The micropolitics of school district decentralization

Lars G. Björk, Joseph Blase

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


This case study of school district educational reform in the United States adds to the knowledge base of macropolitics of federal, state and local governing bodies and private sector agencies in formulating educational policies: It also contributes to our understanding the microplitics of policy implementation. Middle managers' political acquiescence and resistance to district-wide decentralization and distributive leadership initiatives were studied using a longitudinal, ten-year (1998-2008) case study method. Middle managers were faced with a dilemma when the school district implemented a state sponsored decentralization policy that included adoption of distributed leadership and Total Quality Management (TQM). On the one hand, middle managers risked termination if they failed to implement legislated reform policies and the superintendent's directives. On the other hand, if they succesfully implemented such policies their positions would become redundant. Initially responses of middle managers ranged along a continuum from acquiescence to resistance however as implementation of the decentralization initiative accelerated, middle managers' political resistance increased in scope and intensity. Findings from the case study discussed in this article that superintendent's success at implementation of district-wide decentralization policies is related to the nature and structure of microplolitics at the middle management level of the organization. In addition, findings suggest that internal evaluation processes used to assess the success of the district change process were compromised by miropolitics. Understanding that those who implement policy have the capacity to reshape and even prevent implementation as intended by officials at higher levels may contribute to reframing program evaluation methods as well as enhancing understanding of the politics of the superintendency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-208
Number of pages14
JournalEducational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2009


  • Decentralization
  • Educational reform
  • Leadership
  • Micropolitics
  • Middle management
  • Superintendent

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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