Working from the structural frameworks of Part I of this Handbook, we now turn to the important
behaviors that include the political actors, their interactions and coalitions, the pluralistic behaviors of institutions, the micropolitics of these leaders and the actors who implement policy such
as principals and teachers. Behavior, we know, is influenced by role and rank in organizations
and by the political culture of the society, Congress, state governments, local institutions, and of
course, by school systems themselves. Politics is so important, and prevalent, that it’s often invisible as leaders make themselves heard and felt.
Thus, embedded in the federalist structure of schooling in the United States is a whole range
of behaviors that are easily recognized as political: voting, lobbying, electing, and organizing
to influence the way schools operate. At the other end of the system are the people interested in
education as a personal, local, civic, and immediate political activity. What is the political culture of education? How do teachers, students, administrators, and political leaders define their
relationships and play out their political roles? What are some of the research tools used by micropolitical analysts, and how might improved understanding of the culture of schools improve
educational policymaking?
Pluralism has traditionally represented the political center in the study of American education politics. The pluralist perspective tends to define power as an exchange of desired goods
among political actors. It emphasizes the role of contradictions, bargaining, and compromises
among competing interests who work within the existing institutional roles and structures such
as school boards, state legislatures, Congress, and executive agencies. Pluralism also focuses on
political inputs that influence these actors such as interest groups, political parties, and public
opinion. This section also includes attention to the political economy of public education, for
economic goals and interests are central to pluralist bargaining and to the priorities of many actors who pursue micropolitical goals and interests.


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and advocacy coalition frameworks—consider interest groups to be integral to the policy process in the United States. we present the ways in which interest groups have been studied. and interest groups—who determine the outcome of political battles over education reform. Despite their all-pervading presence. policy domains. Indeed. In this chapter we hope to inspire more research on interest groups and education groups specifically. and the issues these studies raise for future research. What is an interest group? 2. we must often rely on the research from political science and infer the possible implications for education groups. Darleen Opfer. policy communities.11 Politics of Interest: Interest Groups and Advocacy Coalitions in American Education V. The research presented in this chapter is organized around addressing three questions that help to illustrate the more substantial conceptual and methodological issues plaguing research on interest groups generally and on educational interest groups specifically: 1. The presence of interest groups in educational politics and policy making can no longer be questioned or ignored. both conceptually and methodologically. and Lance D. many scholars assert that. How have interest groups evolved? 195 RT61112_C011. interest group theory. issue networks. Of the articles that have had this focus. The influence of organized interest groups remains a central theme in the study of the politics of education. legislative battles. Tamara V.indd 195 3/26/2008 5:21:14 PM . we have very little research specific to educational interest groups. many prevailing theories of policy making—pluralism. more than half appeared in one of two special journal issues on the topic: Education & Urban Society (1981) and Educational Policy (2001). the iron triangle or subsystems perspective. While many articles on the politics of education may mention the involvement of education interest groups as one of many actors in the political activity under investigation. Young. research production. ultimately. and curricula decisions at all levels. How do interest groups influence policy? 3. Given the paucity of scholarship specific to educational interest groups. Their presence is felt in election campaigns. less than 50 articles have been written since 1980 that focus extensively on understanding these groups. it is people—policy makers. activists. ballot initiatives. Fusarelli While institutions play a key role in shaping the policy process and influencing the outcome of that process. To do so.

