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Published: May 11, 2011


In education, the ceding of authority over local schools by a central or regional school board to local boards made up of members of the community served by each school.
Decentralization has been a topic of debate in large urban areas, such as New York City, where huge central bureaucracies attempt to control day-to-day operations with a blanket of universal regulations. Far removed from many of the schools they govern, such centralized boards often have little knowledge of the special needs of individual schools and their students. New York City attempted to meet those needs better in 1969, with a decentralization law that created and gave limited power to 31 local school boards. In addition, parents, teachers, foundations and businesses have, since 1991, established more than 1,700 so-called CHARTER SCHOOLS across the United States—publicly funded schools that operate free of all dayto- day controls by centralized district school boards and school board bureaucracies. After nearly 30 years, however, decentralization produced few noticeable changes in student academic performance. Indeed, some local boards in New York and other cities with decentralized educational authority used their newfound authority to engage in corrupt practices such as hiring relatives for staff positions and demanding kickbacks from suppliers of school materials and services. Where they found evidence of corruption or administrative or academic failures, cities, counties and states abruptly dismissed school boards and, reversing the trend toward decentralization, seized control of failing schools and placed them under the authority of a centrally appointed superintendent and school board.