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Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century

Overcoming the Structural Barriers to School Reform

Book Review - Education Governance

edited by Paul Manna and Patrick McGuinn, Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 2013, 424 pp., $32.95 softcover

As the involvement of the federal government in education has expanded, the role of policy-oriented think tanks has exploded at both the state and national level. Three of the influential national think tanks collaborated in the research and publishing of Educational Governance for the Twenty-First Century.

The collaboration caught my attention since the think tanks represent varied views on the political spectrum. The Thomas Fordham Institute has been associated with more conservative initiatives – promoting school choice, vouchers and expanded charter schools. The Brookings Institution is seen as a more moderate policy leader often critical of poor performance in traditional public schools as well as criticism of charter and privatization initiatives. The Center for American Progress is a liberal-leaning think tank, critical of vouchers, outsourcing of public school services and attempts to blame public schools for poor performance. It recently issued a report critical of the over-representation of white teachers among diverse student populations, urging schools to recruit highly qualified teachers that reflect the demographics of the student population.

This is a must read because it addresses what the editors and authors describe as the most complex area of governance in the nation : deciding educational policy. Multiple actors and various institutions engage in educational policy at four levels: national, state, local and campus l. The authors review the evolution of influence and impact at each level.

Each of the detailed chapters provides clarity as to the “why” of public school governance. For example, federal funding accounts for only about 10% of public school funding, yet numerous mandates are generated out of Washington often impacting 100% of compliance requirements at the district and campus level.

The authors also explore alternatives such as the rise of education executives, ranging from corporate CEOs selected to replace traditional superintendents, to large cities expanding educational power and policy to mayors and city councils who oversee district superintendents. They warn that many of the chief executives and elected officials are focused on general areas of interest, and education is only one aspect of these interests. As a result, public education may suffer because the influence of traditional educational interests, such as AASA and NSBA, will be overshadowed by larger interests,such as the Business Roundtable, the National Governors Association and even the Heritage Foundation.

How can we improve public education with shared vision and a more collaborative governing structure? The authors examine more centralized educational systems, England and Canada. We will never empower the central government to develop and implement all educational policy, but we can design a more coherent and fair funding system for our public schools. School leaders often admit having insufficient knowledge and skills in the areas of politics and public policy. This book will provide insights, information and skills to improve your leadership ensuring the lasting success of our public schools


Reviewed by Steve Jenkins, associate professor of educational leadership, Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas

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