Professor of Political Science & Education, Columbia University
In an array of settings and at all levels of our federal system elected executives are increasing their formal power and political engagement with issues relating to education and school reform. While mayoral control of schools has received the most attention, the shift of formal power from school boards to mayors should be understood in conjunction with similar expansions of executive involvement at the state and national level.
This chapter reviews the emergence of the new education executives in order to identify patterns in timing, place, and political dynamics. These patterns suggest that this is a broader phenomenon than conventionally portrayed, that it extends beyond tinkering with formal governance structures to include a range of informal political factors relating to power and shifting agendas, and that the growing involvement is not limited to one branch of government. Compared to most other important areas of domestic policy decisions about public schools historically have been highly localized, consigned to special single-purpose governance structures, and dominated by a smaller array of highly focused interest groups. I argue that this special status of education decision-making has been eroding and that we are witnessing the gradual re-absorption of educational decision making into multi-level, general-purpose government and politics.