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Educational Policy and Politics

Public policy is a complex and “value-laden” process in which political systems aim to address a specific societal problem (Fowler, 2013, p. 5). Conflict in policymaking is important to shake up the status quo and achieve change, and conflict is also inevitable in a democratic process where multiple perspectives and ideas come to the fore. Therefore, in policymaking democratic deliberation is essential for all voices to come together, dialogue, and achieve a common understanding on how the policy goals and subsequent policy actions can serve the public good. So, policymaking should happen in the community and with the community (Fowler, 2013).

Yet, the word public when attached to policy assumes that the process of identifying problems and then strategizing how to use policy to address these problems is democratic, deliberative, and truly public (see Rallis et al., 2008). Unfortunately, public policy has never been a just, open process intended to serve the public good. Instead public policy is a constant battle amongst private interests where those who have the power and privilege to do so ensure their interests prevail, particularly when policy is designed with equitable intentions to right racial wrongs. This is especially so in our current policy environment where business leaders, the media, and politicians all believe that public education is in a state of crisis, and therefore now all have an opinion on how to fix public education (Fowler, 2013). A central pattern throughout the history of U.S. public policy is that dominant groups are resolutely threatened when policies are designed to serve the needs and level the playing field for minoritized groups. Dominant groups are thus typically only willing to endorse an equity-driven policy when the policy serves their interests as well. The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision declared separate but equal schools unconstitutional, however, at the time white Americans were only willing to recognize the harmful effects of racial segregation when at the height of the Cold War the United States’ reputation as a superpower was at stake for its unequal treatment of Black people (Bell, 1980). The Brown decision is a prime example of interest convergencewhere any policy change that intends to achieve racial equity only occurs when it aligns with the interests of white stakeholders (Bell, 1980).

The power imbalances—that is, white supremacy—that play out in the policy process in order to preserve white interests are the reason why a traditional approach to policymaking is insufficient to redress racial injustice. A traditional policy approach assumes that policymaking can be planned, managed, and transpires in the following stages: issue definition, agenda setting, policy formulation, policy adoption, and implementation (Diem, Young, Welton, Mansfield, & Lee, 2014). Consequently, in our analysis of each policy issue highlighted in this book we also couple anti-racism with critical approaches to policy analysis (see Diem et al., 2014). A critical approach to policy analysis tracks the policy process to uncover any discrepancies between the policy rhetoric and reality, the intended versus the unintended consequences of policy, how the policy unfolds from its development to actual implementation, and how we are then socialized and normed by the policy rhetoric (Diem et al., 2014). Finally, critical approaches to policy analysis expose how a particular policy perpetuates imbalances in power, resources, and knowledge (Diem et al., 2014); in this book we therefore use critical approaches to policy analysis to speak truth to the racism that exists in educational policy and politics.

 
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