Report: How partisan politics impact education at the top

K12 superintendents are more likely to be appointed to a state-level leadership position in Democratic-led areas, a new analysis suggests.

K12 superintendents are more likely to be appointed to a state-level leadership position in Democratic-led areas. In areas that lean the opposite way on the ideological spectrum, state leaders are prone to appointing individuals with a background in politics to the state superintendency. Here’s what that means.

The ILO Group, a woman-founded national education strategy and policy firm, published a new analysis that highlights trends related to state superintendent hiring practices based on the political ideology of said state. For instance, states with Republican leaders are much more inclined to hire someone who is knowledgeable and educated in politics for the top state education role than their Democratic counterparts.

Both political groups, however, often leverage their selection of state superintendents as an opportunity to make political statements “to increasingly predictable effect.”

Upon their analysis of each state’s last two state superintendent appointments, more than half who were nominated by governors or state school boards were previously district leaders (42%) or state education agency leaders (31%).

How leaders feel about these appointments

State leaders have varying justifications for their hires to the top education spot. In Democratic-led states, for example, governors emphasize hiring leaders with extensive backgrounds as educators and a deep connection to the educational establishment, the researchers note.

As for Republican governors, they’re often split between state and district leaders but are more likely to appoint those who align with their political priorities.

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But across party lines, governors would rather make in-state appointments for the state superintendency than look outside the state. The researchers note that this is probably due to their preferences for candidates who are familiar with the state in which they’ll lead, including local dynamics, contests and priorities.

Beyond political signaling

“The selection of a state chief school officer or superintendent is a major moment in the leadership of the governor or state board making the choice,” the research reads.

Understanding who these candidates and and how their backgrounds will influence education in their state is vital. Each of these characteristics shapes how each state will thrive as educators across the country continue to struggle with a number of pandemic-related effects, including learning loss and recovery, teacher shortages, enrollment declines and preparing students for a technology-driven world.

“There is, therefore, a clear public interest in ensuring state leaders have the educational experience, political know-how, and an unwavering commitment to supporting their students in order to overcome these challenges,” the report concludes.

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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