New York State school board effectiveness and its relationship to various district descriptive characteristics, from the perspective of school superintendents
Morton, Cameron John
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Within school board literature there is a body of writings which heighten concerns about the quality of school board effectiveness. These writings question the effectiveness of local school board governance and suggest ineffective school boards may be contributing to under-performing schools. This literature argues that we should consider changing or modifying our school board governance model. Many of these writings are persuasive. However, it is important to note when considering this literature, that generally the examples cited of school districts exhibiting low quality or poor board effectiveness are limited. In fact, the majority of school board literature, both critical and supportive, generally rests upon research that is anecdotal in nature, consisting of limited case studies or references to individual school districts. Broadbased empirical studies are lacking in school board literature. The purpose of this dissertation study was to measure with empirical methods both the superintendent's perception of New York State school board effectiveness and the relationship of common board and district characteristics to perceived school board effectiveness. Nine characteristics were measured: (1) the strength of a school board's fiscal focus, (2) the strength of a board's employee focus, (3) the wealth of the community in which the district is located, (4) the size of the school district (student enrollment), (5) the gender of the school superintendent, (6) the experience of the school superintendent, (7) the gender of the school board president, (8) the experience of the school board president, and (9) the size of the school board (number of trustees). These characteristics, as well as measurements of board effectiveness, were provided by school superintendents responding to the survey. Using these characteristics the study sought to determine the degree to which each characteristic explained random variation in a superintendent's perception of school board effectiveness. The study found that the mean superintendent's perception of effectiveness for a typical New York State school board may be quantified at approximately two thirds or 66% using a tested board effectiveness assessment tool that measures effectiveness on a scale of zero (0) to three (3). The study also found a substantial range existed within the board effectiveness measurements for the responding New York State school districts. Among the many findings, the study determined several board characteristics have statistically significant relationships with the superintendent's perception of board effectiveness. The most significant factor relating to perceived board effectiveness was the degree of fiscal focus exhibited by the school board. For the responding districts, as a school board's reported focus on fiscal matters increased, so too did their effectiveness, as perceived by the school superintendent. Additionally, it was found that the gender and experience level of the superintendent had a large impact upon how school board effectiveness was perceived. Finally, the analysis identified a variety of board characteristics with significant correlations to individual domains of board effectiveness, for the responding districts. The findings from this New York State study raise several questions about school superintendents and factors which appear to influence board effectiveness. It may prove helpful for those studying perceptions of school board effectiveness and who seek to better understand the variables which appear to have statistically significant relationships to board effectiveness. Additionally, this study represents an effort to address a research gap in school board literature, as broad-based empirical studies of board effectiveness are lacking in this literature.