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Politics, governance, philanthropy, and organizations
Local school boards have primary authority for running educational systems in the U.S. but little is known empirically about the merits of this arrangement. State takeovers of struggling districts represent a rare alternative form of educational governance and have become an increasingly common response to low performance. However, limited research explores whether this effectively improves student outcomes. We track all takeovers nationwide from the late 1980s, when the first takeovers occurred, through 2016 and describe takeover districts. While these districts are low performing, we find academic performance plays less of a role in predicting takeover for districts serving larger concentrations of African American students. We then use a new data source allowing for cross-state comparisons of student outcomes to estimate the effect of takeovers that occurred between 2011 and 2016. On average, we find no evidence that takeover generates academic benefits. Takeover appears to be disruptive in the early years of takeover, particularly to English Language Arts achievement, although the longer-term effects are less clear. We also observe considerable heterogeneity of effects across districts. Takeovers were least effective in districts with higher baseline achievement and least harmful in majority Latinx communities. Leaders should be cautious about using takeover without considering local context and a better understanding of why some takeovers are more effective than others.
Scholars differ as to whether populist beliefs are a discourse or an ideology resembling conservatism or liberalism. Research has shown that a belief in popular sovereignty and a distrust of public officials are core components of populism. Its antithesis is defined as Burke’s claim that officials should exercise their own judgment rather than pander to the public. A national probability sample of U. S. adults is asked to respond to six items that form a populist scale, rank themselves on a conservative-liberal scale, and state their views on education issues. The two scales are only moderately correlated, and each is independently correlated with many opinions about contemporary issues. Populism has a degree of coherence that approximates but does not match that of the conservative-liberal dimension.
This paper takes a novel time series perspective on K-12 school spending. About half of school spending is financed by state government aid to local districts. Because state aid is generally income conditioned, with low-income districts receiving more aid, state aid acts as a mechanism for risk sharing between school districts. We show that temporal inequality, due to state and local business cycles, is prevalent across the income distribution. We estimate a model of local revenue and state aid, and its allocation across districts, and use the parameters to simulate impulse response functions. We find that state aid provides risk sharing for local shocks, although slow speed of adjustment results in temporal inequality. There is little risk sharing for statewide income shocks, and the risk from such shocks to school spending is more severe in low income districts because of their greater reliance on state aid.
This case study offers an organizational perspective on the ways in which a collective bargaining agreement shaped the administrative functioning of schools within an urban district. The data demonstrate how rational choice assumptions failed to account for the everyday site interactions between principals and teachers. Using complexity theory as an analytic tool, the authors consider the interference of external pressures on a system defined by internal interdependence. Reforms that address the complexity of workplace conditions in K-12 contexts are offered.
The COVID-19 pandemic created enormous challenges for public education. We assess the role of political factors and public health in state and local education decisions, especially the continuation of learning during COVID-19. Using an original dataset of state education policies since the start of the pandemic, we find that governors took the lead on ordering school closures in Spring 2020 but left decisions to districts in the Fall, regardless of partisanship. Partisanship played a much stronger role in local decisions than state decisions. We analyze local district reopening plans and public opinion on reopening in the politically competitive state of Michigan. Partisanship was much more associated with district reopening plans than COVID-19 rates. Republicans in the Michigan public were also far more favorable than were Democrats toward in-person learning. States' decisions to leave reopening plans to their districts opened the way for students’ experiences to be shaped by their area's partisanship.
Political scientists have largely overlooked the democratic challenges inherent in the governance of U.S. public education—despite profound implications for educational delivery and, ultimately, social mobility and economic growth. In this study, we consider whether the interests of adult voters who elect school boards in each community are likely to be aligned with the educational needs of local students. Specifically, we compare voters and students in four states on several policy-relevant dimensions. Using official voter turnout records and rich microtargeting data, we document considerable demographic differences between voters who participate in school board elections and the students attending the schools that boards oversee. These gaps are most pronounced in majority nonwhite jurisdictions and school districts with the largest racial achievement gaps. Our novel analysis provides important context for understanding the political pressures facing school boards and their likely role in perpetuating educational and, ultimately, societal inequality.
We explore how teachers unions affect education production by comparing outcomes between districts allocating new tax revenue amidst collective bargaining negotiations and districts allocating tax revenue well before. Districts facing union pressure increase teacher salaries and benefits, spend down reserves, and experience no student achievement gains. Conversely, districts facing less pressure hire more teachers (instead of increasing compensation) and realize significant student achievement gains. We interpret these results as causal evidence of the negative impact of teacher rent seeking on education production, as the timing of district tax elections relative to collective bargaining appears to be as good as random.
We conduct a comprehensive examination of the causal effect of charter schools on school segregation, using a triple differences design that utilizes between-grade differences in charter expansion within school systems, and an instrumental variable approach that leverages charter school opening event variation. Charter schools increase school segregation for Black, Hispanic, White, and Asian students. The effect is of modest magnitude; segregation would fall 6 percent were charter schools eliminated from the average district. Analysis across varied geographies reveals countervailing forces. In metropolitan areas, charters improve integration between districts, especially in areas with intense school district fragmentation.
Federal policy has both incentivized and supported better use of research evidence by educational leaders. However, the extent to which these leaders are well-positioned to understand foundational principles from research design and statistics, including those that underlie the What Works Clearinghouse ratings of research studies, remains an open question. To investigate educational leaders’ knowledge of these topics, we developed a construct map and items representing key concepts, then conducted surveys containing those items with a small pilot sample (n=178) and a larger nationally representative sample (n=733) of educational leaders. We found that leaders’ knowledge was surprisingly inconsistent across topics. We also found most items were answered correctly by less than half of respondents, with cognitive interviews suggesting that some of those correct answers derived from guessing or test-taking techniques. Our findings identify a roadblock to policymakers’ contention that educational leaders should use research in decision-making.