Stéphane Lavertu Shares $632,000 Lyle Spencer Research Award

Glenn College Professor Stéphane Lavertu and Political Science Professor Vladimir Kogan are the recipients of a $632,778 Lyle Spencer Research Award from the Chicago-based Spencer Foundation to fund a research study examining how local voter control of public schools affects the day-to-day administration of American school districts and student learning in the classroom.

The purpose of the Education Governance and Accountability Project is to improve understanding of the political institutions governing U.S. public education, so that they may be designed to promote democratic accountability and the efficient provision of K-12 education.

Kogan and Lavertu, along with their co-principal Investigator, Emory University political scientist Zachary Peskowitz, will collect a decade of data on local school district elections across 20 states and apply rigorous statistical techniques to understand how the politics of public education affect school administration and student learning.

“Many popular education reforms — from the dissemination of school report cards showing how students are doing to the opening of publicly funded charter schools — are based on the assumption that local democratic control over public school districts is broken,” said Lavertu. “Many of these assumptions are based on faith, rather than facts. We have only a very limited understanding of voter behavior in these local elections, and how election results translate into the day-to-day administration of schools and student achievement in the classroom. The Education Governance and Accountability Project is designed to fill precisely this gap.”

The three-year project builds on a pilot study the researchers recently completed in Ohio. The pilot was funded by Ohio State’s Democracy Studies Institute, which was established by the College of Arts and Sciences in 2013, and has received administrative support from the John Glenn College of Public Affairs.

The findings from the Ohio pilot challenge much of the conventional wisdom about local school district elections. For example, the researchers found no evidence that lower ratings on state school report cards led to more electoral accountability for school board members. However, they did show that certain performance information influenced school levy elections — but in a perverse way, with voters withholding public funds from what they perceived to be low-performing schools, even when these schools were actually quite effective.

Another part of the pilot study showed that Ohio levy elections had an important impact on school district administration and student learning. The defeat of a levy resulted in one week less of student learning the following year, they found.

The funds from the Spencer Grant will be used to build on the Ohio pilot and expand data collection to at least 19 other states.

“Local school boards are the most common elected office in the country, yet very little research has examined them. Our findings to date raise important questions about how political processes shape public education in this country, and we expect that our work with the Spencer Foundation will lead to in even more important insights,” said Kogan.

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