Ten Thousand Democracies

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232 pp., 6 x 9
ISBN: 9781589010765 (1589010760)

ISBN: 9781589014206

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December 2005
LC: 2005009497

American Governance and Public Policy series


Table of Contents

Ten Thousand Democracies
Politics and Public Opinion in America's School Districts
Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer
The essence of democracy is popular sovereignty. The people rule. In the United States, citizens exercise this right through elected officials who they believe will best represent their own values and interests. But are those interests and values always being followed? Authors Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer provide the first systematic examination of the extent to which the governments closest to the American public—its 10,000-plus local school boards—respond to the wishes of the majority.

Ten Thousand Democracies begins with a look at educational reforms from the Progressive era in the late 19th and early 20th centuries through the civil rights movement and ending with Pennsylvania's 2004 tax relief measure. Berkman and Plutzer explore what factors determine education spending levels in school districts, including the effects of public opinion, the nature of local political institutions, and the roles played by special interests. The authors show how board members are selected, how well the boards represent minorities, whether the public can bypass the board through referenda, and how the schools are financed. By providing an innovative statistical portrait that combines public opinion data with Census data for these school districts, the authors answer questions central to democratic control of our schools: how responsive are school boards to their public and when? How powerful are such special interests such as teachers' unions and senior citizens?

By using the lens of America's public school districts to examine the workings of democracy, Ten Thousand Democracies offers new insight not only into the forces shaping local education policy but also how democratic institutions may function throughout all levels of government.
Michael B. Berkman is a professor in the department of political science at The Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of The State Roots of National Politics: Congress and the Tax Agenda, 1978-1986.

Eric Plutzer is a professor in the department of political science at The Pennsylvania State University.
Gerard W. Boychuk, Karen Mossberger, and Mark C. Rom, Series Editors
"An important and ambitious study of policy-making in the (K-12) school districts of America. . . . A careful analysis of important issues that inform democratic theory, empirical analysis, public policy, and education in the United States. It needs to be on reading lists in all those fields."—Perspectives on Politics

"If more scholars took their cues from [Berkman and Plutzer] when studying education politics, the field would shine a bit brighter than it currently does."—Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory

"Ten Thousand Democracies breaks new ground…it is innovative, carefully argued, and clearly written."—TEACHERS COLLEGE RECORD

"This impressive book combines original data, clever analysis, and food for thought for both education scholars and mainstream political scientists. For the former, it provides the best descriptive information I've yet encountered about the variation in institutional structures and education values at the state and local level. For mainstream political scientists, it provides a rich empirical test of the theoretical precepts of the 'new institutionalism.' It's sure to be highly cited for years to come."—Jeffrey R. Henig, Teachers College, Columbia University, coauthor of Building Civic Capacity: The Politics of Reforming Urban Schools

"Ten Thousand Democracies is based on superior scholarship, particularly in the book's use of state-of-the-art methods for estimating public opinion in school districts. Specialists in the fields of state and local politics and policy, federalism, education policy, and public opinion and politics of policymaking and many general students of American politics and policy will welcome this book."—Robert Y. Shapiro, professor of political science, Columbia University

"A truly comprehensive, innovative study of local school governance in the U.S. Employing newly-developed data sources, Berkman and Plutzer have established a new scholarly standard to advance the study of policymaking by local school districts."—Ronald E. Weber, Wilder Crane Professor of Government, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Table of Contents

1. Policy Responsiveness in American School Districts

2. Financing Public Education

3. Public Opinion and Americans' Commitment to Educational Spending

4. Direct Democracy, Indirect Democracy and Policy Responsiveness

5. Voting Rights, Electoral Systems, and Policy Responsiveness

6. Teacher's Unions in State and Local Politics

7. The Gray Peril Reconsidered

8. The Democratic Control of American School Boards

Appendix A Analysis and Supporting Tables for Chapter 3
Appendix B Analysis and Supporting Tables for Chapter 4
Appendix C Analysis and Supporting Tables for Chapter 5
Appendix D Analysis and Supporting Tables for Chapter 6
Appendix E Analysis and Supporting Tables for Chapter 7