Policy, Politics, and Processes

Mengli Song, American Institutes for Research
Tamara V. Young, North Carolina State University

Published 2007

The past decade saw heightened policy activism in the field of reading at both the federal level and across virtually all 50 states. Initially sparked by disagreements about methods for teaching children to read, the so-called "reading wars" stirred heated debates on a variety of issues: levels and trends of reading achievement, pedagogy, standards and assessment, and education equity, among others. Embedded within these debates were the political agendas of state executives and legislatures, the interests of advocacy groups, and the ideologies of reading professionals, which were collectively shaping state reading policy development.

Drawing primarily on interviews with 366 policy actors from nine states, this book presents a comprehensive investigation of the state reading policy domain employing multiple theoretical frameworks and research methods. Using social network analysis, the authors examined the interplay among a plethora of policy actors embedded in reading policy networks. They explored in depth policy actors’ divergent beliefs on key reading-related issues, the causal stories told, and the policy solutions proposed. In addition, they examined the variety of lobbying tactics that interest groups utilized to gain influence over the policymaking process and to advance their policy agenda.

As the most significant research endeavor in the area of state reading policy to date, this cross-state comparative study sheds light on the multifaceted nature and the intricacies of the policy processes in reading, and in education in general. The findings of this study bear important implications for both policy actors and education professionals. This study also makes a substantial contribution to policy research in education by demonstrating how theoretical frameworks and analytic methods that have not been fully utilized in education could serve as powerful tools for exploring educational policy processes.

Preface. Introduction. Policy Actors and State Reading Policy Networks. Policy Actor Influence on State Reading Policy. Policy Beliefs About Level and Trend of Reading Achievement, Reading Pedagogy, State Standards, and State Tests. Causal Stories and Proposed Solutions. Interest Groups’ Lobbying Tactics in the State Reading Policy Domain. Recap and Concluding Observations. References. Appendices.