Date of Award

August 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Urban Studies

First Advisor

Douglas Ihrke

Committee Members

John Bohte, Grace Chikoto, Joe Rodriguez, William Velez


Governance, Key Work of School Boards, School Board, Small Group Dynamics


The overwhelming majority of students receiving a publicly funded education in the United States attend a public school in a district overseen by a democratically elected school board. Despite the dominant market share of democratically elected school boards, academic scholarship is increasingly focused on alternative governance structures such as mayoral control, charter schools, and school vouchers. Much research on traditional school boards is in fact skeptical of the capacity for such boards to positively impact academic performance. This dissertation shifts focus back to the almost 14,000 elected school boards in the United States, using original survey data from six strategically chosen states to connect school board governance with district level academic outcomes. The dissertation examines the connections between school board member backgrounds, adherence to a set of best practices created by the National School Boards Association, small group dynamics, and district graduation and dropout rates. The study finds that the way in which school boards govern does affect district level performance. Specifically, school boards that engage in strategic planning, view their superintendent as a collaborator, and mitigate conflict, perform better on academic outcome indicators. The study also presents limited data on non-profit charter school boards, proposes a theoretical model of school board governance, and reviews prior research on school boards and performance. The overall conclusion is that traditional school boards can and do influence academic outcomes, meaning, improving school board governance is a legitimate approach to improving academic achievement.