestion being made by some that every public school ought to be a charter school. There are various models of governance for public education, some receiving more attention than others (Land, 5-16). John Carver’s trademarked Policy Governance model has been quite prominent, and, according to Carver, is the most well-known modern theory of governance worldwide (Carver Governance Design, Inc.).

Personal Rationale

I had been a South Carolina public school history teacher for about twenty years, when I first became involved with educational politics in 1992. As co-chairman of Socastee High School’s curriculum committee, I helped bring a radical scheduling change to Horry County. Students would now meet in three classes a day for 110 minutes each, alternating with three different classes of the same length on an A/B block schedule for 180 school days. Known as block scheduling, many of us were convinced that students would benefit from a wide variety of activities centered around in-depth learning. Shortly after implementation, I suspected that this was not going to be the case, but I was bound and determined to make it work. After all, I had been partly responsible for bringing this revolutionary scheduling concept to the first school in Horry County and the second school in the state of South Carolina.

After four years of struggling to make this new schedule work, I heard a rumor in November 1996 that all high schools in Horry County were going to be on the 4 x 4 block schedule in the 1997-1998 school year, students taking four classes of ninety minutes each every day for one semester and four different classes of the same length during second semester. Knowing that each class was going to see a significant reduction in time and that students would have to master the content of very complex subject matter in only ninety days, I began to analyze and evaluate possible implications of such a change. I came to the conclusion that this would be even much worse than what we had mistakenly put into place several years before. Block scheduling was a disaster and was only going to get worse. My conscience compelled me to publicly reverse my position and work to see a return to traditional scheduling.

In the process of preparing the district for a move to 4 x 4, teachers were being asked by administration to express their opinions about this new direction on ballots which would require their signatures. Knowing that there was a clear district bias in wanting to implement 4 x 4, I knew that many teachers would be hesitant to express their true beliefs for fear of some retaliation from administration. I spoke with several who indicated that their vote would have been different, if their signatures had not been required. There was no clear indication from the district at the time that these ballots were only being used for confirmation of what the district was wanting to do. As far as teachers were concerned, their preferences might have been determining factors.

As a result of balloting issues, I filed two grievances against Horry County Schools in 1997, a citizen’s grievance and a teacher’s grievance. After hearing my teacher’s grievance, the Horry County School District implemented a new policy in 1998 entitled "Information Gathering by Administrators." The purpose of this was to guarantee anonymity for teachers on issues that were deemed highly sensitive or political in nature. My opposition to the superintendent and the district was one of personal conviction that the secret ballot had served our nation well for many years and was just as applicable in our public schools. I believe this was a major victory for democratic principles.

The new policy was implemented under a traditional system of governance. Shortly afterwards, I began to hear the superintendent and the board talk about something called Board Governance. This sounded great to me. I believed we needed more governance by the board, for my experience with the superintendent led me to believe that the district administration was wielding too much influence. I had been reassured that this was going to change. Other issues began to concern me, and my focus shifted to a reevaluation of strategic planning and a serious problem associated with the implementation of United States history standards. Of course, I had not abandoned my continual campaign to get the school district to see the light and return to traditional scheduling.

The Horry County School District abandoned traditional governance in June 2000, and our new Board Governance Policies were implemented. I did not follow the move toward Board Governance and naively believed that all was well. I had been encouraged that the board thought it necessary to rein in a district administration that was operating outside what I perceived to be its legitimate responsibilities. In early 2002, I decided I had better catch up on the new directions our district was charting. Unbeknownst to me, our district policy manual had been streamlined during 2001. Most existing policies had been eliminated. In reading through the new manual, I discovered that the board of education had given to the superintendent the authority to implement or discard district policies at his or her discretion, with no immediate oversight by the board. Nowhere to be found was "Information Gathering by Administrators," a policy to which I had devoted much time and energy and which had been clearly sanctioned by the Horry County Board of Education.

Carver’s Background

John Carver grew up in Tennessee and served a stint in the military in the late 1950s before receiving a B. S. in Business Administration and Economics in 1964 from the University of Chattanooga. In 1965 he earned an M. Ed. in Educational Psychology from the same. Then, in 1968 he received his Ph. D. in Clinical Psychology from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia (Carver, Curriculum Vitae).

Dr. Carver worked in the field of mental health in various capacities until 1983. He was a consultant, faculty member, and executive director of a mental health center in Tennessee, a mental health and mental retardation center in Texas, and a consulting center for mental and substance abuse problems in Indiana. In addition, he served as chairperson of the National Council of Community Mental Health Centers from 1969-1971 and as chairperson of the Indiana State Personnel Board in 1981 (Carver, Curriculum Vitae).

In 1982 he created Carver Governance Design, Inc., which he has operated until the present. Carver was an adjunct professor at the Schulich School of Business, York University, in Toronto, Canada, from 2002-2005. He has been an adjunct professor at the University of Georgia’s Institute on Nonprofit Organizations in Athens, Georgia, since 2000 (Carver, Curriculum Vitae).

Carver’s experience in professional management and with various boards caused him to question their practices and effectiveness. He thought there must be a better way for a group of people to govern an organization in which many had placed their trust. He started reading and investigating boards and their activities and found very few answers to the problems he believed were encountered by boards. He was surprised at the dearth of information on the subject (Carver, Boards That Make a Difference, xv-xvii). Carver came to the conclusion "that the crucial missing element is credible theory." He states, "The Policy Governance model of board leadership that emerged from my work is arguably the only existing complete theory of governance, whether of businesses, nonprofits, cities, or schools. Its philosophical foundations lie in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s social contract, leadership philosopher Robert K. Greenleaf’s servant-leadership, and modern management theory" (Carver, "Remaking Governance," 27).

According to Ivan Benson, Carver’s assistant, the model was born about 1976 (Benson). The model evolved, took form, and began to make a significant impact as a result of the publication of Carver’s first book, Boards That Make a Difference, in 1990. Since that time, Carver has written several books, numerous monographs, and hundreds of articles. According to his website, Carver is "the most published thinker on governance worldwide." In addition, he and his wife Miriam have traveled extensively in the promotion of his model (Carver Governance Design, Inc.).

Carver’s Policy Governance Model

In order to adequately assess the viability of the Carver model for local boards of education, one must be familiar with the salient elements of the model. Carver has written hundreds of pages in his several books to explain the intricate workings of Policy Governance, but critical understanding of what the model proposes can be gleaned in examining its essential framework.

According to Carver, the first concern should be "Why does this organization exist? What purpose does a board serve?" As applied to boards of education, Carver realizes that results in education cannot be measured in the dollars and cents of his corporate model or in the expectations established by various nonprofit organizations but must be measured in terms of what the general public desires as acceptable outcomes for a student’s educational development. The proper function of a board of any kind, including a board of education, is to serve the owners of an organization as the vital link to management to ensure that established goals are accomplished (Carver). The agents or trustees of public education in the United States with this responsibility are members of district boards of education.

Asserting universal applicability of his model, even for governmental entities, Carver claims that "school boards don’t need improvement so much as total redesign. No role deserves transformation more than that of the nation’s school boards" (Carver, "Remaking Governance," 26). He further asserts, "Boards tend to be, in fact, incompetent groups of competent individuals" (Carver, John and Miriam, 1). In general, the claim is that a board of education does not come close to having the level of expertise to efficiently and effectively manage an organization of immense complexity, a responsibility which should rest with the superintendent (CEO) and administration, but it does have the potential to be a successful board, if only individual board members understood their proper roles and acted accordingly (Carver, John and Miriam, 2).

Carver believes that the traditional role of members of boards of education has interfered with their success because members are often encumbered by various interests pulling this way and that in the political arena and constituents urging them to intervene in personal concerns that should be handled by district employees. Micromanagement by board members thrusts them into management areas and administrative endeavors that are not their areas of expertise (Carver).

Carver also contends that board members often hear from individuals with specific concerns about the schools, particularly parents, who are not representative of all who have an interest in the school system. Carver thinks that board members should rise to the challenge of representing the interests of the entire school community, the owners, and be accountable to them, as they clearly chart directions that will lead to successful outcomes. Carver makes it clear that not all stakeholders (ex. vendors) are owners. Boards need to hear from them, as well, but they should never forget to whom they are accountable for results. Role distinctions and role clarity, thus, become essential in having a board of education reach its maximum potential as a group of individuals in what Carver calls the "owner-representative" role (Carver, "Remaking Governance," 27).

Carver proposes that multiple "Linkages" take place with various publics who are representative of all who have ownership in the district’s public education. These include meetings, surveys, and other tools. Linkage meetings will require careful planning and development by the board of education on a regular basis to ensure that the board hears the voice of all the people they represent, not just those who make themselves heard through phone calls and chance meetings with them as individuals. Hearing from the public at regular board meetings is helpful but is not nearly adequate for a comprehensive understanding of the needs and desires of those they serve. Boards must provide many opportunities and create avenues of access to the public for the entire board to have heart-to-heart discourse about public education with owner-representatives (Carver, Boards That Make a Difference, 135-138).

Listening to and considering public concerns, the board then discusses and debates desired outcomes, valuing the voices of individual board members and allowing diverse viewpoints. However, once a vote has been taken, Carver contends that it should be treated as the board’s decision, even if it is only a simple majority, for the board has the responsibility to speak with only one voice. Board members do not have individual authority over district operations and cannot instruct anyone in the organization to do anything, with the exception of its one employee - the CEO, and then only while acting as an entire board. Board members should not have their hands in micromanaging, instructing, and otherwise interfering with the proper role of administration. There is also no place for what Carver terms "sabotage," (Carver) the purposeful undermining of a board’s decision by an individual board member who has a personal agenda that he will not relinquish and which the board deems has negative effects on the organization (Carver, "Remaking Governance," 27-28).

A board of education should be accountable and concern itself with establishing what Carver has trademarked as "Ends" policies, outcomes as interpreted by the board, which are desired by the owners of the system. Linkage meetings with the representative public which involve the entire board are to be followed up with much board talk at regular board meetings about existing Ends policies, possible changes, and additions. In fact, board meetings should be quite different places from the ususal staff presentations and activities which tie up most of the board’s time. Of course, the board will need to have these activities, but the majority of the time should be spent on Ends matters, the primary purpose for the board’s existence (Carver, "Remaking Governance," 27).

Much time in board meetings should be spent in the development and nurturing of Ends, leaving what Carver terms as "Means" to management, with careful monitoring by the board to ensure that administration stays within specified boundaries and does not violate any ethical principles or legal requirements in the carrying out of its responsibilities. Board meetings should not significantly entertain the gripes of parents and vendors, concerns that should more properly be handled by administration. Educating the public about Policy Governance and how things should work in this revolutionary endeavor is a difficult task, but it must be a top priority if a board ever expects to see Policy Governance function properly and its Ends achieved (Carver, John and Miriam, 15; Carver, "Remaking Governance," 29-30).

The person placed in charge of administration of a school district has traditionally been called the superintendent. Under Carver’s Policy Governance model, corporate in its essence, this person is now referred to as the chief executive officer (CEO). The CEO is the person responsible for all district operations. As the board’s one and only employee, he becomes the chief link between the board and all that happens in the district. Since administration is in charge of operations, things that are not termed Ends become Means. Staff, curriculum, finance, purchasing, budgets, and multiple operational areas fall under the Means category and become the day-to-day responsibility of administration. If board members are not micromanaging and meddling in administrative affairs, then all district operations are the superintendent’s or CEO’s responsibility. He alone must answer for all operations to the board (Carver, John and Miriam, 4-5; Carver, "Remaking Governance," 28).

The CEO should be carefully instructed by the board as to what he should never do through what Carver terms "Executive Limitations," but then he should be free to explore many avenues to accomplish the Ends that the board has established, with no fear that he will be reprimanded or suffer negative consequences by the board for his actions in areas not identified by the board. These limitations are always expressed in the negative, for the purpose is never to tell the CEO what he should do but to create freedom for him to act without interference from the board, to exercise his expertise in bringing about established Ends. However, giving the CEO freedom to act is not license or dictatorial power, for a board of education is ultimately responsible for everything which happens in the school district and should always be concerned with both Ends and Means. The board can add to its Executive Limitations, if it believes the CEO should be restricted further, as part of a dynamic process that is in continual refinement (Carver, Boards That Make a Difference, 82-87).

Policies must be defined with greater and greater specificity in order for the board to accept "any reasonable interpretation" of them by the CEO in his striving to achieve the Ends of the district. Policies are developed in four categories, Ends, Executive Limitations, Governance Process, and Board-Staff Linkage. They rest within what Carver terms "nested bowls." Starting with a large bowl, a more general policy, the board should seek increased definition and clarity, as it delineates more precise outcomes within an identified target. Several levels of specificity will probably be required, often four levels or more, in order for the board to find comfort in "any reasonable interpretation" by the CEO (Carver, John and Miriam, 9-10).

The purpose is to create as much understanding as possible on the part of the board and the CEO about exactly what will be expected from the CEO in accomplishing the Ends of the organization. Tied in with written monitoring reports from administration and careful attention to them by the board, the process is one which not only attempts to provide accurate reporting on progress of the CEO but also one which attempts to give the CEO the freedom to know he is acting with the blessings of the board (Carver, Boards That Make A Difference, 118).

The CEO in Carver’s model is held accountable by the board which is accountable to the public. As such, the CEO must undergo periodic evaluations by the board, besides having regular, written monitoring reports assessed by the board as to whether or not the CEO is adequately achieving the Ends established by the board. Specific criteria are developed on which to assess the CEO, and contingent upon results achieved, the board must make a determination whether or not the CEO’s performance is acceptable and whether or not to continue to employ his services (Carver, Boards That Make a Difference, 113-115).

Carver believes that having clearly established roles allows all participants to know exactly what is expected of them and allows for maximum efficiency and effectiveness of the organization. Board members should be able to rise to the challenges which present themselves under a Policy Governance model. Experiencing fulfillment through dealing with meaningful Ends development instead of wrangling over petty management issues, they should see their roles as significant in focusing on the welfare of students. District administration should feel empowered to act in ways to bring out their creative expertise, knowing exactly what expectations are required of them and to whom they are accountable. No longer should staff have to worry about individual board members looking over their shoulders and meddling in their work (Carver, Boards That Make a Difference, 115-119).

Carver recognizes that it is even more difficult for district boards of education than for other types of boards to make his model work because "district boards of education are in the public spotlight. They are politicians, often more interested in posturing than in doing a good job. They are often put on the spot and have little contact with the general public, the real owners, except at election time. The model can work. It applies, but boards have a difficult time getting away from poor practice" (Carver). Nevertheless, Carver contends that his model is universally applicable. District boards of education can rise to the challenge and revolutionize governance in public education.

Carver says that board members should be encouraged to strive for "transcendence" in their roles as servant-leaders, a quality that lifts them beyond the mundane of the traditional role and places them in positions of having tremendous influence. He recognizes that not all boards will succeed, but those who exercise the discipline which is required to make Policy Governance work, who are committed to its precepts, and who work diligently to apply them should experience much fulfillment and success. (Carver, "Transcending Ourselves," 6-10).

