POLA 4010: Politics of Education Policy

Although there have always been debates about curriculum and teaching methods, for over 100 years, the basic governance and structure of public elementary and secondary education in the United States remained unchanged. In the last 25 years, in response to new interest groups and new framing of educational problems, many new models of governance have emerged. In many cities and towns, schools no longer answer to an elected school board due to mayoral control or state takeover districts. In some states and cities, public funding follows the student to private schools through voucher programs. Teachers in some areas do not have to be state certified and their jobs are subject to their students’ performance. Students as young as kindergarten spend an increasing amount of their school year taking standardized tests and there may be serious consequences for schools if its students do not perform highly enough. These changes have been shaped by politics and have subsequently altered politics around education policy. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans has emerged as a leader in this movement, shifting from a central bureaucracy that made most operational decisions to a system of decentralized charter schools. This course examines education policy through the lens of U.S. politics. In particular, we consider these questions:

  • Who governs America’s public schools and who should govern America’s schools?
  • What groups have had power in education policy debates? Which groups have not? And what explains where power lies currently?
  • What role has race played in school governance, teaching, and problem identification?
  • Where does New Orleans fit into the larger national picture with regard to its education system? How did this system come to be and how well is the experiment working?

The class will also focus on education policy research and students will conduct their own research through service learning projects. The course will examine the political debates over governance, accountability, the increasing importance of standardized testing (and the movement against it), and school choice and privatization (including charter schools), with a particular focus on how these issues play out in New Orleans.

Course Objectives & Learning Outcomes:

  1. Describe the relationship of the federal, state and local governments in the creation and implementation of policy in local schools.
  2. Identify and describe roles of agencies and organizations that have historically influenced educational policy.
  3. Describe the debates on current education policy controversies and be able to defend arguments related to them.
  4. Develop an understanding of the values and ideologies that permeate discussion of education and school reform.
  5. Learn to conduct policy-relevant research in the form of policy briefs and gain experience presenting work orally to stakeholders.
  6. Become engaged in and provide service to the local community through #5.

Students will demonstrate they have mastered these objectives through written and oral presentations, class discussion, and satisfactory completion of all assignments and exams. In particular, the last objectives can only be achieved with the service learning project – the policy brief and the presentation of its results to experts. The service project will also reinforce the content of the course (#1-4).

Required Materials:

Jeffrey Henig, The End of Exceptionalism in American Education: The Changing Politics of School Reform, Harvard Education Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-1612505114.

Jesse Rhodes, An Education in Politics: The Origins and Evolution of No Child Left Behind, Cornell University Press, 2014. ISBN: 978-0801479540.

James E. Ryan, Five Miles Away, A World Apart: One City, Two Schools, and the Story of Educational Opportunity in America, Oxford University Press, 2010. ISBN: 978-0199836857

All other readings are either on this class’s Blackboard page under “Content” or online (links provided).

Course Requirements: 

Regular Attendance and Active Class Participation: 15%

Attendance is mandatory. Rather than adjudicate between excused and unexcused absences, each student is allotted TWO absences from a regular class session for any reason without penalty. Regular class sessions do not include days with guest speakers, field trips, group working sessions, or class presentations. Missing class on any of these days will result in points off this portion of your grade.  There are no exceptions and do not bother to ask for one. Note the university academic calendar and the syllabus’s schedule of assignments. We will have class the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. After missing two classes, each additional absence results in a half letter grade penalty on this portion of your grade. Students with perfect attendance will earn one point on their final grade.

Midterm Exam: 15%

Assignments: 55% (total)

Service Learning Homework Exercises (20%): There are four mandatory homework exercises due during the semester (see course schedule). With one exception (see below), these are to be typed & turned in at the beginning of class on their due dates.

Policy Brief (35%) – This course is designed as a mandatory service learning class and participation in the service learning is required. Students will work in groups to conduct research and write briefs for the Orleans Public Education Network (OPEN). OPEN is a non-profit organization “committed to ensuring public engagement as a central element to building excellent public schools.” The Network seeks to inform and connect people around common concerns so they can be “effective advocates for equity and excellent in public education and ultimately transform our community.” As their service learning project, students will conduct research on current education issues facing New Orleans. These projects will serve the New Orleans community by providing information and recommendations about how to improve the system in this city. Students will also gain valuable research and presentation skills that may be important for their careers.

