School Governance


Edited by: Richard C. Hunter, Frank Brown, Saran Donahoo, Charles J. Russo & Allan G. Osborne Jr.

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    Charles F. Russo

    University of Dayton

    Allan G. Osborne, Jr.

    Principal (Retired), Snug Harbor Community School, Quincy, Massachusetts

    Volume Editors

    Richard C. Hunter

    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Bahrain Teachers College, University of Bahrain, Kingdom of Bahrain

    Frank Brown

    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Saran Donahoo

    Southern Illinois University Carbondale

    Advisory Board

    Francine DeFranco

    Homer Babbidge Library, University of Connecticut

    Ralph D. Mawdsley

    Cleveland State University

    Martha M. McCarthy

    Loyola Marymount University and Indiana University

    Mark E. Shelton

    Monroe C. Gutman Education Library, Harvard University


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    About the Editors-in-Chief

    Charles J. Russo, JD, EdD, is the Joseph Panzer Chair in Education in the School of Education and Allied Professions and adjunct professor in the School of Law at the University of Dayton. He was the 1998–1999 president of the Education Law Association and 2002 recipient of its McGhehey (Achievement) Award. He has authored or coauthored more than 200 articles in peer-reviewed journals; has authored, coauthored, edited, or coedited 40 books; and has in excess of 800 publications. Russo also speaks extensively on issues in education law in the United States and abroad.

    Along with having spoken in 33 states and 25 nations on 6 continents, Russo has taught summer courses in England, Spain, and Thailand; he also has served as a visiting professor at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane and the University of Newcastle, Australia; the University of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina; South East European University, Macedonia; the Potchefstroom Campus of North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa; the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and the University of São Paulo, Brazil. He regularly serves as a visiting professor at the Potchefstroom Campus of North-West University.

    Before joining the faculty at the University of Dayton as professor and chair of the Department of Educational Administration in July 1996, Russo taught at the University of Kentucky in Lexington from August 1992 to July 1996 and at Fordham University in his native New York City from September 1989 to July 1992. He taught high school for 8½ years before and after graduation from law school. He received a BA (classical civilization) in 1972, a JD in 1983, and an EdD (educational administration and supervision) in 1989 from St. John's University in New York City. He also received a master of divinity degree from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, New York, in 1978, as well as a PhD Honoris Causa from the Potchefstroom Campus of North-West University, South Africa, in May 2004 for his contributions to the field of education law.

    Russo and his wife, a preschool teacher who provides invaluable assistance proofreading and editing, travel regularly both nationally and internationally to Russo's many speaking and teaching engagements.

    Allan G. Osborne, Jr., is the retired principal of the Snug Harbor Community School in Quincy, Massachusetts, a nationally recognized Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. During his 34 years in public education, he served as a special education teacher, director of special education, assistant principal, and principal. He has also served as an adjunct professor of special education and education law at several colleges, including Bridgewater State University and American International University.

    Osborne earned an EdD in educational leadership from Boston College and an MEd in special education from Fitchburg State College (now Fitchburg State University) in Massachusetts. He received a BA in psychology from the University of Massachusetts.

    Osborne has authored or coauthored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, monographs, and textbooks on legal issues in education, along with textbooks on other aspects of education. Although he writes and presents in several areas of educational law, he specializes in legal and policy issues in special education. He is the coauthor, with Charles J. Russo, of five texts published by Corwin, a SAGE company.

    A past president of the Education Law Association (ELA), Osborne has been an attendee and presenter at most ELA conferences since 1991. He has also written a chapter now titled “Students With Disabilities” for the Yearbook of Education Law, published by ELA, since 1990. He is on the editorial advisory committee of West's Education Law Reporter and is coeditor of the “Education Law Into Practice” section of that journal, which is sponsored by ELA. He is also on the editorial boards of several other education journals.

    In recognition of his contributions to the field of education law, Osborne was presented with the McGhehey Award by ELA in 2008, the highest award given by the organization. He is also the recipient of the City of Quincy Human Rights Award, the Financial Executives Institute of Massachusetts Principals Award, the Junior Achievement of Massachusetts Principals Award, and several community service awards.

    Osborne spends his time in retirement writing, editing, and working on his hobbies, genealogy and photography. He and his wife Debbie, a retired elementary school teacher, enjoy gardening, traveling, attending theater and musical performances, and volunteering at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

    About the Volume Editors

    Richard C. Hunter is a professor of educational administration and former head of the Educational Organization and Leadership Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). He holds an EdD in policy, planning, and administration from the University of California at Berkeley and was professor and chair of the Educational Leadership Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has worked as a teacher, a principal, and an assistant and associate superintendent in the public schools of Berkeley, California; U.S. Air Force Schools in Tokyo, Japan; Richmond, California; and Seattle, Washington. He also was the district superintendent of the public schools of Richmond, Virginia; Dayton, Ohio; and Baltimore, Maryland. He was an associate director for education for the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity in Arlington, Virginia. He was given a Fulbright Scholar Program Award from the U.S. Department of State and is currently serving as a lecturer at the Bahrain Teachers College of the University of Bahrain.

