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Central school boards should be replaced by local school councils if school districts are to more effectively serve their students and communities, an Old Dominion University faculty member says in the current issue of a leading education journal.

William G. Cunningham, professor of educational leadership and counseling, maintains that decisions regarding a child's education are best placed as close as possible to school, home and community.

That connection in school districts is being threatened by "undue responsiveness" to politically powerful interest groups, he says. Cunningham's article appears in the June issue of Phi Delta Kappan, the print journal of Phi Delta Kappa, an international association for professional educators.

Political and business leaders work to influence education through such organizations as the National Governors' Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, to name a few, according to Cunningham.

By so doing, they distance themselves from their constituents. Districts have also become more widespread, further distancing students and parents from their centralized school boards, he adds. In 1932, there were approximately 128,000 school districts. The number has shrunk to about 15,000, even though the nation's population has almost doubled. Approximately 80 percent of these are small districts with fewer than 2,000 students, so the vast majority of students attend schools in large, centralized districts.

The best way to return to local control in education, Cunningham writes, is to eliminate central school boards, downsize central district offices by making them arms of the state and replace district-wide boards with local school councils, which allow for and encourage broader participation and ownership of schools.

When a discontinuity exists among families, local communities and their schools, children's potential and the future of our democratic nation are both affected adversely, Cunningham claims. "Research tells us that schools have the best chance of success when they are led by a representative, responsible governance group -- administrators, teachers, students, parents and community members. More representative groups of decision makers can reduce the alienation, frustration, distrust and resistance that plague modern schools and paralyze their progress."

For a copy of the article, contact Jay Lidington by phone at (757) 683-4683 or e-mail at jlidingt@odu.edu.

This article was posted on: July 9, 2003

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