Step 4 – Conduct a Critical Policy Review

With each policy problem we reviewed in this book we demonstrate what happens when policy makers and school leaders fail to consider the racial consequences of the policies they either develop or are faced with implementing. A major problem with the neoliberal educational policies that now dominate public policy is that these policies have economic and individual goals instead of a humanistic aim that serves the public good (Horsford, Scott, & Anderson, 2019). To confront neoliberal agendas, district/school level policy actors must instead try to humanize the policy under review by bearing in mind how certain groups would be differentially affected upon the policy’s implementation. Thus, we use research on critical approaches to policy analysis to inform Step 4, conducting a critical policy review (see Horsford et al., 2019). At a fundamental level, a critical policyreview involves questioning the nature of the policy, how it evolved, and any assumptions about the extent of the policy’s impact (Young & Diem, 2017). Yet from an anti-racist perspective, a critical policy review also questions any policy rhetoric, uncovers racial hierarchies entrenched in the political process, interrogates if and how the policy inequitably distributes power and resources along racial lines, and ensures the perspectives of racially minoritized groups are centered in the policy process (also see Horsford et al., 2019). Therefore, drawing from critical policy analysis approaches we provide suggestions for guiding questions and recommendations for conducting a critical policy review.

Guiding Questions

  • 1. What are the intentions of the policy and what does it aim to accomplish?
  • 2. How do the policy intentions align with what happens on the ground in day-to-day practice? Are the policy intentions realistic?
  • 3. Who benefits from the policy and who is negatively affected? Consider how this policy will affect racially minoritized groups.
  • 4. Who has a voice in the policy process and whose voice is currently silenced? Are the voices of racially minoritized groups elevated in the policy process?
  • 5. Overall, is the policy racially just? Would implementing the policy result in ethically questionable practices? (Kyser et al. 2016; Rallis et al., 2008)

Key Recommendations

  • • First, ensure team members are educated on how the policy process works. The policy process is a series of events that unfold when a political system deliberates on different approaches to a policy problem, adopts a policy approach, and then implements and evaluates the chosen policy (Fowler, 2012).
  • • Before reviewing the policy, the team should understand how policies become racialized in the U.S. context. Have the team engage in key readings that reflect on race, racism, and public policy; and devote time to discussing as a team how the policy problems presented in the readings compare to the policy issue under review. Some suggestions to start with would be Racial Formation in the United States, 3rd edition by Michael Omi and Howard Winant; White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial

Divide by Carol Anderson; and The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein.

  • • Conduct both an individual and team review of the policy. Use the guiding questions for Step 4 to assist with the policy review.
  • • Consider what additional information you may need to answer the guiding questions for this step. Do you need to gather feedback from additional district/school stakeholders via focus groups or forums, or perhaps surveys? Perhaps you need to do research to see how the policy was implemented in other contexts and existing data on the policy outcomes as well.

Step 5 – Conduct a Critical Leadership Review

Both district and school level leaders not only have to interpret policies that come from above (federal and state level) but develop and implement policies as well (Rallis et al., 2008). No matter where the policy derives from, educational leaders are still charged with communicating the policy to the school community. However, what is most ideal is for educational leaders to interpret policies with the school community. At this stage educational leaders should take a step back and critically examine the extent to which they are engaging in democratic deliberation where various viewpoints are considered in the dialogue about the policy (Rallis et al., 2008). The guiding questions and key recommendations we present below push educational leaders to consider how at this stage of the policy process they are engaging in what Horsford, Scott, and Anderson (2109) coin as democracy-driven decisionmaking where educational leaders recognize that the critical review of the policy should be “community-centric” where there is shared-power with the school community in the decision-making process (p. 198).

Guiding Questions

  • 1. To what extent are you promoting shared leadership on the decision-making team? Is there shared power and do opportunities exist for those who do not hold formal school leadership roles such as parents, students, and community members from racially minoritized groups to co-lead?
  • 2. How authentic is the participation in dialogue on the decisionmaking team, and is it rooted in anti-racism? (see Anderson, 1998)
  • 3. How is the information discussed on the team communicated to the rest of the school community, particularly members of racially minoritized groups?

Key Recommendations

  • • While we recommend considering distributed forms of leadership that are rooted in equity and social justice (Brooks, Jean-Marie, Normore, & Hodgins, 2007), leaders should go a step further and critique the level of authenticity of participation and shared leadership (Anderson, 1998; also see Horsford et al., 2019). Anderson’s (1998) framework for authentic participation posits five questions for leaders when considering the level of authenticity of participation at the micro and macro levels:
    • (a) Participation toward what end? (b) Who participates? (c) What are relevant spheres of participation? (d) What conditions and processes must be present locally to make participation authentic (i.e., the micropolitics of participation)? (e) What conditions and processes must be present at broader institutional and societal levels (i.e., the macropolitics of participation).
    • (p. 587)
  • • We also recommend that leaders look to research on grassroots community organizing for specific strategies on shared leadership. The principal, superintendent, and other formal administrators are the archetypes that first come to mind for educational leadership, but successful leadership takes more than a single person, and so community organizing is a school improvement strategy that relies on shared leadership wi/Athe community and can serve as a conduit for “breaking down power relationships between parents, teachers, and school officials” (Carlock, 2016, p. 118; Welton & Freelon, 2018).

Step 6 – Summarize, (Re)assess, and Take Action

In this final step, the decision-making team should summarize findings from the previous five steps and develop a plan of how to communicate the findings to the rest of the school community. Next, the team should come up with a few possible courses of action and get feedback from the school community on which action plan best aligns with anti-racist change that centers the needs and perspectives of racially minoritized groups. Once the plan of action is selected, team members should delineate the timeline of implementation and how members of the team will be accountable for carrying out various aspects of the plan. Finally, once the action plan has been carried out, time should be dedicated to reassessing the plan of action, what did and did not work, and what changes need to occur before engaging in the process again for the next policy issue on the docket. Hence, we envision these six steps as a cycle of inquiry that can be repeated.

Guiding Questions

  • 1. What policy actions will you take given your understanding of the policy and what will you prioritize in your action planning?
  • 2. Consider the policy problem systemically. What mindset shifts, changes in norms, structures, and even redistribution of resources would lead to the type of anti-racist change needed to address the policy problem?
  • 3. Given what you know about the policy and from your understanding of leadership, what types of leadership moves and practices would you use to respond to the policy problem and take action?
  • 4. What types of risks are you willing to take when taking action? How will you respond to pushback and resistance from some members of the school community based on the team’s decision?
  • 5. What resources and supports will you need to carry out the action plan?
  • 6. How will you hold team members accountable for carrying out the action plan, and what is your plan for assessing progress moving forward?

Key Recommendations

  • • In this final step before taking action, the decision-making team should weigh in on various courses of action they could take and assess the type of risk involved with each option, as well as what level of risk they are willing to take to achieve real anti-racist change.
  • • To prepare for potential stakeholder pushback and resistance when the plan of action for anti-racist change is carried out, we suggest team members refer to research on educator activism (Marshall & Anderson, 2008) and racial justice activists (Gorski & Erakat, 2019). An activist is “an individual who is known for taking stands and engaging in action aimed at producing social change, possibly in conflict with institutional opponents” (Marshall & Anderson, 2008, p. 18). When racial justice activists upend the racial status quo in their school communities they are taking a great risk to do so—a risk that could jeopardize their job security and sever friendships and relational ties, which could all then lead to burnout and fatigue (Marshall & Anderson, 2008; Gorski & Erakat, 2019). Consequently, members of the decision-making team need to prepare themselves for the political and emotional labor that comes with anti-racist change and activism.
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