    Frank Brown is the Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership and Dean Emeritus, School of Education, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Brown holds a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley and has held several academic and administrative positions: lecturer in education and acting director of mathematics and science education, University of California at Berkeley; associate director, New York State Commission on the Quality, Cost and Financing of Elementary and Secondary Education; assistant professor and director of University's Urban Institute, City College of New York; professor of educational administration and PhD program in public policy and director of the Cora P. Maloney College, State University of New York at Buffalo; and visiting scholar, Graduate School of Education, University of California at Berkeley. He has authored more than 300 publications and is listed in Who's Who in America and Who's Who in Black America.

    Saran Donahoo is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education and the director of the College Student Personnel Program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She earned both her PhD and her MA at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    She completed her BA in secondary education at the University of Arizona. Her published works include coediting Teaching Leaders to Lead Teachers: Educational Administration in the Era of Constant Crisis and articles in Teachers College Record, Equity & Excellence in Education, Christian Higher Education, Urban Education, and Education and Urban Society, as well as an array of book chapters. She also serves as associate editor for Media Reviews for the Journal of Student Affairs Research & Practice. In 2009, she received both the Joyce Cain Award for Distinguished Research on African Descendants from the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) and the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Division J Outstanding Publication Award.

    About the Contributors

    Thomas Alsbury is associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at North Carolina State University. His research focuses on school boards, superintendents, and organizational governance, and he directs the national University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) Center for Research on the Superintendency and District Governance.

    Cindi Chance serves as professor of educational leadership. She served as dean of the College of Education at Georgia Southern University for 8 years, leaving to accept a Fulbright Specialist exchange in Wuhan, China. She previously served as dean of the College of Education at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and assistant dean at the University of Memphis. Chance spent 20 years as a classroom teacher and principal and has written and presented extensively on school issues.

    James R. Crawford is an associate professor in the School of Environmental Science and Public Affairs in the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. For the last 5 years he has been involved with Innovations International Charter School of Southern Nevada (IICSN) as a governing board member. Recently he served as board president. IICSN has been deemed a “high achieving” charter school by the Nevada Department of Education. Crawford has been actively involved in the design of a new interdisciplinary multiagency urban leadership program through the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs.

    Philip T. K. Daniel is the Flesher Professor of Educational Administration and adjunct professor of Law at The Ohio State University. He is the author of numerous refereed publications and is coauthor of the books Law and Public Education; Education Law and the Public Schools: A Compendium; and the upcoming Law, Policy, and Higher Education.

    Larry Lee Dlugosh is professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL). Dlugosh served as a high school principal and superintendent of schools in Nebraska for 25 years before joining the Department of Educational Administration (EDAD) at UNL in 1990. He served as professor of educational leadership and department chair of the EDAD department for 15 of his 21 years at UNL. Dlugosh retired on June 30, 2011. He continues to advise doctoral and master's degree students in educational leadership.

    Lisa G. Driscoll is associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her research is in the fields of educational finance, law, and policy. Driscoll serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Education Finance and on the advisory board of the National Education Finance Conference.

    Ellen Wexler Eckman is associate professor and chair of the Department of Education Policy and Leadership Studies in the College of Education at Marquette University. Her research has focused on women high school principals and the coprincipalship.

    Shellie Gammill is a professional educator who started her career in the classroom. She started through the administration track serving as principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent in a rural school district. She has been researching the impact of gender on women in administration at the University of Oklahoma.

    Casey E. George-Jackson currently manages Project STEM Trends in Enrollment & Persistence for Underrepresented Populations (STEP-UP) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which investigates underrepresented undergraduate students in the sciences. She also serves as adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership at the University of Illinois.

    Rayma Lea Harchar is assistant professor in educational leadership at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She teaches leadership for educational administrators and consults on culture, team capacity, and achievement. She received her EdD in school administration from Oklahoma State University. She has superintendent experience and 34 years in K–12 schools.

    Kristina A. Hesbol is assistant professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations at Illinois State University. Her teaching, research, and service converge on the impact of principal leadership as praxis in leading inclusive systems of learners, using data to inform instructional decision making, and building systemic capacity for change.

    Kevin Hollenbeck, vice president of the Upjohn Institute, has experience in evaluating workforce development programs. For the Department of Labor, he is principal investigator of an evaluation of the WIRED initiative. For the State of Washington, he is estimating the rate of return to secondary CTE, community college occupational education, and other workforce development programs. He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

    Liz Hollingworth is assistant professor of educational policy and leadership studies at the University of Iowa College of Education. Her research and teaching focus on issues of assessment, policy, and leadership, particularly how accountability policies affect school improvement efforts.

