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Urban education reform in wicked times: The limits and possibilities of building civic capacity in Detroit




civic capacity, urban education reform, market-based reform, wicked problems, Detroit Public Schools


After decades of market-based education reforms, the landscape of urban school districts across the country have been transformed. Yet, this is neither a sign of the effectiveness of such reforms nor a widespread consensus over the contents and form of urban schooling. Education reform remains a wicked problem, particularly along racial lines, making it nearly impossible to build broad-based coalitions around the actual improvement of teaching and learning. Thus, this article seeks to address this matter as a political problem. I do so by examining a case study in Detroit, a one-year period (2015-2016) in which two education regimes emerge to fight for their version of public schooling in the final legislation for a new school district. Using Page’s (2016) strategic framework for building civic capacity, I compare the regimes’ leadership strategies and find different levels of engagement with building civic capacity. However, higher levels of engagement did not necessarily yield the desired policy outcome. I conclude by discussing the limits of building civic capacity when local control itself has been gutted by decades of market-based reform and how future strategic frameworks need to consider changes in the urban political economy as barriers to building civic capacity.


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Author Biography

Leanne Kang, Grand Valley State University

Leanne Kang is an assistant professor of educational foundations at the College of Education and Community Innovation at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI. She received her Ph.D. in educational foundations and policy from the University of Michigan. Kang works closely with preservice teachers and administrators across Michigan, particularly in Grand Rapids and Detroit. Her research examines how the history of urban education in the United States informs our understanding of current educational reform, policy, and practices.




How to Cite

Kang, L. (2023). Urban education reform in wicked times: The limits and possibilities of building civic capacity in Detroit. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 31.