Teacher's PAT? multiple-role principal-agent theory, education politics, and bureaucrat power

Pieter Vanhuysse*, Raanan Sulitzeanu-Kenan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


This article aims to contribute to current debates about political power and agency relationships in education and other public sectors. In a recent clarion call for a major redirection of political principal-agent theories (PAT), Terry Moe has argued that standard information asymmetries ought no longer to be regarded as the sole foundation of bureaucrat power. According to Moe, current theories largely overlook the direct electoral power of agents and their unions (EPA) in voting for their own bureaucratic principals. Therefore, they are biased systematically towards underestimating agent power. We critically address both Moe's theoretical arguments, and his empirical applications to Californian school board elections. We conclude that Moe overestimates the power consequences of EPA on both counts. We outline a more balanced version of 'multiple-role' PAT and of its potential implications for our understanding of the political power of public school teachers and bureaucrats more generally.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)129-144
Number of pages16
JournalCritical Studies in Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009


  • Bureaucratic agency
  • Californian education
  • Democratic governance
  • Political power
  • Rational choice theory
  • School board elections
  • Teacher unions


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