The discipline that is required to make Policy Governance work for district boards of education is not easy, but it can be achieved, if boards of education are committed to the implementation of the entire model. Carver makes it very clear that any modification or variation of the model that seeks to make it more user-friendly destroys the chance of the model working as intended. He uses the analogy of a watch and what would happen if one took out any small part, for every element is an essential part of the model (Carver). He encourages boards to use his model but only if they are committed to implementing it in its entirety. Failure in practice or implementation is not the fault of the model. Carver claims it can work (Carver, "Transcending Ourselves," 1-3).

Another area which changes tremendously in Policy Governance is the elimination of traditional standing committees which are usually composed of a portion of board members. These are no longer necessary, for the typical operations, curriculum, and finance committees, as examples, come under the purview of the district administration and the CEO. Boards might create committees for specified purposes, usually committees of the whole, and can include other individuals the board deems important in carrying out specified tasks, but the purpose is to assist the board, not the administration. This is just the opposite of traditional standing committees which have their hands not only in governance but also in administrative and management matters (Carver, Boards That Make A Difference, 145-155).

Carver supports the idea that a board of education is a team and must create a working relationship with the CEO that fosters maximum outcomes or results for the district. Only by supporting one another, developing healthy relationships, and focusing on meaningful work that is fulfilling for individual board members will a positive transformation take place which will make a board of education a functional entity, one which will be able to achieve its full potential as a governing body (Carver, Boards That Make a Difference, 118-119).

Marketing the Policy Governance Model

John Carver and his wife Miriam actively market Policy Governance directly around the world through various publications, materials, and personal appearances, and indirectly via consultants who have been trained through their Policy Governance Academy (Carver Governance Design, Inc.). Also, the International Policy Governance Association (IPGA), created in 1999, assists in actively promoting the model worldwide and holds a major, yearly conference (International Policy Governance Association).

John and Miriam Carver often work separately in the United States and Canada but work together as a team in other countries. The Policy Governance model is now used on five continents. Through various conferences, participants are introduced to Policy Governance and/or instructed in advanced sessions. Various books, tapes, and other materials are sold to further advance the model (Carver Governance Design, Inc.).

Since Policy Governance is a radical departure from what boards are used to, Carver and others believe that boards need to be thoroughly educated in the model, kept on track, and continually serviced in this radical restructuring of their roles. Carver had to know that he and his wife would not physically be able to accomplish this task. He needed help from many experts. In the mid-1990s, Dr. Carver created his Policy Governance Academy, an intensive five day training session for advanced participants. Limited to twenty-five, tuition is currently $4,500 per person. One has to demonstrate a level of expertise in the model and be personally accepted by Dr. Carver to be admitted to the program. Since its establishment, the Policy Governance Academy has trained hundreds, many who have started their own consulting firms and who actively promote the model, publications, and materials offered by themselves and the Carvers (Carver Governance Design, Inc.).

Carver does not require fees from the various consulting firms but he does insist that the integrity of his model not be compromised. He expects the model to be faithfully represented, if anyone chooses to advance its principles as Policy Governance. Those who graduate from the Policy Governance Academy are certified by Carver as qualified experts in the model and are free to market it as his trademarked Policy Governance model. The capitalization of Policy Governance, Ends, Executive Limitations, Means, Governance Process, and Board-Staff Linkage, including appropriate abbreviations, are indications that the model is Carver’s (Carver Governance Design, Inc.).

Prominent consultants who have been or are in the business of marketing the model in the United States include Brown Dog Consulting, operating out of Ontario, Canada. President of Brown Dog Consulting is Susan Mogensen, the current president of the International Policy Governance Association. Other prominent groups include the Elim Group out of Denton, Texas, Partners in Policy Governance in Michigan, Charney Associates in Denver, Colorado, Policy Governance Associates of the Pacific Northwest, Bailey Associate in Indiana, and the Broadbaker Group, Ltd., in Kansas City, Missouri. Jim Weigel, former board chairman of the Adams-12 School District in Colorado, is contracted by the Colorado School Boards Association and shares the model, along with other approaches, to interested boards (Fleuter). A number of Policy Governance consultants market the model to district boards of education in the United States, but the most prominent seems to be the Aspen Group International, LLC., centered in Castle Rock, Colorado, who have worked with a large number of district boards of education since its establishment in 1993. Extensive websites exist for these various consulting firms promoting Policy Governance. Newsletters, articles, and promotional materials proliferate.

Credentials of those marketing the model vary, but very few have any professional degrees in government, political science, or related areas with an emphasis on political theory, especially that of the American political experience. The vast majority hold degrees in education and business. A number hold degrees in economics and such fields as civil engineering, among numerous others. Susan Mogensen, President of the IPGA, holds a B. A. in political science from Carleton University in Canada (International Policy Governance Association).

Consultant fees vary. Dr. Carver currently charges $8400 plus expenses per day for not-for-profit organizations (Benson). Jim Weigel’s daily rate is $4000 (Weigel). The typical daily rate of the Aspen Group is currently $4500 per day but can vary dependent upon the desires and specific needs of the client (Aspen Group International, LLC.). The Aspen Group International’s "blitz," which entailed a weekend retreat to develop three sets of policies, another weekend retreat to develop a fourth set of policies, and time to provide all paperwork, servicing, and direction to the Lake Washington School Board of Redmond, Washington, was for $60,000 for a six month contract about five years ago (Hughes). A more recent contract within the last two years between the Aspen Group International and the Racine Unified School District in Wisconsin was for $110,000 for the first year. This included a few two-day workshops, paperwork, and servicing. The second year contract was for $48,000, which involved a few one-day workshops, paperwork, and servicing (Bangs). Bob Hughes served on the Lake Washington School Board and was very concerned with the $60,000 fee charged by the Aspen Group International. He thought there ought to be a better and cheaper way to service the model in the Pacific Northwest, so he teamed up with his partner Rick Maloney to create Policy Governance Associates of the Pacific Northwest. Mr. Hughes said that he could market the model for about $2000 a day (Hughes).

Another marketing device involves school law. Deborah Land, conducting extensive research on school boards for Johns Hopkins University, stated that several school board experts have called on states to push for legislation that would change the legal responsibilities of school boards (Land, 7). South Carolina attempted to do so recently.

The South Carolina Study Team on Local Leadership Quality and Engagement, appointed by the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee in late 1999, acting on the recommendations of Richard Goodman and William G. Zimmerman, Jr., in their 2000 publication Thinking Differently: Recommendations for 21st Century School Board/Superintendent Leadership, Governance and Teamwork for High Student Achievement, suggested that state laws be updated to codify the respective roles of superintendents and school boards to legislate principles consistent with Policy Governance (Study Team on Local Leadership Quality and Engagement, 20-22).

The team, which included Dr. Gerrita Postlewait, Superintendent of Horry County Schools, Dr. Herman Gaither, Superintendent of Beaufort County Schools, and Dr. Evelyn Berry, Executive Director of the South Carolina School Boards Association, among others (Study Team on Local Leadership Quality and Engagement, 6) stated that "South Carolina should provide support to those school board-superintendent teams who wish to explore a system of policy governance. The General Assembly should provide $100,000 annually for two years to fund a pilot program in several districts to determine the impact of using the model" (Study Team on Local Leadership Quality and Engagement, 21) and made this recommendation to the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee in October 2000 along with other recommendations consistent with Policy Governance, some of which included changes for school boards (Study Team on Local Leadership Quality and Engagement, 20-22).

Some members of the team were closely involved with Policy Governance implementation in South Carolina. Dr. Evelyn Berry addressed the Horry County School Board in July 1999 and stated that the South Carolina School Boards Association planned to support districts that were ready to rethink governance and that there were only a few school boards that were being given the opportunity to pilot Policy Governance (Horry County Board of Education, 07-19-1999 minutes). Dr. Herman Gaither transitioned the Beaufort County School District from a traditional governance system to a Policy Governance district in the year 2000 (Gaither). Dr. Gerrita Postlewait did the same for the Horry County School District (Timms). Horry and Beaufort are the only two districts in South Carolina to have experimented with Policy Governance (Krohne).

The team went on to call for legislation for school boards to "select, work with and evaluate the superintendent; adopt ‘students first’ goals, policies, and budgets; delegate to the superintendent the day-to-day administration of the school district; including student discipline and personnel matters; and evaluate their own leadership; governance and teamwork on behalf of children." In addition, superintendents would "serve as the chief executive officer to the school board, including recommending all policies and the annual budget; support the school board by providing good information for decision-making; provide continuous leadership to ensure the board policies and responsibilities of the board-superintendent team are addressed each day; oversee the educational program (curriculum, instruction, co-curricula, instructional materials, etc.); serve as the final authority for the hiring, assignment and dismissal of all employees" (Study Team on Local Leadership Quality and Engagement, 20).

Other recommendations consistent with Policy Governance and based on Goodman’s and Zimmerman’s publication were made for the board-superintendent team, as well as a timeline for implementation (Study Team on Local Leadership Quality and Engagement, 20-22).

The South Carolina Education Oversight Committee accepted the study team’s recommendations and included them in their 2001 Annual Report (South Carolina Education Oversight Committee, 33). "For more effective leadership and efficient use of time, the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee recommended that all South Carolina school boards move to Policy Governance" (Beaufort County School District, Annual Report, 2001-2002, 13).

Consistent with recommendations by the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee, House Bill 3275 was introduced on January 14, 2003, by Representatives Townshend and Clark, calling for the State Department of Education to "establish a two-year pilot program to support three school board-superintendent teams to explore a system of policy governance. The pilot program shall include an evaluation component to determine the impact of the policy governance model on the districts that participate in the pilot program. To provide for this pilot program, there is appropriated from the general fund of the State to the State Department of Education the sum of one hundred thousand dollars in each of fiscal years 2003-2004 and 2004-2005." This joint resolution was supposed to take effect upon approval by the Governor, but legislative action was unsuccessful in this bill becoming law (Townshend). Nevertheless, efforts to put Policy Governance into effect in local districts are coming from many directions.

Deborah Land states, "Refocusing school boards on policymaking and oversight and restraining them from administration also are fundamental aspects of two educational governance models proposed by the Education Commission of the States (1999), John Carver’s policy governance model, and reforms proposed by Goodman and Zimmerman (2000) to raise students’ achievement" (Land, 10-11).

The Education Commission of the States (ECS) is centered in Denver, Colorado, and receives substantial funding from numerous foundations, the national government, the states, contracts, and many corporate enterprises which include Pearson Education Publishing, the College Board, Educational Testing Service (ETS), PBS, and Microsoft, among others. The purpose of the ECS is to collect data and information from around the country and to offer its various services to educational interests. ECS is also supported by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) (Education Commission of the States), itself an influential organization through its major journal.

Land’s identification of ECS as an organization proposing Carver’s Policy Governance model for considered use by district boards of education must be understood in conjunction with massive amounts of private and public monies that are either directly or indirectly marketing the model. Other prominent forces have been at work to change the roles of boards and superintendents. One of the more influential efforts has been advanced by Phillip Schlechty.

In 1997 the Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform (CLSR) partnered with The BellSouth Foundation, the charitable arm of the BellSouth Corporation, to support reform-minded superintendents in the Southeast by creating the Superintendents Leadership Network (SLN) (CLSR, "Superintendents Leading Change," 3). Their 2001 publication of "Superintendents Leading Change" supports principles consistent with Policy Governance. Dr. Gerrita Postlewait, Superintendent of Horry County Schools, one of only two districts in the state of South Carolina to begin their experiments with Policy Governance in 2000, was one of 32 active members of the network at the time of this publication (CLSR, "Superintendents Leading Change," 34).

Founder of the CSLR, Phillip Schlechty, states, "The present system of governance does not promote the conditions necessary to revitalize and reinvent the schools of America. Just as schools must be reinvented if they are to serve the nation well, so too must the system by which they are governed, (CLSR, "Superintendents Leading Change," 15). The center discovered that superintendents were so busy with meetings of the board, workshops, and committee meetings that it was difficult for them to focus on leading the system. Superintendents in the network agreed that a transformation was needed, and the first step was to better understand the interests and needs of individual board members. They believed they needed to be more attentive to creating work that was more meaningful for board members, work that was more externally focused, had value, and was driven by purpose, work that was more responsive to the community and what was best for students, rather than work that was reactive, more internally focused on management issues, and driven by constituent interests (CLSR, "Superintendents Leading Change," 16).

The purpose in this governance change was to empower superintendents to be the leaders of change within school districts, in part to gain more authority to act. The center clearly outlined this in a chart comparing the current structure of boards of education to one which has a new focus on superintendents leading boards (CLSR, "Superintendents Leading Change," 17).

Carver’s influence on the CSLR and the SLN is tremendous. His work is referred to often. The Schelchty Center and the Superintendents Leadership Network both support the principle of sanctions by boards of education for board members who violate established norms of behavior for board members. They state:

The superintendent can create dialogue with the board around norms, rules, roles, relationships, and the degree to which the board honors them. These operating norms, if followed, would result in trust and mutual respect between and among the board, superintendent and staff. They would describe how the board does its business; how the board sees its role, how decisions are made, how members treat one another as well as staff. School board meetings, agendas, discussions, and decisions would reflect shared understandings of and commitment to these beliefs and vision.
These norms would also address how the board sanctions its own members who violate board approved operating norms. Often the errant behavior of a single board member defines for the community the image of the entire board. Norms would also be used by the board for inducting new board members as well as educating the community about how the board does business in the common interest of its citizens. (CLSR, "Engaging the Board," 9-10).

In 2001 the Superintendents Leadership Network made the decision that what was good for them also must be good for all and actively sought to inform other leaders in the region and around the country about what they were thinking and doing (CLSR, "Superintendents Leading Change," 3). This major initiative, supported by the BellSouth Foundation, is one of many similar efforts by other organizations around the country which seek to advance the reform of school governance, particularly in the direction of Carver and/or similar philosophies.

One institution which is highly supportive and influential in calling for superintendents or CEOs to be leaders of change and for a systemic reorientation is often given very little public thought - the university. Preparation programs for administration have shifted tremendously from the management angle to the transformation of organizational culture. Community-based planning and the development of collaborative relationships are thrusting superintendents (CEOs) into some very highly visible roles. Dr. William Price, a former superintendent in Michigan, believes that all of this has contributed to a confusion of roles. Believing that Policy Governance has played a major role, he does not believe that this corporate model fits the political exigencies of school district governance. Having questioned several highly successful superintendents on this issue, Price stated, "While most agreed that such a separation of roles would make their jobs much easier, most also agreed that such a clear role definition was probably not realistic in their districts" (Price, 1-3).

Another major influence has been that of the National School Boards Association (NSBA). Ever since the late 1990s, the NSBA has supported efforts to promote either Policy Governance or similar philosophies which stress the policy-making role of boards and their need to focus on results rather than micromanagement. The National School Boards Foundation (NSBF) is the right arm of the NSBA. In 2001 it sponsored a project to evaluate the value of data and how it should be used by boards of education in focusing on their accountability roles as policy-making organizations. Supported by a grant from the Office of Educational Improvement of the United States Department of Education, the NSBF developed a paper entitled "Improving School Board Decision-Making: The Data Connection." A major consultant for this work and also the project manager was Linda Dawson (National School Boards Foundation, 5, 92), at the time an active agent of the Aspen Group International.

