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Centralized Governance and Student Outcomes: Excellence, Equity, and Academic Achievement in the U.S. States


  • Paul Manna


Are states with more centralized approaches to education governance more likely to have higher student achievement and lower achievement gaps between poor and nonpoor students? This article addresses that question by theorizing about the effects of political, administrative, and fiscal centralization on student outcomes. It tests competing hypotheses about the degree to which centralization across these three dimensions is associated with the promotion of academic excellence (higher achievement) and equity (narrower achievement gaps). The results demonstrate the virtue of studying academic performance through the lens of governance and more distal system-level variables rather than, as has been common in the literature, more narrow policy-oriented measures. The findings show that strong relationships exist between student outcomes and the degree of political centralization and administrative centralization in a state, yet there are no apparent associations with fiscal centralization. The results also illustrate that governing arrangements are not consistently related to the advancement of excellence and equity. In terms of administrative centralization, specifically, apparent trade-offs may exist.