Increasingly, more and more decisions about teaching and learning are controlled by the principal, and not by the central office staff of school districts. One of the best examples of this has been the change in structure of New York City schools over the past 10 years, where principals are more empowered to make local decisions, and the central office makes fewer. In other situations, this trend is connected to a rise in charter schools. The Recovery School District in New Orleans is a great example of this, as decentralization has been coupled with a shift to more of a charter-based model.
Stay tuned for a debate on this issue in years to come. On the one hand, complete decentralization empowers local principals, respects the knowledge of the local team, and encourages innovative ideas. On the other hand, the lack of any centrally-led initiatives can make it hard to systematically tackle large, complicated, district-wide problems (for example, a district wide literacy achievement gap.) Plus, a decentralized model only works when school principals are strong instructional leaders - and with the many demands they are wrestling with (the Common Core, effective implementation of new teacher evaluation systems, etc.) many of them struggle to adapt to the new demands of their roles.
So what's the right answer? The most likely outcome will be a combination. Already, hybrid models are emerging which give more power to local schools, while maintaining a targeted set of district-level initiatives targeted at the most critical, complicated issues.