School & District Management

Who’s in Charge?

By Lynn Olson — November 17, 1999 1 min read
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American education grew up from the community outward. From Colonial times onward, local citizens built the schools, raised the money, hired the teachers, and chose which books to use. They also elected local leaders to oversee the job.

The process was often fractious, and more players have entered the fray in the 20th century. The voices of elected board members and their constituents have been joined by a discordant chorus: a new breed of education professionals, the courts, the federal and state governments, teachers’ unions, and advocates for a host of other competing groups and interests.

Meanwhile, new legislation and rules have spawned bureaucracies and moved decisions further from local communities. The result is what the historian David B. Tyack calls “fragmented centralization.”

Today, that system is also under challenge from market-based approaches as Americans once again ask questions about who controls their schools and how they are run.

The ninth installment of “Lessons of a Century,” a yearlong Education Week series of monthly special sections, looks at “Who’s in Charge?”

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A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 1999 edition of Education Week as The Century Series: Who’s in Charge?

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