Book Review                                              Page 45


The End of Exceptionalism

in American Education

The Changing Politics of School Reform   


by Jeffrey R. Henig, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2013, 227 pp. with references, $29.95 softcover

Local control and governance by an elected school board may be a thing of the past as more control is vested in city mayors. In The End of Exceptionalism in American Education: The Changing Politics of School Reform, Jeffrey Henig illuminates the shifting power of school governance from locally elected school boards to what he identifies as “general purpose” governance leaders: mayors, governors and other elected officials with a broad-based constituency.

The first iteration of a school board occurred in the early 1800’s when Massachusetts placed the governance of its school system under a separate school committee. This single purpose governmental agency model spread throughout the nation and has been the norm in what Henig labels as “exceptionalism.” American education policy has been governed primarily by local school boards while the governance of almost everything else has been controlled by more broad-based elected officials.

As education becomes a more highly visible domestic policy issue, mayors are beginning to demand and gain more control over the operation of the local schools. Whereas a school board has two major power constituencies, parents and the teachers union, the general purpose leader has numerous constituencies, thus dissipating the power base and impact of just one or two groups.

General purpose elected officials are more accustomed to contracting out services, which makes them highly receptive to such innovations as charter schools and vouchers. Public education will eventually be moving out of the vacuum of exceptionalism and blending with all other governmental services under a more central control.

While the concept of local control appears to be positively entrenched in our concept of a democratic society, Henig presents a well-reasoned position for the end of local control and entry into an era of more centralized control of public education. Whether or not the reader agrees with a shift in governance power for public education, the author demonstrates that the shift is occurring right now and rapidly gaining momentum.

Reviewed by Paul M. Hewitt, assistant professor of educational leadership, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Ark.

Give your feedback

Share this article

Order this issue