Students will present the results of the research to various stakeholders, such experts in education research, community members, education practitioners, the media, and others. Once the policy briefs have been written, presented, and revised, students will send their briefs to policy makers at the local, state and federal levels.

Final Exam (15%)

The Final Examination is due at the time publicized in the Final Examination Schedule posted on the Registrar’s website. Any student who does not turn in his or her exam on time will fail the exam unless an acceptable excuse is presented to an associate dean in Newcomb-Tulane College before the exam or within 24 hours after the exam. A student whose absence from a final examination is not excused is to be given an “F” in the course.

Summary of Service Learning Requirements

The following requirements are considered part of the service learning for this course. Failure to attend or complete any of them may result in failure to pass this class.

  • Complete at least 20 hours of service to OPEN through research and writing briefs. This will involve secondary research to find what has been written on the topic, as well as primary research in the form of collecting the necessary data to address the question. Students should use maps, charts, graphs, photos, and text in their briefs. In other words, it should be very high (nearly professional) in quality.
  • Attend class on Sept 8 for an orientation about OPEN and about their expectations for your work.
  • Turn in all drafts on their due dates and complete all individual service learning homework exercises.
  • Present the results of the research to panels of experts in class on Nov 15.
Paper and Exam Instructions: All work should include complete footnotes for every citation; there should be no references that are not cited in the paper. Footnotes should be numbered sequentially (i.e. each note has a distinct number, not each source). Unless instructed otherwise, students must turn in a hard copy and an electronic copy of their papers and exams. Both copies are due at the beginning of class. Once I have taken attendance and started class, assignments are considered late and will be docked 5 points (half letter grade). Papers turned in after class is over are docked one letter grade per day (not per class). In written assignments, grammar and style count nearly as much as the content. Also, problems with uploading your paper will result in a late penalty, including mistakes such as uploading the wrong paper or uploading a file I cannot open. Number all pages. Staple your papers BEFORE coming to class.

Uploading Instructions for Blackboard:

Go to Assignments in this course’s Blackboard page. Click on “View/Complete” to upload the paper. Click “Browse” and locate your file to be uploaded and then click “submit.”

A few handy troubleshooting tips:

1.      Use Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Chrome. There is a bug with Safari and other web browsers.

2.      Do not use “#” in your file name. It causes problems with submission.

3.      Save a screen shot of the time/date of your attempt in case there is any problem with submission. Without this, the assignment will be counted late.

4.      Upload ONLY a .doc, .docx, or .pdf file with the entire assignment (not Pages or any other format). If your file is not one of these types and I have trouble opening it, the assignment will be counted late.

5.      You will have only ONE opportunity to submit the assignment. “Save as a Draft” does not submit the assignment to me, but allows you to revise and submit later.


Note: When writing your papers, save them in multiple places. Each student has space in the “cloud” through Tulane.box.com that allows you to share folders with others, just like Dropbox. Flash drives are your friend, but should not be your only friend. None of the following are valid excuses for late work: hard drive crashes, lost files, stolen laptops, empty ink cartridges, paper jams, busy library printers. Expect problems and do not wait until the last minute to save, print, upload, or send your assignments. Papers MUST be stapled prior to turning them in to avoid penalty.

Grading Scale:

93+=A, 90-92=A-, 88-89=B+, 83-87=B, 80-82=B-, 78-79=C+, 73-77=C, 70-72=C-, 60-69=D, 0-59=F

Special Circumstances:

If you believe you may encounter barriers to the academic environment, please feel free to contact me and/or the Goldman Center for Student Accessibility. This information is confidential. Any student with approved academic accommodations is encouraged to contact me during office hours or to email me to schedule an appointment. If you have questions regarding registering a disability or receiving accommodations, please contact the Goldman Center at 504.862.8433 or http://www.accessibility.tulane.edu. Students needing accommodations must provide me with a Course Accommodation Form and if applicable, an Exam Request Form (“blue sheet”) in order to schedule an exam to be taken at ODS. Accommodations involving exams must be requested to me four days before a test or seven days before a final exam. Any student receiving an exam-related accommodation should plan to take the exam at ODS.

If you have any other special circumstances, such as involvement with a university activity that requires you to miss class, let me know as soon as possible. Be aware that because of the nature of the service learning assignment, you will be required to meet with your group outside of class time. If your schedule is very inflexible, do not take this course.

