Constructing a school board's work practices: How practitioners represent the work of public school governance

Charles R Soriano, University of Pennsylvania


Local public school boards historically provide for the education of youth in the United States. Most of what is written on school board governance tends toward trade association "how-to" guides, conventional wisdom articles and handbooks on being an effective board member. Indeed, the majority of school governance literature is highly prescriptive. Given the powerful influence and putative importance of local school boards on the course of public education, the purpose of this study is to redirect the current conversation about board governance—to take a step back from its dual preoccupation with "effectiveness" and what board members "should do" to exploring what they actually "do," and to do so in a way that accounts for the first-hand experiences and perceptions of the practitioners themselves. Surprisingly, we know very little from the perspectives of board members about the organizations that govern the nation's 14,890 school systems. This study is designed as a qualitative, collaborative case study of board members' perceptions of their roles and responsibilities to gain an understanding for how practitioners imagine their governance work and learn about that work in their own reflections on practice. The study explores the following guiding questions through the interpretive lens of organizational metaphors of culture and politics: (1.) What is the range and variation of how school board members conceptualize their work practices—both individually and collectively?; (2.) How do individual board members perceive their own roles and responsibilities in relation to their conceptions of the board's work?; and, (3.) In what ways do their beliefs about their practices inform the culture and processes of the group? The study is based in large part on qualitative data culled from a five-month observational period. The study concludes that school board members' emic perspectives on their governance work are informed by board members' own understandings of a board's roles and responsibilities; in addition, these perspectives are indelibly shaped by immediate issues of local culture and politics. Thus, although local matters typically drive board governance practices, school board members benefit from understanding how their own perspectives on their work practices shape their actions.

Subject Area

School administration|Public administration

Recommended Citation

Soriano, Charles R, "Constructing a school board's work practices: How practitioners represent the work of public school governance" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3287348.