Panel Paper: The Democratic Deficit in Local Education Governance

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Taft - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Vladimir Kogan1, Stéphane Lavertu1 and Zachary Peskowitz2, (1)The Ohio State University, (2)Emory University

Many critics of education governance reforms (such as charter schools) express concern that such efforts undermine local community control of public schools. Such criticisms, however, assume that elections serve as effective mechanisms of local control. In this paper, we combine administrative records on the demographic composition of students with new data on the backgrounds of voters who elect the governing bodies of school districts to examine the demographic match between districts and their voters. Our analysis reveals a striking democratic deficit: On dimensions of race and socioeconomic status—dimensions that correspond to the most pronounced gaps in achievement among American public school students—voters who play a pivotal role in shaping local education policy look very different from the students that their local public schools actually educate. In addition, we provide evidence that the marked demographic differences between voters and students have important political and administrative consequences for school districts, suggesting that the political pressures may contribute to (or, at least, reinforce) persistent disparities in student achievement.