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Educator Effectiveness

July 2018


What does the research say about the relationship between school board practices and educational outcomes, particularly for students of color?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on the relationship between school board practices and educational outcomes, particularly for students of color. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

California School Boards Association. (2017). The school board role in creating the conditions for student achievement: A review of the research. West Sacramento, CA: Author. Retrieved from [12,782 KB PDF icon ]

From the introduction: “This report sheds light on how boards can carry out their essential responsibility of governance to help their school districts and county offices of education improve learning outcomes for the students in their communities. In studies of district improvement, researchers have paid limited attention to the role of school district boards and virtually none to county boards. It has focused instead on central offices and schools, including the role and impact of superintendents. Therefore, this report uses a broader lens to help board members understand how to support system-wide improvement. We begin by presenting what research has said about how school districts impact student outcomes, and then we look at the role that boards have in supporting that impact.”

Ford, M. R., & Ihrke, D. M. (2016). Do school board governance best practices improve district performance? Testing the Key Work of School Boards in Wisconsin. International Journal of Public Administration, 39(2), 87–94. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The most prominent set of school board governance best practices used in the United States is the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA’s) Key Work of School Boards. In this article, we operationalize adherence to the Key Work of School Boards with multiple survey items answered by Wisconsin school board members. Using multivariate regression models, we find that adherence to the best practices results in improved achievement in districts represented by board members who have served for five or more years. The findings support the idea that school board governance behaviors are linked to district-level academic outcomes.”

Note: REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible. Although we were unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this article, we determined that it might be of interest to you. The resource may be available through university or public library systems.

Land, D. (2002). Local school boards under review: Their role and effectiveness in relation to students’ academic achievement. Baltimore, MD: Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report provides a review of literature published in the past 2 decades on the role and effectiveness of school boards. Though school boards are but one component of school district leadership—the superintendent and other district administrators and staff constituting the other main components—school boards are the focus of this review because they have a distinct role and have been understudied. The report is organized into five major sections. It begins by presenting a brief history of school boards, then it describes their current state. The charge that school boards are outmoded and should be eliminated cannot be addressed adequately without an understanding of how they have evolved and currently function. In the third section, school boards and educational governance reforms are examined in order to describe the larger context in which school boards operate and explore how school boards have been, and might be, reformed in the future. In the next section, characteristics of effective school boards that have been identified by school board experts are described. Because qualitative and quantitative research on school boards is limited, the final section discusses research limitations and future directions.”

Maricle, C. (2014). Governing to achieve: A synthesis of research on school governance to support student achievement. Sacramento, CA: California School Boards Association. Retrieved from

From the executive summary: “Effective boards engage in three kinds of governing activities that are separate but inter-related, and all take place at board meetings. In addition, both in and outside of school board meetings, effective boards engage the community. The individual concepts summarized below are not difficult to understand. Collectively, however, they constitute a wide array of individual and group knowledge and skills that are practiced in very unique context—board meetings. These meetings address a wide variety of issues, with varying levels of detailed information in the public view of constituents with very different interests. Because the boards can only do their work at board meetings, there is a considerable time constraint. This makes the practice of governance difficult. This report summarizes research on effective school governance that can provide boards with a framework to assess how the board can best improve its own performance, and to do so in ways that contribute to student achievement. Great governance happens when board members and superintendents implement these simple ideas with uncommon discipline.”

Plough, B. (2014). School board governance and student achievement: School board members’ perceptions of their behaviors and beliefs. Educational Leadership and Administration, 25, 41–53. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The intent of this study is to determine whether there was a difference between school board members’ perceptions of their own behaviors and beliefs related to student achievement in California’s high-performing poverty districts as opposed to such perceptions in low-performing poverty districts. Due to the findings of this study, the author calls on policymakers to place more attention and provide greater support to school boards for the good of public education.”

