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Home arrow Education arrow American public education and the responsibility of its citizens : supporting democracy in the age of accountability


Changes in school organization, management, and practices are occurring rapidly. Many of those changes reflect neoliberal understandings of citizens and state institutions. In some cases, those understandings are challenging or changing key elements of public schools aligned with educating for democracy. As we make sense of and respond to those changes, it is worthwhile to reassert the formalist and functionalist elements of public schools and to highlight the connections between well-functioning ideal public schools and the democracy they support and enable. In the next chapter, I will offer a more detailed critique of specific recent changes and how they are impacting the understanding of public schools and their position relative to democracy as well as their ability to produce active citizens who keep democracy vibrant.


  • 1. I follow Kathleen Knight Abowitz in this orientation to the ideal.
  • 2. I am responding, in part, here to Michael S. Merry and William S. New, who criticize defenders of public education for being nostalgic and failing to account for significant problems in schools. Michael S. Merry and William S. New, “Is the Liberal Defense of Public Schools a Fantasy?” Critical Studies in Education (March 2016). 1-17. DOI: 10.1080/ 17508487.2016.1154583
  • 3. Eamonn Callan, Creating Citizens: Political Education and Liberal Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).
  • 4. Thanks to Kathleen Knight Abowitz for reminding me of the example provided by James Giarelli, who found that a local Quaker school was providing better preparation in the ways of democratic community life than the competitive, status-driven public school nearby. James M. Giarelli, “Educating for Public Life,” in Critical Conversations in Philosophy of Education,” ed. Wendy Kohli (New York: Routledge, 2013), 201-216.
  • 5. Callan, Creating Citizens: Political Education and Liberal Democracy, 164. Here Callan draws upon studies of religious schools that operate in public ways. Anthony S. Bryk., Valerie E. Lee, and Peter B. Holland, Catholic Schools and the Common Good (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).
  • 6. Bryk, Lee, and Holland, Catholic Schools, 10.
  • 7. Ibid., 341.
  • 8. Walter Feinberg, “The Idea of a Public Education,” Review of Research in Education 36 (2012): 20.
  • 9. Walter Feinberg explores these two central shortcomings of religious schools and calls for public concern regarding them in his study of several religious schools published in Walter Feinberg, For Goodness Sake: Religious Schools and Education for Democratic Citizenry (New York: Routledge, 2006). See his discussion in the final pages of this book in particular.
  • 10. Gert Biesta, “Education and the Democratic Person: Towards a Political Conception of Democratic Education,” Teachers College Record 109 (2007): 746.
  • 11. Benjamin Barber “An Aristocracy of Everyone” in The Last Best Hope: A Democracy Reader, ed. Stephen John Goodlad (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001), 19.
  • 12. Benjamin R. Barber, A Passion for Democracy: American Essays (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), 231.
  • 13. Chester E. Finn Jr., Bruno V Manno, and Gregg Vanourek. Charter Schools in Action: Renewing Public Education (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 61.
  • 14. Thank-you to Sigal Ben-Porath for highlighting this parallel framing to me.
  • 15. Jeffrey R. Henig, Rethinking School Choice: Limits of the Market Metaphor (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 22-23.
  • 16. Mary Pattillo, “Everyday Politics of School Choice in the Black Community,” Du Bois Review 12, no. 1 (2015): 41-71.
  • 17. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, “Fast Facts: Homeschooling.”
  • 18. Mary Juett, “6 Top Reasons People Decide to Homeschool,”, January 21, 2013.; Eric J Isenberg, “What Have We Learned about Homeschooling?” Peabody Journal of Education 82, no. 2 (2007): 387-409.
  • 19. Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (New York: Basic Books, 2011), 117.
  • 20. Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll 2016,
  • 21. Ibid., 132.
  • 22. American Federation for Children, 101/facts
  • 23. Wayne Au, “Chartering Charade in Washington State: The Anti-Democratic Politics of the Charter School Movement and the Removal of the Public from Public Education,” in The Charter School Solution, ed. Jamel K. Donner and Tara L. Affolter (New York: Routledge, 2016), 1-18.
  • 24. Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System; also see CREDO at Stanford University, “Press Release: Online Charter School Students Falling Behind their Peers,”; and “CREDO at Stanford University unveils National ‘Charter School Growth and Replication’ Study,” https://credo.stanford. edu/pdfs/CGAR%2oPress%2oRelease%2oFINAL.pdf
  • 25. “Americans Endorse Choice,”
  • 26. Gary Miron and Charisse Gulosino, “Profiles of For-Profit and Nonprofit Education Management Organizations: Fourteenth Edition—2011-2012,” National Education Policy Center, November 26, 2013.
  • 27.
  • 28. I describe these teacher training programs and their connections to charter schools in depth in Sarah M. Stitzlein and Craig K. West, “New Forms of Teacher Education: Connections to Charter Schools and their Approaches,” Democracy & Education 22, no. 2,
  • (2014) : 1-10.
  • 29. Miron and Gulosino, “Profiles of For-Profit and Nonprofit Education Management Organization.”
  • 30. Frederick M. Hess, “Assessing the Case for Mayoral Control of Urban Schools, August 25, 2008. control-of-urban-schools/
  • 31. From the foreword by Amber M. Norther and Michael J. Petrilli to Nelson Smith, Redefining the School District in America, Washington DC. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 2015), 3. School%20District%20in%20America_Final.pdf
  • 32. Smith, Redefining the School District in America, 9.
  • 33. Ibid., 36.
  • 34. Ibid., 5.
  • 35. Nina Rees, “Big Results in the Big Easy,” U.S. News and World Report, June 30, 2015, school-district-is- a-model-for-school-turnarounds
  • 36. Smith, Redefining the School District in America, 37.
  • 37. Katrina E. Bulkley and Jeffrey R. Henig, “Local Politics and Portfolio Management Models: National Reform Ideas and Local Control,” Peabody Journal of Education 90, no. 1
  • (2015) : 53-83. DOI: 10.1080/0161956X.2015.988528
  • 38. Ibid.
  • 39. HB 70. HB-70
  • 40. Constitution of the State of Ohio, Article VI §3, “Public School System, Boards of Education.”
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