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