If issues arise during the semester that are likely to affect your participation, attendance or performance, it is in your interest to let me know as soon as they arise. You may consult with your academic advisor or Erica Woodley in Student Affairs if issues are serious enough that you need temporary accommodations.

Academic Dishonesty:

Academic honesty is expected of all students at Tulane. Your responsibilities as a Tulane student include being familiar with the honor code and the plagiarism policy of the University (see http://tulane.edu/college/code.cfm). Cases of cheating or plagiarism will be reported to the Honor Board, and may result in a failing grade for the class, academic probation, or expulsion.  Ignorance is not a valid excuse.  Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to the following actions:

  1. presenting another’s work, ideas, expressions or research as if it were one’s own;
  2. failing to acknowledge or document a source even if the action is unintended (i.e., plagiarism);

Note: Plagiarism includes copying & pasting material from any source (Wikipedia, paper mill, other internet site, book, journal, newspaper, magazine, etc.) without proper attribution. Plagiarism also includes non-verbatim borrowing of words or ideas through paraphrasing or summarizing another’s work(s) without proper attribution.

  1. fabricating or altering citations;
  2. giving or receiving, or attempting to give or receive, unauthorized assistance or information in an assignment or examination;
  3. submitting the same assignment in two or more courses without prior permission of both instructors;
  4. having another person write a paper or sit for an examination (includes online paper-mills);
  5. using tests or papers from students in prior semesters;

Other Classroom Rules

  1. Without a documented disability, no electronic devices may be used in class, including laptops, cell phones, tablets, I-watches, etc. Print a copy of all readings not in a textbook and bring them to class. Devices are not allowed to be out of backpacks or purses during quizzes and exams. Any student who is caught with one of these devices out will have his/her test/quiz taken and will be charged with the Honor Code violation of cheating. Any student who continues to use his or her devises after a warning may be asked to leave class.
  2. Students must not be chronically late, absent or disruptive; otherwise, your grade will suffer. If you have an activity (class, work, athletic practice, etc.) that meets just before this class, you are still expected to make it to class on time. If you cannot make it to class on time, then do not take this course. Once class has started, students should only leave the room in cases of emergency. This means students should take care of all personal business before class begins. Except in emergencies, students will not be allowed to leave and return to the classroom during an exam.

Classroom Conduct

I am committed to providing a classroom environment free of all forms of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, political philosophy, religion, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation. If you have experienced or experience discrimination, domestic violence, sexual assault or sexual harassment, know that you are not alone. Resources and support are available. Learn more at onewave.tulane.edu.  Any and all of your communications on these matters will be treated as either “Strictly Confidential” or “Mostly Confidential” as explained in the chart below. Note: As a professor, I am required by law to report anything reported to me regarding incidents of sexual harassment, assault, or discrimination. I am a “mostly confidential” source.

Strictly Confidential Mostly Confidential
Except in extreme circumstances, involving imminent danger to one’s self or others, nothing will be shared without your explicit permission. Conversations are kept as confidential as possible, but information is shared with key staff members so the University can offer resources and accommodations and take action if necessary for safety reasons.
Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) | (504) 314-2277 Coordinator of Violence Prevention | (504) 314-2161


Student Health Center | (504) 865-5255 Tulane University Police (TUPD) | (504) 865-5911
Sexual Aggression Peer Hotline and Education (SAPHE) | (504) 654-9543 Office of Institutional Equity | (504) 862-8083


Course Topics, Readings and Due Dates


Aug 30: Introductions

Sept 1: No Class —- American Values & Public Education — Readings will be discussed on 9/6

  • “A School Isn’t about Teaching Subjects, It’s about Teaching Children,” Frank Breslin
  • “’Education as Great Equalizer’ Deforming Myth, Not Reality,” Paul Thomas
  • “Education Reform: Unsubstantiated Benefit Claims; Unreported Side Effects,” Arthur Camins

Sept 6: History of New Orleans Schools

Sept 8: Contemporary New Orleans Education System(s) – Guest Speakers: Staff at OPEN

  • “Governance Educationary”;
  • “The Great Charter Tryout,” Andrea Gabor
  • Online: “What Makes New Orleans Unique” http://speno2015.com/ (watch all videos, read all sections 1-8)

Service Learning Homework #1a: Go to http://www.opennola.org/home/ to familiarize yourself with the organization with which we will be working. Read through OPEN’s history and vision. Turn in 2-3 questions about the New Orleans school system and/or the work OPEN does or their mission.

