fbpx Politics and Education Policy in the U.S. | Harvard Kennedy School

Martin West

Associate Professor of Education, HGSE


Education is inherently political. The experience of schooling contributes to the socialization of citizens, and curricular choices inevitably legitimate some forms of knowledge while excluding others. Educational attainment is a key determinant of the economic success of individuals and groups. The education sector is among the largest employers in the national economy, and public schools typically command a sizable share of state and local government budgets. It is no surprise, then, that education policy debates are so often contentious. This course examines the politics of education in the United States. It considers the key institutions (e.g., school boards, state governments, Congress, executive branch agencies, and courts) and actors (e.g. elected officials, parents, teachers unions, and the general public) shaping the American K-12 education system in order to understand recent reform efforts and their consequences for students. We will study past conflicts over education governance, ongoing policy debates, and the forces shaping current reform efforts. Throughout the course we will draw on concepts from political science to understand the development of the American education system while using education policy to learn about American politics and the nature of political action more generally.

Also offered by the Graduate School of Education as A-024.