Rhim, L. M. (2013). Moving beyond the Killer B’s: The role of school boards in school accountability and transformation. Lincoln, IL: Academic Development Institute. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Locally controlled public schools are one of the cornerstones of our nation’s democracy, yet many schools are not preparing students for success. Far too many students are not graduating, and many of those who do graduate are woefully unprepared for college or a meaningful career. Successfully initiating and sustaining meaningful improvements in the lowest-performing public schools is a pressing challenge for policy leaders and practitioners nationwide. Local school boards sit at the intersection of federal and state policy and local implementation of reform initiatives. Yet, ongoing efforts to improve public education focus primarily on the role of teachers, principals, and superintendents, as well as state and federal policymakers. Missing from this debate is a robust discussion or examination of the role of local school boards. In light of this disconnect, researchers sought to examine the research available regarding the role of local school boards in targeted improvement efforts and explore emerging practice through interviews with key practitioners in districts engaged in such efforts. As the dominant form of school governance for the foreseeable future, it is critical that we consider strategies to leverage school boards’ authority to improve student outcomes. This report outlines methods and key findings, and identifies strategies proposed to more effectively leverage local school boards’ potential to play a leading role in catalyzing and sustaining meaningful change that will lead to better outcomes for students.”

Shober, A. F., & Hartney, M. T. (2014). Does school board leadership matter? Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Are the nation’s 90,000-plus school board members critical players in enhancing student learning? Are they part of the problem? Are they harmless bystanders? Among the takeaways are the following: (1) Board members, by and large, possess accurate information about their districts when it comes to finance, teacher pay, collective bargaining, and class size. Whether they were knowledgeable from the outset or surround themselves with savvy staff and administrators, many are making decisions from an informed point of view. (2) Such knowledge is not uniformly distributed. Surprisingly, members who were never educators themselves are more accurately informed than their peers who once were (or still are) educators. Likewise, political moderates appear to have more accurate knowledge than their liberal or conservative counterparts. (3) A district’s success in ‘beating the odds’ academically is related to board members’ focus on the improvement of academics. Unfortunately, not all board members have this focus; some prefer a broader approach, such as developing the ‘whole child.’ (4) Board members elected during on-cycle, at-large elections are more likely to serve in districts that ‘beat the odds’ than those chosen by voters off-cycle or by ward. In some localities, how board members are elected may deter the best and brightest from taking on these key roles. What does this mean for education governance? School board members and their attitudes do matter—so it’s important to take seriously who gets elected and how. Even as we strive to bring about structural reforms and governance innovations in the education system, we should also be working to get better results from the structures in place in most communities today.”

Turner, E. O. (2015). Districts’ responses to demographic change: Making sense of race, class, and immigration in political and organizational context. American Educational Research Journal, 52(1), 4–39. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Many U.S. public school systems now face three large demographic shifts: rising poverty, the growing number of students from immigrant families, and increasing populations of students of color. Yet, we know little about how district policymakers react to these important changes or indeed the factors that consistently shape their policymaking. Drawing on interpretative policy analysis, the politics of education, and in-depth interviews with 37 school board members, superintendents, and district administrators across two school districts, I argue that racial meaning emerged as central in both districts’ policymaking processes as political and organizational contexts interacted to shape district leaders’ meaning-making and policy responses. Yet, leaders’ meaning-making and policy responses obscured systematic inequalities in students’ lives, including those stemming from race, immigration, and poverty. I conclude with implications of this analysis for understanding school district policymaking and how to improve schooling for students of color, students in poverty, and immigrant students.”

Note: REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible. Although we were unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this article, we determined that it might be of interest to you. The resource may be available through university or public library systems.

Washington State School Directors’ Association. (2008). The role of school boards in improving student achievement: Guiding principles from WSSDA. Olympia, WA: Author. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “School boards have always recognized the improvement of student achievement as central to their role in governing public schools. The Washington State Education Reform Act and the Federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) have, however, significantly affected the way schools go about educating students and the way boards hold schools accountable for educating students. Both Acts raise expectations for districts and schools, with the goal of each student meeting or exceeding state standards. With increased accountability for districts, the role of school boards in improving student achievement requires strategic policymaking that places an even greater emphasis on student learning. This paper presents several guiding principles to highlight the important role school boards have in ensuring that all students achieve the nation’s academic standards.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

National School Boards Association –

From the website: “NSBA has four councils that represent school board members in districts with underserved students. The councils—the National American Indian/Alaska Native Council of School Board Members (AIAN), the National Black Council of School Board Members (NBC), the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE), and the National Hispanic Council (NHC)—have been working for years to ensure that school board members both understand and are equipped to support the unique needs of historically disadvantaged children.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “school board” descriptor: “academic achievement” descriptor: “minority group students”

  • “school board” descriptor: “academic achievement”

  • descriptor: “boards of education”

  • descriptor: “administrator behavior”

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.