Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Susan E. Clarke

Second Advisor

Krister P. Andersson

Third Advisor

Kenneth N. Bickers

Fourth Advisor

Eric Juenke

Fifth Advisor

Michael D. Kanner


This dissertation considers the institutional designs of Colorado K-12 school boards and seeks to understand if increased student achievement and effective board processes are associated with variations in governance structures. Amidst growing critiques and calls for reform in public education, some school boards have adopted new governance rules that change their scope and accountability structures. In Colorado, over thirty school boards have adopted a model known as Policy Governance. This research compares the processes and outcomes of school boards using Policy Governance rules to the processes and outcomes of school boards not using this defined set of rules. Policy Governance encourages the board to focus on its ends, not operational means; act through policy; maintain a healthy board-superintendent relationship; and regularly monitor the superintendent to ensure expectations outlined in board policies are being met.

Two hypotheses are tested in this research: that when a board uses Policy Governance, 1--high student achievement is more likely and 2--effective board processes are more likely. To test these assumptions, original data are used, including survey data from nearly 200 school board members; key-informant interview data from board members and superintendents; and descriptive data from school districts and the state. Preliminary regression analyses that use the presence of Policy Governance as an explanatory variable for student achievement do not return statistically significant results. Turning instead to Ostrom's rules in form versus rules in use framework, further discussion acknowledges this possible disconnect. A potential measurement and analysis issue arises if a board says they use Policy Governance, but do not implement the practices associated with the model; or if a board utilizes practices similar to Policy Governance but does not formally identify as such. To address this, a new variable, fidelity to Policy Governance is constructed using data from self-reports of what drives the majority of board meeting time. While this variable still does not correlate to higher student achievement, it does highlight the importance of a board identifying and implementing a set of good governing practices, regardless of what those institutional rules are formally called.