Carver’s Policy Governance model benefits from marketing devices both ideological and commercial, directly and indirectly, and from the involvement of numerous individuals and organizations who have bought into his revolutionary model’s principles and who work to promote its precepts.
Perspectives on the Practice of Policy Governance

Policy Governance is practiced, at least in name, in less than 1% of the school districts nationwide. This estimate is based on e-mail responses from eighteen of the nation’s state school boards associations, personal interviews with numerous board members, consultants, school boards associations, and others who have an interest in Policy Governance, an extensive review of the literature available, and a massive examination of websites. The number is a dynamic one, changing as districts move to and away from the model. The percentage would be exceptionally small, if one were to identify those districts which practice the model as envisioned by Carver, since the vast majority do not do so in one or more areas.

Colorado currently has more districts experimenting with the model than any other state, roughly thirty in a state with 178 school districts (Fleuter). Wisconsin has about ten of its 426 districts at some level of development (Bird). Minnesota has a number, not at present reliable but not significantly high. Besides these three states, a few have a number somewhere between five and ten, particularly states in the Northwest such as Oregon (McKenzie), Washington (Hughes) and Wyoming (Higdon). Many have less than five and a number have none at all.

What is happening with the practice of the model in the United States? This question will be examined from the various perspectives of those involved with a score of districts across the country which have experienced or are experiencing successes and failures of implementation. Since data are inconclusive as to whether or not board governance systems contribute to student success, anecdotal evidence and personal commentary on Policy Governance in practice should give us some insight into the pros and cons of the model.

Randy Quinn and Linda Dawson worked as executives with the Colorado School Boards Association when in 1993 they discovered the Carver Policy Governance model as having tremendous promise for helping boards overcome many problems they had encountered. That same year they combined forces to become one of the more well-known consulting firms to service school boards - the Aspen Group International. Quinn and Dawson saw twelve Colorado boards make the move to Policy Governance within their firm’s first three years and believed the results were very impressive (Quinn, 3). Since Colorado has the highest number of Policy Governance districts, we will begin our observations of current practice around the country in the Centennial State.


Jefferson County Schools

Jefferson County Schools in Colorado, well-known for the Littleton incident, is the largest district in the state and serves over 84,000 students in about 150 schools. The district adopted Policy Governance in June 2000. The current president of the board of education is Jane Barnes. Barnes said that when she became a board member about four years ago that she did not like Policy Governance and did not think that it was working. As late as last year, she indicated that four of the six board members opposed the model. Many problems were being experienced, especially with the formality of the model, monitoring, and the inability of audiences to grasp the Policy Governance concept and language. Barnes believes that many recent problems were left over from the previous administration which had led the district to Policy Governance, particularly with respect to finances. She said that the district had since created two standing committees, financial and capital oversight, to address monetary concerns. These committees are made up of professionals from the community who report directly to the board. Meeting once a month, in unpaid roles, Barnes claims that these professionals give the board expertise in areas the board does not have and play significant roles in helping make the district more transparent for those who demand greater oversight responsibilities from the board in a Policy Governance district. She also said that since the board has been working with a master facilitator in Policy Governance, Jim Weigel, that all who were largely opposed to the model have made a commitment to make the model work. She has great confidence in their new directions (Barnes).

Douglas County Schools

Douglas County Schools in Colorado is the third largest in the state and serves over 50,000 students. The president of the Douglas County School Board is Timothy White. White says that he sits on many boards and that he believes Policy Governance is the best model. He did say, however, that he was frustrated with the learning curve for new members because of term limits in the district. White said that it takes new members so long to catch on to the intricacies of the model, and, by the time progress is made, they are gone. He also indicated that the board struggled with monitoring reports but that Jim Weigel had been very helpful as a consultant in keeping the board out of the Means (White).

John Carson, a member of the board and an attorney, said that he believed Policy Governance contributed to board members’ abdication of responsibilities to constituents and that what concerned him the most were the Means, not the Ends. He said he was having much difficulty with the board because he thought board members were very reluctant to set Executive Limitations to keep the superintendent’s authority in check. Carson went on to say that despite being clearly in the minority on his board, that he believed the model was anti-democratic and stifled free speech as a result of the one voice principle of the Carver model (Carson).

Scott Campbell, another board member, said that he is sympathetic towards the model because his father was a superintendent who continually struggled with board interference of what he thought should be his responsibilities. Campbell did say, however, that he was open to questioning the model and its effectiveness (Campbell).

Adams 12 Five Star Schools

Adams 12 Five Star Schools in Colorado, another very large school district in the state of Colorado, serving over 37,000 students, adopted Policy Governance in September 2000. Jim Weigel, board president at the time and a graduate of Carver’s Policy Governance Academy, was a proponent of Policy Governance. Weigel brought in Miriam Carver from Atlanta who has been the consultant for the board to the present. William Jones, board member of eight years, said he was part of the transition from traditional governance to Policy Governance. Jones revealed that Adams 12 has had no major problems since he has been on the board, either under traditional governance or Policy Governance, until very recently. He is concerned that one board member who has what he calls "personal agendas" is going to the superintendent for this and that. Jones believes that if this does not change soon, the board might have to act against him in some way that might be a violation of his first amendment rights. He said he recognizes the tension between Policy Governance and this board member’s actions. Jones stated that if the situation were to go as far as a lawsuit that he was afraid the board would lose in court. Nevertheless, he believes the board should continue with the team approach and the one voice principle because he thinks they keep the board together in accomplishing the goals of the district, something he claims is a better deal for students. Jones went on to say that a board must be very careful not to give up too much to the superintendent under Policy Governance, for it is easy to give away authority and hard to get it back. As far as monitoring what goes on in the district is concerned, he said the board must stay in touch with the community, for "administration always tells you what it wants you to hear in monitoring reports" (Jones).

Durango School District 9-R

Durango School District 9-R in Colorado, serving over 5,000 students, adopted Policy Governance in 1998. Over the years, there has been much upheaval, especially in the period 2002-2005, as revealed in numerous newspaper articles. Chris Paulson, an attorney, was elected to the board in November 2001 and was quite outspoken in her opposition on various issues. The board’s Governance Policy Commission accused her of criticizing other board members and the superintendent, clear violations of board policies reflective of John Carver’s philosophy. Bill Roberts, editorial page editor, took serious issue with this and Policy Governance and concluded, "Is Chris Paulsen a good school board member? I don’t know. It seems a bit early to tell. But any public official whose first instinct is to speak up has potential. And I’m quite sure I never voted for John Carver" (Roberts).

Much unrest continued in the community for some time. In the words of Norm Gotlieb, a member of Durango High School’s Parent Advisory Committee, "Having sat at quite a few of these meetings, it is evident that healthy, productive disagreements about broad and legitimate educational issues cannot be fairly handled in this setting" (Howell).

Kristi Rodri, Executive Assistant of the Superintendent, acknowledged that there have been some very vocal groups and individuals opposed to Policy Governance. She said that after a recent election and the addition of four new members who were initially opposed to Policy Governance that it seems the board is willing to give the model new life. Rodri related that a recent retreat with the Aspen Group International has resulted in the board’s commitment to work with the model, stating that wording of policies had changed to be much more positive (Rodri). She was referring to the Aspen Group’s Coherent Governance model which is quite similar to Carver’s Policy Governance. The Aspen Group International markets the Policy Governance model, but it also markets its very own Coherent Governance model (The Aspen Group International, LLC.).

The Aspen Group states, "Our experience has proved to us that school boards face issues and challenges that make them different from other types of boards in some important ways. They face fierce community scrutiny, legislative mandates, comparatively frequent leadership turnover, complex student needs, uncertain funding, and inadequate training. They deal with instructional issues, discipline issues, and staffing issues that are more complex than those faced by most other boards"(The Aspen Group International, LLC.).

The Aspen Group International says the model is more "user friendly" for school boards, something Carver frowns upon (Carver). "For the most part," Policy Governance is "fully intact and ‘pure.’ The only part that has been adapted for school boards is the Executive Limitations section, which is where we believe adaptation is required in order to meet the unique challenges facing school boards." The double-negative language of the Carver model has been removed. What the Policy Governance model calls Executive Limitations, the Coherent Governance model calls Operational Expectations and has "do this" and "don’t do this" language about what is expected of the superintendent (The Aspen Group International, LLC.).


Moving on to another state with marginal, double-digit experience with Policy Governance, Wisconsin has created a Policy Governance network of schools to share their ideas. It recently met in Milwaukee on January 17, 2007. Facilitated by Genie Jennings and Trish O’Neil, board presidents of the school districts of Chetek and Columbus respectively, the districts shared a variety of ideas. Due to the uniqueness of this effort, the verbatim document is presented in Appendix A.

Racine Unified School District

Racine Unified School District in Wisconsin is a suburban/urban school district south of Milwaukee and serves a demographically diverse population and some 21,000 students. Having practiced Policy Governance less than two years, Racine has seen much turmoil. Troubles began for reform-minded Superintendent Hicks over what many thought was the inappropriate closing of a popular school in early 2005 and have continued after the adoption of Policy Governance. The board’s scrutiny of contracts signed by Hicks and district payments to vendors have been compromised since early 2006. An external investigation is on-going concerning a recent relationship with a private firm which operates Racine’s financial office. The firm is scheduled to receive $1.3 million commission for savings it projects over the next several years. Board member Brian Dey is concerned because his constituents inquire as to what is going on, and under Policy Governance it is difficult for him to know. He has to tell them that he does not know, placing him in an awkward position (McClain). Dey later lamented, "Our Policy Governance consultants are blasting me for telling you the truth. Don’t you just love PG?" (Killackey).

Board member Randall Bangs expressed a variety of concerns. He stated that board-superintendent relations have been very bad. Bangs also believes that the board has had serious problems with Policy Governance because it does not fully understand the concept of accountability, and there have been many problems with transition from traditional governance. In addition, Bangs said semantics get in the way of effective implementation. "What do all the words mean?" Bangs emphasized, "If you don’t understand words, you better stay away from Policy Governance." Bangs also said that monitoring and oversight were serious issues but that he was most concerned with various free speech concerns (Bangs).

Bangs was especially upset that the Aspen Group "consistently hounded board members on speaking with one voice and not to model themselves on the government." As an example of his concern, he shared an e-mail from Linda Dawson of the Aspen Group International that was sent to the board as a follow-up to a recent retreat. Dawson writes, "We have seriously advised the board to consider how to move forward in achieving its work given the inability to reach unanimity on compliance with your own GP policies and BCR policies" (Dawson). Along with this e-mail, Bangs included an attachment from the Aspen Group International which included the following:

The board failed to reach agreement among the members to comply with provisions of its own GP policies governing individual member behavior, even though acknowledging that failure to commit to improvement would disallow the building of trust and communication.
One member specifically refused to commit to keeping confidences shared in executive session, refused to commit to sharing information with board members prior to talking to the newspaper, and refused to respect majority decisions.
The majority of the board must now consider the consequences of those refusals to comply with the board’s own policies. It must now decide how it chooses to conduct its business in addressing the critical and pressing leadership issues facing the board and district (Bangs).

Bangs said he was particularly disturbed by all of this and believed the Aspen Group misrepresented the position of the unnamed member to the board. He stated that when asked questions by the press that there is neither the time nor the convenience of running responses by the board before sharing opinions. Bangs stressed that constituents expect answers, and board members have a right to respond publicly to their concerns, even if it means taking a stance different from the board’s position. He does not consider this to be disrespectful of majority decisions, contentious, or improper in any way. Bangs believes this is his duty and responsibility as a representative (Bangs).
In addition, Bangs stated that he took serious issue with what he thought was a noncompetitive bid in the renewal of the Aspen Group’s contract. The $48,000 second year contract was down from the first year’s $110,000, but he thought that there might be other ways to service the model, a suggestion that the board was not willing to entertain (Bangs).

Vice-President of the board, Sue Kutz, says she believes Policy Governance has the potential of being a great model, if people have like-minded values and goals. She further indicated that communications suffered in the Racine Unified School District because of internal politics and the reluctance of many to expose too much as a result of a very active newspaper which focused on negative relations within the school district. Also, Kutz believes that Racine’s policy on board speech does not deny freedom of speech by a board member who speaks for himself and not the board (Kutz).

La Crosse School District

La Crosse School District in Wisconsin serves over 7,000 students and has used Policy Governance for about seven years. In April 2003 board member Neil Duresky wrote an article about Policy Governance that criticized the board’s micromanagement which he experienced under traditional governance beginning in 1992. He stated, "We had extensive debate over ‘critical’ education issues, such as whether or not to use composition material or natural wood for a gymnasium floor and the need for soccer field lights." He said that he and other board members realized the benefits of focusing on student achievement issues and effective governance after attending a Wisconsin Association of School Boards’ conference in January 2000. After two more board meetings, they decided to adopt the Carver model and hire the Aspen Group International to guide them through the process (Duresky, 44).

Shortly thereafter the district had a new superintendent and many new board members, was going through major capital improvements, and because of the learning curve for new members to be brought up to speed on Policy Governance, many did not think the board could adequately juggle the various demands of the job. Vocal opposition by one board member to a bond referendum and related discourse contributed to the board’s president stating that the board seemed to be dysfunctional and not using Policy Governance (Mercer).

The board did not resort to censure, but two first amendment scholars stated that the board could have run into problems if it had. David Hudson, an attorney who conducts research for the First Amendment Center in Nashville, Tennessee, stated that if the board tries to use its policies to limit free speech through censure, it will run into some first amendment hurdles which are insurmountable. He stated, "The board policy may be more efficient, but the first amendment should not be sacrificed on the altar of unanimity" (Mercer).

Anastasia Mercer covered education for the La Crosse Tribune and wrote numerous articles about Policy Governance in the district. She said that the board did not want individual board members talking to the press and initiated creative ways to keep her from getting all the information she needed to accurately report what was going on (Mercer).

Randy Quinn of the Aspen Group encouraged the individual board member to set aside his public opposition to the board, but he refused. Even Duresky stated that there was no legal precedent for impinging on one’s free speech (Mercer). Since that time, Duresky says things have settled down quite a lot, and Policy Governance seems to be working for La Crosse. He did say that the individual board member, Lambeth, was not re-elected after all the chaos and shortly thereafter suffered a stroke. Duresky says he is still a believer in the model and believes it has much merit (Duresky).

De Forest School District

De Forest School District in Wisconsin, serving approximately 3,200 students, adopted Policy Governance about eight years ago. Janis Berg is its current board president. She has been serving on the board for about ten years. Berg said that the board was tired of long meetings under traditional governance, sometimes going to one or two o’clock in the morning. She stated that the board was aware that technical colleges had been using the Policy Governance model. In addition, Berg indicated that the board members were tired of not knowing their job. According to Berg, the move to Policy Governance was a good one, for De Forest has experienced few problems and little opposition to its work. Berg qualified her remarks by saying that De Forest was probably using an impure Carver model, for they had modified the monitoring reporting process, stating that it was not as coherent or rigid as Carver’s, more organic in nature. She said that there was little dissension on the board and most things move smoothly. Asked whether or not she viewed the model as easier, Berg said, "I wouldn’t say it is easier, but it is different" (Berg).

