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Brookings – Do School Districts Matter?

Do School Districts Matter?, by: Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, Matthew M. Chingos and Michael R. Gallaher

  • “School districts occupy center stage in education reform in the U.S. They manage nearly all public funding and are frequently the locus of federal and state reform initiatives, e.g., instituting meaningful teacher evaluation systems. The most charismatic leaders over the last decade, people such as Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein, have received considerable national media attention. Financial compensation for district leaders is high, with many being paid more than the chief state school officers who oversee the entire systems in which they serve. Some private philanthropies pour money into initiatives to improve district performance. Others invest in ways that suggest that they too think districts are important but as impediments to rather than instruments of reform…There are also districts that have displayed exceptional patterns of performance in terms of student achievement over the last decade, including districts that beat their demographic odds every year, districts that consistently underperformed, districts that had nose-dive declines, and districts that experienced transformative growth. These findings provide an empirical justification for efforts to improve student achievement through district-level reforms and should be a tantalizing fruit for those who want to better understand why some districts are better than others and translate that knowledge into action.”
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