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School Boards Amid Increasing Politicization

The three readings listed here provide background for the panel discussion and small group consultancies during Session II. The first reading outlines features and practices that can contribute to a more effective relationship between a school board and their superintendent. This reading ties most directly to Session II, and is therefore a priority reading, but it does not acknowledge how the last three years have changed the level and kind of attention local school boards receive. The second reading describes the current California context, in which conservative groups have focused on school board elections and the work of school districts as a vehicle that supports their interests. The last reading shares the ways the increased politicization of school is affecting educators, district leaders, and instruction in the classroom. Collectively, these pieces aim to illustrate the pressures and practices that shape school districts’ ability to maintain focus in improvement efforts.

**Pardini, P., & Lewis, A. C. (2003). Effective superintendents, effective boards: Finding the right fit. Education Writers Association Special Report.

While most of the attention on school reform focuses on the classroom-level, efforts that rely solely on the work of teachers or principals is often not enough. This report highlights the roles of the district superintendent and school board as a supportive, collaborative governance system. The authors offer examples of what an effective superintendent and school board do and look like, which includes engagement in community building and shared decision making. The authors emphasize, however, that the most important measure of a productive superintendent-board relationship is student achievement. Although released 20 years ago, the key tenets of this report still hold, and we believe it still provides relevant and useful advice to California district leaders. We will be discussing the role of school boards in improvement efforts during Session II.

The Times Editorial Board. (2022, December 8). Editorial: ‘Parents first’ conservatives mostly lost, but their school board bids should be a wake-up call. Los Angeles Times.

School board elections across California received greater attention than usual in 2022, due to increased political efforts to elect more conservatives onto local school boards. The expected “red wave” was mostly led by political groups such as Parents First and Moms for Liberty. Positioning themselves as fighting for parental rights, the proponents of the “parent first” agenda gained support by leveraging the increasing frustration of parents in the aftermath of the pandemic (e.g., learning loss, not feeling listened to by district leaders). These groups and the candidates they supported often opposed classroom topics such as critical race theory and discussion of LGBTQ+ issues.

Jochim, A., Diliberti, M. K., Schwartz, H., Destler, K., & Hill, P. (2023). Navigating political tensions over schooling: Findings from the fall 2022 American School District Panel survey.

Findings from the Fall 2022 American School District Panel Survey report that about half of district leaders across the nation feel that political polarization is interfering with student education. The survey findings suggest that in 2022, there was less attention on mask and vaccination requirements and more attention on systematic racism and classroom discussion of non-conforming gender identities. Based on survey responses, there were higher incidences of school board or classroom disruptions and more requests to remove controversial content reported in white and affluent districts than in diverse and low socio-economic districts.

**This document is a priority reading.