Panel: How Do State Education Officials Shape Policy and Student Outcomes? Individual and System-Level Analyses
(Impact of Politics on the Policy Process)

Thursday, November 2, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Addams (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Joshua F Bleiberg, Vanderbilt University
Panel Chairs:  Kenneth Wong, Brown University
Discussants:  Paul Manna, College of William and Mary

In this new policymaking era under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states enjoy increased autonomy over K-12 education policymaking decisions. With the devolution of federal authority comes a widely-held expectation that governors, chief state school officers, and state boards of education will design and implement K-12 education policies that improve student outcomes. Using new sources of data and new measures, this panel explores how state education leaders make decisions about policy and how state-level governance structures shape student outcomes and the policymaking process.

While state governments have recently become more active in making education policy (Henig, 2013; Kirst, 2010), we know little about who state education policymakers are and how they go about making education policy decisions. Furthermore, state education policymakers reside in numerous policymaking bodies, each with distinct rules, traditions, and norms. To understand how individual and institutional characteristics shape state education policymaking, the first paper examines the different incentives that motivate state education leaders using data collected in a cross-national, experiment-based survey of state education policymakers and interviews with 45 state education policymakers in six states. This timely analysis is valuable to practitioners and researchers alike hoping to understand what issues and concerns these policymakers prioritize as they consider what direction their states should take under ESSA.

Complementing this analysis, the second paper examines how incentives differ between state education official selection mechanisms and examines how this difference impacts student outcomes. While appointed education officials are accountable to the governor, officials selected through other mechanisms are responsive to the more diverse interests of voters, creating an incentive for small and iterative reforms. Given this difference, this paper explores whether standardized test scores are higher for students in states with education officials appointed by the governor, who may be willing to enact bolder reforms. Using restricted student level data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress Scheduled Long-Term Trend Assessment from 1971 to 2008, regression results suggest a positive relationship between gubernatorial appointment of education officials and student outcomes.

Moving from the individual level to the system level, the third paper introduces a new measure of state centralization that incorporates multiple components of the governance system and assesses how centralization shapes policy. This measure reflects the governor’s control over selecting the state school board and the chief state school officer, accounting for vertical dispersion of authority across school districts. In the most centralized systems, the governor enjoys unconstrained appointment authority while in decentralized systems these positions are elected. The expectation is that in centralized systems, governors can implement a cohesive reform strategy. Initial analysis suggests centralized states are more likely to design strong policy proposals, measured with Race to the Top application scores, and implement rigorous reforms, measured with National Council on Teacher Quality grades.

The questions this panel explores are now more relevant than ever as the federal footprint in education shrinks and reformers, policymakers, and practitioners alike pin their hopes for improved policies and student outcomes on state education leaders.