Book Review

Battling Corruption in America’s Public Schools

Reviewed by Bruce S. Cooper
Chair and Professor of Educational Leadership, Administration and Policy,
Fordham University Graduate School of Education, New York, N.Y.

Lydia Segal’s Battling Corruption in America’s Public Schools is as timely as it is remarkable. It analyzes why millions of valuable public school dollars are lost to waste, abuse and fraud--the underbelly of school politics, management and operations.

Segal, an associate professor at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, documents the nature of these programs, concentrating on the three largest city school systems, where funds are most plentiful and the potential for fiscal misuse and abuse is greatest.

The book takes a counter-intuitive and controversial approach, arguing that the more centralized the controls—the more top-down the regulations and oversight—the less the motivation for people in schools who use the funds to reduce waste, abuse and fraud.

Not everyone will agree that greater decentralization is the answer to the problem. However, it makes sense that giving educators greater authority over the financing of their own goods and services would encourage thrift and integrity. After all, principals, teachers and students benefit most from frugal, well-spent funds. Hence, those furthest away from the children in education, according to Segal, are the most prone to wheel, deal, cheat and steal. Those nearest the students stretch every dollar for schoolchildren.

Segal’s formula is sound: Let the top of the system set the standards and permit those closest to the education of children to shape the policies. School leaders would enjoy greater autonomy in how resources are being spent, reducing waste and corruption and improving education for all.

(Battling Corruption in America’s Public Schools by Lydia G. Segal, Northeastern University Press, Boston, Mass., 2003, 256 pp., $32.50 hardcover)