Local control in the era of accountability: A case study of Wisconsin preK


  • M. Elizabeth Graue University of Wisconsin Madison
  • Bethany Wilinski Michigan State University
  • Amato Nocera University of Wisconsin Madison




PreK policy, Wisconsin, early childhood education, local control, standardization, policy paradox, accountability


The opposing principles of local control and increased standardization are a prominent tension in the United States’ education system. Since at least the early 1990s, this tension has taken shape around the accountability movement, defined by educational reforms that hold schools, teachers, and students accountable for performance on new standards, assessments, and curricula. While many scholars have examined the manifestations of the current accountability movement, few have looked at this phenomenon within the growing public preK movement. Drawing from interviews with state policymakers and district-level actors, this paper describes how the seemingly contradictory principles of local control and increased state and national standards (what we refer to simply as standardization) are shaping the policy and practice of Wisconsin’s preK system, known as 4K. We argue that rational models of policy making fail to explain the coexistence and blending of the strands of local control and standardization we found in our data, and suggest that Deborah Stone’s (2001) policy paradox provides a better theoretical framework for our findings.


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Author Biographies

M. Elizabeth Graue, University of Wisconsin Madison

Beth Graue is the Sorenson Professor of Childhood Studies and Chair of the Department of Curriculum & Instruction. A former kindergarten teacher, Graue studies early childhood policy and practice, focusing on how policy and practice create each other.

Bethany Wilinski, Michigan State University

Bethany Wilinski is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher Education. She studies early childhood policy in the US and Tanzania, with a focus on how diverse stakeholders make sense of and enact policies. 


Amato Nocera, University of Wisconsin Madison

Amato Nocera is a graduate student in the department of Educational Policy Studies.





How to Cite

Graue, M. E., Wilinski, B., & Nocera, A. (2016). Local control in the era of accountability: A case study of Wisconsin preK. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 24, 60. https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.24.2366