Chetek School District

Chetek School District in Wisconsin serves approximately 1000 students. Chetek adopted Policy Governance in 2001. Board president Genie Jennings has served for about thirteen years in a town which has shrinking revenues and a dwindling student population. Jennings said that the former president was philosophically interested in the Carver model and the board "begged, borrowed, and stole" ideas from others, especially La Crosse, and used the Aspen Group a little. Mostly, however, they were on their own in developing the model. Money, she said, is tight in the district. Jennings also related that it is difficult to get board members to make the time commitment to devote to making things work the way they should. As such, she stated that Chetek was really struggling with monitoring and sticking to the structure of the model. Nevertheless, she likes the discipline and visionary parts of Policy Governance and the placing of the Means into the hands of professionals. Despite the fact that understanding and utilizing the model fully is difficult, Jennings believes the district benefits from the model and that they are "making a go of it" (Jennings).


The Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA) issued a document in February 2001 entitled "Timely Topics" in which it indicated, "A number of boards, including MSBA’s Board of Directors, are turning to John Carver’s model of Policy Governance to make them more effective and free them to focus on the ‘meat’ of their jobs: student achievement...even boards unwilling to adopt the model in its entirety may find much value in the ideas of Policy Governance as it gains momentum in organizations across the country" (Minnesota School Boards Association).

According to Barb Lynn, Executive Assistant of the MSBA, the board of directors found the Policy Governance model too difficult to understand and implement, did not like it, and ended its use after about one year (Lynn).

Eden Prairie School District

Eden Prairie School District in Minnesota is a suburban area on the southwest side of Minneapolis which serves over 10,000 students. It adopted Policy Governance on July 1, 2007, according to board member Jim Mortenson. He said that Eden Prairie and the Minnetonka School District joined forces in 2006 to finance a retreat to hear a presentation on Policy Governance by the Aspen Group International. Mortenson said that he sensed that the board was fully behind the move. He thought that it was a combination of influence from the National School Boards Association and board members networking, including connections to the Aspen Group, which spurred Eden Prairie to investigate the model (Mortenson).

Minnetonka Independent School District # 276

Minnetonka Independent School District # 276 in Minnesota is home to about 7,700 students and encompasses ten communities in the Minneapolis region. Unlike its sister district, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka chose not to adopt Policy Governance after hearing the Aspen Group International. Cathy Maes serves on the board as treasurer. She said that the board decided that what the Aspen Group had to offer was not something the board thought would meet its needs and was not so certain that they were particularly concerned with them. Maes said that she thought they were getting a canned package that would not allow the kind of flexibility she believes a board of education needs. She used the analogy of a baseball team playing a game, saying, "You always have to be ready for anything, for you don’t know what is going to happen next." In addition, Maes said she also works as a political lobbyist and is very concerned with the political dynamics of education, citing the reality of board turnovers and what she sensed would be a "huge learning curve" for new members if the new Policy Governance model had been adopted (Maes).


Austin Independent School District

Austin Independent School District in Texas serves over 82,000 students and has been a Policy Governance district since 2003. Mark Williams has been the president of the school board for the last three years. He calls Austin a "hybrid district," indicating use of pieces of Policy Governance. He believes that "if people buy in, it works," recognizing that there is "no perfect model." Williams stated that one huge problem is transition. After the last election, he said that four strong Policy Governance advocates left the board and four new members came in who did not understand how things worked under Policy Governance. Bringing them up to speed and trying to maintain the work of the district at the same time was a real challenge. Williams said that he was not sure if Policy Governance was efficient, as claimed, and admits the difficulty that school boards face working with the model. He does believe that constituent services can be rendered within the model’s structure, though he recognizes the tension that exists in constituents wanting board members attention on the Means. As far as the hybrid nature of the district is concerned, Williams stated that Austin had trouble with monitoring reports and hired an outside firm, the Gibson Group, to come in to help the board with the "how" of overseeing them. They want to know if they are making reasonable progress and what they should be measuring exactly. He said that they had created a separate bond committee comprised of various citizens to help with particular concerns, and that they were not yet satisfied with operational efficiency. Williams said that the district had used the Aspen Group International in the past for servicing but that they had not done so for about a year and a half. Of the nine members, Williams said that two believe that Policy Governance seriously restricts the board. He believes, however, since he sits on several boards, that Policy Governance is a good model. Williams especially likes its orientation toward goals (Williams).

Dallas Independent School District

Dallas Independent School District (DISD) in Texas, twelfth largest in the nation and serving over 160,000 students, adopted Policy Governance in 2000. John Carver initially introduced Policy Governance to the district and worked with it in the early stages. Carver’s introductory training session was funded by the business community, and five separate training sessions were funded by the Dallas Independent School District at a cost of $89,801 (Texas School Performance Review, June 2001). Mike Conduff of the Elim Group was its consultant for about a year and a half following early implementation and said that Dallas experienced many problems and much community unrest (Conduff). Dr. Carver stated that Dallas struggled with the model (Carver). It is perhaps fair to say that Dallas was never a Policy Governance district in practice. Nevertheless, its language and attempt at usage merit review.

The Texas School Performance Review (TSPR) of the Dallas Independent School District in June of 2001 includes the following excerpts: "Some board members told TSPR that continuing-education training has been more than adequate, but not well attended. Some board members said that some of their colleagues routinely do not attend targeted training sessions - especially the John Carver Policy Governance training. Board members who did not attend the sessions told TSPR that John Carver publicly criticized the board, and they felt this was inappropriate" (Texas School Performance Review). Since current marketing of the Policy Governance model discourages the use of permanent standing committees of board members, with the exception of the committee of the whole, the entire findings of TSPR concerning the Dallas Independent School District are included in Appendix B.

Board member Hollis Brashear, former DISD board president, said that what bothered him was the amount of authority given to the superintendent under Policy Governance and Carver’s insistence on putting a lot of trust and faith in administration. He also questioned whether Policy Governance was right for school districts because it does not take into account political considerations faced by boards of education. Since Policy Governance was used more in private organizations, Brashear said that the changing climate produced by elections which produce dramatic changes had negative effects on Carver’s model (Natale, 32). Dallas has most definitely had its share of political and community turmoil.


Clark County School District

Clark County School District in Nevada, with Las Vegas at its core, serves more than 300,000 students and is the fifth largest school district in the United States. The district adopted Policy Governance in 2001. Board member Sheila Moulton is sold on Policy Governance and believes that it works well. She said that the district is perhaps not a pure Carver model and noted that Carver himself seemed to have changed somewhat since their move to Policy Governance, recognizing the unique characteristics of school boards. At first, Moulton said that Carver insisted on total compliance with the model but later allowed some flexibility, believing that he sensed the board’s sincere commitment to the model and appreciated their work. She also cited the example of his support of the board’s dealing with some subordinates of the superintendent, something generally considered taboo under Policy Governance (Moulton).

Although Linkages were not at the level she hoped, Moulton thought that the community was very supportive of the board’s governance system, noting little opposition at board meetings. Moulton said that the district received a grant of $250,000 from the Broad Foundation in 2002 and 2003 for the board to use towards better Linkage and professional development (Moulton).

As far as consultants are concerned, Moulton stated that in addition to the Carvers that the board had used the Aspen Group International two or three times but that they had no regular consultant. Of all the consultants, she said she found Carver the most helpful (Moulton).

The greatest concern Moulton expressed is that the board struggles with monitoring. She believes the board is getting better at it. Since the district commands a $1.8 billion dollar budget, Moulton believes that the board must work together as a team to meet the needs of students. A huge bond referendum and building program will help provide for many new buildings and the updating of others, including the purchase of computers with building funds, something that Moulton believes will help the district achieve its goals under Policy Governance. Her excitement and enthusiasm for Policy Governance were clearly evident throughout the interview (Moulton).


Iowa City Community School Board

Iowa City Community School Board, serving some 11,000 students, adopted Policy Governance in 1999. President of the board, Tony Cilek, said that they "have had a long time to work out the kinks in Policy Governance" and that the model seems to be working well. She said that they do not use any consultants because one of their members, Gayle Klouda, holds a doctorate degree in psychology, is retired, spends time studying the model, and guides them through it. Cilek likes the clarification of roles that Policy Governance stresses and believes that it has been a very good model for the district, although she admits, "None of us are experts." Cilek recognized the need to be accountable to the community, especially with a $100 million sales tax initiative, but noted that it was sometimes difficult to know how to monitor Executive Limitations appropriately, stressing complete confidence in the district’s superintendent who is very responsible and in touch with the community (Cilek).

Gayle Klouda stated that the board did not have a "perfect adaptation" of Policy Governance but was "making a real attempt to stay true to the model." She said that the model was "easy to translate for a company but not well articulated for our kind of board," one that was "beholden to the public." Klouda indicated that they probably "disembark from the true model in the area of public input." Citing an insufficient number of Linkage meetings, Klouda believes that Carver does not adequately address how to deal with the community in an elected board setting. She referred to political and constituent concerns and wondered if the model "might not be right for an elected board." In addition, Klouda said she did not think the board was critical enough of monitoring reports and did not think it was getting all the information it needed to make good decisions. Meeting only twice a month, she said that there was "not enough time to dive into the reports" (Klouda).


Columbus County School District
Columbus County School District, largest in the state of Ohio, serves approximately 60,000 students. The district just recently put Policy Governance into effect in January 2007. Dr. Terry Boyd is the president of the Board. As a faculty member at Franklin University, he taught a graduate level course in nonprofit management and used one of Carver’s books as a textbook. He said he had been encouraged to run for the school board and decided to push for the adoption of Carver’s Policy Governance model, seeing in it tremendous potential for aligning responsibilities of the board and administration. Boyd stated that a member of the board was familiar with the Aspen Group International, and the board decided to use them for preliminary training. He said they employed the Aspen Group for training that lasted from August-November 2006. Boyd said he thought the Aspen Group highly favored viewing governance from a superintendent’s perspective and that was "a little unsettling." From Boyd’s perspective, he says he believes that adaptations are needed to the model, and he plans to investigate other models, when time allows. He said that he had done some work with the National School Boards Association in the training of other boards and promoting the idea that a board needs to have some model with which to work. Boyd said that Carver’s was the most familiar, the one he used in the teaching of his class, and thought it should be the one to model the district on after his election (Boyd).


Lake Washington School District

Lake Washington School District, the east side of the Seattle metropolitan area, serves about 24,000 students and adopted Policy Governance about five years ago. Superintendent Don Sauls, familiar with Policy Governance back in Colorado, wanted to consider it for Lake Washington. He had the Aspen Group International come in for a two-day retreat. According to Bob Hughes, board member at the time, he heard a sales pitch that he did not get. He said he heard all the words but wondered what would be different under Policy Governance at the next board meeting. Hughes said that the superintendent was wanting the board to decide whether or not to install the model but that they would need to commit to a six-month contract with the Aspen Group for $60,000. Hughes thought the figure to be outrageous. He said the board felt the same way and gave a resounding "No!" to the idea (Hughes).

Then, Hughes said that two local companies, which he was not at liberty to name, offered $20,000 each, if the board would match the amount for the experiment to go forward. He said the board thought about and discussed it, the fact that the superintendent wanted it, weighed it against the board’s $20,000 portion, and decided to make the commitment to go through what the Aspen Group called the "blitz." The first step was to spend a weekend developing three of four sets of board policies, all except the Ends set which was reserved for another weekend about a month later. After going through the blitz, Hughes said he thought "they had done a fairly credible job." He said that there was an interesting "focus on what a student would look like in the year 2020." Nevertheless, he said he thought about all the activities and realized why he initially did not get it. Hughes said it was because the consultants never handed out a complete set of policies. He said he went on-line and found about ten other districts who had published their entire policies. Able to read them all in about thirty minutes, he said he had an "aha moment." He saw that Policy Governance was potentially a good thing for boards to clearly understand their boundaries, to be able to point out when someone was out of line, and could see good reason for implementation. However, sitting through four lengthy presentations, having been given insufficient materials, he thought there had to be a better way for boards to move to Policy Governance. It was his belief that the consultants had "hidden" the answers to "pump up the price." The last thing they wanted to do was give it all away by handing out the policies (Hughes).

Because of his conviction, he and his friend Rick Maloney, another board chair who helped with the implementation in another district at the same time, teamed up to create Policy Governance Associates of the Pacific Northwest. By buying books and developing policies from them, he said they were able to market the model for only about $2000 a day. He stated that he has presented at state conferences and could give a perspective not offered by most consultants who have never used the model as a board member (Hughes).

Hughes stated that the Lake Washington School District was not in a bad situation at the time Policy Governance was implemented but that the board wanted to try to better itself through a more disciplined approach. As a twenty-nine year member of the board, he said he had seen it all, seven or eight board turnovers, many "kooks," "some well-intended people," "some who acted like they were running the district," and, in general, "watched incompetent boards function." He said that the board improved with Policy Governance, even becoming "Board of the Year" for the state of Washington (Hughes).

Bob Hughes went through Carver’s Policy Governance Academy and was up for reelection at the same time. He said that during the day that he would listen to Carver lecture for 8-10 hours and then at night go back to his hotel room where he would have to respond to constituent concerns about Means issues, ones which he was not supposed to specifically respond to because they were not in his jurisdiction. He would go back to class the next day and raise these kinds of practical political issues with Carver. Hughes said he could sense Carver’s exasperation after about three days of incessant questions and concerns, to which Carver admitted that his model was not easy with elected boards (Hughes).

Hughes worked under the Carver model for about four years. His last six months as a board member were "dysfunctional," and, in his words, "havoc reigned," due to a particular issue that he did not illuminate. He said the period was very chaotic, and the last year or so has been the same. Hughes said that he was aware of a current situation on the Lake Washington board in which some members were discussing issues openly, taking arguments public, using e-mail and other devices in a rabble-rousing fashion, and trying to get people unseated, in general operating more on a legislative or governmental model than on the Carver model. He stated that two members of the board were now suing other members and trying to create public turmoil through sabotage. In his view, Carver’s model is more of a corporate one that through its actions makes financial decisions in a more efficient manner. The legislative or governmental model tends to devote itself to more personal interests and lends itself to inefficiency. He went on to say, however, that he tries to work with boards and stay true to the model, realizing that boards have a public role to play, especially "learning to keep their mouths shut" (Hughes).

Hughes stated that he could not be sure if Policy Governance had any influence on the advancement of technology in the schools but that he was aware of building funds being used to purchase computers. He said that there had been an attorney-general decision in the state of Washington that building funds most definitely could not be used for computers but that a court decision had overturned it. Hughes did indicate that he had an expertise in technology, having worked for thirty-one years for the Boeing Corporation as the Corporate Director of Education Relations, General Manager of Programming Services, and General Manager of Professional Software Products. He said he made a speech about technology in the schools at a National School Boards Association conference which was heard by Dr. Gerrita Postlewait, superintendent of Horry County Schools in South Carolina. Hughes said he received an invitation to make a presentation to the district about five years ago "to pump up use of technology in the schools." He said that Boeing paid him to do this because Boeing was very interested in advancing the use of technology in education. Hughes said that Boeing had been IBM’s number one customer. Making sure students were trained in the use of computers was essential for Boeing to have workers to do the kind of jobs they were offering. He said that a governor of Oklahoma begged Boeing to put a plant near Tulsa, offering free property and no taxes, but there were not enough skilled people in the area to build their airplanes (Hughes).

