Document Type


Publication Title

North Carolina Law Review



Publication Date



public schools, polyarchy, school reform


Spurred in part by state court cases holding that states bear a constitutional duty to educate all children adequately, and making creative use of the arguments of school choice advocates, the states and other policy actors have in recent years recast the problem of deficient schooling as one of government structure rather than one of individual rights. This reorientation has contributed to a dramatic erosion of the traditional role of the local school district as the leading administrative, policymaking, and legal unit of American school government. A new, polyarchic distribution of power has arisen in place of district primacy, bearing potentially momentous consequences for education litigation and for the realization of education rights generally. Interests that currently wield disproportionate power over urban school district management, especially teachers' unions, will likely find their influence reduced. Structural change will also likely blunt the ability of courts to guide further the course of school reform. Finally, the shift toward polyarchy may well begin to erode the power of suburban interests that have long dominated education law and politics.