Local Elected School Board

In Philadelphia, the public schools have numerous issues that are deep-rooted. The children of Philadelphia have continuously been underserved and deprived of a quality and efficient urban education. The question we must ask ourselves is what does real reform look like?

In our current time, we have an immense decision for the Philadelphia. For the past 16 years, the governing system in Philadelphia has been a State imposed School Reform Commission (SRC). This is a system that in short has to fail our students. Due to years of advocacy and political organizing, this system is coming to an end and now we must choose how our school will operate.

This debate has two sides, one calls for a democratically elected school board while the other argues that a mayor-appointed board will be the best option for the schools. A democratically elected school board would look like individuals electing representatives who would make decisions about the school system. The officials would run their own campaigns and present the public with their plans and then the public would vote. On the other hand, a mayoral-appointed school board would be set up so the mayor appoints the decision makers, the issues, and possible candidates would be presented in the process of the mayoral election, but not necessarily be the focus.

I firmly believe that an elected school board is the only system that will truly work for Philadelphia schools. I think this for 3 main reasons; accountability, involvement, and transparency. Firstly despite what some individuals may think, many studies have shown elected school boards to greater benefit students as opposed to an appointed school board. I hope to paint the logic of an elected school board and the research driving it.

The first main issue is accountability. Of course, some accountability is better than the complete lack as we see in the current SRC system, but an appointed board still lose a great deal of accountability. The most accountable public official is a directly elected one. The Center for Public Education did a nationwide study and came up with “8 characteristics of effective school boards” these characteristics include the board being “accountability-driven” and maintain a strong and collaborative relationship between themselves and the community. This data shows that the more accountability and the closer the relationship the school board members have, the more effective the board is. The accountability would be maximized through an elected board.

The second involvement. Many students, parents, teachers, and community members are passionate and committed to trying to better public education in Philadelphia. Meeting and meeting, year after year of addressing an uninterested and unresponsive SRC has shown them that without accountability their involvement and voices are not heard. They not only know locally elected is the best option for the schools but have worked to regain local control. A 2015 referendum showed that Philadelphia overwhelmingly favors abolishment of the SRC and local control. A survey conducted by Pew found that “64 percent of (Philadelphia) residents said local school board members should be elected, 11 percent said they should be appointed, and the rest had no opinion.” It is clear that the community wants to have the most involvement they can have in what happens to themselves and their families, a locally elected school board gives this involvement to the citizens of Philadelphia.

One of the largest issues facing the schools and the city is lack of clarity and transparency. If the schools. Studies show that education is the largest factor on the minds of voters in Philadelphia. This means that elections for a school board will not be swept under the rug therefore ineffective as critics say, instead the opposite will be true. If education is a pressing issue then school board elections are bound to turn out voters. If education is just one issue tagged onto the mayor's race then it won’t get the public eye and spotlight that Philadelphia voters need or deserve. The Philadelphia school system has roughly 130,000 students and the officials that run the schools for this large a percentage of the population should have their own separate election, not be linked onto an already layered mayoral election. The transparency of who is running the schools and with what values is clearly of large concern to the citizens and elected school board optimizes this transparency.

I would like to close with a finding from the Pew research study that shows the driving reasons why an elected school board will work best for students. “Governance systems that produce uncertainty, distrust, and ambiguous accountability can impede district's’ progress on any front.”  UrbEd supports an elected school board provides the accountability, involvement, and transparency that the Philadelphia schools need and deserve. Here at UrbEd, we support school reform, and we firmly believe this will be a major step towards advancements in urban education.

Luke Risher