Hughes stated that his personal view on technology in the schools was that it was necessary, but he thought there was far too much implementation of computers and related software before people were properly trained to use them and before they really needed them. He said that he thought that a "balancing" act needed to occur, not too much too quickly (Hughes).


Orange County School District

Orange County School District in Florida serves over 174,000 students. It adopted Policy Governance over seven years ago. Featured in a 2000 American School Board Journal article, then superintendent Dennis Smith said, "For superintendents, [Policy Governance] offers a lot of authority, but with that comes great responsibility. The buck stops with me." He went on to say, "Nearly all...will tell you that the reality of making Policy Governance work is a great deal tougher - and a lot more stressful than simply accepting its theory" (Natale, 30).

After Smith became superintendent, Orange County Schools experienced numerous changes, with huge student population increases each year. The district underwent massive facilities expansion and renovation. The superintendent and board touted Policy Governance as a wonderful tool to accomplish goals, and, in the words of president of the board, Bert Carrier, "It truly frees up the superintendent and provides much more communication between board and superintendent regarding key issues in the district" (Natale, 33).

There was trouble with employee paychecks that caused some operational problems and tremendous unrest for awhile, but the board did not meddle and allowed Smith to work through it. Finally, the issue was resolved, and, according to this American School Board Journal article, Policy Governance’s place in Orange County appeared to be unquestioned in 2000 (Natale, 33). Almost one year later, Orange County School District was referred to by John Carver as a good example of a Policy Governance school district, according to an article published by the Institute for Educational Leadership. "Carver points to Orange County, Florida, as an example of high-quality policy governance" (Institute for Educational Leadership, "Leadership for Student Learning: Restructuring School District Leadership," 9). Well, things have changed, and Smith is no longer superintendent (Cadle).

Joie Cadle serves as a board member and said that in 2004 that the person who was the Policy Governance champion chose not to run again. New members came on board and for the last three years or so, Cadle said, "We have not been following the Carver model." Standing board committees have reappeared and been in use for about the last three years in the areas of superintendent evaluation, budget, legislative, communications, governance, and audit. They have done much work with the Florida School Board model. Still possessing Ends, but with no Linkages to speak of, and general practices not consistent with the model, the board has been having some discussions about moving away from Policy Governance officially (Cadle).

North Carolina

Guilford County School District

Guilford County School District in North Carolina is the third largest district in the state and serves close to 73,000 students in the Greensboro area. It adopted Policy Governance in 2000, after going on a retreat with the Aspen Group International. The board voted to eliminate it altogether in 2003 (Hughes, Julie). Dr. Terry Grier serves as the superintendent of the district. He said that he began his relationship with the school district in 2002 and thought that Policy Governance worked well. However, after the next election, the minority of the board which was opposed to Policy Governance was joined by new members who were also opposed to the model, and it was voted out. He said that they believed that too much authority was in the hands of the superintendent to act outside the realm of Executive Limitations and that decisions were made and considered which he thought were creative ways to meet existing needs. He cited an example of placing some existing high school programs on local college campuses. The new board thought otherwise (Grier).


Fulton County School District

Fulton County School District consists of numerous communities in the Atlanta region and serves some 88,000 students in the largest district in geographic area in the state. The district announced that it would be moving to Policy Governance in August 2004 and formally adopted it on October 12, 2004, only to abandon it just two months later (Fulton County Schools). On December 10, 2004, the district delivered the following news release:

News Release

At its December 9, 2004, meeting, the Fulton County Board of Education voted to suspend the Policy Governance Model as its governance system. With the vote, the Board will retain its focus on results while reverting back [sic] to the former Policies and Procedures followed prior to October 2004.

The motion to suspend Policy Governance was made by Julia Bernath. "I still strongly believe in Policy Governance," says Mrs. Bernath, "but we have to realize that we as a district are facing many issues that require our attention. The challenge of adding another change has led to unnecessary conflict and confusion among the Board, the staff, and our stakeholders."

The Board agreed that they find certain components of Policy Governance to be complementary to the Fulton culture. Board members expressed their desire to continue to expand many Policy Governance areas, including the opportunity to increase the community’s involvement in decision making and [to]seek input from all of the representative groups of stakeholders.

The Board also feels it is important to continue to develop its Results Policies. These policies will set student achievement goals and provide direction for the administration. The Board expects to continue to discuss Results Policies in January and to hold community meetings for additional input within a few months.

Said Board Member Liz Hausmann, "I feel we have grown though this process, but I believe it is time for us to focus on the students, not our governance model." (Fulton County Schools, Dec. 2004).

Cobb County School District

Cobb County School District in north metro Atlanta, Georgia, is home to more than 107,000 students and the second largest school district in the state. The president of the board of education, Lindsey Tippins, in "A Message from the Board of Education" wrote, "The Board moved forward in 2004 with the adoption of its new policy governance model, which provides us with a greater means of setting and reaching goals for Cobb County School District, as well as a greater level of accountability to the public. You, the constituents, remain the owners of this District and the new policy governance model provides the Cobb County Board of Education more ways to focus on how to best meet the needs of the children in your community" (Tippins, "A Message from the Board of Education").

Lindsey Tippins recently indicated that he was never in favor of Policy Governance and that he and one other voted against moving to the model, although the other five members of the board voted for its implementation. Tippins said that, "strangely enough, it was our school attorney who suggested that we look at it. I think that he learned about it at a conference and thought it would be a good way for us to monitor things and keep administration in check" (Tippins).

Policy Governance in Cobb County would only last until 2006, when several new members came on board who were opposed to the model. Much turmoil had occurred over the past two years over what turned out to be a major criminal investigation by a grand jury in 2005 of an $88 million laptop initiative which involved the superintendent’s contract with Apple Computer. After a lawsuit was filed by a former county commissioner, claiming that the district misrepresented the use of a tax initiative, an investigation by the district began which led to a grand jury’s finding in April 2007 of serious problems with board oversight concerning procurement issues and management of the district’s finances. However, there was no criminal indictment of Superintendent Joseph J. Redden, a retired Air Force general who had come to Cobb County in 2000 (Crooks). Redden resigned in August 2005 before the grand jury began its investigation and shortly thereafter was the top candidate for the superintendency in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He withdrew from consideration in October 2005, after learning of the grand jury investigation in Cobb County (Jeter).

Dr. John Crooks, board member, ran against Policy Governance, along with others, and was successful in seeing the model abandoned in 2006. He said that he was baffled that Redden was not indicted for his activities. Crooks believes that Policy Governance was the main culprit in this case because it creates the conditions through its Executive Limitations and monitoring process which send a clear message to the superintendent from the board of "If you don’t tell me, I guess it’s okay." He said the model "tries to create a corral" for the superintendent but that "the horses are out of the barn before you know it." Crooks is especially concerned that "way too much trust is placed in the superintendent" and that Policy Governance "voids or vacates oversight of an elected board for tax dollars." He stated that the model creates an "abdication of elected responsibility by board members." In Crooks’ opinion, the Policy Governance model contributed directly to the Redden matter. He said that since the board has reverted to traditional governance that the board has far more control over financial matters. Policies and procedures that are now in place will give the board much more oversight and not allow the superintendent to creatively maneuver around Executive Limitations policies (Crooks).

Board President Lindsey Tippins said that one of his major concerns with Policy Governance was that it allowed a non-elected official to make decisions that constituents believed were the primary responsibility of their duly-elected representatives of the board of education. He said that the model was primarily corporate in nature and was not good for elected bodies, that it gave far too much authority to the superintendent. Tippins cited a specific example. He said that his board was a strong believer in phonics and did not believe in whole language. He said that a former superintendent thought that there was much merit to whole language. Tippins said that under Policy Governance that a superintendent who was so persuaded could implement whole language against the wishes of the board because it would be considered a Means principle, not one of Ends. In addition, he stated that the question of redistricting and opening of new schools, common in situations of growth, would fall under superintendent authority and be difficult for a board which would be caught up in the politics of the matter (Tippins).

South Carolina

Beaufort County School District

Beaufort County School District in South Carolina serves a student population of over 17,000. It implemented Policy Governance in 2000 after some of its board members attended a 1998 conference in Atlanta which was conducted by John Carver. They were impressed with the model and went though training in 1999 with the Aspen Group International. Herman Gaither, superintendent at the time of implementation, said he worked with Policy Governance for about five years and found it to be an outstanding model which gave the board specific purpose (Gaither).

In 2003 the district ran into some major problems over a contract with Laidlaw, the company that operated its buses. There was much community concern over safety issues and Laidlaw’s service, many problems having surfaced after the opening of school in August of that year. In November 2003 information from the school district about its oversight of Laidlaw was causing board members to be increasingly anxious. Laidlaw was operating without a contract with the district, yet they were being paid higher fees which were stipulated in the proposed new contract, still unsigned by Laidlaw, since August 2002. The new contract called for Laidlaw to pay fines for poor performance, causing negotiation problems and delay. Board members were not even aware that Laidlaw had not signed the contract. The board had approved the contract, but board members Pam Edwards, Al Stern, and Rick Caporale said that they did not know that Laidlaw had not signed the contract. Al Stern, chairman of the board’s Finance Committee said that if he been made aware of the situation that he would have done something about it. Caporale said that board members behind the scenes worry about this kind of administrative sloppiness and that this is one of the ways policy governance fails (Knich).

Superintendent Gaither, now retired, said that the board did not operate under Policy Governance after the 2004 election which saw strong advocates of Policy Governance leave and strong opponents come on board, the model fell out of favor, and the board resorted to more traditional governance (Gaither).

The current Beaufort County School District website still displays the model’s form and language. Fred Washington said that he was recently elected as the board’s chair and that the board was looking at moving away from the model. He did say, however, that the superintendent, Valerie Truesdale, had recommended that the board bring in Dr. Gerrita Postlewait, former Superintendent of Horry County Schools, to discuss the model with them. He said that she had been scheduled to come within a couple of weeks but that the meeting had been postponed until the first of October (Washington).

Dr. Paul Krohne, Executive Director of the South Carolina School Boards Association wrote concerning Policy Governance, "It is my understanding that Beaufort attempted the implementation; however, I haven’t heard much from them about continuing their efforts. Many others have looked at it, but I don’t think any other than Horry could be considered as policy governance districts (Krohne). He was referring to the Horry County School District, the largest in geographic area east of the Mississippi River.

Horry County School District

Horry County School District in South Carolina is home to over 36,000 students. The district adopted Policy Governance in 2000, using the Aspen Group International as consultants for the transition from traditional governance. Dr. Gerrita Postlewait, former Superintendent of Horry County Schools, helped transition the district to Policy Governance. Postlewait who resigned in the summer of 2006 recently said that she believes Policy Governance philosophy has the potential to create good things in a school district but that since leaving her position and having the time to reflect, she thought there were some things which the district could have done to make the model better. For one, in the examination of Ends, she wondered if the district’s Ends really reflected what an educated individual of the twenty-first century needs, or was the district inadvertently influenced by the accountability movement? Secondly, Postlewait wondered whether the Executive Limitations policies actually reflected the board’s valuing of citizens in decision-making, or was the district more influenced by consultants and their suggestions? Finally, she pondered whether or not all board members and the superintendent had a common understanding of the potential of Policy Governance. Did we understand that the board could change and act in ways they deemed were needed (Postlewait)?

Will Garland is the current chairman of the Horry County Board of Education. He has served since November 2000, coming onto the board after the board had been operating on Policy Governance for only about five months. His first two years on the board were as a regular board member. Garland said they were a real learning experience for himself and his constituents. He said that during those first two years that many had a difficult time understanding how the board operated. He cited a particular example of the principal selection process. Local advisory board input and community involvement shifted to the superintendent’s being in charge. Educating the public to some of the changes was difficult, and Garland stated that the public is still largely unaware of how Policy Governance works. Elected chairman in 2002, Garland said that he continued to learn, and the board grew in the process of Policy Governance. He said he likes the concept of the model but that "it is only as good as the board you have." Garland said he thinks it is good that the model allows a board to be a policy setting entity with the purpose being the determination of end results and what outputs should be. He did say that his experience with the board led him to believe that many boards probably give too much away to the superintendent, that it is easier for boards to do so and difficult to move the line that separates their responsibilities, especially if there is a strong superintendent. Garland said that because of some incidents that occurred that he thought there needed to be some insurance for designated leaders to be secure in their positions. He said that he was able to get, over the objection of some on the board who said it could not be done, a policy to have executive directors, principals, and chief officers hired and fired only with board approval (Garland).

Since Dr. Postlewait’s departure, the Horry County School District has decided to move away from the Carver model of Policy Governance and embrace the Aspen Group International’s Coherent Governance model. It is expected to be implemented in the fall, according to a projection made in a superintendent’s report (Horry County Board of Education, 02-05-2007 Minutes). Board member Pam Timms said that the board had a retreat in April 2007 with the Aspen Group International to discuss some changes it wanted to make to governance (Timms).

The Horry County School District has operated under Policy Governance for the last seven years or so with little public attention. The only public opposition to the model has come from a local teacher, Bobby Chandler, who claims that the community, including teachers, is largely ignorant of how the school district is governed. In contributing to the lack of community understanding of Policy Governance, he said, "No major news stories addressed the district’s move to the model, its major tenets and practice, or its development over the years. I am appalled that the public is largely apathetic, especially since the district’s budget is around half a billion dollars a year." Chandler has addressed the board of education on numerous occasions since 2003. He has also written special editorials on the topic for the major local newspaper, the Sun News. Chandler has focused on what he believes has been too much authority granted to the superintendent, such as the superintendent’s authority to implement or discard district policies at a moment’s notice, with no approval process by the board. Chandler says that this gives the executive virtual law-making authority, which is especially inappropriate for a non-elected official who represents no constituents. He has also been concerned with Board Governance Policies which he says inhibit or chill the free speech of board members. For example, one such policy reads, "Members will not publicly express individual negative judgments about superintendent or staff performance. Any such judgments of superintendent performance will be made only by the full Board, meeting in executive session as appropriate" (Horry County Board of Education, Board Governance Policies, 19). Another states, "Members will criticize privately, praise publicly" (Horry County Board of Education, Board Governance Policies, 20). Chandler defended board member Chris Shannon several years ago, when Shannon said he had trouble with a board policy which he felt interfered with his ability to answer reporters questions honestly, especially ones which criticized board decisions and ones which were very much the concern of his constituents (Chandler).

The Sun News was a major supporter of Dr. Postlewait, and the editorial board defended her administration and Policy Governance. Typical of its support was an editorial statement made to encourage board and community support of a new superintendent who would mirror and continue Postlewait’s legacy. Referring to three finalists up for consideration, the editorial board writes, "Each finalist...appears to have the potential to do as well by Horry County’s schoolchildren as Postlewait did, if the school board retains the board governance model under which she operated. It empowers the superintendent to conduct day to day school district operations" (Editorial Board).


The Executive Director of the Delaware School Boards Association, Susan Francis, writes: "We have 19 districts in our state. At the current time, none of them are using the Carver model. I am aware of the model and how it is used. John Carver came to our state a number of years ago to present the information to us. None of our districts have taken specific training and use the model and, thus, abandoned it" (Francis).


