The Deep State, Educational Bureaucracy and the Shadow Education Government

Who should control schools? Elected politicians? Educational experts? Teachers? School administrators? The educational bureaucracy?

In recent years there has been much discussion of the deep state, which means, as I am using the term, the unelected officials that administer and influence government policies. These elements in the deep state can shape and mold legislation passed by elected officials. The shadow education government consists of businesses, unions and private organizations attempting to influence educational policy.

An example of the deep state is the cover of David Tyack’s classic The One Best System which has six illustrations of different designs for a tree swing that was requested by an elected school board. The illustrations represent how ideas can be molded by the deep state. The differing tree swings are labeled: “As Teachers Requested It,” “As Principals Order It,” “As Central Office Designed It,” “As the Board of Education Approved,” “As Maintenance Installed It” and “What the Students Wanted.”1

The Deep State: Administrative State and the Shadow Government

In this chapter, I will explore both the power of the administrative state and shadow government over U.S. educational policies. The administrative state places power in the hands of educational bureaucrats, while a shadow government influences bureaucratic actions. The administrative state is based on the concept that politicians are unskilled to carry out many government functions and, consequently, the functions should be turned over to experts. For instance, elected local school boards make decisions and turn over implementation to the school superintendent and staff. The shadow government of the deep state are independent people and organizations influencing the actions to civil service administrators, such as lobbyists, single interest groups like Christian Coalition and the NAACP, educational businesses, teachers’ unions, professional organizations and foundations. Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries in the United States, there have been criticisms educational bureaucracy and the shadow government.

The concept of the deep state originated from Turkish politics where it referred to “to a kind of shadow or parallel system of government in which unofficial or publicly unacknowledged individuals play important roles in defining and implementing state policy.”2 This concept of the deep state that emerged from Turkey was transformed in the United States to include government bureaucracies. Regarding the American meaning of the deep state, George Friedman writes,

The deep state is, in fact, a very real thing. It is, however, neither a secret nor nearly as glamorous as the concept might indicate. It has been in place since 1871 and continues to represent the real mechanism beneath the federal government, controlling and frequently reshaping elected officials’ policies. This entity is called the civil service, and it was created to limit the power of the president.3

The federal civil service started in 1871 in order to protect government workers from being hired and fired according to political whims of the President. The civil service system required rules for hiring and that employees could not be fired without cause. As government became more complex and technical, government administration became primarily the function of the civil service.

The economic theorists discussed in Chapter 4 argued government bureaucracies or the deep state were pursuing their own interests when carrying out government policies, including education policies. Friedrich Hayek’s economic ideas were important in criticizing government bureaucracies. In The Road to Serfdom, Hayek set the stage for later criticisms of government bureaucracies, including educational bureaucracies. He argued that the difficulty of determining prices or the value of goods would inevitably cause the failure of centrally planned economies. Government bureaucracies in planned economies, Hayek argued, promote the personal advantage of its members. Bureaucrats and intellectuals supported by a bureaucracy, he argued, will advance social theories that vindicate the continued existence and expansion of the bureaucracy.4

Defining the enemy as the bureaucracy is one of Hayek’s enduring legacies. Many educational critics complain that the problem with public schools is the educational bureaucracy. A frequently heard statement regarding schools is: “The problem is not money! The problem is bureaucratic waste!” By placing the blame on the educational bureaucracy, school reformers can avoid the issue of equal funding among school districts.

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