Who Holds the Reins of Public Education in the US?

An expert's perspective on the complex system of public school governance in the United States, involving multiple government entities at the federal, state, and local levels.

Who Holds the Reins of Public Education in the US?

As an expert in the field of education, I have seen firsthand the complexities of public school governance in the United States. It is a system that involves multiple government entities at the federal, state, and local levels, each with their own responsibilities and decision-making power. At the state level, state school authorities are primarily responsible for overseeing public education. This includes making decisions on funding, teacher qualifications, and special education programs. However, each state has its own standards and policies, which can greatly impact the quality of education provided to students. The state government plays a crucial role in financing education, with education often being the largest item in an annual state budget.

While states have a significant amount of autonomy in decision-making, the federal government also has some influence through its funding options. In most states, governance is determined by a multi-level model that includes the governor, state legislature, and state school board. In addition to state school authorities, most states also have a state education department that oversees public education within their borders. At the federal level, the Department of Education sets policies and coordinates most federal education assistance. Its mission is to promote student achievement and readiness for global competitiveness by ensuring educational excellence and equitable access for all American students. The Department of Education has evolved over the years, operating under different titles and housed in various agencies.

While reforms have aimed to increase state funding for districts serving disadvantaged students, recent analyses have shown that only a fraction of these funds actually reach these schools. The history of public school governance in the US dates back to when other colonies and states established their own school systems. They often borrowed from Massachusetts and delegated oversight to locally elected boards. While these boards are not involved in the daily operations of schools, they are responsible for creating an organizational structure that allows individual schools to operate efficiently. However, in some areas of the country, such as Chicago, the city's mayor has the power to appoint the school board, giving government decisions to parents and teachers and placing them in the hands of local government. Despite some successful examples of state intervention in struggling school districts, the overall history of this type of intervention has been inconsistent at best. Policies that allow for greater school choice can give parents a more direct voice in their children's education.

This can be seen in the case of Orthodox Jews, who make up a significant portion of the white population and often send their children to private religious schools. In these schools, 98% of students are white, and they often enroll more students than public districts. The shift from single-classroom schools to larger schools based on grades in the first half of the 20th century led to significant consolidation of districts. This resulted in a decrease from over 200,000 school districts in 1910 to less than 20,000 in 1970, ultimately leading to a loss of local control. However, despite these changes, the majority of school board members are still white, and American schools have only made modest progress in reducing significant racial achievement gaps. Surveys have shown that parents whose children attend charter schools tend to have higher satisfaction rates compared to those attending traditional public schools.

This is perhaps due to the fact that state governments play a significant role in public education, allowing members of the general public to make their voices heard through voting. Local school boards also play an important role in public school governance. They often work closely with the community and listen to the views of local citizens on political and administrative issues. These board members are part of their communities and often have children attending the schools they serve. As you can see, public school governance is a complex issue that involves multiple government entities at different levels. It is a system that is constantly evolving and has a significant impact on the quality of education provided to students across the country.