Carl Smith, Executive Director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, writes:

We have 24 school districts in Maryland—23 county schools systems and the city of Baltimore. To my certain knowledge, no school system in Maryland uses the model in any coherent way. We do [not] advocate its use as we believe it is an unsatisfactory model for school board governance as it does not take into account the leadership role of boards of education in this day and age and all but ignores the political context in which boards operate and the challenge of making good decisions in light of conflicting, sometimes contradictory, often overlapping and frequently competing priorities, mandates, and special interests (Smith).


The Executive Director of the Kansas Association of School Boards, John Koepke, writes:

The state of Kansas has 296 unified school districts. We do not keep track of the number of school districts using the Carver model of policy governance. We studied it and took the training several years ago and decided it did not meet our criteria for sound policy training for our boards of education. I am only aware of one school district which is actually using the Carver model. I know of at least two districts who adopted the Carver model and then abandoned it later (Koepke).


Robert Rader is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. He stated that there are 166 school districts in Connecticut. In answer to the question of how many districts in Connecticut currently use the Carver model of Policy Governance or something similar, Rader writes:

A handful (I know of two). We have great concerns about this model for governance, expecially [sic] in a small state like ours...This form of governance gives each local board the authority to create certain "ends" and leaves the "means" to the superintendent. The superintendent is free to exercise his or her judgment in all areas which are not specifically limited by the board through what are known as "Executive Limitations" (Rader).


Angie Peifer is the Senior Director of Board Development for the Illinois Association of School Boards. Of the 872 school districts in Illinois, she writes:

No districts that we are aware of are using Carver’s Policy Governance in its pure form. IASB has been informed by John Carver’s work, along with other well-established best practices, in the creation of its principles of effective governance which do encourage boards to get clear about their ends, their operating parameters for the superintendent and staff (similar concept to "executive limitations") and to then delegate authority to the superintendent to determine the means (Peifer).


John Carver claims that his model is just as appropriate for governmental bodies, such as boards of education, as it is for nonprofit organizations and business. The question of whether or not Carver’s Policy Governance model is viable for district boards of education, however, is necessitated by the very different political environment in which public education operates. Can the model succeed in such a setting? Even if it can, should it be used by district boards of education? Is there any evidence to demonstrate that Policy Governance is more effective than other models used by boards? Can human beings with all their frailties make Policy Governance work as Carver envisions? Is the model consistent with universal principles, as Carver asserts? Do these universal principles apply to democratic-republican governmental bodies who are representatives of various constituencies, in particular to district boards of education? These questions will be analyzed and evaluated, and conclusions will be drawn.

There have been four published studies that have examined Policy Governance empirically, exclusively or in part. A review of these by Alan Hough and his colleagues from the Queensland University of Technology said, "On the current evidence, it [Policy Governance] cannot be shown to be more effective than other approaches to board improvement. What seems to be important is that boards make some attempt to improve their performance" (Mission-Based Governance, "Critique of a ‘One Best Way’ Approach to Governance").

Carver contends that his model should work for any organization, if properly applied and in its entirety. Is this happening anywhere in public education in the United States? Virtually every district examined has at least one or more areas in which Carver is not followed. Dr. Victor Murray who holds a Ph. D. in organizational theory from Cornell University reviewed John and Miriam Carver’s Reinventing Your Board (1997). In discussing an organization’s attempt to implement and sustain Policy Governance policies and practices, Murray writes, "...the implication is clear: if [Policy Governance policies and practices] seem not to be working for you, this is not the fault of the model; it simply means you have strayed from the path of righteousness and should go ‘back to basics’ for re-education in how to get it right" (Murray, 59). Is this because of the model or because of the board in question? Do theory and practice ever match up? Much rests on Carver’s firmly-held belief that there are universal principles that can be applied by all governing bodies to bring about success.

Explication by Carver of arguments he poses to defend his personal belief in Policy Governance’s universal applicability cannot substantiate their validity or align them with principles of democratic theory, despite his best efforts. If Carver’s so-called universal principles were applied to our nation’s system of government, the United States could no longer be considered a democratic-republic, and the founding fathers of our nation should be seen as unwise for not utilizing them when framing our Constitution.

Can one imagine the Congress asking these questions: "What ends do we want to accomplish? How will we know we have achieved them? On what data will we rely?" Can one imagine the Congress continually dealing with these questions and largely leaving the management of our country to the executive branch? (In practice, we realize that it often seems that our country is being run by our chief executive, at least in certain areas, but the Congress does its fair share of management through such devices as overriding a presidential veto, confirming presidential appointments, overseeing many executive actions through committee investigations, and its attention to multiple constituent interests). Of course, virtually all Americans agree on the general ends, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Americans and the Congress agree on basic principles of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to trial by jury, and many others. They do not, however, spend most of their time talking about them, unless they apply to matters that impact day-to-day situations. Neither did the founders. Governmental bodies expressed these beliefs in early constitutions and legislation and then set about the practice of focusing on the means of achieving them, allowing individuals the right to establish their own dreams, to develop their own interpretations of what it meant to be successful, and to decide for themselves when they had achieved their own goals. They were not interested in consensus views. They valued the democratic principle of majority rule, and, at the same time, set up mechanisms to protect minority views.

Consensus thinking has been widely prevalent since the onset of the accountability movement in the early 1980s. It has infested itself in many avenues of public life and has become common among people who have traditionally valued democratic-republican ideals. Whether it has been accepted unthinkingly or casually embraced to coincide with what many believe to be consistent with democratic ideals is hard to tell. What is clear, however, is that virtually nothing is being done to counter the pervasive invasion of public education by the rhetoric of consensus thinking.

Where Carver and others like him, especially those who advocate strategic planning and like-minded correlates, go wrong is their belief that communities and the public in general should come to consensus on what they value, directions they should take, their forecast of what the future will or should be like, and their focus on an organization’s energies toward meeting those goals in some quantitative and/or qualitative manner, in other words, the team approach. Carver stresses his "one voice" principle and a board acting with unanimity.

Thinking of this type for public education was born in the early 1980s. Carver admits to having been influenced by strategic planning but claims that what a board does is not strategic planning but strategic thinking. Strategic planning is something done under the auspices of administration (Carver). At any rate, there is strategy involved by a board of education in creating its Ends, something very similar to the creation of mission statements and perhaps a part of the broad framework of strategic planning. Why was this new thinking taking place in boards of education and by district administrations? What was the common denominator and the real motive behind the accountability movement?

It is quite interesting that when A Nation at Risk came out in 1983, decrying the terrible state of America’s schools that the personal computer was born the same year. Just how could the American people be convinced to devote many educational dollars to a revolutionary introduction of massive amounts of technology and related services into the schools, a brand new market for IBM, Microsoft, and Bell South, among others? Well, have Bill Cook, a strategic planning consultant transform his corporate, visionary model into one which could be used in education. Within a very short time, having been introduced to the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), Bill Cook had created a brand new product. No one was doing strategic planning in education anywhere in the country (Cook). A revolution was truly being born, and many strategic planning consultants would follow Cook’s lead and begin to market their own services.

Bill Cook and his Cambridge Group, having the backing of the AASA through its strong network and literature, took a model which was designed for corporate ends and turned it into one which would have countless educational communities across the United States assembling to create visions of what they wanted for their public schools and students in the future, not entirely unlike how Carver took a corporate model into public education. One has to wonder about the extent of Cook’s influence on Carver. Cook said that he trained the Aspen Group in strategic planning in the early 1990s (Cook).

First, strategic planning calls for a small group of individuals to be assembled, perhaps thirty or so, a couple of teachers, some board members, administrators, business leaders, prominent community persons, among others. They set the stage by coming to consensus, one hundred percent consensus, on what will be termed a strategic planning framework. One vote can derail the entire process. Much discussion occurs, heated at times, but, in the end, all have to agree to every part of the plan, or the point in question will not be included, according to Bobby Chandler, a member of Horry County’s (South Carolina) original strategic planning team in 1993 (Chandler).

Having board members on the initial planning team helps the process and plan gain the support of the entire district board. After the framework of the strategic plan has been born, then literally hundreds of people from the community work on the details of how to achieve the vision. Intricate sets of plans are developed by numerous committees. Over a period of time, a massive strategic plan emerges. Having hundreds of people involved in the process makes for tremendous public relations and a great sales pitch.

Almost without exception, it is extremely difficult for one to find a single plan anywhere in the country which does not have a major emphasis on technology. This is not to say that technology is not important, but the degree of emphasis placed on technology is what is of most concern. Many plans are centered on technology. The Horry County School District’s (South Carolina) original strategic plan made a statement to the effect that the curriculum would be "technologically-driven" (Chandler).

This did not emerge from the community as a grassroots effort, as claimed, through the vehicle of strategic planning. The Horry County School District led the way. In the words of then superintendent Gerrita Postlewait, "It [technology] was unusual here, because the school district was really one of the leaders that made the whole community recognize the power of the internet. Usually, it’s the other way around, with the community pushing the district to catch up to technology. But Horry County really led the community in the push to bring technology to Myrtle Beach" (eSchool News Online).

Richard Nadeau, director of technology for the Horry County School District, also acknowledged that it was the district which led the way. In speaking about technology in the year 2000, he said, "We’ve had a good deal of coordination in our technology plan for over 10 years. We’ve always had a consistent image of where we wanted to go, and in 1993, we met for strategic planning and created a technology component " (eSchool News Online).

School leaders all over America were and are doing the same thing, using strategic planning as a mechanism to lead communities to create the necessary conditions to generate the acceptance of and provide the funding for massive amounts of technology and related services for the public schools. An examination of other elements of strategic plans will indicate that most are alike in just about every facet - their mission statements, goals, categories, strategies, among many others. Hundreds of people with their collective ideas all seem to come up with virtually the same product, with some differences here and there, especially in how things are worded. Are there others behind the efforts of school leaders to push for this huge integration of technology? Is this primarily an ideological passion of school leaders, and what, if anything, does strategic planning have to do with Policy Governance?

Boards of education which are focused on the Ends, continually dealing with them, and largely allowing the Means to be in the hands of administration, are creating an avenue, just as strategic planning does, for the introduction of much technology into the schools. This, again, is not to indicate that technology is bad, but it is to say that vendors, businesses, and those seeking to make their way into one of the largest markets in America will find it much easier to bypass the careful oversight of the trustees.

One example would be the use of building fund monies for the purchase of computers. This is happening all over the country, and most people are completely unaware, even many board members. Should this be an administrative decision? Can it be justified by a strategic plan? Should the public not have much more control over how their money is spent? Perhaps they might think that the cost of a particular program such as the increasingly popular International Baccalaureate is far more important than equipping students with laptop computers. Are these not questions that properly belong in the public domain, for the public’s attention and consent?

The real strategy in strategic thinking and strategic planning in public education not only involves commercial capitalism but also ideological concerns. Besides states which have an economic interest in taking more control away from local communities, there are those who would like to see greater control going to the national government and even beyond. Progressive in their thinking, in the historical sense of transferring more power to central authority, they find the concept of local control to be antithetical to their principles. District boards of education are some of the last vestiges of that control. They were and are still constituted as legal entities, vested with powers far beyond those that board members are actually aware, but boards are under siege. Boards of education must recognize this and act in the areas still left to their discretion. Why is this important, and how is it related to our assessment of Policy Governance?

The legislative model, upon which district boards of education are based, was created historically and maintained traditionally, until recently coming under attack by promoters of Policy Governance and other models who focus on the policy-making responsibilities and accountability orientation which they believe should occupy the most attention of district boards of education. It is not based on consensus philosophy, the team concept, and/or Carver’s one voice notion. Yes, all board members should be working together for the best possible public education for America’s students, but this often entails serious disagreements and even philosophical standoffs. Can one fathom the Congress advocating that its members work together as a team? Of course, all Americans recognize the value of learning how to get along with one another and striving to work together in bipartisan fashion to achieve certain goals, but Americans have traditionally accepted partisanship, dismissing George Washington’s farewell angst for political parties, and valued forces of the left working against forces of the right to produce balance in a system in order to prevent its gravitation to what Theodore Roosevelt called "the lunatic fringe." Even Washington valued the concept, listening to advice from the diametrically opposed Jefferson and Hamilton. The idea that all would always get along and be harmonious was ridiculous, a worthy goal but not at the expense of giving up on one’s firmly held beliefs. Consensus thinking was out of the question, and the founders recognized this.

Madison argued persuasively in Federalist # 10 that factions were inevitable in a society that valued liberty. He recognized, however, that factions must be controlled, or they would jeopardize liberty, just as a fire would go out in the absence of air. As air is to fire, so liberty is to faction. If one faction were allowed to predominate, minority views would be eliminated through a "tyranny of the majority," something that consensus thinking promotes. Liberty, a strongly- held American end, is compromised by the concept of consensus philosophy. The idea of consensus thinking tends toward totalitarian control, not democratic ideals. At the very least, it puts pressure on those holding minority views to conform or go along with the crowd, Carver’s one voice principle.

Unlike Carver, the founders emphasized man’s proclivity to assert self-interest and to act accordingly. Carver’s view that board members should seek to transcend themselves by being servant-leaders, placing petty self-interest and constituent interests aside for the good of all, is quite heroic and falls very much in line with Plato’s satire of the philosopher-king idea in his Republic. Instead of focusing on trust of leadership, the founding fathers set up an intricate set of checks and balances in order to prevent the development of another tyranny. In essence, they were following the principle espoused by Ronald Reagan’s administration - trust but verify. Carver’s model tends to place much emphasis on the concept of trust and creates a very superficial, inadequate, verification process through written monitoring and verbal follow-up assessment by the board. Boards of education all over the country are experiencing varying levels of difficulty with monitoring, even those that many claim are doing just fine with a semblance of Policy Governance. Why is this?

Carver’s nested bowls theory for the development of Ends and Means creates a strategy whereby boards of education are supposed to focus in greater detail on what they want the CEO to achieve for the district and all necessary bounds in which they require the CEO to operate, refining their language and narrowing broad limitations through the development of increasingly specific policies. Well, it does not matter how intelligent one is, how analytical he is in his thought processes, or how aggressive he might be in wanting to establish proper results and boundaries at intricate levels of exactness, for no one has the powers of comprehensive projection as to what a CEO might be able to do outside the lines drawn. Under Policy Governance, a CEO is not supposed to be held accountable by the board for anything it has not specified. The nested bowl theory opens the door to the powers of CEO creativity and places boards of education in awkward positions when their constituents inquire as to what is going on in areas which they have inadvertently given over to the CEO. It is in the Means that most public concerns seem to arise, not in the Ends. The public generally agrees on the Ends fairly readily. If one were to look at all existing Ends or Results policies around the country, one would not find a dime’s worth of difference between them, another strong similarity to strategic planning.

Carver has boards of education ultimately responsible for both Ends and Means, yet boards of education that practice Policy Governance often give the Means over to the CEO, without proper oversight and evaluation. Boards of education never give up responsibility for all that transpires in a district, at least in Carver’s theory. Practice across the country proves otherwise. Boards often give up their control and tend toward the easy route, not necessarily intentionally. Board members are human beings, busy people, often unpaid or paid very little. Serving on a board of education is not a full time job. Even a board member with the best of intentions can succumb to trusting the CEO with responsibilities which have been traditionally the oversight of board members. Once line are drawn, personal relationships and trust often make it difficult for board members to want to take further action through Executive Limitations because this might be seen as confrontational and against the spirit of good board-superintendent relations and the team approach. A strong or popular CEO can make this situation worse, for the day will come when the district will have a different CEO, one who might not have the same confidence of the board, placing Policy Governance in jeopardy, or at least causing some consternation over just how much to change to ensure proper oversight.

