The Public Interest

American schools and the future of local control

Chester Finn & Denis P. Doyle

Fall 1984

NO TERM in the lexicon of American education is more revered than “local control.” Honored alike by the National Education Association and the Republican party, it is a phrase with iconic overtones, much like “academic freedom,” “the three Rs,” and “equal opportunity.” That local control is a good thing is assumed; that it may not be fully realized is acknowledged but regretted; that it distinguishes the United States from more centralized societies and more uniform political cultures is celebrated. Critics and dissenters are few and, perhaps, eccentric.  But does local control of American elementary and secondary education really exist? Is it an accurate description of the present and a satisfactory guide for the future? Or is it a cherished, but now anachronistic legend?

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