Balancing the State, Markets, and Civil Society in Education Reform:
Trends and Issues in England and the United States
WILLIAM LOWE BOYD
Recent school reform efforts in England and the United States have many parallels. Both have combined opposing impulses: more centralization (an increasing role for the central government, as well as state governments in the USA) and more decentralization or devolution (i.e., more decision-making powers and choice to schools and parents). Both countries, but especially England, have seen centralization more than offset devolution, contrary to claims the two were to counterbalance each other. For example, in both nations, national curriculum standards and testing have become issues raising fears for freedom, diversity, and local control. Consequently, both countries have growing reactions against centralization.
Significantly, the policy debate in both nations has focused mainly on the “state” and “big government” versus market forces and individualism, while neglecting until recently the role and importance of the “civil society” in education and social reform. The imbalance between structural and normative issues caused by this neglect has become increasingly apparent as problems in the moral order of society have become more salient. This paper discusses these developments and reflects on the prospects in England and the United States for a more balanced approach to educational reform.
Framing the school reform debate as a choice between the advantages of markets or of the public sector, obscures the most fundamental issue. This question, as Strike (1997, p. 20) argues, is how can we “have schools that are educative communities that serve both the public and