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Clark County Schools Seek New Superintendent, But Do School Districts Matter?
Clark County Schools Seek New Superintendent, But Do School Districts Matter?

AIR DATE: April 10, 2013


Matthew Chingos, author, "Do School Districts Matter?" and Fellow at the Brookings Institution

Becca Bracy Knight, Executive Director, Broad Center for the Management of School Systems

by AMY KINGSLEY -- We all know that some school districts are better than others, right? Some school districts ace standardized tests, and others fail miserably. Those high-achieving districts send more students to college. And they seem to do a better job preparing those kids for the rigors of higher education.

But in a provocative new report , Matthew Chingos, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, determined that school districts account for only about 1 percent of the differences in student achievement. Teachers, on the other hand, account for about 7 percent.

That may not sound like a lot, but the affect of the school district builds up over time.

“That one percent can translate into meaningful differences,” Chingos said. “I gave you that example of the bottom and top district being a grade level apart by the end of fourth and fifth grade. Even just an above average versus a below average district is a difference of a quarter of a grade level by fourth and fifth grade.”

Becca Bracy Knight, executive director of the Broad Center for the management of School Systems, said that a good superintendent can ensure that all students have access to the best, most motivated teachers.

 “The superintendent creates the conditions that support teachers and students across the whole district,” she said.

So what should the Clark County School District learn from the report as it searches for a new superintendent?

“I think one risk of turnover with superintendents is that the new person wants to have their own reform agenda and their own ideas,” Chingos said. “They don’t’ want to be promoting the old ideas. And you create this sort of policy churn where nothing is in place long enough to have much of an impact and nothing looks like it did any good because it wasn’t there long enough. And then you have principals and teachers getting frustrated and not taking it seriously.”

After the quick departure of Dwight Jones, who was sold as a sort of savior for the district, should Clark County Schools look for another superstar super? Knight answered with a qualified “yes.”

 “I’m not a basketball expert, but I’m pretty sure that to get to the final four, you need great players, but you also need a great coach. I think a superintendent plays that role.”

“It’s an enormous job, and that’s part of why you need an incredibly talented person at the helm. And then you need people throughout the system. You need great school leaders, you need great teachers. You need parents who are engaged. You need the support of the business community and other community leaders. There’s no way that one person is going to come in and do this job all by themselves.”


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