Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 August 2016
Racial inequities in access to quality education are one of the most persistent issues in American politics. African-American educational attainment lags behind all other groups in the United States and appears resistant to most policy levers. The Politics of African-American Education: Representation, Partisanship, and Educational Equity brings together the results of a major national study focused on the local politics of education. The study stresses four major themes.
First, racial disparities in education reflect, in part, political inequities. Although a wide range of factors influence the educational attainment of African Americans including income levels, housing patterns, employment opportunities, and myriad social factors, the correlation between African-American political power and access to quality education for African American students has persisted for more than two hundred years. Within the African-American community, consistent response to the lack of educational opportunities has been to mobilize politically through interest groups (such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), protests, or politicians (by running for electoral office). The political side of educational equity will be the primary focus of this study rather than sociological or economic variables. We argue that while research sometimes overlooks this aspect of educational processes, it can be one of the most important in determining what opportunities are afforded to students.
Second, representation is an effective instrument for addressing African-American educational inequities. This study views political representation broadly to include African-American school board members, school administrators, and, most of all, school teachers. Representation in school politics occurs through a cascade effect with school board representation influencing administrative representation which, in turn, directly affects teacher representation. Increases in school board representation predict increases in administrative representation, and increases in administrative representation predict increases in teacher representation. Among these groups, African-American teachers are consistently associated with better educational outcomes for African-American students in policy outputs (gifted class assignments, special education assignments, suspensions, and expulsions) as well as in policy outcomes (test scores, graduation rates, and preparation for higher education).
Third, electoral and governance structures create biases in the political and bureaucratic systems that influence how representation and other factors affect African-American education. Electoral structures such as at-large elections are designed to bias electoral results to discriminate against numerical minorities.