    Sonya Douglass Horsford is senior resident scholar of education with the Lincy Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her research on educational leadership, policy, and politics in the post–civil rights era has appeared in journals such as Educational Administration Quarterly, The Urban Review, Urban Education, and Journal of School Leadership.

    Jacqueline E. Jacobs recently retired as professor of educational leadership at Western Carolina University and is President and CEO of KMH Educational Consulting, LLC, which provides consultative services to school districts on a range of topics including principal leadership, gender equity in special education, and student engagement.

    Patrick M. Jenlink is professor of doctoral studies, Department of Secondary Education and Educational Leadership, Stephen F. Austin State University. He is also director, Texas Educational Research Center for Educator Preparation, Practice and Policy. Jenlink's research interests include democratic education, policy, and ethical leadership.

    Jason LaFrance presently serves as assistant professor of educational leadership at Georgia Southern University. He previously served in various teaching and administrative roles at the elementary and middle school levels in public and private settings ranging from 250 to 1,550 students.

    Wayne D. Lewis is assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies at the University of Kentucky. He writes and teaches in the areas of educational policy, education reform, school-community collaboration, and inclusiveness. Lewis earned a PhD at North Carolina State University in educational research and policy analysis and an MA at the University of Akron in Urban Studies with a concentration in public administration.

    José R. Llanes is professor of organization and leadership at Auburn University where he has served as head of the Foundations, Leadership, and Technology Department. He is a leader in the study of governance issues in the public sector and across national boundaries and cultures.

    Lewis Madhlangobe works for Texas State University–San Marcos, doing research on transitions, what works in education, and school improvement for the 21st century. He believes that there is a direct relationship between school improvement and parental involvement in school governance.

    Meredith Mountford is an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University in the Department of Educational Leadership and Research Methodology. She is also codirector for the UCEA Joint Center for Research on District Governance and chair for AERA's Research on the Superintendency Special Interest Group.

    Donald J. Peurach is assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of Michigan, where he also served as a researcher on the Study of Instructional Improvement. His research focuses on the interactions among education organization, policy, and reform as they bear on instructional and leadership practice.

    Ted Purinton is associate professor in the Graduate School of Education at the American University in Cairo. His books include Six Degrees of School Improvement: Empowering a New Profession of Teaching and Making Sense of Social Networks in Schools.

    Malila N. Robinson is a PhD student in educational policy at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. She received a JD from Rutgers School of Law in 2002. Her research interests include educational law and policy and issues of equity. Her research has appeared in Educational Policy, Journal of LGBT Youth, and Leadership and Policy in Schools.

    Janelle Scott is assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley in the Graduate School of Education and the African American Studies Department. Her research centers on three policy strands: the racial politics of public education; the politics of school choice, marketization, and privatization; and the role of elite and community-based advocacy in shaping public education.

    Sandra Vergari is associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Policy Studies at the State University of New York at Albany. She is a political scientist with a focus on local, state, and federal education politics, governance, and policy change. She received her PhD from Michigan State University.

    Sharon Ashton Wilbur is director of leadership projects for the K20 Center for Educational and Community Renewal at the University of Oklahoma. Along with her current research, Wilbur draws on 28 years in the public schools as a classroom teacher and building principal.

    Dawn G. Williams is associate professor and department chair of educational administration and policy at Howard University. She is the author and coauthor of approximately 20 articles, book reviews, and book chapters that highlight the impact of K–12 macro educational policies (particularly school choice policies) targeted for urban school reform.


    Throughout this volume, we use the term school governance to refer to every aspect associated with leading, managing, and guiding public education. Although the issues debated in this volume affect various aspects of public schools, this volume and its chapters specifically focus on how these issues influence the governance structure used in schools. As an introduction to this volume, this section offers a brief, general overview of the issues explored in this book.

    History and Foundation of School Governance

    As we look at the contemporary structure of public education and school governance, it can be tempting to focus exclusively on things as they are. Yet, even as public schools face ever-growing pressure and outcries for change, it is important to recognize that many of the structures that we have were not always present and many of the suggested reforms directed at school governance are not entirely new. Focusing on the groups and individuals positioned to have direct authority over the operations of public schools, this brief history helps provide some insights into the development of public education governance in the United States.

    School Boards

    In many cases, public education in the United States began with one-room schoolhouses that served children of all ages and academic abilities. Often, these schools functioned as an element of the local community funded, maintained, and controlled by town and city governments. Essentially, the same political leaders who established liquor laws, took care of roads, and authorized law enforcement also managed public education. As such, these local governments treated schools like any other municipal department.

