Do States With Appointed Education Executives Perform Better? Not on NAEP Reading Tests

So there is a new proposal out to replace the elected position of Superintendent of Public Instruction with a gubernatorial appointee. If this sounds familiar, it is. Tommy Thompson pushed this back in the day. I am generally skeptical of structural approaches to education reform such as these. One, they are far to simplistic, and two, I like to err on the side of democracy. The elimination of a democratically elected position is a serious action that can, in my opinion, only be justified by serious performance gains. The fact that other states do it this way, or the fact that one does not like the results of an election, is not enough to justify the disenfranchisement of voters.

I took a few minutes this morning to build a dataset of state-level 8th grade NAEP reading scale scores for 2009, 2011, and 2013. I then compared scores of the 12 states with elected state education executives with those of the 38 states with appointed state education executives. As the graph below shows, the states with appointed heads had slightly higher scores, but the difference is substantively negligible.

1

Next, I did the same thing using the scores of only low-income pupils. As the graph below shows, scores were identical in 2013, slightly higher for states with elected executives in 2011, and slightly higher for states with appointed executives in 2009. Again, the differences are substantively negligible.

2

This little exercise is far from definitive. But, at least by one widely-used metric, there is no evidence of serious performance advantages for states with appointed executives.

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