In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Education Governance

  • Introduction
  • The Changing Federal Role
  • State Government
  • Local Control
  • Intergovernmental Relations
  • Mayoral Control
  • Parental Engagement
  • School Choice

Education Education Governance
Kenneth K. Wong
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0017


Governance in public education involves different levels of the government. In the United States the federal government has expanded its role on equal educational opportunities to holding schools accountable for academic performance since the mid-20th century. State governments maintain their constitutional responsibility on academic standards, educator qualifications, and school funding. School districts focus on organizing the delivery of instruction and school operation. This entry also highlights recent reform initiatives, such as mayoral control, choice, and turnaround strategies, that are designed to reshape school governance.

The Changing Federal Role

Public education involves shared responsibilities and a division of functions among the three levels of government. Governmental responsibility has undergone major changes as American federalism evolved with the passage of time. While the federal government has promoted equal educational opportunity since the 1950s, with the implementation of racial desegregation following the Supreme Court decision on Brown v. Board of Education and the enactment of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Bailey and Mosher 1968, Munger and Fenno 1962, Wong 1999), it has played a more assertive role in shaping academic standards and defining interventions in schools with persistently low performance since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (DeBray 2006, Manna 2006, McGuinn 2006).

  • Bailey, S., and E. Mosher. 1968. ESEA: The Office of Education administers a law. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press.

    This seminal work provides a rich institutional analysis of the politics and design of the first major federal program involving grades kindergarten through twelve. The federal government faces administrative and management challenges in organizing its authority, goals, and resources during the first phase of implementing its effort to support disadvantaged students throughout the nation.

  • DeBray, E. 2006. Politics, ideology, and education: Federal policies during the Clinton and Bush administrations. New York: Teachers College.

    Congressional politics is a critical condition that shifts federal policy. The drama of congressional politics is illuminated by the 106th and 107th Congresses. Networks of interest-based organizations and think tanks, while prominent in the 1980s and the 1990s, began to lose some of their influence as congressional politics converged to compromise on the enactment of the No Child Left Behind legislation.

  • Manna, P. 2006. School’s in: Federalism and the national education agenda. American Governance and Public Policy. Washington, DC: Georgetown Univ. Press.

    This book examines how the federal system allows for an increasingly active federal role in education, a policy realm that has traditionally been reserved for state and local government. The author makes a cogent argument that the federal government is able to “borrow strengths” from the state government. This process is illustrated by the development of federal education policy in the United States.

  • McGuinn, P. J. 2006. No Child Left Behind and the transformation of federal education policy, 1965–2005. Studies in Government and Public Policy. Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas.

    This book offers a political analysis of the changing federal role in elementary and secondary education between 1965 and 2005. The passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in January 2002 is seen as a “transformative” moment, in that well-entrenched political interests depart from their traditional policy positions. The new policy regime embodies a fundamentally different set of ideas, interests, and institutions.

  • Munger, F., and R. Fenno. 1962. National politics and federal aid to education. Economics and Politics of Public Education 3. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press.

    One of a few studies that look at the role of the federal government prior to the passage of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The authors examine the constitutional and political constraints on efforts to expand federal involvement. An opportunity occurred when the Soviet Union successfully launched the Sputnik into space. In response, the Congress enacted the National Defense Education Act.

  • Wong, K. K. 1999. Politics of social targeting at the federal level. In Funding public schools: Politics and policies. By K. K. Wong, 18–41. Studies in Government and Public Policy. Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas.

    This chapter reviews the federal legislative politics of promoting social targeting and then examines the political and institutional factors that have affected the implementation of such policies in districts and states. The author further considers how the federal government can improve the coordination of resources to address the needs of disadvantaged students.

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