Sept 13: Changing Governance in Education

  • Henig, Chapters 1-3

Sept 15: New Ideas from Above

  • Henig, Chapter 4-5

Service Learning Homework #1b: On the basis of all of the reading thus far, address the following questions: Where does New Orleans education system fit into the broader, national movement described in Henig’s book? How is the city’s system an outgrowth of its history? What potential role does an organization like OPEN play in the system? (~ 1000-1500 words)


Sept 20: Segregation & Integration

  • Ryan, chapters 1-2;
  • “The New Orleans School Crisis of 1960,” Alan Wieder;
  • “The City that Believed in Desegregation,” Alana Semuels
  • “Has Gentrification Begun in New Orleans Public Schools?” Danielle Dreilinger

Sept 22: Meet in classroom in your groups

Sept 27: U.S. Education Policy prior to 1980

  • Rhodes, Intro & Chapter 1
  • Ryan, chapter 3
  • “Can Charlotte-Mecklenburg Desegregate Its Schools…Again?” Rachel Cohen

Sept 29: A Nation at Risk and its effects

  • Rhodes, Chapters 2-4
  • “America’s Not-So-Broken Education System,” Jack Schneider

Oct 4: NCLB & RTTT

  • Rhodes, chapter 5-6
  • Ryan, chapter 7

Oct 6: The Rise of Public School Choice

  • Ryan, chapters 5-6
  • “For Detroit’s Children, More School Choice but Not Better Schools,” Kate Zernike

Midterm Exam Due

**Oct 11: Class Meetings with Prof. Lay & OPEN Staff to Discuss Policy Brief

**First Draft Due

Oct 13: Fall Break


Oct 18: Has Performance Improved in NOLA Schools?

  • “Romney & Obama Hail New Orleans’ Charter Schools as a Model for America” Jeevan Vasagar
  • “Good News for New Orleans,” Doug Harris
  • “New Orleans Publicly Funded Private School System,” Raynard Sanders
  • “10 Years Later,” Barbara Ferguson

Oct 20: Are Parents Making Good Choices?

  • “What Schools Do Families Want (and Why)?” Doug Harris & Matthew Larsen
  • “OneApp, Many Considerations,” Alexios Rosario-Moore
  • “The New Orleans OneApp,” Doug Harris, et al.
  • “Big Easy, Little Choice,” Ashana Bigard

Service Learning Homework #2: Imagine you are a parent of a child entering kindergarten and another child entering seventh grade. You earn $18,000 per year (average per capita income in New Orleans), so you must consider where you are likely to be living and how much time, education, and other resources you have at your disposal. Go to https://enrollnola.org/applynow/ and print an application and fill it in for your children to enroll in school.

In addition to turning in the completed applications, answer these questions: Could you easily find the information about schools that would be relevant to your choice? How does the OneApp system work? How do parents get their child placed in their first choices? Explain your rationale for the schools you ranked. How might your choice depend upon your circumstances (level of education, income, access to private transportation, etc.)? What important information was not included that you needed to be able to make a wise choice?

Oct 25: How Are New Orleans Innovative? What Role Does Competition Play?

  • “Market-based Pedagogies: Assessment, Instruction, and Purpose at a ‘No Excuses’ Charter School,” Beth Sondel
  • “Every Kid Is Money,” Huriya Jabbar

Oct 27: Field Trip

**We will take a field trip to Harriet Tubman Charter School. Meet outside the Reily Recreation Center to catch a Tulane Shuttle at 7:05 am. We will be at the school for the morning faculty meeting, students’ arrival and morning meeting, and to meet with its principal, Julie Lause. We will return to Tulane no later than 10:45am. I have checked everyone’s schedules to ensure no one has class before this one, so tardiness will result in getting left behind and the penalty will come out of your homework grade.

Nov 1: What Has Happened to New Orleans Teachers?

