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Political Partisanship Influences Racial Inequality in Education Outcomes, Says New Book

Teacher reading a book with a class of preschool children

The significant effect of partisanship on African American K-12 students is the focus of a new book, The Politics of African-American Education: Representation, Partisanship and Educational Equity, by SPA Distinguished Scholar in Residence Ken Meier and Indiana University Assistant Professor Amanda Rutherford.

At a recent event, Meier outlined how racial inequities in education outcomes were influenced by the political parties that dominated the neighborhoods where students live.

“The random fact that you are born and grow up in a district that has a certain partisanship, fundamentally shapes your K-12 education and, therefore the rest of your life,” said Meier. “All of these things translate into jobs, access to higher education and healthcare outcomes.”

Rutherford explained that African-American students are among those least likely to graduate from high school or go to college, which led the researchers to focus on this population. The authors found that politics, funding, and structure of elections matter in how students are treated.

“You don’t think of education as being a partisan issue,” said Michael Hatch, SPA/PhD ’18, who attended the event. “Evidence of this strong effect is interesting and somewhat surprising.”

The partisanship of districts impacted policies and hiring practices of administrators and teachers of color. In Republican districts, blacks were less likely to be included in gifted classes and Advancement Placement courses, while they were overrepresented in suspension and expulsion statistics.

“Partisanship permeates the entire process of education policy,” said Meier.

The research for the book also found a strong link between African-American teachers and success among black students. Not only can black teachers be role models for students, but caring teachers can be motivating for black students in ways that influences their education outcomes positively, said Meier. The book used national data from various surveys from 2000 to 2008.