In 1988, Margaret Thatcher, the United Kingdom’s famously conservative prime minister, approved a revolutionary reform: Allow secondary schools to shrug off local control and become autonomous, central government- funded entities. To convert into one of these so-called grant-maintained schools (GMs), a school had to secure the majority vote of its students’ parents. By 1997, some 900 of the United Kingdom’s 3,500 state-funded secondary schools had gone GM (the rough equivalent of a conversion...

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