  • “Significant Changes in the New Orleans Teacher Workforce,” Nathan Barrett & Doug Harris
  • “Mapping the Terrain: Teach for America, Charter School Reform, & Corporate Sponsorship,” Kerry Kretchmar, et al.
  • “The Color of School Reform,” Alexandria Neason


**Nov 3: Democratic Institutions & Practice

  • “Comparing Nonprofit Charter and Traditional Public School Board Member Perceptions” Michael R. Ford & Douglas M. Ihrke
  • “Re-forming the Post-Political City?” Alice Huff

**Second Draft Due

Nov 8: Outside Groups & Ed Reform: Foundations & Contractors

  • “The Expanding Role of Philanthropy in Education Politics,” Sarah Reckhow & Jeffrey Snyder
  • “Private Sector Contracting and Democratic Accountability,” Catherine DiMartino & Janelle Scott
  • “’Outsiders with Deep Pockets’: The Nationalization of Local School Board Elections” Reckhow, et al. (note: if you attended her talk on Oct 3, this article will be a review)

Nov 10: Outside Groups & Ed Reform: Teachers Unions

  • “Teachers Unions & American Education Reform: The Politics of Blocking;” Terry Moe
  • “Teachers Unions: Scourge of the Nation?” Bruce Baker
**Nov 15: Presentations

Class meets in LBC 202 (Rechler room) PROMPTLY at 9:30


Nov 17: Shifting Political Power in Education Policy

  • “’Ideas about Interests’: Explaining the Changing Partisan Politics of Education,” Christina Wolbrecht & Matthew Hartney

**Nov 22: The Politics of Accountability & Standards

  • “Educational Accountability and Policy Feedback,” Lorraine McDonnell
  • “The Evolving Politics of the Common Core,” Ashley Jochim & Lesley Lavery

Final Drafts of Policy Brief Due

Nov 24 – Thanksgiving Break

Nov 29: Too Much Testing? Stakes Too High? Or, Appropriate Motivator?

  • “High-Stakes Testing, Uncertainty, and Student Learning” (pgs 1-32 & 56-58; skim pgs 33-55), Audrey Amrein & David Berliner
  • “Continuing Tensions in Standardized Testing,” Thomas Haladyna, et al.
  • “Rallying Cry in Anti-Test Movement: ‘Opt Out’” Elizabeth Harris & Ford Fessenden http://tinyurl.com/he98xjg

Dec 1: The Role of Poverty —- Guest Speaker, Mickey Landry, Executive Director of the Choice  Foundation in New Orleans

  • “Poverty Cannot Explain America’s Mediocre Test Scores,” Michael Petrilli & Brandon Wright
  • “Effects of Inequality & Poverty vs. Teachers and Schooling on America’s Youth,” David Berliner
  • “Are We Asking Too Much from Our Teachers?” Alex Kotlowitz

Service Learning Homework #3: Each group should send its policy brief to each member of New Orleans City Council, each member of the Orleans Parish School Board, each member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary & Secondary Education, and the city’s state & federal representatives. Each letter should be sent separately and personally addressed with an invitation for feedback, a meeting, or questions. CC me on each email.

Dec 6: The Use of Policy Research

  • “How Policymakers Define ‘Evidence,’” Huriya Jabbar, et al.
  • Henig, chapters 1-2 of Spin Cycle: How Research Is Used in Policy Debates: The Case of Charter Schools

Dec 8: Discussion & Debrief of Service Learning Project

Service Learning Homework #4: Did your group get any responses from sending the brief? Discuss any responses. What influence do you believe your brief may have on policy making? What are the limitations and strengths of this kind of work? Reflect on your participation in this project. How does this type of project compare to other service learning you or your friends have done? Does research and analysis qualify as community service, in your opinion? Why or why not?

Dec 18 – 1pm – Final Exam Due

Important Dates to Remember

Sept 8 – Service learning project intro w/ OPEN staff & Homework #1a due

Sept 15 – Homework #1b due

Oct 6 – Midterm Exam due

Oct 11 – First draft of policy brief due & Class meetings

Oct 20 – Homework #2 due

Oct 25 – Field trip to Harriet Tubman Charter School – Shuttle leaves 7:05am

Nov 3 – Second draft of brief due

Nov 15 – Research Presentations (LBC 202)

Nov 22 – Final drafts of policy briefs due

Dec 1 – Guest Speaker: Mickey Landry of Choice Foundation & Homework #3 due

Dec 8 – Homework #4 due

Dec 18 – Final exam due no later than 1pm