57 Governance

Who is the Boss? How are Individual Schools Governed?

Learning Target

Students will identify the tiers of the hierarchy of public school governing.

Students will identify the responsibilities of each tier.

The Hierarchy of the System

Who is the boss in the school systems? The public school governing system is actually a hierarchy (March, 1978). There are several tiers to this hierarchy beginning with the federal level and ending with the individual teachers. It is a pyramid of administrators doing everything they can to educate today’s students.

Federal and State

While some may believe that administration of schools starts with the federal government, the truth is that on the federal level there is very little involvement in education, even in funding (Federal Role, n.d.). The federal government sets some guidelines for education, such as the No Child Left Behind Act, but not specific ones such as curriculum taught. In actuality, the states have most of the power over their own schools and what they teach (Education Commission of the States [ECS], 1999). The states set what the students will learn and what standards they have to meet. This means that if a child is meeting their grade level standard in Tennessee they may or may not be meeting the Virginia standards for that grade level. States try to decide what knowledge is imperative for students to learn before they move on to the next grade or even college (ECS, 1999).

States also choose the standards that the teachers must meet (ECS, 1999). The state wants the teacher to be able to educate the students to achieve the set standards. There are things that every state requires, but each of them has their own variation. Every state requires the teacher to have a college degree and some form of standardized testing to be able to teach in their public school system. There are national tests available, but each state requires different ones. Teachers moving to a different state may be required to complete a new test or even a new course before gaining licensure in that state.

States have the largest financial role in the schools. Very little funding comes from the federal government. Most of the federal funding is applied for by the individual school in the form of a grant for a special purpose (Federal Role, n.d.). The states provide teacher salaries and the money required to run each individual school. Each individual school has a PTA that can help the school gain funds for things like technology (ECS, 1999).

Hierarchy Tiers on a District Level

School Board





Each state is broken up into districts (ECS, 1999). Most administration deals on a small level, either within the district, or in the individual school (March, 1978). The districts each have their own school board made of elected members (Office of the Education Ombudsman, n.d.). Those boards decide how their schools will achieve the standards set by the state. They will also decide anything else they believe the schools should be doing to service their district’s children. Some of these things include overseeing the curriculum and helping to promote better teaching techniques (Education Administrators, n.d.). The board has to have all schools achieving at a level set by the state, so they use their resources to push the schools to achieve the standards they have set (ECS, 1999).


A superintendent is chosen to oversee the schools in the district (ECS, 1999). Much like a politician, this office is often given to those who have worked their way up from the bottom of the hierarchy (March, 1978). They are in charge of making sure the schools are doing what is required by the school board. They make routine visits to schools to check on how they are doing. They work with the principals and teachers to see that children are getting the most out of each school day.

Principal and Assistant Principal

The district hires principals to oversee each individual school. These principals are there to see that the teachers are doing their job and the children are getting the education they deserve (Office of the Education Ombudsman, n.d.). They are responsible for scheduling, planning the daily activities, and managing the overall activities of the school (Office of the Education Ombudsman, n.d.). Principals make routine visits to classrooms to make sure they are running smoothly and that teachers are making the most of their instructional time. Another difficult duty of the principal is the budget for the school. The principal must decide how to best spend the school’s money (Education Administrators, n.d.).

The schools also have assistant principals. These administrators help the principal in the daily activities of the school. They also handle most of the discipline problems leaving the principal available to focus on other duties (Education Administrators, n.d.).


Each school is responsible for the hire of their teachers. The principal can decide who to hire as long as they are qualified by the state (ECS, 1999). Teachers apply for a job through the district and might interview at several schools before being hired by one. Each school is different so principals often look for a teacher who will fit into the school.

The teacher is the one with the most direct affect on students. They ultimately decide what happens in the classrooms (ECS, 1999). When the door closes every morning it is up to the teacher to make an effective use of time and get children to those standards set by the state. If children in their classrooms are not performing well, the teacher is held responsible.



In summary, the federal government makes general regulations for education and contributes very little funding for the schools (Federal Role, n.d.).

The states have most of the power because they are able to set the standards for teachers and students, and they fund the public school system almost completely (ECS, 1999).

The district has the power in the area entrusted to them by the state. Each district has an elected school board that determines how state standards are achieved and anything else they see fit to better the students’ education (Office of the Education Ombudsman, n.d.).

The superintendent oversees the schools in the district and makes sure they are following what is set by the states and the district (ECS, 1999).

The principals manage their individual school with assistance from the assistant principal (Office of the Education Ombudsman, n.d.).

The teachers instruct the students in accordance with the standards set before them by all levels of the hierarchy.

Review Questions

1. Which tier of the hierarchy of education is responsible for hiring teachers?

  a. the federal government
  b. the principal
  c. the school board
  d. the state

2. Which is not a responsibility of the principal?

  a. budgeting the individual school's money
  b. hiring teachers
  c. making standards for curriculum
  d. scheduling activities

3. A teacher does not meet the standards set by the state, district, and school. Who will act on correcting the situation?

  a. the board of education
  b. the federal government
  c. the principal
  d. the superintendent

4. When will the state get directly involved in an individual school?

  a. when the an individual teacher is not teaching the curriculum set by the state
  b. when the building needs repair or rebuilding
  c. when the school board sets standards higher than the state's standards
  d. when the school is not meeting state standards repeatedly


1. B – The principal hires the teachers that they think fit best in the school.

2. C – The principal does not make a standard for the curriculum. The states and districts choose the curriculum that will be taught.

3. C – The principal will deal with the situation because if it is not a matter of the whole school, it is dealt with on a small level.

4. D – The state does not intervene in individual schools unless the school is not meeting state standards and steps have not been taken by the lower tiers of the hierarchy.


Education Administrators. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2009, from http://www.bls.gov.

Education Commission of the States. (1999). Governing America’s Schools: Changing the Rules. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States.

Federal Role in Education. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2009, from http://www.ed.gov.

March, James G. (1978). The School Review, Vol. 86, No. 2. In American Public School Administration: A Short Analysis. Retrieved February 8, 2009, from http://www.jstor.org.

Office of the Education Ombudsman. (n.d.). How Does a School District Work?. [Brochure]. Olympia, WA: Office of the Education Ombudsman.



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Foundations of Education Copyright © 2014 by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book