Policies provide guidance, structure and vision for a school district. As the voice of the school board, policies carry the echoes of past board decision-making but also provide guideposts for the future.
The policies adopted by a school board have the force of law in the school district. The guidance that a board provides through its policies are critical to the successful operation of a school system.
It is essential, therefore, for a board to think through the principles by which it wants a school district to be governed and to record these principles in the form of comprehensive written policies.
In this chapter, you will learn the basics about school board policy and how effective policies can support student achievement.
Leading by Policy
Policymaking is one of a school board’s most important jobs. In fact, Colorado law requires school boards to adopt policies and prescribe regulations necessary for the efficient administration of the district [C.R.S. § 22-32-109(1)(b)]. Therefore, it is important for each board member to attain a basic understanding of what policy is.
In Brief: Boards and Policy
Policy development is a board’s chief responsibility. A board should strive to reflect the community’s values in its policies and commit itself to an ongoing effort to engage the community regarding policy-level concerns. A board develops policies and puts them in writing to provide for the successful, consistent and efficient operation of the district’s schools and the high achievement of district students. Policy development is the practice of setting goals and desired results for students.
To begin with, the National School Boards Association offers the following definition of school board policy:
“Policies are principles adopted by the board to chart a course of action. They tell what is wanted and may include why and how much. They are broad enough to indicate a line of action to be taken by the administration in meeting a number of day-after-day problems; they need to be narrow enough to give the administration clear guidance.”
Through policies, a board establishes the organizational structure, educational program objectives and operational practices of the district. Policies should state a board’s expectations and desired results and articulate why the board believes achieving the results are important. Well-planned, clearly written and up-to-date policies are the basis for governing students, evaluating staff and more. They also provide the board with a framework to:
- Keep the community informed about the board’s philosophy and actions
- Provide a forum for involving the community in the district’s educational programs
- Improve board/superintendent/staff relationships
- Provide a means for staff members to assess their individual roles in achieving the board’s stated results
- Enable partnerships in the policy development process
- Notify staff, students and community of their rights and responsibilities
- Provide fair, reasonable, consistent and impersonal treatment of issues
- Eliminate the need to make a new decision each time there is a recurring situation
- Comply with state and federal laws that require specific policies
- Fosters stability, continuity and accountability
Creating, implementing and monitoring policy allows the school system to exhibit consistency, stability and, most of all, accountability.
The need for new policy or to review existing policy originates from two main areas:
School boards typically adopt policies that fall into these general categories:
- Policies necessitated by board discussions with community members, students, parents and staff members.
- Policies required by state or federal laws
- Organization of the school district
- School board operations
- School administration
- Fiscal management
- Support services such as transportation and food service
- Instruction: philosophy and programs
- Students: discipline, conduct, attendance, grading, etc.
- Community and parent relations
- Relations with other education agencies and organizations
The Policy Adoption Process
A board creates, reinforces or negates policy every time it makes a decision. If a board has no written policies or if the policies are not kept up to date, the operation of a district will be inconsistent and inefficient.
As a starting point, a school board must have a policy that outlines the process of policy adoption. Maintaining such a policy assists a board in approaching policymaking in a concise and consistent way. Since there are many factors to consider with the development and revision of board policy, a board should adopt a policy regarding the process it wishes to follow to accomplish this important task.
By consistently using a defined approach to policy adoption and by asking the right questions, a board can see beyond immediate circumstances and formulate sound policy on the basis of agreed-upon criteria. A policy-analysis model should recognize legal and other practical constraints yet remain focused on objective outcomes. Local criteria are important, including the mission and goals of the school district and the context of the community being served.
When considering policy options, these questions should be asked:
How does the policy advance the best educational interests of all students?
This question can easily be overlooked in the heat of a policy debate on specific issues. Policies must be carefully formulated to address the needs of all students and must not ignore the concerns of any specific demographic group. For example, policies addressing academic standards should not ignore students with disabilities, who may require modified standards.
How does this policy support the mission and goals of the district?
Comparing a policy to the district’s mission and goals is a crucial component in effective policy analysis. If such a comparison reveals little or no correlation, or even a negative correlation, a board should closely examine the policy or revise its mission and goals.
What do current educational literature and research say that is relevant to the policy?
Reviewing educational literature and current research can point a board in productive directions and keep it from making policy mistakes. For example, studies of student achievement in relation to class size are worth investigating in relation to policies on teacher assignments.
What is the relationship of the policy to recent changes in education?
Recommended Policy Model
CASB recommends that boards use the policy development and codification system of the National Education Policy Network/
National School Boards Association (NEPN/NSBA). This system, while it may be modified to meet needs, serves as a general guideline for such tasks as policy research, drafting of preliminary policy proposals, reviewing policy drafts with concerned groups, presenting new and revised policies to the board for consideration and action, policy dissemination, policy monitoring and the continuous maintenance of the board policy manual.
This criterion justifies updating and revising policy on an ongoing basis. It is important to repeal policies that are obsolete or no longer appropriate due to adoption of new programs. For example, a policy that does not allow students to bring personal technology devices to school would be inappropriate if such devices are now being used as instructional tools.
How is the policy related to other board policies?
By asking this question, a board can guard against one policy contradicting another and ensure that individual policies support each other. The definition of “immediate family,” for example, should be consistent throughout personnel policies that address leaves of absence.
Is compliance with the policy likely to be consistent?
High expectations are an important attribute of effective schools and the board’s expectation of compliance with policy should be high. If the board cannot reasonably expect a high degree of compliance with a policy, it should rethink the policy.
How can a board evaluate the effectiveness of the policy?
To answer this question, look again at the first question – the relationship of the policy to the best educational interests of students. A board should develop a comprehensive system to measure the effectiveness of its policies to ensure that reasonable progress is being made toward achieving a board’s policy goals.
What external support does the policy require?
As soon as a policy requires external support, a board ’s control over compliance is diminished. Parents can be asked to help support attendance or homework policies, for example, but they cannot be forced to comply.
What will it cost, in human and fiscal terms, to implement the policy?
The time administrators and teachers will spend implementing a policy is an important consideration. Also important are costs related to the physical plant or other budgetary concerns, all of which must be weighed against the importance of the policy issue. Cost should not be the single controlling factor in formulating policy. If a specific policy is vital to supporting the primary mission of the district, the board should shift the necessary human and fiscal resources from low-priority items to those identified as crucially important.
What steps will be taken to implement and enforce the policy?
A policy that is a well-kept secret will not fulfill its purpose. The administration must clearly define what strategies it will employ to achieve the policy’s desired results and continuously monitor the effectiveness of the strategies. For example, a policy on bullying prevention must be well communicated to staff and monitored to ensure students and staff are complying with the policy.
Is the policy understandable and clear?
Ask someone who is not involved in the school district to read and interpret the proposed policy or policy change to gauge its clarity.
How is the policy affected by federal and state law?
This is an important criterion because the autonomy of the district’s operation depends on a board’s ability to operate within the limits of federal and state law. However, the complexity of the law should not be used as a barrier to thoughtful policy discussions.
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