Education politics course, spring 2012 (draft syllabus)

Want to follow the Florida legislative session’s education activity in a structured course?

Education Politics

EDG 4909-006 (2 credit hours), CRN 26417

Spring 2012

 Class time and place: Online with the following face-to-face meetings:

  • Mandatory orientation: Friday, January 13, 2012, 2-4, EDU 115
  • Mid-term: Friday, March 9, 2012, 2-4, EDU 115
  • Final exam: time/place TBA (finals week is April 28-May 4)
  • Small groups (you will attend 1 or 2 in the semester): Fridays, 12:55-1:55, EDU 253

Instructor: Sherman Dorn, Ph.D., EDU 380-P; available by appointment through (lots of hours available!)

Course description. Analysis of the politics of education using spring legislative sessions in Florida and other states as a key focus. Major ideas for the course come from social-science models of education as a part of citizenship, the construction of policy, and education politics.

Note: This elective course provides perspectives on state education politics, and all students should understand that this course does not fulfill program requirements in the USF College of Education.

Learning objectives. At the end of the term, students will be able to

  • Explain the dynamics of current education debates by reference to the long-standing tensions among the different purposes of schooling
  • Explain the outcomes of said debates through important models of political action and policymaking
  • Show what assumptions lie behind current reform ideas
  • Debate relationships between state policymaking and party politics

Summary of “stuff you gotta do”

The semester will start at a breakneck speed if you take advantage of it, because the regular legislative session starts the second day of the semester. Three or four days a week you should be checking for political news from the session regarding education (including education reporters’ blogs) and also track important legislation and keep up with readings each week. If the regular session ends as scheduled just before USF’s spring break, student obligations will shift from “during session” to “after the session.” Here is the brief breakdown:

  • During the legislative session, students should spend several hours every week following news stories about the Florida session and tracking a few bills through hearings, amendments, and floor debate. Students will spend less time during the legislative session reading background material and exploring events in other states, but there are required readings that will appear on the midterm the week before spring break as well as the weekly exercises.
  • After the legislative session, students will debrief from the session and spend more time putting state education politics into perspective. The final exam will focus more on perspectives, using legislative events from this year as cases for analysis.
  • ONE or TWO Fridays, you will come to EDU 253 and participate in a small-group “fishbowl” discussion that is recorded for the rest of the class and your “partner” class, IDH 3400-002 (which is an Honors College version of the class with a paper requirement).
  • ALL weeks, students will be responsible for reading assigned material, viewing/listening to assigned media on Blackboard, and participating in two ways online.



One book will provide broad perspective on arguments about the role of schools:

Hochschild, J., & Scovronick, N. (2002). The American dream and the public schools. New York: Oxford University Press.

In addition, the following short pieces are required readings during the semester:

Bushaw, W. J., & Lopez, S. J. (2011). The 43rd annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll of the public’s attitudes toward the public schools. Kappan, 93(1), 9-26.

Mazzeo, C. (2001). Frameworks of state: Assessment policy in historical perspective. Teachers College Record, 103, 367-397.

Resnick, D. P. (1981). Educational policy and the applied historian: Testing, competency and standards. Journal of Social History, 14(4), 539-559.

Tyack, D. (1991). Public school reform: Policy talk and institutional practice. American Journal of Education, 100, 1-19.

Recommended readings

Marshall, C., & Scribner, J. D. (1991). “It’s all political”, Inquiry into the micropolitics of education. Education and Urban Society, 23(4), 347-355.

DiMaggio, P., & Powell, W. (1983). The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields. American Sociological Review, 48(2), 147-160.

Pierson, P. (2000). Increasing returns, path dependency, and the study of politics. American Political Science Review, 94(2), 251-267.

Plutzer, E., & Berkman, M. (2005). The graying of America and support for funding the nation’s schools.  Public Opinion Quarterly, 69, 66-86.

Timar, T. (1997). The institutional role of state education departments: a historical perspective. American Journal of Education, 105(3), 231-261.

Weatherly, R., & Lipsky, M. (1977). Street-level bureaucrats and institutional  innovation: Implementing special-education reform. Harvard Educational Review, 17(2), 171-197.

