Monday, May 28, 2012

Jesse H. Rhodes's "An Education in Politics"

Jesse H. Rhodes is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, An Education in Politics: The Origins and Evolution of No Child Left Behind, and reported the following:
An Education in Politics offers a new historical interpretation of the rise of federal standards, testing, and accountability policymaking in education. The book shows that these policies – including the highly controversial No Child Left Behind Act – emerged due to the advocacy of a strange coalition of corporate boosters who sought highly-educated workers and civil rights activists who wanted to hold schools accountable for the achievement of historically disadvantaged students.

Page 99 provides some of the back-story for a crucial – but little-remembered - federal education policy called the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994 (the precursor to No Child Left Behind). The page details education policymaking patterns in states and localities during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The purpose of this discussion is to provide context for understanding why business leaders and civil rights activists came to support more muscular federal government efforts to promote, standards, testing, and accountability in the nation’s schools during the 1990s. Basically, the conclusion drawn from the review of state policymaking patterns is that states moved very slowly in adopting school reforms during this period. As I show in the remainder of the chapter, states’ slow progress motivated business leaders and civil rights activists to push for federal policies that would effectively require states to adopt higher standards, more frequent examinations, and more consistent accountability for results. For better or worse, this is what the Improving America’s Schools Act – and, later, the No Child Left Behind Act – did.

The page is fairly typical of the book overall in linking patterns of state education policymaking to subsequent developments in federal education policy. However, other parts of the chapter – and (I hope) the book overall! – do a better job in introducing the reader to the major advocates for federal standards, testing, and accountability policies, explaining their motivations, and showing how they worked to translate their preferences into public policy. The book also explains the promise, as well as the pitfalls, of these policies, inviting readers to wrestle with the difficult tradeoffs between school autonomy and school accountability, creativity and consistency in the classroom, and equity and excellence in education.
Learn more about An Education in Politics at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue