Giving Compass’ Take:
• A new study published in the American Educational Research Association’s open access journal finds that school board members are disproportionately coming from whiter, affluent, and more educated neighborhoods.
• How do school board demographics affect education policy decisions? How can districts help create more representative school boards?
• Read about the plans for school boards to collaborate across cities to create a national community.
Who should have the greatest say over education? Elected school boards, most agree.
So who controls the elected boards? In spite of their importance, we know relatively little about the composition of these most basic entities of school governance. But a new study published in the American Educational Research Association’s open access journal has uncovered a big finding:
School board members are disproportionately likely to come from wealthier, whiter, and more educated neighborhoods within districts.
The study, conducted by Vanderbilt University professor Jason Grissom and University of Pennsylvania professor Marc Meredith, suggests that the most advantaged areas of a district — and the schools located within them — receive greater representation than comparatively disadvantaged ones.
Neighborhoods that produced winners in school board elections were wealthier, boasting average annual incomes of $55,700 (compared with $49,900 in neighborhoods without election winners). Median home values in neighborhoods with board members were $15,000 higher. Adults in those areas were more likely to hold bachelor’s degrees, and residents were slightly more likely to be white than black or Hispanic.
There is even a partisan dimension to the trend. Using voter registration data, Grissom and Meredith found that the more Democratic voters resided within a census block group, the less likely it was to produce a school board member.
The disparities in socioeconomic status are far greater in urban and suburban areas than in rural ones, the authors note, because earnings and home values are generally more polarized in cities.
“[T]hese geographic patterns may represent a further source of advantage for more affluent communities,” they write. “Researchers have argued that residential segregation by race and class drive inequalities across schools … Our results suggest some potential political mechanisms that deserve further attention linking neighborhood segregation with policy decisions.”
Read the full article about school board members by Kevin Mahnken at The 74
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