Historical Trends in Educational Decentralization in the United States and Developing Countries: A Periodization and Comparison in the Post-WWII Context


  • D. Brent Edwards Jr. University of Tokyo
  • David DeMatthews University of Texas at El Paso




Decentralization, School-Based Management, Education Governance, Community Control, United States, Developing Countries, Accountability, Neoliberalism


In the present work, we fill a gap in the writing on the decentralization of educational governance by periodizing and comparing trends that have fallen under this label in both the United States and developing countries in the post-WWII period (1945-present). The findings are informed by a review of 127 decentralization-related studies from seven leading, peer-reviewed journals in comparative and international education, in addition to the Journal of Education Policy, Journal of Educational Administration, and Harvard Education Review. We combine this review with works that address larger political and economic shifts and, in so doing, are able to delineate two pushes for decentralization in the United States. In developing countries, the term decentralization has emerged during three distinct periods. Beyond characterizing the nature of decentralization in general terms over time, we also compare key features of these trends and the forces that brought them about. One key finding is that the application of community-level decentralization in developing countries has not been as widespread as global rhetoric during the 1990s and 2000s would imply. A second key finding is that there has been a relatively recent shift away from decentralization towards other forms of accountability-based reforms in both the United States and developing countries.


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Author Biographies

D. Brent Edwards Jr., University of Tokyo

Brent Edwards received his PhD in international education policy from the University of Maryland, College Park, and his Master’s of Science in Education from the University of Pennsylvania. His work focuses on the political economy of education reform and global education policies, with a focus on developing countries. Previously, he has worked with the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Amsterdam; the Autonomous University of Barcelona; the George Washington University; the University of Central America; and the World Bank. Currently, he is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Tokyo. His work has appeared in such journals as Comparative Education Review, Education Policy Analysis Archives, Research in Comparative and International Education, Current Issues in Comparative Education, and The Urban Review, in addition to numerous book chapters.

David DeMatthews, University of Texas at El Paso

David DeMatthews is an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at El Paso in the Department of Educational Leadership and Foundations. David has worked in urban districts as a high school teacher, middle school administrator, and district administrator. He studies issues related to school leadership, urban education, special education, and social justice. Scholarship of his has appeared in Educational Administration Quarterly and Education Policy Analysis Archives.




How to Cite

Edwards Jr., D. B., & DeMatthews, D. (2014). Historical Trends in Educational Decentralization in the United States and Developing Countries: A Periodization and Comparison in the Post-WWII Context. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 22, 40. https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.v22n40.2014