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The Democratic Deficit in U.S. Education Governance

Published Date March 30, 2021
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Abstract

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 local school boards are likely to be aligned with the needs of the students their districts educate. 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.

The Democratic Deficit in U.S. Education Governance” (w/ Vladimir Kogan and Zachary Peskowitz), American Political Science Review, 15(3): 1082-1089, 2021