Ohio Superintendent Survey Doesn't Support Conclusions
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Teri Battaglieri: (248) 444-7071, greatlakescenter@greatlakescenter.org
Catherine Horn: (713) 743-5032 clhorn2@uh.edu
Ohio Superintendent Survey Doesn't Support Conclusions
Fordham Institute report of little value for policymakers, according to new review

EAST LANSING, Mi. (May 3, 2011) - Based on a survey of school superintendents in Ohio, a recent Fordham Institute report argues for increased district authority instead of increased school resources. It suggests that even with limited resources, academic achievement would improve if superintendents were freed from state mandates and union contracts and had more control over the funding they receive. A new review of the report finds that it relies on a flawed survey and that its conclusions are problematic.

The Fordham report was reviewed for the Think Twice think tank review project by Catherine Horn and Gary Dworkin, education and sociology professors at the University of Houston.

The review was produced by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education, with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Horn and Dworkin reviewed Yearning to Break Free: Ohio Superintendents Speak Out, a report based on a survey of 246 school superintendents, asking questions focused on reducing costs and expanding superintendents' autonomy.

Horn and Dworkin find that the Fordham Institute report's "conclusions are problematic because of the combined effects of non-representative sampling, leading or inappropriately worded items, and the conflating of opinion and fact."

The report offered no peer-reviewed literature to substantiate the methods used or the validity of its conclusions. The mail-in survey's weak response rate (40 percent of all invited superintendents), combined with an apparent failure to examination for possible sampling bias, further call its conclusions into question.

Moreover, Horn and Dworkin point out multiple shortcomings with the design of the survey questionnaire. Perhaps most importantly to the report's main argument, respondents were forced to choose between "significant increases in school funding" or "significant expansion of management authority over staff."

As the reviewers note, the first option is hardly realistic in today's economic climate. And when given the choice in another question, the superintendents offered an answer in some tension with the report's broad conclusion: "Despite the reported finding that superintendents prefer greater autonomy in personnel and school policies over increased funding, the majority of superintendents also contend that they would see a trade-off of more autonomy with a decrease in funding as undesirable," Horn and Dworkin write.

Ultimately, the report's argument that granting superintendents greater autonomy, fewer mandates, and the right to hire and fire teachers and other employees at will would lift achievement scores lacks sufficient evidence, the reviewers note. "Merely because the superintendents [who responded] think that getting greater control over the hiring and firing of teachers will raise tests scores is not the same as empirical evidence that such a practice will raise scores."

Find Horn's and Dworkin's report and a link to the Fordham Institute report at

The Think Twice think tank review project, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policy makers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review is also available on the National Education Policy Center website at:

The mission of the Great Lakes Center is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices.

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