Margaret C. Wang
Temple University Center for Research
in Human Development and Education
Herbert J. Walberg
University of Illinois at Chicago
Two big and opposing ideas seem likely to continue radicalizing educational policy and practice—decentralization of decision making to citizens and parents, and centralization of decision making to the state and district levels, particularly by aggressive legislatures, state and local boards, and superintendents. Our title exemplifies these two views: The state or district direction of clear goals, best practices, accountability, and strong incentives exemplifies one trend. Representing the other trend are the growing numbers of charter schools, schools with parent governing councils, and private and public scholarships (previously and pejoratively called vouchers), which lodge more authority at the school level and with parents.
These two views, translated into reforms, can be called “bottom-up” and “top-down.” The bottom-up reform assumes that parents and professional staff in each school best perceive their distinctive needs and means to achieve their unique goals. In potential or actual opposition is top-down reform that assumes standards, best practices, or best systems of practices that states or large districts more or less uniformly require of schools. Our purpose is to describe rather than endorse these reforms. In the end, however, we conclude that they are reconcilable and, in fact, being reconciled in policy and practice.
Both reforms diminish traditional control in which local boards mediated among state boards, local taxpayers, parents, teachers, and other groups that influence school policy. In business finance, the term