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The Color of School Reform

The Color of School Reform: Race, Politics, and the Challenge of Urban Education

Jeffrey R. Henig
Richard C. Hula
Marion Orr
Desiree S. Pedescleaux
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Color of School Reform
    Book Description:

    Why is it so difficult to design and implement fundamental educational reform in large city schools in spite of broad popular support for change? How does the politics of race complicate the challenge of building and sustaining coalitions for improving urban schools? These questions have provoked a great deal of theorizing, but this is the first book to explore the issues on the basis of extensive, solid evidence. Here a group of political scientists examines education reform in Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., where local governmental authority has passed from white to black leaders. The authors show that black administrative control of big-city school systems has not translated into broad improvements in the quality of public education within black-led cities. Race can be crucial, however, in fostering the broad civic involvement perhaps most needed for school reform.

    In each city examined, reform efforts often arise but collapse, partly because leaders are unable to craft effective political coalitions that would commit community resources to a concrete policy agenda. What undermines the leadership, according to the authors, is the complex role of race in each city. First, public authority does not guarantee access to private resources, usually still controlled by white economic elites. Second, local authorities must interact with external actors, at the state and national levels, who remain predominantly white. Finally, issues of race divide the African American community itself and often place limits on what leaders can and cannot do. Filled with insightful explanations together with recommendations for policy change, this book is an important component of the debate now being waged among researchers, education activists, and the community as a whole.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2329-1
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Civic Capacity, Race, and Education in Black-Led Cities
    (pp. 3-29)

    Blunt attacks on the quality of American public education mask a more pernicious problem. While many schools are delivering a mediocre product that sells their students short, for some children, especially those living in large central cities with high minority populations and heavy concentrations of the poor, the tale is much more tragic. Broad economic changes are putting a higher and higher premium on educational attainment, yet these students languish in decrepit school buildings where many of the teachers lack the skills and training they should have, the resources to meet their special challenges, and/or the enthusiasm and faith that...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Racial Change and the Politics of Transition
    (pp. 30-62)

    Political scientists often write about how politics and policy slow the processes of change. Political elites, they note, can often use their privileged position to defeat or preempt challenges from newly mobilizing interests.¹ Countervailing interests, formal checks and balances, division of authority among levels of government, cozy and self-protective relationships between regulators and the interests they regulate, and the problematics of bureaucratic implementation sometimes combine to make incrementalism, even rigidity, appear to be defining traits of the American political system.²

    Rapid demographic change is one force powerful enough to overwhelm these forces of inertia. This is especially true at the...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Elusiveness of Education Reform
    (pp. 63-114)

    The assumption of political power by African Americans in Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, and Washington was accompanied by the widespread expectation that schools in those jurisdictions would subsequently better serve the children in those cities. However, as we highlight in this chapter, the history of education reform in each city reveals that positive change is extraordinarily difficult. In spite of numerous efforts over the past decade, there is no evidence of substantial improvement in the quality of schools. Indeed, most evidence suggests that the quality of education in each city has declined, in some cases dramatically. Not only have reform efforts...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Race and the Political Economy of Big-City Schools: Teachers and Preachers
    (pp. 115-154)

    Those who study urban politics have long recognized the importance of tangible, material incentives as tools for building political alliances and supplementing formal authority with informal mechanisms of influence and control.¹ Big-city school systems are a major source of economic benefits to individuals, companies, and neighborhoods. As Wilbur Rich aptly put it: “The school pie feeds many families, and slicing it is a major event in the local economy.”² But the connection between this insight and the challenge of urban school reform has been ignored or treated in one-dimensional terms.

    One cannot understand the politics of school reform without first...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Parental and Community Participation in Education Reform
    (pp. 155-208)

    One of the most consistent and seemingly uncontroversial findings in the education literature concerns the importance of parent involvement for children’s learning and schools’ success.¹ Parents, teachers, principals, and public officials readily subscribe to the premise that partnerships between parents and schools make a potent combination. This view has encouraged various reform efforts at the local level, including policies to improve communication from the schools to homes, to encourage teachers to make home visits, and to institute school-based decision-making teams comprising principals, teachers, parents, and community representatives. The federal government, too, has signed on to the parent involvement movement; the...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Black Leaders, White Businesses: Racial Tensions and the Construction of Public-Private Partnerships in Education
    (pp. 209-246)

    Advocates of systemic school reform frequently include public-private partnerships on the list of initiatives that they believe are critical if urban school systems are to be turned around. Business is seen as a potentially valuable partner in the reform movement for at least three reasons. First, business is seen as a source ofinformation and expertise. Corporate leaders are well-placed to provide guidance on the types of knowledge and job skills that graduates need to be employable and prosperous in the coming decades; in addition, corporate employees may have particular skills in accounting, information systems, and other management tools that...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN The Role of External Actors
    (pp. 247-272)

    Local decisions about schools are rarely made in a vacuum, yet many analyses of school politics focus on local stakeholder groups, as if their interests, resources, and the relative balance of power among them are the sole determinants of policy. It is understandable why this tendency to think of education policy as a product of local forces emerged. Few political symbols in the United States carry the power associated with the local control of education. Schools are closely identified with the character of their local communities. Indeed, schools are sometimes taken as defining that character. Moreover, many structural reforms introduced...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT School Reform As If Politics and Race Matter
    (pp. 273-292)

    Students of American education have long recognized the various roles played by schools in serving the national interest. They act as venues for socializing our youth into dominant norms, preparing future citizens to serve as informed voters and political actors, and training future workers in the skills and habits that our economy requires. However, schools are most often seen as vehicles of individual advancement. Few symbols are quite as powerful as education’s potential role in promoting social and economic mobility. Indeed, this prescription is often offered as a broad strategy for disadvantaged populations. Minority communities are routinely advised to invest...

  14. Index
    (pp. 293-301)