Evaluation/major assignments

10%     Face-to-face participation. During the one or two weeks you are scheduled for a “fishbowl” discussion on Friday at 12:55, students are responsible for bringing an “Entry Ticket” at the beginning of class discussing both the events of the week in state education politics (either in Florida or elsewhere) and any background reading required for the week.

30%     Online class participation. Each week (which starts and ends Friday 5 pm), you will be responsible for online class participation. This portion of the course will be point-based: the points for a week will be available only for participation during that week. Students will have some options each week on where and how to participate.

30%     Midterm. The midterm on March 9 will require both mastery of education politics/policymaking in Florida through the majority of the regular legislative session and application of key concepts from the first half of the semester to those events.

30%     Final exam. The final exam will require skills similar to those on the midterm, with more emphasis on analysis and less on recall.

The semester grade will include pluses and minuses; component grades will be averaged using a quality-point system (i.e., an A for the midterm translates into a 4, eventually averaged with other assignments on a 0-4 scale using the weights listed above). More about specific assignments:

Face to face participation Entry Ticket. At the start of your fishbowl, you must bring a printed (not handwritten!) “Entry Ticket” with your  name and date and the following:

  • An identification of the top state education news story of the week and a complete standard citation for coverage of the story from at least one metropolitan newspaper in Florida. (Any published professional citation style is acceptable.)
  • Tracking of one piece of major education legislation for the past week (during the session) with the current status of the legislation in each house and any events in the past week.
  • A question you have about state education politics, for discussion.

Online class participation. Each week (Friday 5 pm through Friday 5 pm), students will have options to earn up to 10 points in different ways (up to 5 points in each of the following areas): practicing knowledge by taking a quiz through mastery, contributing to prompt-based online discussions, posting a video response to the week’s news (through Youtube and then uploading the link to a discussion board for such responses), or reflecting on the readings and media materials in a private journal. There are 14 weeks (1/13 through 4/23, not counting spring break), so the maximum number of points is 140, and the grade bands will be based accordingly: 126+ = A, 112+ = B, 98+ = C, 84+ = D, <84 = F.

Midterm. The midterm on March 9 will have two parts, equally weighted: short-answer items on the legislative session and on the readings, and an essay (choice of two questions) that requires that you apply important course concepts to a legislative issue in 2011.

Final exam. The final exam will involve a small number of short-answer items and 2 short essays that require that you apply important course concepts to legislative issues in 2011.

Semester outline

Below are the dates of class meetings, topics, readings, and assignment due dates.

1/13     Introduction, logistics, and the (in)formal legislative process. Legislative session begins 1/10

1/20     General attitudes towards education. Read Bushaw & Lopez 2011.

1/27     Education rhetorics. Read Tyack 1991.

2/3       Budgets as priorities, politics, and symbolism

2/10     Agendas. Read Mazzeo 2001.

2/17     Pluralism and its discontents.

2/24     States as actors. Read Resnick 1981.

3/2       Arm-twisting and other modern dance moves. Committee meetings end.

3/9       Midterm. End of scheduled session.

3/12     USF Spring Break (no fishbowl). Read Hochschild & Scovronick 2002 (H&S) chapters 1-2

3/19     End of session debriefing (assuming session has ended!). Read H&S chap 3

3/26     Conflicting goals for education. Read H&S chap 4.

4/2       Recent history of education policy/politics. Read H&S chap 5.

4/9       The (ir)relevance of research. Read H&S chap 6.

4/16     Implementation. Read H&S chap 7.

4/23     Comparative study: other states. Read H&S chap 8.

After: Final exam (specific time/place TBA).

If you  are not currently a USF student and wish to take this class, you can enroll as a non-degree-seeking student. For more information about taking a class as a non-degree student, read the relevant material from the Office of the Registrar.

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One response to “Education politics course, spring 2012 (draft syllabus)”

  1. Glen S. McGhee

    I was overjoyed to see DiMaggio/Powell on your list; but what’s the tie-in with education? Isn’t John W Meyer/Brian Rowan more on topic? David Kamens is probably too radical for you … but why is Labaree missing?

    And of course, Randall Collins, The Credential Society; or Ivar Berg, The Great Training Robbery? Why nothing on apprenticeship?

    But getting your head around Hal Hansen is another matter all together: he seeks to reshape received wisdom and transform American history of education. And he succeeds, I think.
    Good luck!