23 SES 05 E, (Micro-)Politics and Policy-Making in Education
The United States is undergoing its largest education reform since the No Child Left Behind Law was passed by the Administration of George Bush in 2002. The reform consists of a new set of ambitious standards called the Common Core State Standards, and a new system of testing and accountability (McDonnell and Weatherford, 2014). The Standards have been adopted by 46 of the 50 United States, and 42 of these states are members of the testing systems that are planned to come on-line in 2015.
These reforms have stirred up tremendous controversy across the nation and become a bellwether issue in larger political debates between the left and right in American politics (Hess, 2014). Interest groups both within and outside of education have adopted these reforms to forward their agendas (Manna, 2010). In this paper I contextualize and describe the current educational reform context in the United States and analyze the arguments used by reform proponents and opponents that underlie their positions, framing them within the context of political science theory of agenda setting and policy formation.
The framework this analysis of the political context of education reform in America comes from the political science literature on agenda setting and policy framing. Kingdon (2002) wrote one of the seminal pieces in the American policy literature on the intersections between policy and politics. He argues that policy makers frame issues during key ‘issue-attention’ cycles in which advocacy groups vie for the attention of and try to influence the options of policymakers. Gershkoff, & Kushner (2005) examined key policy events in a range of policy environments and found that the policymakers and the public their cues from opinion leaders and their interpretations of events, rather than the events themselves. They argue that "those who control the language control the policy" (p.534). Druckman & Slothuus (2012) examined recent policy decision making and found that in times of high polarization such as the present education environment in the United States, the polarity alters the way decision makers arrive at their policy opinions, with a greater tendency to adopt the views of the public policy elite which they affiliate.
Using this analytical frame, the paper focuses on the following research questions:
- What are the major educational reforms in the United States and what is the political context within which they are playing out?
- What are the major arguments used by reform advocacy groups and opponents and to what constituencies are these arguments intending to appeal?
- How is this environment influencing the shifts in both the education reform conversation and policy decisions?
Druckman, J., & Slothuus, R. (2012). How elite partisan polarization affects public opinion formation. In APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper. Gershkoff, A., & Kushner, S. (2005). Shaping public opinion: The 9/11-Iraq connection in the Bush administration's rhetoric. Perspectives on Politics, 525-537. Hess, F. (2014). Common Core Meets Education Reform: What It All Means for Politics, Policy, and the Future of Schooling. New York: Teachers College Press. Kingdon, J. W. (2002). Agendas, alternatives, and public policies (longman classics edition). London: Longman Publishing Group. Manna, P. (2011). Collision Course: Federal Education Policy Meets State and Local Realities (Public Affairs and Policy Administration Series). Washington, DC: CQ Press. Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1984). Qualitative data analysis: a sourcebook of new methods; Qualitative data analysis: a sourcebook of new methods.
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