American Political Development and Education Policy

From the New Deal to the War on Schools: Race, Inequality, and the Rise of the Punitive Education State
University of North Carolina Press, (Spring 2022)

Over the course of an era defined by political polarization, both major American parties have come to share a remarkably similar understanding of the education system, as well as a set of punitive strategies for fixing it. Combining an intellectual history of social policy with a broad history of the educational system, I look beyond the rise of neoliberalism to find the origin of today’s education woes in Great Society reforms.

In the wake of World War II a coalition of thinkers gained dominance in American policymaking, identifying equality of educational opportunity as the ideal means of addressing racial and economic inequality by incorporating individuals into a free market economy. The passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965 secured an expansive federal commitment to this goal—however, when social problems failed to improve, the underlying logic led policymakers to hold schools responsible. I document how a vision of education as a panacea for society’s flaws led us to turn away from redistributive economic policies and down the path to market-based reforms, No Child Left Behind, mass school closures, teacher layoffs, and other policies that plague the public education system to this day.

This book is part of UNC Press’ “Justice, Power, and Politics” series.

Swiftcurrent Lookout – Glacier National Park