    As the land transitioned from English colonies to individual and equal entities within the United States, people also adopted revised visions for running schools. Supported by the General Court, towns in the Massachusetts Bay Colony instituted a commitment to local control of education as early as 1642 (Cole, 1957). Beginning with Boston in 1721, municipalities established special committees specifically responsible for monitoring and managing schools (Bryant, 2011). Motivated and challenged by Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia Assembly entertained a bill in 1779 that sought to create an oversight board of three elected alderman in each county who would have responsibility for governing public education in their areas (Houston, 2011). Although the introduction of this bill by itself did not increase the availability of public schools, the mere suggestion of officially allocating this authority to local officials helped illustrate the important role that Jefferson and others expected that education would play in the new nation.

    As public education spread throughout the colony and the fervor against anything resembling monarchial or other absolute authority took hold of the developing nation during and after the American Revolution, states applied Jefferson's logic by recognizing the need to specify and clearly establish oversight related to educational matters within their borders. In response, Massachusetts became the first state to create a department of education in 1837. Supported by the state's new constitution, Massachusetts obtained legal authority to manage public education. Even so, the early structure of state involvement in public education allowed local school boards, committees, and leaders to maintain practical authority over receiving and allocating public funds, hiring personnel, and most other aspects of day-to-day school management (Land, 2002; Sell, 2005). By the beginning of the 20th century, several other states, including New York and Pennsylvania, also established state agencies to centralize their influence over public education. Indeed, in 1895, Pennsylvania became the first state to develop a school board association where governing committees throughout the state came together to devise consistent standards and approaches to public education (Bryant, 2011).

    Massachusetts often proved to be a leader in implementing school governance structures similar to what we currently see operating in the United States, whereas the southern states moved much slower in formally organizing public education. Before the Civil War, only Kentucky and North Carolina operated public education that emulated the opportunities available in the northern states. Strongly influenced by the wealthy, slave-owning ruling class of the region, many southern states simply did not promote the idea of education as either a public good or a social necessity. Instead, states such as Mississippi and South Carolina denied lower income whites and free blacks access to public education fearing that such opportunities would also promote literacy and (as an outgrowth) rebellion among the slaves and others that the southern gentry felt were beneath their status. Following the Civil War when public education began to spread throughout the South, segregationist and classist perspectives continued to affect the structure of these schools, leading to common school boards that set separate agendas for facilities based on the skin color of the students that they served. Still feeling the sting of losing the war, southern states both spurned attempts by the federal government to improve the education offered to nonwhites and centralized control over schooling with local boards to ensure that public education continued to reflect and promote the ideologies of the ruling elites (Anderson, 1988).

    Outside of uprooting many social, political, and economic elements of life in the 19th-century South, the end of slavery also helped usher in the development of the industrial age in the United States. Shifting from a primarily agrarian (farm-based) economy, the United States and its inhabitants ended the 19th century and began the 20th century increasingly dependent on money generated from the production of manufactured materials such as steel and textiles. Within this context, the strength of the local school boards increased. Even so, the combined political and economic climate led to a resurgence of municipal influence on public school districts, especially in growing urban areas. Seeking to cleanse public schools of the corruption surrounding big-city politics, class wars (especially between people of different ethnicities and national origins), and labor unions, Progressive Era reformists used the law to institute new barriers to protect public education. Specifically, the establishment of child labor laws and the removal of public education from the authority of city government both strengthened the authority and the power allotted to school boards.

    The powers that school boards obtained in the early 20th century continued relatively unchecked until the federal government shifted its attention. Motivated by the cold war and the need to maintain U.S. dominance in the post–World War II era, the federal government looked to public schools to impart the knowledge, skills, and preparation needed to produce the brightest minds that could then generate the most sophisticated and powerful social, political, economic, and technological advances. This pressure entered public schools in the form of increased emphasis on math and science education, the rise of globally comparative assessment exams, and funding to promote more college attendance. At the same time, a much more image-conscious federal government also turned its attention back to the southern states and the issue of racial segregation. In Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the use of separate public schools for students based on their race. Similar to other initiatives of the cold war, the federal mandate to end segregation severely limited the ability of local school boards to determine policies related to this issue. Strengthened and solidified by the National Defense of Education Act of 1958, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), the growth in federal influence over public education has and continues to decrease the authority exercised by local school boards. As evidenced by the latest rendition of the ESEA, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), whether by law or funding, the federal government now so frequently rivals local boards for control of public education that some question the purpose that these entities serve and even think them completely unnecessary in the 21st-century context.


    From the contemporary perspective, school superintendents fulfill a variety of roles and functions in public education. These tasks include managing fiscal resources, helping develop and implement the curricula and academic standards for each grade level, and generally complying with policies set by federal and state governments and the local school board. Indeed, regardless of district size or locale, school superintendents have primary responsibility for the day-to-day functions and operations of public schools and school districts.

