The purpose of this paper is to present the author's commentary on the special issue of Journal of Educational Administration entitled “Systemwide reform: examining districts under pressure”.
The major thesis of this commentary and reflection on the preceding papers is that there is a need to recognize that “school districts” as known in the USA are examples of a more general phenomenon of intermediary organizational entities in education systems in North America and elsewhere in the world and that there is a need to problematize, not take for granted, the form, purpose, and influence of these mediating layers of the school system on the quality and improvement of schools, and on the implementation of government policies that are intended to regulate and support education in schools.
This issue of the Journal of Educational Administration presents a series of papers that highlight different aspects and contemporary trends in school district practice and research – organizational characteristics associated with district effectiveness (see Trujillo this issue), how districts are responding to political and public demands for accountability (see Hamilton et al., this issue), the invention of school district authorities as portfolio managers of diverse school provider systems (see Marsh et al., this issue), and how social communication networks linking school and district staff interface with the use of evidence to support school improvement (see Finnigan and Daly, as well as Wohlstetter and Smith this issue).
The simple thesis of this commentary is to argue that school districts function as an intermediate level of education governance, management, and support within national and state education systems, and that current research and discussion on the school district role in improving and sustaining the quality of education would be strengthened by broadening the scope of research and discussion to alternative kinds of intermediate level governance and support systems that exist in North America and in other regions of the world.
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