Ideas and Education Reform
in Multiethnic Cities
AS CHAPTER 4 ILLUSTRATES, analyzing the economic and political resources of racial and ethnic groups is a natural starting point for understanding their varying situations in the education arena. For example, factors such as voting rates, group cohesiveness, and socioeconomic status do partially explain why Latinos have less influence on the education system than blacks, even though both groups have an interest in the system. But such analysis falls short of fully explaining why minorities generally have made greater inroads in city politics than in education politics, especially given both their greater representation among school constituencies compared to city constituencies, and also the urgent need to raise their children’s achievement levels in urban school districts. An interest-based analysis also leads us to expect collaboration across minority groups, given this shared stake in improving the education system. In the cities we studied, however, we saw little collaboration of this kind.
The insufficiency of an interest-based analysis of education politics in multiethnic cities stems from the absence of a theoretical approach to studying politics that incorporates race in a central, structural way. As we described in Chapter 2, the diverse racial groups present in these cities cannot be treated as “just” other interests. Rather, translating resources into political influence is more problematic for racial and ethnic minorities than it is for traditional interest groups, such as producer groups or large membership organizations. This is so because minority groups are faced with distinctive barriers: their unique historical experiences; their positions within local social, economic, and political structures; and their relationship to the majority group within a two-tiered