Must Achievement Gaps Persist? The Struggle for Educational Reform in Prince George's County, Maryland
Uslaner, Eric M
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This project begins with the position that the persistence of the academic achievement gap suggests the need for a new way of thinking about the gap and the efforts to eliminate it. To be successful, reform efforts need to address both the school and community issues that impact academic achievement. Community stakeholders must come together as a community to build an education regime that has improving academic achievement as its agenda. This work presents a case study of a community in need of a new education regime, Prince George's County, Maryland. The county has a majority African American population and a large black middle class. For years the county's school system has produced disappointing results on state assessments. Additionally, the system has been hampered by the existence of a governing regime focused on its own preservation instead of academic achievement. In 2002, county residents interested in educational reform were handed an enormous opportunity to challenge the existing education regime when the elected school board was dissolved by the state legislature. This action came after years of subpar academic performance, after repeated allegations of fiscal mismanagement, and after months of feuding between the school board and superintendent. This work posits the ouster of the elected school board was a focusing event that disrupted the existing regime and provided an opportunity for regime change. An examination of county education politics after 2002 shows that regime change did not occur. The county was unable to move beyond the first stage of a three stage process of regime change. Regime change efforts were hindered by a number of obstacles. The most prominent was the near constant turnover of school system leadership since 2002. Other obstacles to coalition building and regime change include; a political environment hostile to cooperation, a disengaged citizenry, and a dearth of prominent reform advocates. For these and other reasons, the old regime still maintains control of the education arena and the system still struggles to improve academic achievement.