School autonomy and decentralized school management have often been hailed as key features of adaptable and democratic school systems, that respond to both systemic and local needs. The convenience of such practices, and their specific instantiations in countries with different cultures and institutions, need to be considered in the light of specific country-contexts as well as of the global trends that are currently shaping the governance of education systems.School autonomy can mean different things when we consider them in the context of existing global governance mechanisms, such as international tests and various other indicators; but also when specific cultural and institutional contexts are taken into account. In countries with weak institutions, decentralized governance reforms have often failed because of poor capacities in local administrations. In some cases, decentralized governance has entailed the local reproduction of poorly functioning bureaucracies, as well as the decentralization of corruption. This suggests that when autonomy and decentralization are considered, they must be taken as the result of processes of capacity development that require both time and resources.
The question of how to steer education systems (i.e. coordination) in the direction of desired changes while promoting school autonomy and decentralized governance has no easy answers.
The presentation will discuss some of these tensions, drawing from discussions on the political economy of educational governance reforms, as well as from specific examples, mainly from the Latin American region.