City Schools and City Politics

Institutions and Leadership in Pittsburgh, Boston, and St. Louis

John Portz, Lana Stein, and Robin R. Jones

Educational reform is one of the most critical issues facing our cities, but some cities are better at it than others. To explain why, this book relates education to politics, showing how the "whole village" can be mobilized to better educate tomorrow's citizens.

City Schools and City Politics is based on an eleven-city NSF study of civic capacity and urban education. As participants in that study, the authors conducted research in three rustbelt cities that have lost much of their tax base and have legacies of machine politics. They analyzed the ways in which government, business, and community leaders create, or fail to create, civic support for public education, focusing on why certain cities show greater initiative than others in addressing these problems.

“This book is important and should be read by scholars who are concerned about questions of leadership within political contexts and school reformers who wish to learn from the generally checkered history of urban school reform.

—Political Science Quarterly

“The genius of this illuminating book is to take three cities with a common political heritage and a shared set of economic and social problems and show how they developed quite different responses. By linking leadership closely with institution building, the authors offer fresh and important insights into the development of American cities over the past half century.”

—Clarence Stone, author of Regime Politics: Governing Atlanta, 1946–1988 and editor of Changing Urban Education

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The authors reveal that, of the cities examined, Pittsburgh has made the most strides in educational reform, followed by Boston, while St. Louis has consistently lagged behind. Their observations show that cross-sectorial coalitions are essential for bringing about change; that organizational arrangements in the business community and their relationship to local government affect whether there is the capacity to address school reform; that leadership is critical in bringing about change; and that municipal institutions and culture influence a city's ability to take action.

Packed with empirical data and analysis, City Schools and City Politics demonstrates the citywide and long-term character of successful efforts to reform public schools, relating education to the priorities of municipal governments and describing the conditions under which reform becomes possible. It extends regime theory to public education and shows that education policy is inextricably linked with urban political life and is an issue of real concern to political science.

About the Author

John Portz is an associate professor of political science at Northeastern University and the author of The Politics of Plant Closings, also published by Kansas. Lana Stein is associate professor of political science at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and the author of Holding Bureaucrats Accountable: Politicians and Professionals in St. Louis. Robin R. Jones is coordinator of Community Initiative for the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Florida.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series