While past studies on school district decentralization found that central office leaders can limit school leaders’ decision-making power, the studies did not examine how they do so. We investigated this in eight elementary schools in two large urban school systems with official policies of school site-based decision-making. We found that even though school leaders had legal authority over most instructional decisions, they overwhelmingly made decisions consistent with central office preferences. The question is why. By examining the micro process of interaction between central office and school leaders, we found that central office leaders in both districts used a range of persuasive strategies to influence school-level decisions. Specifically, they linked their suggestions to institutionalized norms, rules, and shared understandings in the district and profession. By doing so, central office leaders pushed against their decentralization policies. Differences in the combination of strategies that central office leaders used and the amount of interaction they had with school leaders led to (a) greater variability in the degree to which school leaders in one district made decisions aligned with central office preferences; and (b) greater feelings of coercion among school leaders in the second. These findings unpack the dynamics among local education leaders as they implement and sometimes alter the rules within policies through their daily practice.
- central office leaders
- school autonomy
- school leaders
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental and Educational Psychology