    Similar to school boards, the roles and influence that superintendents have on school governance has changed over the years. In 1812, the same year that the nation once again entered into a military conflict with the British, the State of New York appointed the first state superintendent of schools with other states following this example. As state officials, these leaders had little to do with the basic function of public education. Rather, these state agents served as basic bureaucrats by collecting data for the states regarding what schools did and distributing public funds to school districts to support their operations (Houston, 2011).

    At the local level, school boards first appointed school district superintendents in Buffalo, New York, and Louisville, Kentucky, in 1837 (Houston, 2011). Unlike their state counterparts, these local school leaders took a much more active role in school operations. Often, these officials served at the county level and were responsible for overseeing all issues related to all of the schools in these areas. Compared with the wide array of duties assigned to contemporary superintendents, these educational pioneers had two major roles: as managers responsible for hiring and supervising classroom teachers, and as assessment coordinators responsible for monitoring the academic performance of the students in their schools (Houston, 2011).

    Much like school boards, school superintendents gained more power and prominence during the early part of the 20th century. During the Progressive Era, the efforts by reformers to eliminate politics and corruption in public education helped shift authority and powers previously held by municipal governments to the office of the school superintendent. Likewise, the barriers crafted to help protect schools from these perceived ills also disconnected school superintendents from the governments of their municipalities, which may have also limited the ability of individuals to effectively fulfill their newly expanded roles.

    Beginning in the mid-20th century, the increase in federal involvement in public education has influenced the nature of the superintendency in many of the same ways that these developments have affected school board operations. Similar to the school boards, the changes in the federal role in public education have limited the influence that school superintendents have on curricula, assessment procedures, teacher qualifications, funding allocations, and the crafting and implementation of educational policies. As such, the current climate of public education has led to significant reductions in the specific education obligations that the job of the superintendent now entails. As with school boards, these changes in the duties of superintendents have helped generate interest in removing them from the realm of public education. School takeovers that shift authority over public school districts from locally elected school boards and their appointed superintendents to mayors and governors who then appoint individuals of their choice to serve in these positions have also revised the role of the school superintendent. Reversing Progressive Era reforms, many urban schools have once again become city departments making school superintendents who face an ongoing dilemma between doing what is best for the students and making politically expedient decisions that promote the interests of business leaders and the politicians that appoint them to their positions (Hunter & Donahoo, 2001). Under these circumstances, more and more states and cities are looking to individuals who have little to no experience working in education to serve as school superintendents. By electing to appoint school superintendents (primarily to serve as chief executive officers [CEOs] and fiscal managers, especially in larger school districts) who lack educational training and preparation for these positions, school boards and politicians have further reduced the ability of these individuals to effectively evaluate, respond to, and comply with various policy and governance changes.


    Compared with school boards and school superintendents, the development of the role of the school principal has received much less attention (Kafka, 2009). Indeed, most school boards or superintendents did not even have to consider the need for an additional administrator with responsibility for the daily operations of each individual school building until school enrollments reached a certain size.

    School principals as we currently know them did not emerge in U.S. public education until after the rebellion against and abandonment of British rule (Kafka, 2009). Before the early 19th century, schools employed teachers who answered directly to superintendents or governing boards. Regarding their daily activities, teachers enjoyed much more influence on governance because the absence of their employers allowed them to enforce rules and implement policies as they saw fit (Cole, 1957; Kafka, 2009). As schools grew, so did the structure of their administration. Following the system that the early colonists experienced in Great Britain, leaders in New England employed schoolmasters who did all administrative functions, taught all academic subjects, and disciplined their pupils throughout the school day with little involvement from others (Cole, 1957). Essentially, schoolmasters were teachers who took responsibility for the administrative concerns in their buildings simply because there was often no one else on site or otherwise available to fulfill these roles.

    Championed by Jefferson, the increased focus on producing and maintaining a nation where all (or at least most) citizens had some basic literacy helped generate more support for public education. As more children entered school, local school boards and municipalities found that they had to expand their facilities in both size and number, hire more teachers, and solidify their structures. In doing so, many recognized the need to identify and appoint school principals to manage each building.

    As the name suggests, principals emerged as the “first” among the teachers. Early on, school boards and superintendents simply selected one of their employed teachers to take on the administrative duties for each building. These duties included basic clerical record keeping, building maintenance and upkeep, class assignments, disciplining students, supervising teachers, and managing the beginning and ending of each school day. Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century as teaching became more of a female-dominated profession, school boards and superintendents increasingly hired male principals who filled primarily, and eventually exclusively, administrative roles and spent progressively less and less time in the classroom (Kafka, 2009).

