June 2015 Board Watch Report CardLeave a Comment
Below is the twenty-third Board Watch report card based on volunteer assessments. The current report card reflects assessments from March through May of 2015. Overall, the School Board received a C+ average.
- Overall: The overall grade is a 3.26 (C+), which decreased from a B- in the previous Report Card. The grades were calculated from 21 surveys from 11 different volunteers.
- Focus and Mission: The score is a 3.23 (C+), which is the same grade as in the previous Report Card. On average, volunteers reported that the Board only spent about half of its meeting time managing time effectively, focusing on ways to achieve the district’s goals, and prioritizing student outcomes.
- Transparency: The score is a 3.81 (B), decreasing from a B+ on the previous Report Card. On average, volunteers agreed that they felt welcome at the meeting and understood the information presented and the rationale behind the Board’s actions.
- Conduct: The score is a 4.06 (B+), the same grade as on the previous Report Card. This means that on average, volunteers reported that few Board members used sarcastic or disrespectful verbal or nonverbal communication. They reported that most of the Board handled differences of opinion respectfully.
- Role Clarity: The score is a 2.06 (D+), decreasing from a C and continuing to be the lowest grade (in fact the lowest grade ever earned by Board Watch). This score reflects that on average, volunteers reported that the Board spent less than half of its meeting time focused on how the district is making progress toward achieving its goals and using policy to create solutions to Board member concerns. Volunteers said the Board spent more than half of its meeting time focused on the details of agenda items (i.e., when items occur, who participates, etc.).
- Competency: The score is a 3.13 (C+), decreasing from a B- on the previous Report Card. On average, volunteers reported that only about half of Board members were prepared for the meeting and appeared to use research, district data, existing policies, and other facts to inform their opinions.
A Deeper Look at the Scores
Compared with the previous two Report Cards, volunteers observed a decrease in comments related to solution seeking or measuring progress and a substantial increase in comments reacting to individual agenda items (see figure below). This trend in part explains the decrease in the Board’s score on Role Clarity. Volunteers observed Board members spending a substantial amount of time giving accolades, time that could have been spent more effectively by discussing whether programs had positive effects on student outcomes. Volunteers also felt that Board members could have demanded more specificity in the responses to some of their questions.
Conduct remained the highest grade this reporting period, and it’s encouraging that volunteers observed fewer comments being made that communicate a lack of respect for fellow Board members or district staff (from 14% to 4% since the last reporting period). We continue to encourage Board members to treat differences of opinion respectfully in order to serve as positive role models for their colleagues, the public, and Pittsburgh’s students.
Recommendation – Focus on Progress; Continue Becoming Informed on Issues Critical to Student Success
In the previous Report Card, we commended the Board for its proactive and long range approach to incorporating innovative program costs into the general fund budget. In May the Board approved a number of these measures to continue supporting programs critical to student success, such as Summer Dreamers Academy, We Promise, and teaching effectiveness. We’re encouraged by these decisions and urge the Board to continue taking the time to become informed on topics about which they will make decisions. On the issue of role clarity, we continue to recommend that the focus of your time and energy as board members is on setting direction and monitoring district progress rather than managing details of transactions and programs. We believe doing so will increase Board effectiveness in creating policy solutions that will result in more equitable access to resources and higher achievement for all students.
Since the launch of Board Watch in January 2009, A+ Schools has issued 23 report cards on Pittsburgh School Board governance practices based on observations of meetings by trained volunteers.
The June 2015 report card is the sixteenth report card to be issued using the new reporting form (Version 2.0) introduced by A+ Schools in 2011. Version 2.0 reflects higher expectations for the School Board’s governance and allows for more specific feedback and recommendations from Board Watch volunteers.
What You Can Do
- Volunteer for Board Watch
- Contact your School Board Member
- Testify at a Public Hearing
- Attend or Watch a School Board Meeting