Ten Thousand Democracies: Politics and Public Opinion in America's School Districts

By Michael B. Berkman; Eric Plutzer | Go to book overview

chapter one
Policy Responsiveness in
American School Districts

There are over 14,000 school districts in the United States. They range from the Mohawk Valley school district in Arizona, where 254 students in kindergarten through the eighth grade are taught in one school, to the Los Angeles public school system, where close to 600,000 students in all grades are taught in more than 600 schools. Each of these districts, and the thousands in between, are governed and administered by a stateempowered school board. These boards make decisions about everything from after-school programs to teacher salaries, class sizes, and the teaching of creationism in the sixth grade. Among these are roughly 10,000 districts that educate students from kindergarten all the way through high school.

As much as school districts differ in their size, affluence, or curricula, they differ as well in the ways they are governed; indeed, in America's school districts and their governing boards we see the full scope and breadth of American local governance. It could not be any other way. Education has long been understood as a state responsibility but one equated with the American ideals of localism; the modern public schools have roots in colonial America, the western frontier, southern segregation, and the chaos of the early industrial city. The civil rights struggles of the 1960s have left their mark, as has the more recent emphasis on privatism and consumer choice.

We find, therefore, that some schools use town meetings inherited from Colonial America while some big-city governments achieve ethnic balance by appointing all school board members. School budgets in

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