Power and Politics in Education:Who Controls Education Policy? The Left? The Right? or Teachers and Parents?

A few months ago I began getting e-messages to join actions sponsored by #BlackLivesMatteratSchools,

  • End Zero Tolerance
  • Mandate Black Studies #ethnicstudies
  • Hire More Black Teachers
  • Fund Counselors Not Cops

Back in October at the Network for Public Education conference I met the teacher from Seattle who was leading the movement. The motion was introduced at the January delegates meeting at the UFT, the NYC teachers union. The motion was overwhelmingly rejected, teachers are, by nature, cautious.

The student behavior code in New York City is spelled out in minute detail, zero tolerance does not exist and suspensions at the school and superintendent level are closely controlled by the overlords. I believe curriculum should be determined, to the extent possible, by teachers at the school level, and, New York State is embarking on a statewide Culturally Relevant Pedagogy initiative. The Men Teacher in Education program, richly funded by the city encourages men of color to enter schools of education in the City University. And, I would change the last “Ask” to “Fund Counselors AND cops.”

Teachers want orderly schools, and have mixed feelings about the #blacklivematteratschool agenda.

A core question: will the asks/demands of #blacklivesmatterinschools lead to better outcomes for student of color or satisfy the philosophies of a small group of activists? Even deeper, who controls educational policies: elected/appointed school boards, educational (de)reformers, Unions, parents, or a power establishment with an agenda to control schools and other social services?

Is the #blacklivesmatterinschools an example of Critical Policy Analysis?

  • Challenging traditional notions of power, politics and governance
  • Examining policy as discourse and political spectacle
  • Centering the perspectives of the marginalized and the oppressed
  • Interrogating the distribution of power and resources
  • Holding those in power accountable for policy outcomes

Janelle Scott (UC Berkeley) Sonya Douglas-Horford (Teacher College) and Gary Newman (NYU) explore in the just-released, “The Politics of Education Policy in an Era of Inequality

” In a context of increased politicization led by state and federal policymakers, corporate reformers, and for-profit educational organizations … This book provides a critical perspective and analysis of today’s education policy landscape and leadership practice; explores the challenges and opportunities associated with teaching in and leading schools; and examines the structural, political, and cultural interactions among school principals, district leaders, and state and federal policy actors. [The book] shares a theoretical framework and strategies for building bridges between education researchers, practitioners, and policymakers”.

 On one side of the fence, Arne Duncan, Betsy DeVos, the Fordham Institute, the state commissioners, aka the decision-makers, straddling the fence, the teacher unions, and on the other side the Network for Public Education, the Opt Out parents, #blacklivesmatter and the growing host of opponents to the educational establishment, albeit, with many divisions within their ranks.

School discipline is an excellent example, should schools have a code of conduct, a discipline code, with clearly delineated punishments, including suspensions within an education setting, or, are the concepts of suspensions criminalizing students and an integral part of the pipeline to prison?

The “Fund counselors not Cops,” is an excellent example.

New York City employs school safety officers in every school; they are not police officers, not armed; although they report to the police. The number varies with the number of “incidents” reported by the school. All “incidents” in schools must be posted on the Online Reporting School Safety database, ORSS. The Department requires scanning in higher incidence schools and critics point to the scanning as demeaning and counterproductive; frequently resulting in long lines of students, having to arrive a half hour early to be on time to class.

Police officers are assigned to schools with high numbers of school incidents. Are these policies required to make schools safe environments for teaching and learning or do the very presence of police officers and school safety officers negatively impact student achievement?

A large study in New York City found,

We find that exposure to police surges significantly reduced test scores for African American boys, consistent with their greater exposure to policing. The size of the effect increases with age, but there is no discernible effect for African American girls and Hispanic students. Aggressive policing can thus lower educational performance for some minority groups. These findings provide evidence that the consequences of policing extend into key domains of social life, with implications for the educational trajectories of minority youth and social inequality more broadly.

 The results, on the surface point to heavy police presence as depressing academic achievement especially among Afro-American males.

The Pittsburgh School System selected targeted schools for training and implementation in restorative justice practices, after two years, modest reductions in suspensions in the elementary school grades, and surprising results in middle schools,

  During the study period, there was a negative effect on math test scores for students in third through eighth grade, particularly for students in middle-school grades and for black students. 

 The NYC Mayor and Chancellor hold Town Hall meetings, by invitation, elected parent leaders interact with the mayor and chancellor, a meeting was live streamed, the parents came from high poverty, high crime neighborhoods in the Bronx. One parent complained there weren’t enough police around the schools, especially in the morning and at dismissal, she received applause and positive nods from the parents in at the meeting.

Max Eden, at the Manhattan Institute, reviewed school surveys in New York City; parents, teachers and students fill out detailed surveys each year, Eden reported,

The key findings: school climate remained relatively steady under Bloomberg’s discipline reform, but deteriorated rapidly under de Blasio’s. Specifically, teachers report less order and discipline, and students report less mutual respect among their peers, as well as more violence, drug and alcohol use, and gang activity. There was also a significant differential racial impact: nonelementary schools where more than 90% of students were minorities experienced the worst shift in school climate under the de Blasio reform. 

 How should school safety be approached: school safety officers, police, restorative justice, more teachers of color, perhaps more engaging curriculum and teaching?

 As far as “More Black Teachers,” in three school districts in Brooklyn in which the school population is 90% Black the teacher demographic is 60% Black:  Should there be a goal of a percentage of Black teachers? Are Black teachers more effective? (Are White teachers more effective with White students? Implications?) Does teacher gender impact student achievement?

At every level, from school districts, to cities to states to Washington the world of education is divided into factions, some hanging on to deeply entrenched beliefs, others increasingly challenging these beliefs.

Are the policy elites, who have dominated the aeries of the education world, who impose policies, simply yet another example of white privilege dooming the future of children of color? Or, is Critical Policy Analysis correctly challenging the power structure?  Or, are they trying to impose another set of policies emanating from the other side of the philosophical/political spectrum? Are research findings beginning to erode traditional beliefs, or, an example of advocacy research?

Politics pits ever-Trumpers versus never-Trumpers on the Republican side, traditional Democrats versus AOC Democrats on the other side, with a growing center searching for answers.

Wherever you are on the political spectrum one lesson should be clear, without teachers and parents, no educational innovation or policy will gain traction. Cuban and Tyack in “Tinkering Towards Utopia” parsed one hundred years of education reforms, one after another they faded into the dustbin of education policy initiatives without the support of parents and teachers.

Teachers and their union must be at the center of educational policy, as long as policy wonks view teacher unions as adversaries, change will be viewed as punishment.

The UFT, the New York City teacher union, in its new contract, is trying to move schools towards greater collaboration, in spite of opposition from the supervisors union. The chancellor and the union president are working together to engage the lowest performing schools, assisting the schools to develop tools to move the schools forward, risky for both the chancellor and the union.

Those at the top of the ladder, the foundations (Bill Gates, etc.), the electeds, the state commissioners, the think tanks should pick up the phone and engage Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the presidents of the two largest teacher unions.

Remember the Lyndon Johnson story: he appointed a critic of his policies to an important job in he White House, his advisors wondered, why? Johnson replied, “Better peeing out of the tent then peeing into the tent.” (Perhaps a little misogynistic, you get the point)

2 responses to “Power and Politics in Education:Who Controls Education Policy? The Left? The Right? or Teachers and Parents?

  1. nice work, keep up the good work.


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