Monday, April 06, 2009

Local School Councils Doing the Job

Study Shows Majority Of Chicago Local School Councils Are Doing Their Job

    CHICAGO Dec. 11 /PRNewswire/ -- A major study released today finds that
the majority of Local School Councils (LSCs) in Chicago Public Schools are
effectively carrying out their mandated functions: selecting and evaluating
their school principals, approving the budget, and monitoring a School
Improvement Plan.
"The results of the study contradict the public perception that most LSCs
are ineffective and corrupt -- a perception fueled by recent media stories
about specific councils that are misusing their authority by firing good
principals, inappropriately allocating school discretionary funds, or
pressuring teachers to change their children's grades," said Anthony S. Bryk,
Senior Director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research and a report
author. "While these cases need to be taken seriously, they are few and far
The study, conducted by the Consortium on Chicago School Research from May
1995 to February 1996, analyzes surveys from 1,943 Local School Council
members, and assesses how effectively the LSCs are handling their considerable
The 1988 Chicago School Reform Act mandated the formation of Local School
Councils in order to involve parents and community members in improving
education, safety, and order in their local schools. The Act gave the LSC the
power to hire and fire the principal, approve the budget, and implement a
School Improvement Plan (SIP). Such authority is vastly greater than most
other urban school districts around the country, where local school councils
have, at best, an advisory role, and is a distinctive element of the Chicago's
citywide approach to school reform.
Each LSC consists of six parent representatives and two community
representatives, elected by the parents and community residents; two teachers,
elected by the school staff; the school's principal; and, in high schools, an
elected student. In Chicago's 540 schools with LSCs, there are approximately
3,240 parent members, 1,080 community residents, 1,080 teachers, and 540
principals. LSC elections occur once every two school years (the next is
April 1998), and all work is done on a volunteer basis.
The study focuses on the following: the background and qualifications of
LSC members, how members operate and carry out mandated functions, indicators
of problem LSCs, and comments from individual LSC members.
The Consortium found that in general, council members are better educated
and have a higher occupational status than the average adult population in
Chicago. They spend many hours in their schools and are active in their local
communities. According to lead author Susan Ryan, a former research associate
for the Consortium who is now at the Chicago Public Schools, "While there are
problems in some individual councils, in general we find no evidence that
parent and community members lack basic background qualifications to govern a
local school. Thousands of dedicated and committed individuals appear to have
been drawn into this work."
LSCs are also performing their mandated duties well -- more than half
reported a "comprehensive" to "very comprehensive" evaluation of the school
principal, meaning they implemented a detailed formal process. For example,
LSC members surveyed teachers and parents, informed the principal about the
process, and provided suggestions to the principal for improvement. In
addition, more than half of the councils are "active" or "very active" in
developing a School Improvement Plan (SIP), reviewing it with the community,
and monitoring its implementation. The LSCs are also very active in deciding
how to spend discretionary monies -- nearly a quarter say their council is
"highly involved," and about 60 percent are "moderately involved."
Forming active partnerships with the surrounding community is not an
official mandated duty of the LSCs, but plays a central role in improving the
school's educational environment. The study found that because many LSC
members are involved in the community through churches, community groups,
social service organizations, and other local activities, they were able to
create informal occasions for better communication between the school and the
surrounding neighborhood. Nearly 40 percent of the principals report that
their LSC helped initiate new after-school programs and gang prevention and
intervention programs, and about a third state that their LSCs helped to form
partnerships with recreational activity centers, youth clubs, the Chicago Park
District, and other schools.
The Consortium found serious problems in 10 to 15 percent of the councils,
where there were reports of low member commitment, infighting, and
inappropriate behavior. "While 10 to 15 percent is a small fraction of the
system, we should not lose sight of the fact that these schools educate 50,000
or more students," said Mr. Bryk. "Fortunately, the 1995 Reform Act includes
legislation to solve these problems -- eighteen hours of required training for
LSC members, intervention and reconstitution by the school board if needed,
and the strictest ethics requirements of any elected official in the state."
Compiled by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, Charting Reform:
LSCs -- Local Leadership at Work is part of an ongoing series on the key
players in school improvement. Prior studies from the Consortium have
examined the effects of reform on students, effective school leadership, and
professional development and collaboration among teachers.
The Consortium on Chicago School Research is an independent federation of
Chicago area organizations that conducts research on ways to improve Chicago's
public schools and assesses the progress of school reform.
Formed in 1990, it is a multipartisan organization that includes faculty from
area universities, senior leaders from the Chicago Public Schools, researchers
in education advocacy groups, representatives of the Illinois State Board of
Education, the Chicago Teachers Union, and the North Central Regional
Educational Laboratory, and other interested individuals and organizations.
Charting Reform: LSCs -- Local Leadership at Work will be released on
December 11, 1997. Copies of this and other reports may be purchased for $10
from the Consortium on Chicago School Research, 1313 East 60th Street,
Chicago, IL 60637. These studies were funded by grants from the John D. and
Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Joyce

SOURCE Consortium on Chicago School Research


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