JPAM Featured Article: Do School Report Cards Produce Accountability Through the Ballot Box?
May 16, 2016 12:05 PM
"Do School Report Cards Produce Accountability Through the Ballot Box?"
As part of our ongoing effort to promote JPAM authors to the APPAM membership and the public policy world at large, we are asking JPAM authors to answer a few questions to promote their research article on the APPAM website.
By: Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, and Zachary Peskowitz
What was the genesis/history of the idea for your research?
There’s a general belief that publicizing school district performance information—for example, school district ratings based on student test scores—will help parents and other stakeholders hold their local school districts accountable for service quality. One way this could work is through school district elections. The vast majority of the 14,000 local school districts in the U.S. are governed by elected school boards. If voters replace school board members when performance on district report cards is disappointing, then elections could provide a powerful political incentive to improve educational quality. Yet, nearly all research on school accountability ignores local school district elections as an accountability mechanism. We wanted to know whether elections actually put pressure on school board members to improve student achievement.
What is the main conclusion that becomes evident from your research? (Or, what is our main takeaway?)
We find no evidence that voters hold school board members accountable for published school district ratings. We also find no evidence that school boards hold superintendents accountable for this performance information.
What are some of the more interesting or surprising findings/conclusions, you discovered during this process?
These results are somewhat surprising because another study we conducted—using data from the same state and covering the same period—revealed that district voters were less likely to approve local tax levies if report cards released just prior to the elections indicated poor student achievement. We suspect the discrepancy might be due to district voters being unable to identify incumbent school board members on the ballot and being unsure whom, exactly, to hold accountable.
What next steps do you envision should be taken because of your findings academically and/or practically?
The study provides important insights for state policymakers as they seek to devise new accountability systems under the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In states like Ohio—where school board elections are off-cycle, low-turnout, and low-salience affairs—counting on local democracy to serve as an accountability mechanism is unlikely to be good strategy. Academically, it’s worth replicating this study in other states to determine if citizens hold school boards accountable when electoral institutions make it easier to do so—for example, if the ballot identifies school board members who are running for reelection.
Get more insight! Listen to the authors talk about their research in this podcast.
Vladimir Kogan is an assistant professor in the Political Science Department at The Ohio State University. His research examines American state and local politics, with a focus on political reform.
Stéphane Lavertu is an associate professor in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University. His current research focuses on school district governance and finance, charter schools, open enrollment, and school improvement efforts.
Zachary Peskowitz is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Emory University. His primary research focus is American politics, with a particular interest in how elections affect policy outcomes.