Politics, bureaucracy, and representation greatly affect the life chances of African-American students in our nation's schools. Chapter 5 demonstrates that bureaucratic representation and politics are associated with access to gifted classes, assignments to special education, and the administration of discipline. These policy outputs are considered indicators of equal access to quality education and are likely to affect the educational attainment of individual students and, subsequently, their long-term economic and social status (Gordon, Della Piana, and Keleher 2000; Kozol 1991; Mulkey et al. 2005). Although the policy debate at times focuses on these outputs, more discussion is centered on outcomes, predominately test scores, graduation rates, and preparation for higher education. Any assessment of educational outcomes, however, should recognize, first, that the political process has defined the goals of education and, second, that the existing definition of these goals is highly controversial (Smith 2003).
Public education can have numerous goals that are very general and somewhat ambiguous. In the broadest sense, the goal of public education is to produce effective democratic citizens – individuals who can participate in the political, social, and economic life of a polity (Gutmann and Ben-Porath 1987). Trying to measure the attainment of such a goal would require assessments of the relationship between education and political participation, social capital, crime, cultural development, economic growth, and many other facets of contemporary life. The political process in the United States has culled the various indicators of education to generally focus on test scores with some additional concern over graduation rates and movement into postsecondary education. Scholarly and parental resistance to standardized testing indicates that the narrowing of education goals has not gone uncontested (Bushaw and Calderon 2014; Strauss 2013; Valenzuela 2002, 2005; Wiliam 2010). Although this chapter will focus on test scores, graduation rates, and college preparation, we recognize these are only one set of goals in US education policy.
The narrowing of the mainstream educational policy debate has taken place in conjunction with the rise of the federal government as a major player in elementary and secondary education. K–12 education is traditionally a state function in which state governments delegate authority to local education agencies, primarily independent school districts.
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