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Progressive Policy Making in a Conservative Age? Civil Rights and the Politics of Federal Education Standards, Testing, and Accountability

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 September 2011

Jesse Hessler Rhodes
Affiliation:
Department of Political Science, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. E-mail: jrhodes@polsci.umass.edu

Abstract

Recent research on the politics of contemporary policymaking has centered the contributions of diverse conservative forces. Conservatives are viewed as the chief proponents of marketizing reforms featuring retrenchment of social programs, privatization of social services, deregulation, and tax reduction, as well as of disciplining policies that impose more stringent behavioral requirements on beneficiaries, employ testing and reporting to monitor recipient performance, and impose sanctions for non-compliance. These developments are often viewed as fostering a less egalitarian politics, especially for historically disadvantaged groups.

I examine the rise of standards, testing, accountability, and limited school choice policies in federal education policymaking, which are widely viewed as embodying the same conservative interests and ideologies that have shaped policymaking in other areas. Contrary to this conventional wisdom, I show that certain civil rights organizations, not conservative forces, provided much of the impetus for federal standards, testing, and accountability reforms, which they viewed as measures for raising the achievement of disadvantaged students. Tracing the origins and consequences of these policies, my research reveals that entrepreneurial progressives can achieve significant legislative successes that they believe will accomplish progressive objectives. However, these policy victories have yielded mixed substantive results, and they have also unleashed complex and unanticipated consequences.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2011

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