Harvard Educational Review
  1. U.S. Educational Policy Interest Groups

    Institutional Profiles

    By Gregory S. Butler and James D. Slack.

    Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994. 256 pp. $69.50.

    National interest groups seeking to influence educational policy in the United States face a slippery task. Unlike most other major industrialized nations, the constitutional authority for public education in the United States is vested individually in each of the fifty states, rather than in the federal government, and as a result the vast bulk of educational policymaking takes place on the local and state levels, not in the nation's capitol. As the legislative and executive branches of the federal government play a limited role in shaping educational policy in the first place, the potential impact of national interest groups on educational policy via influence with Congress and the White House has distinct boundaries.

    Gregory Butler and James Slack, both faculty members of the Department of Government at New Mexico State University, provide basic information on 182 of these national associations in their reference volume, U.S. Educational Policy Interest Groups: Institutional Profiles. In their discussion of the political constraints confronting national educational policy interest groups, Butler and Slack note that these organizations — 95 percent of which have offices in the Washington, DC, area — almost always consider themselves professional associations rather than lobbying organizations, and tend to focus on the particular needs of their internal membership, whose dues generally provide a hefty portion of their operating budgets. Butler and Slack point out that educational associations generally eschew direct political involvement; only four of the educational policy interest groups in this volume endorsed presidential candidates in 1992 — the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Alliance of Black School Educators, and the Project on Equal Education Rights — and of these only the NEA and the AFT officially supported candidates in state elections. While section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Code prohibits educational associations with tax-exempt status from participating in political campaigns, Butler and Slack argue that these same organizations could readily and legally engage in lobbying and other political activities if they wished by forming "piggyback" groups under section 501(c)(4). The fact that they do not reflects that "the memberships and clientele of educational groups insist that their leaders look inward, not outward, and this necessarily limits their ability to exert influence in both the political and policy arenas" (p. xix).

    For those interested in these national educational associations, U.S. Educational Policy Interest Groups is one of few reference volumes in print focusing on this group of organizations, and apparently the first to appear in the last ten years. The book is a compendium of basic facts and self-reported data about each group, including address, phone number, mission statement, membership, budget, organizational structure, names of current officers, history, and policy areas of special interest. Associations are listed alphabetically.

    In a sense, this volume resembles an annotated directory, with all the strengths and limitations of that format. If readers know the name of a particular educational association, the book offers easy access to a thumbnail sketch of that organization and information about how to make initial contact.

    On the other hand, the entries do not provide much more than straightforward facts. U.S. Educational Policy Interest Groups is not an insider's guide to these organizations, and the book is short on subjective analysis or informed critique. Furthermore, the alphabetic organization of the volume hinders searches by subject area for associations that work in specific fields. The book includes only a brief index, and the cross-references clearly are less than comprehensive — for example, "principal" yields only one citation for the National Association of Principals of Schools for Girls, inexplicably missing obvious references like the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

    Finally, most damningly, the volume overlooks several major national education policy interest groups. The authors claim that this reference on educational associations is comprehensive and representative (p. x), yet pass over such key organizations, to name a few, as the National Governors' Association Task Force on Education, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, and the American Educational Research Association.

    The fault seems to lie in some questionable methodology. The authors state that they identified nearly all of the associations included in the book by culling names of organizations listed as "education groups" in the Encyclopedia of Associations, the Washington Information Directory, and the Washington Representative, and that 178 associations responded to the questionnaires mailed to them (p. ix). However, the authors neither report the number of organizations to which they originally sent questionnaires nor the response rate for these questionnaires, rather glaring oversights. The contrast between the title of the book and the title of Appendix B tells the story: while U.S. Educational Policy Interest Groups: Institutional Profiles suggests a comprehensive list of national educational associations, the title of Appendix B — which lists all the organizations that appear in the volume — modestly reads "Organizations Participating in the Study" (p. 209).

    U.S. Educational Policy Interest Groups is part of a larger reference series by Greenwood Press, which also features volumes on interest groups involved in policy relating to public interest law, national security, agriculture, energy and the environment, aging, and criminal justice. The idea behind publishing this volume on educational associations seems like a good one, even if its execution ultimately turned out to be flawed. Perhaps this book, if nothing else, clarifies the need for a guide to educational policy interest groups written by individuals with insight and understanding gleaned from years of experience in the field.



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Book Notes

Other People's Children
By Lisa Delpit

National Issues on Education
Edited by John F. Jennings.

U.S. Educational Policy Interest Groups
By Gregory S. Butler and James D. Slack.

Education at a Glance
By the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation.

School Choice
By Peter W. Cookson Jr.

Edited by Lance W. Roberts and Rodney A. Clifton

Framing Questions, Constructing Answers
By Noel F. McGinn and Allison M. Borden

Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature

Changing the Subject
Edited by Sue Davies, Cathy Lubelska, and Jocey Quinn.

Rewriting Literacy
Edited by Candace Mitchell and Kathleen Weiler.

The Return of the Political
By Chantal Mouffe

Black Popular Culture
Edited by Gina Dent.

Thirteen Questions
Edited by Joe Kincheloe and Shirley Steinberg.