Although it has ebbed and flowed in salience, the issue of equal access to educational opportunities for African Americans has been on the national agenda for more than a century and a half. This study examined the current status of African-American education and the politics that influences it by analyzing the 1,800 largest school districts in the United States. The portrait painted by the empirical results shows that, in terms of student outcomes, the gap between the quality of education afforded to black students versus white students remains troublesome. Whether examining test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) or the various indicators used in this book's analysis, there remain large and persistent gaps in educational access and attainment for black and white Americans. Both the NAEP scores and the historical comparisons provided in this text show that the reduction in these gaps has stagnated.
The basic theme of this study is that racial inequities in education reflect, in part, racial inequities in political power. This contention does not mean that politics is the sole determinant of racial differences in education; a wide variety of other factors such as income, housing, health, and past historical levels of education also play a role. If political disparities affect educational disparities, then changes in the politics of education hold some promise for reducing the level of educational disparities. Complicating the linkage between politics and education are the historical changes in the politics of race and education. The initial attempt to gain access to education evolved into efforts to eliminate, first, segregation and, later, second-generation educational discrimination. Now, the accountability era is focused on racial gaps in test scores and other educational outcomes. We have learned that formal desegregation is only the first in a series of steps to equal access to quality education. In all cases of policy change in this area, the limits of effective implementation of policy become a key policy problem.
Politics is about advocacy that, in turn, requires representation. Using the concept of African-American representation, this study examined different forms of representation (legislative, bureaucratic) at different stages of the policy process (getting elected; recruiting administrators and teachers; making decisions about class assignments and discipline; and producing educational outcomes such as test scores, graduation rates, and college preparation). Before addressing the policy implications of this study, reviewing the major scholarly themes that have emerged is merited.
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