Among scholars, analysts, and observers, there is general agreement that our current education system requires major improvements. Despite substantial reform efforts in the past decade, the U.S. system of elementary and secondary schooling has not shown significant improvements in student achievement and continues to exacerbate inequalities.
Paul Manna, Associate Professor of Government and Public Policy at William & Mary, thinks that a focus on education governance can help illuminate the causes of these problems and provide new ways to think about reforms. Manna recently co-edited a book, Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century: Overcoming the Structural Barriers to School Reform which addresses these issues.
Manna and the book’s collaborators observe that the balance of current education scholarship tends to focus on policy—the programs and initiatives that are proposed and implemented in schools. While acknowledging the importance of policy analysis, he suggests that previous work has failed to thoroughly investigate the important role played by education governance—that is, the institutions, power dynamics, and governing processes that help to produce and implement those policies in the first place.
Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century, co-edited by Manna and Patrick McGuinn, associate professor of political science at Drew University, brings together writings from a wide range of authors, including scholars, think tank analysts, and policymakers working on the ground to formulate and implement education policy.
The book is a collaboration between the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress and conservative-leaning Fordham Institute, and published by the centrist Brookings Institution, reflecting bipartisan agreement on the importance of studying education governance as a source of problems and potential solutions in the field.
With this volume, Manna and McGuinn aim to address three key questions. How do existing governing institutions affect education policy and shape what happens in schools? How has governance either helped or hindered efforts to improve schools? Finally, how can governance reforms create positive change and promote student success?
To answer these questions, Manna and McGuinn have organized the book into four major sections. First, a selection of articles addresses challenges and problems that arise in the current system of education governance, examining how existing governing institutions can be an impediment to progress in the field. Second, the authors look into recent changes in the structures and institutions that govern education in the U.S. Third, the book’s selections examine perspectives on U.S. education governance from outside the field, lending a unique angle to the project; three articles look at the U.S.’s education system in terms of education in other countries, while one compares education governance to governance in health care and environmental policy. Finally, the book includes a series of pieces about the way forward in education governance, exploring ideas for reform and visions for the future of the U.S. education system.
Speaking at the Center for American Progress at an event promoting the book’s release, Manna emphasized how crucial governance is and the significant impact it has on what happens in schools around the country. “Pondering these issues should be an important part of the conversation,” he said, emphasizing the importance of governance as society discusses “how to improve schools so that children who graduate from our system are able to thrive in our democracy and in our economy.”