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Remembering the Titans: The Politics of School Reform at T.C. Williams High School

By
Timeka Smith and Amanda Cleveland1


Abstract


In the spring of 2010, T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria Virginia began a comprehensive school reform process toward bolstering the school’s “persistently lowest achieving” status. This case study highlights the political implications of the school reform selection process, especially for minority students. As such, we track the recent reform agenda to a series of decisions made in 1996-97 aimed at coping with the school’s consistently lowest-performing population which led to an explosion of media attention around the issue of “forced re-segregation”. Although research points to implementation failure at the street-level, within classrooms and among teachers, this case suggests that politicization of the process at the district level drove reform outcomes for T.C. Williams in 1997 and has shaped the decision to adopt a “transformation” model in 2010. This case study seeks to build on extant scholarship which attributes policy outcomes to the role of advocacy coalitions, the legitimacy key policy stakeholders, and the social construction of target populations. The case follows a exploratory approach relying on analysis of school board meetings, public comments, and direct interviews with the former Principle of T.C. Williams, the Chair of the alternative education task force, President of the NAACP NOVA Chapter, and the current Superintendent of Schools.

 

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