    Within the governance structure of public education, the role of the principal has experienced the greatest separation from the creation of policies and other broader leadership concerns. Whereas early principals experienced significant latitude in complying with policies sent down from their superintendents, school boards, and states, modern school principals find the policies so prescriptive that they have few options in how to address various issues (Fowler, 2009; Hope, 2002). Increasingly, the external agencies that influence public education expect school principals to function more as bureaucrats who do what they are told rather than as educational experts who have the skills, knowledge, and experience to devise appropriate solutions for the various problems and issues that arise in their buildings.

    Administration and Governance

    The changing roles and functions of the school boards, superintendents, and principals help illustrate how public education arrived at this moment in its history. The increased importance and emphasis placed on public schools has also motivated more entities to seek ways of affecting what schools do and how they do it. As such, contemporary public education governance has become extremely political, frequently financial, and difficult for traditional school leadership positions to independently manage or control. Recognizing the many issues and influences that now affect school governance, the chapters in this volume debate some key questions that public educators currently or will soon face as they work to improve student academic achievement, provide and maintain effective professional development for their instructors and other school personnel, and generally seek to keep their buildings and districts operational.

    Issues Affecting Public School Governance

    In analyzing the current status of public school governance, this volume features chapters that consider several key issues from varying perspectives. To that end, this book does not attempt to devise overly simplistic solutions to the complex dilemmas affecting public education. Rather, its featured debate chapters seek to offer overviews of the corresponding topics, including motivations for supporting each perspective, platforms used to challenge each perspective, and the perceived gains and losses that each perspective may have on affected public schools. Accordingly, the issues that we chose to debate in this volume fall within four general categories: determining who should govern public schools, identifying who should have control over educational policy, analyzing some of the groups and organizations that often seek to influence school governance, and ascertaining what public schools should concentrate on doing in the 21st century.

    Who should Govern Public Education?

    The increased economic and social importance of public education since the mid-20th century has also led to more pressure to revise or even abandon traditional governance structures. For example, politicians have expanded their use of school takeovers since the 1990s. As governance structures, federal courts originally used school takeovers to force school districts to comply with changes in the law such as desegregation orders. However, in recent times, politicians have used school takeovers to reconnect and reestablish their influence over public education. In some instances, these measures are temporary, designed to address specific concerns such as financial deficits or leadership emergencies. In others, takeovers lead to permanent reassignment of school districts to gubernatorial or mayoral control. Although just one method for altering governance, school takeovers and other similar changes have allowed politicians to strengthen their role in the governance of public education.

    In addition to seeking more control for themselves, some politicians and others have also sought to alter the powers allotted to school boards. Traditionally, school boards set school and district policies, hire and fire personnel, and monitor and maintain academic standards. The demands for shifting more power to politicians often directly affect school boards because many of their responsibilities change as a result. Similar to politicians, school board members are often elected officials. Even so, some mayors, governors, and private citizens no longer believe that school boards can adequately manage school districts or position them to effectively accomplish all of their assigned tasks and responsibilities.

    Some proposed school reforms also call for school administrators to obtain more control over their schools and school districts. Some politicians focus on the need to reestablish the public trust in public education, but principals and superintendents also want more power and authority over issues that directly influence their ability to do and keep their positions. Indeed, under NCLB, school administrators enjoy less job security and increased professional scrutiny as the federal government, states, parents, and the public pay more and more attention to student academic performance as assessed on mandated standardized exams. As such, some current and prospective school administrators feel that the rise in accountability and its direct impact on their success as school leaders provides the foundation for giving them more control of various aspects of school governance.

    Also related to the role of principals and superintendents in school governance is the issue of who politicians, states, and school boards should allow to serve in these positions. Historically, most states require building and school district administrators to obtain some classroom teaching experience before qualifying to serve as school leaders. However, the pressure to allow people with noneducational managerial and leadership experiences to serve as school administrators (especially at the district level) has led some states to de-emphasize this requirement. From a governance perspective, this alteration to the preparation and qualifications for school leaders will also affect how these individuals function and may also influence the general authority exercised by those serving in these positions in public education.

    Who should Set Education Policy?

    Related to the power struggle occurring in school governance is the conflict over who should draft and set policies for public education. By law, most states retain both the right and the general responsibility for establishing standards, expectations, and rules within and related to public schools. For many years, states often permitted local school boards to exercise primary control over these issues. As governmental and public expectations for schools have changed, states have retrieved more of their legally stipulated policy control back from the local level, thus reducing the power typically exercised by school boards.

