State superintendent appointments hindered by political conflicts

According to a recent analysis from ILO Group, a national education strategy and policy firm, states with Democratic governors or state boards of education are increasingly appointing district superintendents or administrators to the position of state education superintendent. On the other hand, Republican-led states have a split in their selection, with some choosing district administrators and others going for state education agency leaders.

According to ILO Group, the research shows that Republican state leaders are more likely to choose someone with a political background for the top state education job. This is indicative of the growing emphasis on addressing cultural issues in schools. The analysis also demonstrates that elected leaders from both parties often use the selection of state superintendents to make political statements and advance political priorities.

Over the next two years, there will be elections for 24 gubernatorial and state education board positions. The new leaders elected during this time will have the opportunity to make changes or reappoint state superintendents.

Dive Insight:

According to ILO Group, the role of state superintendent is one of the most prominent education positions in state government. The selection of a person for this role indicates the future direction for state public policy.

The research from ILO Group highlights the partisan differences in candidate selection for state superintendents and the impact of changing politics in state education systems. There is also a strong preference for choosing candidates who are familiar with the state, demonstrating clear trends in the messages that leaders are sending about their selection of state superintendents.

The analysis conducted by ILO Group focused on the 39 states and the District of Columbia that currently have governors or state boards of education with partisan affiliations responsible for state superintendent appointments. The remaining 12 states elect their state education superintendent.

Other key findings from the research include:

  • Out of the last two permanent and interim state superintendents chosen by governors and elected state boards in each state, 42% had previously served as district leaders and 31% had been state education administrators.
  • Democratic-led states were more likely to choose district leaders for the state’s top education job. This was followed by state education administrators and candidates from higher education backgrounds. On the other hand, Republican-led states were more likely to appoint state education administrators, followed by district administrators, elected state legislators, and political aides.
  • Republicans showed a higher frequency of choosing elected state legislators or political aides (22% of the time) compared to Democrats (3%).
  • Both political parties preferred making in-state appointments for the state superintendent position, rather than hiring candidates from outside of the state. This suggests a preference for individuals who are familiar with the state’s dynamics, contexts, and priorities.

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