Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date

2016

Center/Program

Center for Public Research and Leadership

Abstract

Public education in the United States has been crippled by a combination of entrenched bureaucratic governance and special-interest politics. To remedy these failings, school districts, states, and the federal Education Department have adopted education reforms characterized by rigorous outcome-focused standards and assessments and the empowering of public schools, charter or otherwise, to meet the standards. Despite promising initial results, however, the reforms have been widely criticized, including by the populations they most seek to help. To explain this paradox, this Article first tries to assimilate the new education reforms to the most frequently proposed alternatives to bureaucratic governance — marketization, managerialism, professionalism and craft. It concludes, however, that none of these models adequately elucidates the reforms or provides an attractive alternative to special-interest politics, a crucial concomitant of bureaucracy. The Article claims that another governance model, democratic experimentalism, better explains the recent reforms and provides a richly participatory alternative to special-interest politics, which directly engages stakeholders — families and teachers, in this case — into its collaborative governance mechanisms. The Article finds, however, that the new education reforms have largely omitted the “democratic” part of experimentalism, resulting in the backlash by special interest groups and the constituents the reforms help the most, parents and students. The Article concludes by proposing a more fully democratic version of the reforms designed to improve student outcomes, powerfully engage key stakeholders, and diminish objections.

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