    States have long-standing legal foundations for setting educational policy, but the federal government does not. Even so, each branch of the federal government now plays an increased role in determining what takes place in public schools. Within the executive branch, various presidents have been setting educational policy since the mid-20th century. These policies generally focused on social justice issues such as desegregation, gender equity, and special education under Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon; curricula expectations and requirements under Dwight D. Eisenhower and George W. Bush; and other reforms such as attention to school consolidation, drug-free schools, charter schools, and technology under Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. In doing so, these presidents made certain initiatives universal for all children enrolled in public schools much quicker than each state would have responded if allowed to address these issues individually. Yet, by asserting themselves in public education, these and other executive branch leaders have also helped significantly reduce both the idea and the practice of local control in U.S. public education.

    Often assisting the executive branch, the legislative branch affects public schools by actually passing new federal laws that lead to policy changes in education. Even if the initial bill or suggestion comes from the executive branch, the vision for education reform authored by the White House often needs cooperation from both houses of Congress to make the idea become law. Made up of representatives from each of the 50 states, the structure of the U.S. Congress appears to allow for more consideration of multiple perspectives on each proposed educational reform. However, the practice of coalition building and favor trading used to pass legislation has the ability to both help and hurt public education. Likewise, when facing a strong president, Congress may find it difficult to deviate from any reforms proposed by the executive branch. At the same time, the fact that both the executive and legislative branches frequently use funding (adding to promote compliance or subtracting as punishment for noncompliance) to get schools to accept their mandates also makes it difficult for increasingly impoverished states and schools to resist these reforms.

    The third branch of the federal government, the judicial branch, is sometimes a forgotten player in U.S. educational policy. Even so, the federal court system has and continues to influence what and how public schools go about educating children. Issues affected by court rulings include school desegregation, busing, treatment of special education students, access for undocumented students, athletic participation, discipline, drug testing, and practice of religion. Unlike the directives offered by the executive and legislative branches, the judicial branch does not generally offer the carrot of even minimal funding to assist states and school districts in making their policies a reality.

    Outside of the various levels of government, business and industry also seek to influence educational policy. Although not always clearly visible or recognizable, business interests have gained ground in public education. The influence of business on education is evident in privatization contracts, the use of vouchers, and elements of the NCLB. Often initiated through political influence, business affects public schools by both finding ways to get access to public funds either through contracts (privatization, tutoring services, instructional materials, etc.) or diversion of funds to other facilities (vouchers, charter schools, special education support, etc.). Additionally, business interests have also shaped school governance through the accountability movement by arguing the need to have public education demonstrate measurable outcomes similar to those illustrated by other industries.

    How do Groups and Organizations Affect School Governance?

    Educational measures such as privatization, vouchers, and supplemental educational services have helped business gain more power over school governance. Other groups and organizations that influence school governance include labor unions, charter schools, and parents.

    Labor unions affect school governance by molding and controlling the ways that school administrators work with, supervise, and develop teachers and other staff members. For protected employees, labor unions work to ensure that changes to the governance structure in public education do not create unfair or abusive conditions for those who have to live with the implementation of education reforms. In some cases, labor unions make it difficult for principals and superintendents to enact or comply with policy changes by resisting and preventing reforms. Labor unions also hinder school governance by complicating the processes used to evaluate, reprimand, and terminate faculty and staff members, especially those suspected of being ineffective or detrimental to the students that they serve.

    In addition to labor unions, vouchers and charter schools also affect the governance structure of public schools. Fiscally, both of these measures can harm public education by siphoning off a portion of the already limited resources allotted to these schools. Additionally, although access to vouchers and charter schools increases the educational options open to benefiting children and families, they can also negatively affect the composition of area public schools. Private institutions do not have to accept students just because the family wants to access the facility, so the use of vouchers can cause brain drain as the best and brightest of eligible students move to private schools, leaving the most academically challenged students to struggle in even more financially strapped public schools. Similarly, charter schools can also take the best teachers, students, and funding from traditional public schools leaving them with higher numbers of special needs and underprepared students.

    Even in school districts that lack vouchers and charter schools, parents still manage to exert a high degree of pressure on school leaders. Indeed, the influence that parents have on public schools is not a new development. What has changed, to some degree, is how parents pursue obtaining their goals and the lengths that they will go to pursue self-interests in the names of their children. Within this lawsuit-saturated climate, some parents are quick to hire attorneys and pursue costly court cases to force school districts to provide the services that they want—sometimes for just their children. Even without going to court, vocal parents can force school administrators to make special exceptions and accommodations for their children that many other similarly situated students do not have the opportunity to receive. This means that principals and superintendents must now devote more of their time to listening to parents’ concerns and to devising solutions that resolve these disagreements and address these concerns before they get out of hand. In essence, increased parent involvement leads to multiple adaptations for the implementation of each policy that school leaders must abide by in their schools.

    What is the Purpose of Public Education in the 21st Century?

