Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Education Policy (PhD)

Degree Level



Education Reform


Robert Anthony Maranto

Committee Member

Jonathan Wai

Second Committee Member

Albert A. Cheng


adult voting population, bureaucracy, charter schools, education history, Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), federal education policy, government-controlled, organization theory, public choice theory, public education system


How did a country birthed in individual liberty and voluntary associations create just the opposite in its inflexible, layered, government-controlled public education system? Here, using public choice theory, I explain how near-sighted and unrelated reforms, often based in private motives, gave us what I call the public education centropoly – a hybrid government organization consisting of a set of monopolies layered beneath two additional government levels that especially fails disadvantaged students.

After defending the use of public choice theory (Chapter 1) and summarizing the U.S. public education system formation (Chapter 2), in Chapter 3 I examine the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) and subsequent reauthorizations, showing how external reforms intended to correct the system’s educational failure of its disadvantaged students did little more than to expand and cement the centropoly. Chapter 3 contains a panel data, fixed effects empirical analysis of the associations between ESEA (and its various amendments) and staffing increases at the state and local (school district) levels between 1965 and 2004. I find that, of 13 amendment sets analyzed, 8 are associated with large and highly statistically significant staffing increases relative to staffing levels in 1965 when ESEA was originally adopted. I conclude the chapter with a brief summary of ESEA Title I effectiveness literature and analysis, illustrating that any improvements gained might be outweighed by the problems the ESEA reforms generated – including the staffing increases, which have helped to increase the educational bureaucracy.

Although previous research examines reasons why charter school presence differs across states, very little research analyzes the relationship of this difference to the power of the traditional public schools (TPSs) directly rather than indirectly as through union or partisan strength. In Chapter 5, I hypothesize that the American TPS system itself is a predictor of opposition to charter schools. Relying largely on public choice theory, I first explain the incentives, power, and rigidity behind the TPS institutional network. I then apply this explanation to my hypothesis by employing a TPS power proxy –TPS staff size relative to adult (voting) population – as my variable of interest. Upon this foundation, I control for most characteristics shown in prior research to be associated with proportional charter school enrollment thereby deepening the understanding of how the TPS system works to prevent alternative learning opportunities for students who cannot afford to leave the TPS system. While noting certain caveats, I find a strong inverse association, providing evidence that the TPS institutional network defends itself against competition in Right-to-Work states.

In some states, charters must meet inflexible, standardized performance standards to survive. Again through the lens of public choice theory, in Chapter 6 we hypothesize that charters that were established by African Americans and those which serve more African American students are more likely to close, and that state-imposed standardized closure rules exacerbate these inequities. Analysis confirms our hypotheses: The percentage of African American students and having an African American founder were associated with charter school closure. Moreover, automatic standardized closure criteria disparately amplifies the effects.