twenty-five local school districts showed that public and political support for higher standards were bipartisan and sustained— although the support was relatively superficial (Massell et al., 1997).
Decision making within the education system is, in large part, a political process, involving a number of key players. Kirst, Anhalt, and Marine (1997) note the importance of legislators in decision-making regarding curriculum; Tyack and Cuban (1995) note that “powerful sponsors adept at persuading local school boards, state legislatures, state departments of education, and accrediting agencies” are central in institutionalizing reforms. And, since the 1980s, governors have acquired increasing authority and influence regarding governance of state-level education systems (Fuhrman and Elmore, 1994; Stricherz, 2001).
Elected leaders and other governmental officials make decisions within the context of the political realities in which they operate. Candidates campaign on education platforms they believe will gain voter approval, and newcomers may be elected by constituents dissatisfied with decisions of previous office holders. For example, in 2000, the electorate voted new members to the Kansas School Board who were committed to including biological evolution in the state curriculum framework and state assessments, in sharp contrast to the state’s preceding Board, which had restricted the teaching of this topic (Belluck, 2000). Sometimes public officials use their position to influence others and advance particular reforms, as Governor Hunt did in persuading the North Carolina legislature to establish incentives and rewards for teachers seeking NBPTS certification (North Carolina Public Schools, 2000). Elected officials also listen to constituents, as a Congressional subcommittee did in hearing testimony from mathematics professor David Klein, who objected to the process used by the U.S. Department of Education to identify “exemplary mathematics curricula” based on their extent of alignment with nationally developed standards (Klein, 2000).