In the United States, setting and implementing educational policy at the local school involves a web of complicated relationships between policy actors at various levels of government. While some power does rest with teachers and administrators, most policy and program decisions emanate from the federal and state levels. For example, policies around what to teach in schools are usually decided at the state level while federal agents oversee policies concerning students’ civil rights. However, more immediate concerns such as classroom assignment of students and how to handle student discipline is decided upon and implemented by local educators. This is quite different from other countries where setting and implementing school level policy is mostly controlled at the national level.

The United States continues to embrace the concept of “local control” of public schools, but the actual level of local autonomy varies depending on the state in which one lives and works. That is because the US constitution does not guarantee its citizens a right to an education. Rather, this power and obligation lies with individual states; state constitutions determine the parameters of citizens’ rights to a public education.

Whether a particular policy has been developed and set at the state, federal, or local levels, the responsibility for implementing the school level policy falls on the shoulders of teachers, principals, and other staff and administrators. And the implementation process is dependent on individual personalities and decision making as well as the culture of a place such as a school district, school, or classroom. Just because legislation is enacted, does not necessarily mean policy will be implemented well or at all. For example, sometimes an educational policy lacks implementation details. In addition, sometimes policies are clear, but the local actors lack the resources they need to implement the policy effectively. Sometimes, there are delays in implementing policy at the school level because teachers and principals need to figure out whether a new policy conflicts with policy at other levels of bureaucracy.

Effective leaders engage teachers and staff in implementation design and guide them through meaningful change. Good implementation strategies also include careful and consistent communication to ensure stakeholders are clear on expectations and responsibilities. It is also important to include periodic assessment to determine whether changes need to be made along the way.