    Competition for control over public education both communicates and illustrates many of the issues that various entities associate with public education. Although some parents, labor unions, and other groups focus their attention specifically on reaching their goals, public education continues to endure a barrage of obligations that require school leaders to work to support the needs of those students and families who are less able to pursue or obtain proper treatment on their own.

    More than 60 years after the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), racial issues continue to affect the governance and structure of public schools. Many school districts still encounter difficulties in achieving racial desegregation, especially at the building and classroom levels. Furthermore, recent decisions, chiefly Parents Involved in Community Schoolsv. Seattle School District No. 1 [PICS v. Seattle] (2007), have placed even more restrictions on the processes school administrators can employ to actually desegregate their schools.

    Another racial issue school administrators face in leading school districts is the achievement gap between white students and groups of students of color. The implementation of NCLB increased attention and scrutiny in this area by making the monitoring process both more public and more consistent. Relying primarily on the results of standardized examination scores, the achievement gap indicates that African American, Latino American, Native American, and bilingual students do not perform as well as white students perform on the measures that the federal and state governments have decided to assess. Although the ability of students to perform well on standardized exams depends on a variety of factors, many of which are outside of the control of school administrators, the structure of NCLB forces principals, superintendents, and school board members to carry most of the responsibility for these outcomes. Indeed, basic sanctions included in NCLB legislation allow school districts to address poor academic performance by terminating school administrators when students do not meet established goals.

    Similar to racial issues, school districts also continue to face gender equity concerns. During the mid- and late 20th century, federal and state legislation forced public education to reevaluate and revise policies that helped promote gender inequality. Passed by Congress in 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments requires school administrators to actively ensure that female students receive the same educational services, programs, and opportunities available to their male classmates. Supporting and expanding Title IX, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 also requires school districts to protect, educate, and serve pregnant and parenting school-age girls so that they can continue to make progress toward graduation. However, schools now face growing concern that boys are not receiving equitable treatment in public education (Mills & Keddie, 2010). This influences school governance by making it difficult for administrators to ascertain when they have actually achieved gender equity for either group within their schools.

    Furthermore, school leaders also encounter growing demands for structural educational reform. Similar to suggestions that schools purposely target and hire administrators who lack previous educational experience, suggestions that states restructure public education also seek to make schools and school districts emulate business and industry. Although the specific reforms vary, they generally all support the idea of changing school structures because all or certain elements of the current structure are no longer effective. Accordingly, these suggestions for wholesale governance changes in public education make the future of public education both disconcerting and challenging.


    The debates in this volume provide insight and scholarly based discussion of many of the issues and arguments affecting school governance in the 21st century. Though these chapters do not offer solutions guaranteed to solve the governance problems in public education, the examinations offered in the point and counterpoint essays of each chapter help identify how individuals and groups view these issues, the goals and reasoning identified by each side, and the perceived advantages attached to each perspective. It is our hope that the information provided in this volume will help other scholars, students, policymakers, educators, and taxpayers as they craft, pursue, and adopt what we hope will be successful school governance reforms in the future.

    SaranDonahooSouthern Illinois University Carbondale
    Further Readings and Resources
    Anderson, J. D. (1988). The education of blacks in the South, 1850–1933. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
    Bryant, A. L. (2011). National School Board Association. In Education encyclopedia. Retrieved from
    Cole, N. M. (1957, Winter). The licensing of schoolmasters in Colonial Massachusetts. History of Education Journal, 8(2), 68–74.
    Fowler, F. C. (2009). Policy studies for educational leaders: An introduction (
    3rd ed.
    ). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
    Hope, W. C. (2002, September/October). Implementing educational policy: Some considerations for principals. The Clearing House, 76(1), 40–43.
    Houston, P. D. (2011). Superintendent of schools. In Education encyclopedia. Retrieved from
    Hunter, R. C., & Donahoo, S. (2001, September). Sanctioning school failure: School takeovers and big-city politics. School Business Affairs, 67(9), 20–23.
    Kafka, J. (2009). The principalship in historical perspective. Peabody Journal of Education, 84(3), 318–330.
    Land, D. (2002, Summer). Local school boards under review: Their role and effectiveness in relation to students’ academic achievement. Review of Educational Research, 72(2), 229–278.
    Mills, M., & Keddie, A. (2010, November). Gender justice and education: Constructions of boys within discourses of resentment, neo-liberalism and security. Educational Review, 62(4), 407–420.
    Sell, S. (2005). Running an effective school district: School boards in the 21st century. Journal of Education, 186(3), 71–97.
    Court Cases and Statutes

    Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

    Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000d et seq.

    Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, 20 U.S.C. §§ 6301 et seq.

    National Defense of Education Act of 1958, 20 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq.

    No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, 20 U.S.C. §§ 6301 et seq.

    Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 551 U.S. 701 (2007).

    Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k).

    Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 (2008).

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