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School District Policymaking Responses to Demographic Change in New Immigrant Destinations


Since the early 1990s, immigrants from Latin America and Asia have been arriving in parts of the United States that have had little recent experience with immigration. How school district leaders respond to these demographic changes has significant consequences for students, families and communities. Yet, there is little research on why and how school district leaders are coming to enact some policies, and not others, in response to their changing demographics. This study examines policymaking in two Midwestern, urban school districts experiencing the arrival of growing numbers of immigrant families, increasing ethnic-racial diversity, and rising levels of poverty. The study offers a unique perspective on school district policymaking by bringing together theoretical insights from urban regime analysis and interpretive policy analysis to connect the economic and political dynamics in school districts with district administrators' on-the-ground policymaking. Drawing on interviews, observation, and archival research, I trace policymaking in each district between 2000 and 2010.

I find school district administrators perceived the need to change their school districts to be responsive to new pupils. While middle-class parents' threat of exiting the districts confined administrators' attempts to do so, some school staff members', parents' and community leaders' organizing efforts created possibilities for district policymaking. Working with these limitations and possibilities, district administrators advanced policies that sought to respond to the new students in their schools. They did so by adding programs to the existing structure of schooling rather than restructuring schooling to meet the needs of new entrants and by framing policies to generate agreement from local stakeholders. The resulting policies were influenced by community actors but also shaped by district leaders' self-interests and particular concerns. This study illuminates school district decision-makers' interpretations of educational problems and policy solutions, their strategic actions, as well as their negotiations and compromises with community actors as central factors in school district policymaking in new immigrant destinations. Furthermore, this study contributes to urban regime analysis by offering greater insight into the processes of framing and interaction between community actors and school district administrators that produce important policy outcomes

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