In addition, monitoring is an activity of administration, an administration that is hired and fired by the CEO, an administration which must please the CEO for a pleasant day-to-day work experience and ultimate job security. What is put in monitoring reports might meet the letter of the law and what the board expects to see, but, although truthful, it might not present the entire truth, and, thus, be deceptive. A CEO’s job is directly tied to his successful accomplishment of the Ends the board has established. Subordinates’ jobs could be dependent on the CEO’s success. Words and statistics can be used in creative ways to hide the entire picture, or, at the very least, to make it blurry. A conflict of interest seems to exist in the very nature of the model, as far as monitoring is concerned. Having administration monitor itself, even if the board is supposed to participate, seems outrageous. If monitoring of CEO progress is an attempt to ensure accuracy, either an independent body and/or board members themselves need to be involved on the ground floor, not after the fact, in the study and preparation of written reports for the board to evaluate as a body, or conflict of interest by the administration could easily taint the process.

Board members, then, having received written reports produced under Policy Governance, are supposed to read and interpret them prior to regular meetings, in order to determine if they accurately reflect their thinking and meet their expectations. How much time board members spend doing so is an unknown. Across the country, many boards often spend very little time on monitoring reports in board meetings. Staff presentations and other activities take up so much time, contrary to what Carver envisions in his model for regular board meetings. Monitoring reports often do not get the attention they deserve. Jane Barnes, president of Jefferson County School District in Colorado, said that time was often so short, their meetings lasting upwards of 3-4 hours weekly, that monitoring reports have even been put on the consent agenda (Barnes).

Consensus, transcendence, teamwork, and monitoring all play major roles in what Carver envisions as proper implementation of his model. This requires so much self-discipline on the part of the board and dedication to the fulfillment of Policy Governance principles that Carver does not want to see its derailment by boards stuck in the traditional practice of the legislative model. He stresses that relationships among board members need to be nurtured to promote common direction and that in no way should sabotage be allowed by the board. Boards of education that practice policy governance across the country have written policies to address this. Minority views are tolerated in Carver’s system, but in the practice of Policy Governance, theory aside, they are not honored to the point of their active attempts to undo majority decisions, as is the case in other democratic-republican institutions such as the Congress and even in the Supreme Court where dissenting views are often elevated, many times becoming the majority view of the Court sometime thereafter.

Carver’s emphasis on the word "sabotage" and his one voice principle work to negate the founding fathers’ views that the minority should not only be protected but given the opportunity to work to convince others that their views should prevail. Of course, an individual board member cannot speak for the board, just as an individual congressman cannot speak for the Congress, but any policy developed under Policy Governance that even makes an individual board member believe that he is out of line in this area or which tends to inhibit his free speech is completely antithetical to the principles upon which our system of government is based, Carver’s view to the contrary. Although Carver says that a board member is free to express dissenting views in public, as long as he does not speak for the board (Carver), much of his writings and the practice of Policy Governance across the country by boards of education tell quite a different story. If Carver truly believes in the principle of free speech and a board member’s right to speak for himself publicly, then why does he put so much emphasis on what he calls sabotage? Why does he not just leave well enough alone, let law and tradition prevail, and not even talk about sabotage? His influence on others, especially many Policy Governance consultants, is having many damaging effects.

Another area which concerns Carver is constituent representation and its interference with CEO operations. Carver’s model strives to keep board members’ hands out of the Means, yet constituents are continually urging board members to intervene in personal situations that involve district operations and management. More often than not, this involves individual parents who want to know if the specific needs of their children are being met by enlisting the help of board members, in whom they have entrusted their children’s welfare. They are sometimes hesitant in going directly to those who do not represent them and who might have an agenda opposite their own. Although individual board members should not overstep appropriate lines and become meddlesome, using their positions of influence in ways to instruct staff to do this or that, they can often intervene in matters to bring about solutions to problems that time and circumstances might not always provide for a CEO’s or other staff member’s attention. This could be by referring constituents to the proper person(s) to address their concerns, usually one(s) closest to the situation, offering suggestions for solutions to constituents and/or others who might be involved, or providing means to expedite an appropriate action by district staff. Acting as intermediaries and being involved in discussions, short of directing staff to take a particular action, will alert board members to Means issues that might need to be addressed in Executive Limitations, for, after all, in Carver’s model, the board is responsible for all Means, as well as Ends. Also, having the friendly ear of one’s representative or even another board member can go a long way in promoting better communication and providing valuable, legitimate, constituent services, all illegitimate activities under the Carver model. Of course, this would give board members the opportunity to step over the line, something they should not do and something for which they should be held accountable by all citizens. Just because someone might do something inappropriate is not cause to deny them the right to act properly. Board members need to know their communities, including staff, and what is going on in the schools, if they are to make wise decisions on behalf of the public they represent, something Carver calls for through the concept of Linkage.

Carver is helpful in his advocacy of Lnkage meetings by a board with the public. Boards do need to be more involved with the people they represent. Meetings are always good ideas, whether they be structured with specified agendas developed around a common topic, designed with specific types of audiences in mind, or open-ended to allow citizens the opportunity to address issues of concern to them at any given moment. Where he is wrong is his contention that these and other Linkage mechanisms will adequately convey the public’s mind to the board. Carver believes that representative samples of people will give the board the information it cannot get from individual constituents who often act out of self-interest and who are not representative of all whom the board serves. While it is true that it is valuable for boards to be out and about in their various communities, as a whole board at times and not always as individual board members, there is not enough time for entire boards to get together with all publics, and there is no guarantee that so-called representative samples are indeed representative at all. Many of the same people who take the time to call board members or to speak to them in chance encounters are the very same people who often show up at announced meetings, people who have something to say and who wish to be heard. The silent majority are often left out, no matter one’s actions. Boards should be considerate and represent them, as well. How to do this is the $64,000 question. While good in principle, Linkages often fall short of achieving what Carver envisions, again a fact which is demonstrated over and over again in the actual practice of Policy Governance.

An entirely different concern with Policy Governance is what takes place in the alignment of power and control that CEOs can gain when given the authority to hire and fire principals, in particular. The age-old value of local control in public education is disappearing rapidly, and one of the great contributing factors is CEO’s choosing principals and placing them where they want them, as well as dispensing with those they desire at will. This creates many "yes" men and women. Principals know on what side their bread is buttered. If they truly believe that what a CEO desires for their individual school situations is not in the best interest of their schools, then it is very difficult for them to stand up to a strong CEO who operates under Policy Governance or any system which allows this practice. Of course, those who have integrity and grit might do so, but all principals should first and foremost be given the opportunity to act according to the dictates of their conscience, being held accountable by their local communities and, of course, district boards of education.

Policy Governance has the effect of using aligned power and control by a CEO in the implementation of practices that originate from interests far beyond what local school communities desire. There are national forces and state forces currently at work, perhaps even international, undeniable in their intentions in many cases, which for both ideological and monetary purposes would like to impose their agendas on an unsuspecting public, all, of course, claiming that their ideas, programs, and practices are what are best for students. One of the best ways for them to advance their particular agendas is to give CEOs authority over principals, thereby whittling away at what is still left of local control, either bypassing or disarming boards of education in the process.

Principals could be foundational bulwarks for the maintenance, reassertion, and revival of the principle of local control, if they only felt secure in their jobs and knew they had the support of boards of education. This could be accomplished by having local school advisory councils or some similar group with more intimate knowledge of local needs and desires, made up of elected, non-paid citizens, who would be given hiring and firing authority contingent upon advice and consent of the district board of education. Considering the trend of district consolidation, this could very well be the best solution to maintain what is left of local control.

Hiring and firing of other important staff positions might need to be considered for boards’ advice and consent, for boards must consider the value of speaking one’s mind and acting on conscience in other areas that can have significant impact on school districts. Although staff works directly under a CEO, their allegiance and services should be to the people of the district through their elected representatives, while at the same time they work to cooperate with the CEO and their board in the accomplishment of their responsibilities. This should further serve to eliminate any power alignment and implementation of programs and practices not desired by local schools and not specifically authorized by district boards of education.

One power often granted by Policy Governance districts to CEOs is the authority to be in charge of district operational policies. It is often stated in the Policy Governance literature and by those who practice the model that five-inch thick manuals, thicker in some cases, are often reduced to manuals less than an inch thick. This is seen as a positive. What is not emphasized is the fact that CEOs are often given law-making authority to insert or discard district operational policies at their discretion. Under traditional governance, policies go through board approval after the public is given the opportunity for discourse and debate. How the schools are run are just as much a public matter as how they are governed. School and district operations should have the people’s consent. Decisions should not rest completely with principals and the district administration. Decisions rendered should always be with the advice and consent of the district board of education, those who represent all those who have vested interests in their public schools.

Some might argue that giving legislative authority to a superintendent is similar to authority granted to executive agencies of government, such as the EPA, for the creation of regulations in the carrying out of responsibilities which have been conferred upon them by the Congress. One very important difference, however, is that parents have never turned over their children to the EPA. Public education is a different animal, one that caused governments to separate it from the normal arms of government and to give it over to trustees, local boards of education to act for parents’ and the community’s interests. The transfer of law-making authority to the CEO of a school district ought to be viewed more in terms of a situation that developed in our country during the Great Depression under the administration of Franklin Roosevelt.

The Congress turned over much control of the country to F. D. R. during a terrible crisis, even going so far as to give an executive agency law-making authority. The National Recovery Administration (NRA), in an effort to put Americans back to work and help business, created what were called Codes of Fair Competition, codes that had the effect of law. The Supreme Court determined that the Congress had erred in its transfer of its exclusive law-making authority to the executive branch through one of its agencies, and this in a time of tremendous crisis. The NRA was declared unconstitutional.

Well, public education is in a crisis, one that many believe to be getting worse by the minute. Boards of education have yet to be challenged in court concerning this issue, but it could very well happen. The practice of giving CEOs authority over district operational policies could be eliminated, using the very same principle enunciated by the Supreme Court in the case involving the NRA.

Some justify Policy Governance on the grounds that it is very similar to the mayor-council form of government, and since this is a common practice, Policy Governance ought to be, as well. Although the analogy is true in some respects, it falls short in a very basic way. The mayor-council form of government is based on the separation of powers concept of our federal Constitution. There is no such separation under Policy Governance. A board of education is to govern and legislate, though, admittedly, in practice, a CEO often is allowed to act as if he were in a separate branch.

Another very important area, some might even say the first or second most important, is the concern that taxpayers express over how their money is spent. Policy Governance places much responsibility in this area on the CEO. Again, boards of education are supposed to have complete authority over money, even under Policy Governance, but multiple incidents all over our nation bear witness to the fact that many believe that Policy Governance contributes to lack of oversight by boards of education and sometimes malfeasance on the part of CEOs. While it is true that financial scandals take place under any form of board governance, Policy Governance and similar models of governance which place more emphasis on policy-making than policy-management can easily produce situations that leave boards out of the loop on important financial matters. This is especially true if boards are not very careful in setting appropriate Executive Limitations and devoting the time necessary not only to read and study monitoring reports carefully but to evaluate and discuss them thoroughly before accepting them.

Carver and others who promote Policy Governance or similar concepts do not value the legislative model, though they do claim to value democratic principles. The word "democracy" and democratic ideals can be found throughout their writings and utterances. However, one of the faults of the model lies in its unrealistic insistence that boards of education operate as if they were not representatives of individual citizens, as if they should not cater to particular constituent interests, and as if the general realities of the political world, including elections, can somehow be ignored and boards of education transformed into radically different organizations that rise above such concerns.

The proverbial insistence of many in this country not to discuss politics in public has seeped into boards of education via the philosophy of Policy Governance. No, Carver would not exactly say that; neither would those who espouse his model, but they would definitely like to minimize the effects of politics by having boards strive to reach a level of transcendence, where they consider the well-being of all and live in perfect harmony. Unfortunately, or fortunately, as one would have it, politics play a major role in the life of boards of education, something for which Policy Governance cannot adequately plan.

Board turnovers occur regularly, and new members take their seats, often confused by the language and practice of Policy Governance. Much time is often needed for them to be introduced and guided through the model’s precepts. Sometimes, by the time they seem to be catching on, they are out of office, and the cycle continues. In numerous cases, strong supporters of Policy Governance leave boards of education because of political turmoil of some sort and/or for other reasons, and supporters of more traditional forms of governance take their place. Term limits in certain places also contribute to board turnover. In a political environment that often creates instability, it is very difficult to maintain, nurture, and see Policy Governance become what Carver envisions it can become in a governmental system.

Looking at the politics of Policy Governance from a marketing angle, both directly and indirectly, the influence on boards of education by consultants, state school boards associations, the National School Boards Association, the Education Commission of the States, the Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform, Boeing, IBM, Microsoft, Bell South, ETS, the College Board, state governors and state legislatures, the United States Department of Education, among many others, should not be minimized. They can be powerful forces in the directions boards take. Their interests can be ideological and/or monetary. Their motives can be sacrificial or self-serving.

Of tremendous immediate concern ought to be the influence which consultants can have on boards. While not always the case, consultants can be powerful determinants in boards’ governance practices. Rather than letting boards come to decisions on their own, they can step over the line and actually lead boards in directions they prefer. In a sense, they can become powerful lobbyists, perhaps even in a strict sense of the word, marketing their wares and/or beliefs to a captive audience. Should they be paid tax dollars in cases like this? Could one imagine taxpayers supporting private lobbyists of the Congress of the United States?

So, then, do the theory and practice of Policy Governance ever flesh themselves out in the real world of American public education? If not at present, will they be able to do so at some point in the future?

Policy governance takes much time, energy, and money to learn, maintain, and nurture. It is a continual learning process for board members, one which requires maintenance in the form of servicing that often involves the hiring of consultants, sometimes at tremendous costs to taxpayers. All investment can easily vanish with the change of one vote on a board. As long as these practical circumstances exist, the practice of Policy Governance in public education in the United States should cause all of us to ask: Is it worth the effort? Can the model, as envisioned by Carver, or anything close to it, work effectively? Even if it can, should district boards of education use the model? In light of the evidence, what should district boards of education do?"


We are finally faced with the question: Is the Carver Policy Governance model a viable one in public education for district boards of education in the United States? In other words, is the model one that will be able to operate effectively? The answer is both "yes" and "no" and depends largely on philosophical orientation.

Much of what happens with district boards of education, superintendents (CEOs), other staff, and all those who have a stake in public education, whether good or bad, is dependent upon the level of commitment and talents of those involved. Success can be achieved in both Policy Governance and traditional districts. Wonderful things can happen wherever there are wonderful people. However, systems of governance, whether they be on a small scale, such as boards of education, or in much larger institutions such as the Congress, are often predicated upon firmly-held beliefs. If this were not so, we would not have fought a revolution and based our country on democratic principles. One form of government would be just as good as another. This leaves us then with some choices to make.

