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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: August 2016

4 - Race and Street- Level Bureaucrats: With a Little Help from My Friends


Policies are rarely self-implementing, and education policies are no exception. The decentralized structure of American education allows for both extensive discretion by school districts as well as discretion within individual schools. School are archetypical street-level bureaucracies with vast discretion vested in teachers with only modest oversight even in the current era of high stakes testing (Davis 2011; May and Winter 2000; but see Boser and Hanna 2014 for a differing view). School boards can be conceptualized as political principals who, by necessity, must delegate to agents to carry out their policy objectives. One of the most proposed hypotheses about principal-agent relationships, the ally hypothesis, holds that principals should select agents who share their values in order to maximize the objectives that the principal seeks. Given the importance of race in education policy, African-American school board members are quite likely to believe that African-American administrators and teachers will share their values and that increasing the number of black teachers and administrators can generate positive gains for black students (see Chapters 5 and 6).

The reform structures of the Progressive Era with its effort to separate policy from administration and the creation of a professional superintendent means that school boards cannot directly hire teachers and can rarely hire administrators. They do hire the superintendent, however, so a board priority focused on the racial diversity of faculty and staff is something that a superintendent can ignore only by assuming some risk. The organizational structure of school districts creates a chain of principal-agent relationships whereby the superintendent hires administrative personnel and the administrative personnel hire teachers.

This chapter will examine the racial representation of the administrative and teaching faculty of our national sample of school districts with two objectives in mind. From a substantive perspective, we seek to show how school board representation and partisanship directly affect the composition of the district's administrative and teaching staff. From a theoretical perspective, we seek to build on Chapter 3 and the impact of structure and partisanship on representation by examining whether or not there are downstream consequences of partisanship on the various ways to select school board members.

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The Politics of African-American Education
  • Online ISBN: 9781316225462
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