For Release — Monday, August 4, 2003
NEW HANDBOOK ENCOURAGES
BUSINESS LEADERS TO WORK
TO IMPROVE SCHOOLS, ESPECIALLY BY SERVING ON SCHOOL BOARDS
ALBANYBusiness leaders can improve New York's communities and their economic prospects by becoming directly involved in efforts to improve schools, especially as school board members, a business leader and long-time school-reform activist has argued in a new handbook.
"Business people can bring something valuable to the oversight of our professional managers in public schools," Todd Feigenbaum, a business owner and school-board member from Glens Falls, wrote in Leadership for the Schools We Need. The Public Policy Institute, the research affiliate of The Business Council, published the book and is distributing it to business people around the state. The book is in PDF format at www.ppinys.org/reports/2003/schoolsbook.pdf. It is a large file1.04 MB fileand therefore may take some time to load.
Leadership for the Schools We Need argues that New York's future prosperity depends on how well it teaches its children. The book warns that improvement in this area is essential, and says that more business leaders on school boards can help.
"We cannot expect to enjoy forever a world-class standard of living in the United States if we persistently fail to educate so many of our young people to world-class levels," Feigenbaum wrote. "An economy with prosperity for all cannot be built on the learning and skills of only a few.
The Business Council and others have helped by successfully urging higher academic standards and more accountability for performance, and those steps have helped, Feigenbaum wrote. But New York schools must improve further.
One goal should be to change the emphasis in accountability metrics from merely "passing" minimal requirements to achieving mastery in subject areas, the book says.
At present, fewer than half of New York students teach state standards in middle school. And in 2002, less than one-third of students showed mastery of course material on the state's Regents exams. And, statewide, fewer than two-thirds of students finish high school with their class.
The skills and perspectives of business leaders can help, the book argues.
"Too often, those who run our public schools have not experienced the financial discipline and the accountability for results that private-sector management can provide," said Feigenbaum, who was first voted onto a school board in the early 1990s.
In particular, Feigenbaum writes, business leaders serving on school boards can:
- Help instill a "culture of excellence" and a commitment to accountability throughout the school system. Schools and their teachers, students, and administrators should be challenged to do their best. Performance-based contracts for superintendents should be considered. And new job descriptions to reward better teachers should be developed.
- Ensure that boards resist the temptation to micromanage superintendents, and focus instead on setting broad direction and policies, providing leadership, setting ambitious goals, and developing long-range plans.
- Encourage school systems to survey their "customers," and then use the resultant data to make positive changes.
- Expect strong resistance to change-and relentlessly seek positive change
"Public schools, like many other institutions, tend to resist change, and there will be opposition to many of the changes your district will need to make if you want to accomplish anything more than modest, incremental improvement," Feigenbaum wrote.
- Question educational practices for curriculum and instruction that are
of dubious value or mere fads.
"School boards need to realize that much of the educational dogma that is used to run schools is nonsense," the handbook says. "Too many things done in public education are not supported by good, hard science to validate their efficacy."
- Develop new approaches to recruiting and hiring teachers, recognizing that many college teacher-education programs are of little academic value. Districts should also make teaching careers more attractive by increasing entry-level salaries, permitting different salaries for teachers in different disciplines, and creating new positions to give teachers career advancement options.
- Advocate for public policy changes that will ease the many unrealistic burdens placed by government mandate on schools, administrators, and teachers. For example, tenure reform is needed to give school districts more meaningful options for removing ineffective teachers.
"Our schools can be fixed," Leadership for the Schools We Need concludes. "But that can only happen when people who share a common-sense approach to public education band together . . . to overcome the inertia that dominates this most important institution in our community life."