Theses Doctoral

In the Trenches: The Local Politics of Civic Education

Mantas-Kourounis, Eleni M.

Civic education is once again at the center of education policy debates. Over the past five years, policy reform has been enacted in 46 states and, with some exceptions, has consisted of states embracing two initiatives: the College, Career, and Civic Life Framework for Social Studies (C3) and the Civic Education Initiative (CEI). Both initiatives were born out of sustained advocacy efforts of nonprofit organizations responding to a perceived marginalization of civic education as state and national education policies became more narrowly focused on testing, math, and literacy. They offer competing visions of civic education with the C3 focusing on inquiry, skills, and dispositions and the CEI on content and testing. Both aim to enhance civic outcomes of students and come at a time of high polarization in American politics when many view civic education as a possible solution to the erosion of democratic ideals. The dissertation examines what, if anything, happened when these state mandates hit the local level. It mobilizes a theoretical framework based on policy feedback and a qualitative research design to analyze the implementation and sustainability of civic education policies in school districts in Utah and Connecticut. It finds that in both states implementation of the policies varied between and, in some cases within, the school districts, but policy sustainability was challenged only in Utah. The varied implementation outcomes are attributed primarily to how willing teachers were to implement the policies, while the varied sustainability outcomes stem from differences in policy design and that school districts in Utah were asked to respond to dual, conflicting mandates.

The findings suggest that school districts operate in institutional contexts that leave them room to ignore or superficially respond to state mandates. The findings also suggest that teachers react differently to legislative initiatives than to those coming from state education officials with the former more likely to be seen as top-down mandates to be ignored or resisted. Finally, the findings demonstrate that sustainable policy outcomes are not always equitable, suggesting that those looking to civic education policies to foster equitable civic outcomes, may have to look elsewhere.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Politics and Education
Thesis Advisors
Henig, Jeffrey
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 16, 2021