If one agrees with Carver that a revolutionary change is needed in how school districts operate, then Policy Governance is definitely up for consideration. If one believes that it is primarily the role of boards of education to establish Ends or outcomes for a school district to achieve, then Policy Governance might be an option. If one likes the progressive idea of turning over more control of education to professionals who are deemed to have the expertise to know what is best for all, then Policy Governance is definitely a model that should be considered. If one prefers that operational efficiency take precedence over inefficiency, a general given in democratic-republican governance, then Policy Governance is a model that should work quite well. If one is a staunch advocate of creating a system that is more hierarchical in nature, as might be found in the military, with a chain of command that values "yes" people, then Policy Governance should help keep things quite orderly, predictable, and timely in producing desired outcomes. If one cherishes the notion that politics ought to be taken out of education, then Policy Governance ought to provide much hope. If one thinks that boards of education are impediments to what they believe to be progress, then Policy Governance just might be the answer. If one believes that it is time for local control of education to give way to forces far beyond local communities, then Policy Governance is an idea whose time has come.

On the other hand, if one believes that tradition should not be dispensed with in light of no clear evidence to indicate that change would produce desired outcomes, then traditional governance should be maintained. If one thinks that the primary role of boards of education should be to represent their districts and constituents in ways that service their day-to-day concerns around operations, as well as their concerns about outcomes, then traditional governance needs to be practiced. If one holds persons who are not educational practitioners in high regard and trusts in their collective wisdom to make decisions in the best interest of those whom they represent, to work cooperatively with those who are seen as having expertise in education, then traditional governance ought to be fostered. If one prefers the time-honored belief that democratic principles produce the most effective systems of governance, albeit with designed inefficiency, then traditional governance must be advocated. If one cherishes the right of dissent and the right to never give up one’s convictions and the dictates of conscience, then traditional governance needs to be engaged. If one believes that public education should encourage independence of thought and value local community decisions over those of outside forces which believe what they have to offer is best for all, then traditional governance is without question the proper path to travel.

District boards of education are using the model, at least in some form, in scattered areas across the United States. They are doing so, from the perspectives of various adherents, at different levels of success. How effective they are in these cases is still a matter of debate and depends on what criteria one uses for assessment. Academic successes of districts cannot be precisely determined to be results of systems of governance, at least no one has figured out how a direct correlation can be made. With so many factors involved in what contributes to student success, isolating board governance is probably impossible. Yet, one of the major reasons boards are being urged to change their governance systems is because many want to hold them equally accountable, if not more, as all the other participants in a district who work for student success. A major question, thus, arises: In the absence of hard data or anything that a reasonable person would consider strong evidence of any kind, why suggest a change in a system of governance from one very familiar and understandable by the general populace to one that its creator even sees as a radical transformation, a complete departure from established norms of behavior? The answer to this question is still very much tied to what one wants to achieve from a particular governance system.

Theory aside, as long as most boards continue to be elected ones, then Policy Governance becomes extremely problematic in practice. Boards will eventually turnover. New members will invariably bring with them new or old ideas and the concerns of their constituents who want them in the Means. Political realities will continue to clash with the philosophical theory and practice of Policy Governance which require extraordinary efforts and discipline from often ordinary individuals who have much to offer but just cannot seem to rise to the levels required by the model.

Boards of education are inherently unstable, designed to be so in a democratic-republican system, and, though often well-intentioned, unable to maintain continuity from one year to the next because of political matters. A new superintendent might be instated and board-superintendent relations suddenly need an overhaul. New members might have extreme difficulty in learning the demanding language and practice of Policy Governance.

Some might argue that boards of education transitioning from Policy Governance to traditional governance might have an equally difficult time learning how to operate in standing committees and taking greater charge of operational issues. While this could easily be the case, we should not forget that the vast majority of the people are in the dark about Policy Governance. They never have learned the language and the practice of the system. They should be our first consideration in whatever system of governance we utilize. Linkage meetings and phone calls simply will not suffice for the public to be versed adequately and to become comfortable with Policy Governance. The public is too large, diverse, and scattered.

If we decide that Policy Governance is the way to go, the public ought to be educated in every facet of its operation. One of the best ways to do this would be to work with local media to run series of articles explaining the intricate details of how the model of governance works. This would need to be maintained on a regular basis for quite some time until it becomes common dinner talk. How long this would take is very much a mystery, for it has never been done. The public needs to understand the language, the principles, and the practice of Policy Governance in order to know how they can best participate in order to achieve maximum results and how to vote in elections.

In the past, we have not bothered to educate the public in traditional governance, for it is of a form and variety which is easily recognizable, with language and practices in which we have been schooled in our democratic-republic. The traditional model need not be serviced or cost the taxpayers a single dime. It simply needs to be practiced. The difficulty lies with Policy Governance and the onus is on those who believe and adhere to the model to do everything in their power to educate the public. What a revelation it would be if the public actually understood how school districts under Policy Governance are supposed to operate. Would they actually choose Policy Governance and implement it in their districts. This is the real clincher.

No school district has ever had its citizens vote on whether or not they wished to change from traditional governance to Policy Governance. The transition has always been initiated by those who have been elected, or appointed in some cases, to their representative board positions who have been influenced to make the move to Policy Governance by certain individuals and groups who either have an ideological or commercial interest in seeing its advance. It would be an eye-opener to see whether or not Policy Governance would stand the test of majority rule and real public scrutiny in our democratic-republic.

Appendix A

Policy Governance Sharing Session
Milwaukee, WI
January 17, 2007

Facilitators: Genie Jennings, Board President - School District of Chetek
Trish O’Neil, Board President - School District of Columbus

School Districts Represented include: Waupaca, Chetek, Columbus, Kettle Moraine, Racine, De Forest, La Crosse, Cochrane-Fountain City, Howard-Suamico, and WASB (Wisconsin Association of School Boards)

District Introductions:

Waupaca - purpose is how to use policy governance to approve [sic] student achievement. Meetings were lasting 4 to 5 hours didn’t tie to student achievement. Now meetings last 45 minutes to an hour.

Racine - practicing 1 yr - meeting efficiency. Would like someone to come and critique the board and assess.

Stanley-Boyd - looking for a way to codify your work/our work-problem getting people to sign on. Management has to be on board with policy governance.

Columbus - looking for ways to improve process - would like to see some support from WASB. Not trying to convert people. Looking to move forward but not piece-mealed.

Kettle Moraine - decided to change governance model - interested in learning from others-do things right. Lessons learned by others. Focus on student achievement.

DeForest - 8 years. Trying to get good at it.

La Crosse - 7 years. Extremely efficient. Helps board work together, give Supt. guidance. Also use e-governance. Meetings run 1-1.5 hours. Training from Linda Dawson/Randy Quinn. Had it adopted within 5 months. Hired them on as consultants. Spent 2 days writing policies. Process called Governance by Policy not Policy Governance. Once they got past what could be discussed things ran smoothly.

Cochrane Fountain City - anticipating policy governance - financial factor. How to do it best.

Howard-Suamico - adopted July 2006, objectives to network with others.

Chetek - 6 years. Doing our job better. We are practitioners not experts. Purpose is to provide a sustainable system for our Board of Education.

WASB - Pam Rewey present. Goal to help create network around the state. Should be able to help school boards get together as an association and focus on student achievement.

Others [sic] consultants used: Sue Stratton out of Michigan.

The group discussed the value of going to Vail - nice to have the perspective of other boards at the national level.


Chetek Handouts - brochure - purpose to have a simplified handout for the public to be more comfortable. Supt. Interpretation: Monitoring executive limitations. What does it mean to the Supt. Board looks at how Supt. is interpreting and may suggest changes.

Racine - removed in compliance with exceptions - either in or out. Struggling with monitoring reports.

Waupaca handouts - ends policies developed after 3 to 4 years of linkage with staff, community and students. Used survey to create a baseline. Staff used to develop action plans through their principals. Principals attend board meetings and need to be on board with the process.

Stanley-Boyd handouts - brought policy. Problem is time isn’t focused on student achievement. The reason they started Policy Governance was excessive number of meetings. Policy is very specific - very painful - went through a recall but now it is going well. Two things - keep on kids, and meet with supervisors to discuss expectations and accountability. Had an opening meeting to explain Policy Governance - went through monitoring reports etc. Good response from community and received buy-in.

La Crosse - blue sheet. Copy of mission and ends policies. Board meets with regular groups. Board goes out to schools and to meet with staff to connect and learn about the schools and what they feel the needs are and how the board is meeting those needs. Met with medical community - getting out and trying to communicate better. Meetings are televised. Again, a concern from a participant that where is the line between asking for something that may be construed as micromanaging. (Example used was graduation requirements). Need to be a disciplined board to not overstep the boundaries, boards need to trust Supt. and Supt. needs to trust the board. La Crosse has a governance committee to work on policies.

Columbus handouts - governance structure. Formed a governance committee because monitoring reports brought to the board had some information that some thought should have been or not been put there.

Resources for future work:

Cochrane - would be helpful if WASB would set up an on-line discussion. Maybe hire Randy Quinn/Linda Dawson. Give us the structure and moderate it. School Board of Tomorrow. NASP website. Mini-wisdom sharing to convene in a centralized site. Opportunity to meet either quarterly or semi-annually. Independent sort of thing. Have a discussion on what we want to accomplish is indeed taking place. School district of Chilton on data-mining. It would be nice if a workshop was offered on all the things on setting benchmarks, and targets. WASB can help facilitate these meetings. Contact Pam Rewey and she will work with us. Suggested to have a Website resource in one spot. Best approach to work with our professional organization (WASB) to filter information in an efficient manner.

Suggestion was made to meet twice a year. January and May. Invite newly elected members to participate.

Provide new boards to policy governance a basic model to follow.

Create a list of resources on the Website for people to go.

Have WASB go out to districts and ask if they are interested. Pam Rewey from WASB would like to set up an advisory committee. The basic website is to be up and running in approximately a month.

In summary:

The school districts represented felt there was an interest and a need within the state to provide resources to Boards’ [sic] of Education practicing Policy Governance. WASB (Pam Rewey) has expressed an interest in helping to make this effort a reality and to meet the board development and resource needs of school districts. Chetek and Columbus Boards will continue to coordinate this effort until a more formal structure can be created.

Any questions can be direct [sic] to:
Genie Jennings:
Trish O’Neil: (Chetek School District).

Appendix B

Dallas Independent School District


Some of the activities of the existing board standing committees are micromanagement at the committee level. DISD’s board dismantled its standing committee structure during 1999-2000 and replaced it with five basic committees recommended by the Carver Policy Governance Model: the Audit Committee, Governance and Policy Committee, Public Input Committee, Education Committee and the Committee of the Whole. The Audit Committee monitors all operations and administrative functions; the Governance and Policy Committee continuously updates and revises board policies and the related governance issues; the Public Input Committee develops creative strategies to obtain representative input from the general public; the Education Committee reviews and discusses curriculum and instruction-related issues and the Committee of the Whole reviews and approves all action items from the working committees. Accordingly, board members spend the majority of their time monitoring the implementation of board policy through the revised committee structure.

Most board members appear to approve of the existing committee structure because the committees provide opportunities for board members to assume leadership roles, become knowledgeable about district administration and operations and to interact with the executive leadership. However, some board members feel that the committee meeting schedule prevents them from attending all the committee meetings, while others feel that too many administrative and operations functions are handled in the committees. For example, the Audit Committee meeting is held during the morning and, although most board members with full-time jobs can commit to attending committee meetings one day per month, certain board members find it difficult to attend.

The Audit Committee is responsible for monitoring the implementation of board policy and is designed to be a forum where board members can seek clarification of any reports or background information presented by administrators related to action items to be placed on the regular meeting agenda. The Audit Committee monitors business and administrative activities including purchasing, finance, technology, human resources, facilities, transportation, food service and other district functions.

Board Policy BDB (LOCAL), adopted as part of the Carver Policy Governance Model, states the following related to the structure of the Audit Committee: "1a. Product: The Board will have a fully screened financial audit firm for board action no later than May of each year. Within 90 days following board action, the auditor will have a complete scope of audit. Random direct inspection monitoring of the board’s asset protection and fiscal policies as chosen by the committee. 1b. Authority: To incur costs of no more than $150,000 in direct charges."

Audit committees of school districts typically oversee internal and external audits, with little involvement in other operational areas. However, the Carver Policy Governance Model expands the board’s authority and provides broad latitude for the board to monitor asset protection and fiscal policies of their choice, including activities that may not be covered in external audit reports such as vendor selection and evaluation during the competitive bidding process.

As a result of the broad policy statement included in Board Policy BDB (LOCAL), some board members and administrators said the Audit Committee covers too many functions, committee members abuse the committee’s authority, and the committee has become a forum where directives are issued to the executive staff on behalf of the full board, which is actually micromanagement at the committee level. For example, one board member is said to have suggested particular vendors that the district should consider doing business with. TSPR representatives attended the January 9, 2001, Audit Committee meeting and witnessed a board member make a direct request of DISD staff. The committee was discussing how seven teams of instructional support personnel (referred to as "SWAT Teams") would be deployed throughout the district to assist low-performing schools improve student achievement. One board member, after listening to the staff’s methodology for deploying the teams and the activities the teams would perform, directed the staff member to provide a list of names of members of each of the seven SWAT teams for their review - a clear example of micromanagement at the committee level and a violation of the board’s Policy Governance Model incorporated into Board Policy BA (LOCAL). Board Committee Principles Item 7, Paragraph 3 clearly states: "Board committees cannot exercise authority over staff. Because the superintendent works for the full board, he or she will not be required to obtain approval of a board committee before an executive action."

Additionally, members of the executive team also said they spend considerable time preparing for board committee meetings, regular board meetings and responding to direct requests from board members. For example, DISD central administrators report the same information to the Audit Committee and the Education Committee because some board members on the Education Committee cannot attend the Audit Committee meeting.

The Houston Independent School District (HISD) does not use permanent board committees or standing committees as part of its governance structure. HISD’s board determined that one Committee of the Whole was an efficient way for all board members to become knowledgeable about district administration and operations and to interact with the district’s executive leadership team. Board members review all agenda items with the executive leadership team in the Committee of the Whole meeting, where each has the opportunity to ask questions before the regular board meeting. The superintendent and executive team provide supporting documentation and information as required, and the board issues no directives through the Committee of the Whole. Additionally, the board forms ad hoc committees to address specific issues as necessary. For example, the board formed an ad hoc Legislative Committee in 2000 to formulate the district’s legislative agenda for the 2001 Texas Legislature. The board also formed an ad hoc Superintendent’s Search Committee in 2001 to begin the process of replacing the superintendent. Both committees will be dissolved once their purpose is served.

Other Selected Findings

The most significant problem with media relations is that individual board members often express opinions in press conferences that are not reflective of the majority of the board or the superintendent. These incidents magnify the perception that the district is disorganized and constantly dealing with conflict. One board member’s comment was, "The minority vote does not want to accept the final vote of the majority and holds press conferences to undo the majority vote."

Selected Recommendation

DISD’s Board Policy GBBA (REGULATION), School Communications Program: News Media Relations regarding news releases should be revised to state that all official statements about the district should come from the superintendent or superintendent designee. In most instances the superintendent designee should be the assistant to the superintendent for Communications, who should function as the official spokesperson for the district. The policy should be revised further to state that individual board members should not have direct contact with the local media for the purpose of expressing opinions about official school district business, with the exception of communicating actions related to hiring and termination of the superintendent (Texas School Performance Review, June 2001).

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