Management Quality in Public Education

What impact does a high-quality superintendent have on student performance? A new NBER paper by Victor Lavy and Adi Boiko investigates this question using data from schools in Israel, finding a significant effect on student achievement (.04 SD) for top-quality superintendents. From the abstract:

We exploit a quasi-random matching of superintendent and schools, and estimate that superintendent value added has positive and significant effects on primary and middle school students’ test scores in math, Hebrew, and English. One standard deviation improvement in superintendent value added increases test scores by about 0.04 of a standard deviation in the test score distribution. The effect doesn’t vary with students’ socio-economic background, is highly non-linear, increases sharply for superintendents in the highest-quartile of the value added distribution, and is larger for female superintendents.

How did top-quality superintendents achieve these results? By improving the focus and clarity of school priorities and procedures, with an emphasis on improving school climate. The authors note the similarity of this management approach to Fryer’s 2014 study of Houston schools adopting a charter-style “no excuses” approach.

The results of this study, along with Fryer’s 2014 study, should inform the training and practice of superintendents in the United States. While successful superintendents will also likely need to develop and demonstrate competency in instructional leadership, finance, HR, and legal matters, the value-add of strength in these domains isn’t as clear. Superintendents have the most impact on student outcomes when they help bring focus and clarity to schools while also emphasizing strong school culture. The leaders and programs that embrace this approach are likely to deliver better outcomes for their students in the long run.