quoted by Reuben Mees in Hattiesburg American. The ideas presented by the Schools Readiness Solutions Group were immediately backed by a new lobbying coalition of parents. possible. Office of Public Records. Akron Beacon Journal. and that record is an indication that no one can dictate their positions to me and no special interest group can control me. Senate.1 Number of registered interest groups lobbying on education issues in Washington. School Board Member. PROLIFERATION OF EDUCATION INTEREST GROUPS Educational interest groups appear to be everywhere. 2006). 2006) In an editorial about a K-16 ballot initiative for funding in Michigan. D.196 OPFER. According to semiannual lobbying disclosure reports filed with the Secretary of the Senate’s Office of Public Records. 2006) An influential state panel recommended Friday that Ohio combine early childhood learning under a single state agency…. Source: Figures based on data from Secretary of the U. the amount of money spent on these activities during the same period increased by $50 million (see Figure 11. teachers and business leaders called “Groundwork. Tricia Kinley of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce was quoted as saying. S. During one week. 1200 1000 800 600 400 200 0 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 FIGURE 11. August 26. Additionally. education was.2 below). the following were some of the more than 125 references to educational interest groups that appeared in local and state-level news sources: I have made a public record on the school board. Mississippi.” (Smyth.indd 196 3/26/2008 5:21:15 PM . in 2005. or even desirable for this subfield of the politics of education. 1998–2005. the amount of interest group activity around educational issues has exploded. YOUNG. As a result of this rise in the numbers of groups involved and the amounts they spend. “Regardless of the costs. August 21. the number of registered groups lobbying on educational issues rose 55% between 1998 and 2005 (see Figure 11. we also oppose this money grab because it is bad public policy to allow one special interest group to have its funding put on an auto-pilot mechanism….1 below).” (Dowagiac Daily News..C. 2006) At the federal level. (Roger McDowell. AND FUSARELLI We conclude the chapter with a discussion of the future of educational interest group research and whether a break with the political science community is necessary. the 10th most active lobbying issue in the capitol (Center for Responsive Politics. RT61112_C011. in August 2006. August 25. Hattiesburg.

RT61112_C011. 1975. Mawhinney. James Yoho (1998) claimed that. the inclusivity of this definition masks three conceptual problems. “Those who merely share an interest are a ‘group’ only in the sense that they are not singular” (p. political interests (Cibulka. Matheney. and law firms that provide lobbying services. 2001. think tanks that advocate policy positions. 2001). which have plagued political science researchers who have striven for definitional clarity.11. Sroufe. Sipple. This definitional imposition of organizational characteristics has. 2001). or cultivated collections of interests (Lugg. & Kearney. Organizational Ambiguity A prominent conceptual issue in the political science research on interest groups is whether these groups must be organized. however. that is. McDaniel. Steele. given the rapid growth and the diverse character of education-related interest groups” (p. Schlozman & Tierney. S. excluded from their research corporations that lobby. whether formally organized or not. research on these groups is perhaps most notable for its lack of stated definition of interest groups. Senate. POLITICS OF INTEREST 197 In Millions $80 $70 $60 $50 $40 $30 $20 $10 $0 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 FIGURE 11. WHAT IS AN INTEREST GROUP? Because educational interests groups seem so ubiquitous. 1997. Opfer. However. interests (Johnson. 172).1 Scholars who take this position on defining interest groups often do so because they are studying interest group systems and the inclusion of unorganized interests makes it virtually impossible to establish parameters for the system and determine which interest groups are present at any given time (e. 2001. Song & Miskel.g. that attempts to influence public policy” (p. political action committees. see also McDaniel et al. Working. These three issues will be considered in this section. & Biernacki. 1986. 1997). D. “This view may be a particularly appropriate orientation to adopt.. Source: Based on data from Secretary of the U.C. 1981. relating to organization. 232). have members and officers. Those who claim that interest groups must have some organizational aspects argue that what sets interest groups apart from interests is the cooperative promotion of the shared interest. In discussing the choice of such an inclusive definition by educational researchers. 1981. Those educational researchers who have provided a definition of interest groups most often rely on Thomas and Hrebner’s inclusive definition (1992) that considers an interest group as “any association of individuals. 1981). advocacy coalitions (Fusarelli. 2001) that we know what it is they are talking about.. 1990. Sipple et al. Wilson. 153. Malen (2001) claimed. 2001. activity. Office of Public Records.indd 197 3/26/2008 5:21:15 PM . Song & Miskel. 2002). Mahood. 1981).2 Amount spent on lobbying on educational issues by registered interest groups in Washington. Miskel. 1997. 2001. Salisbury.. Sims & Miskel. and distinctiveness from political parties. 2002. Educational researchers have most often assumed that whether they are talking about interest groups (Kirst & Somers.

etc. In their work on interest groups they include “organization[s] involved in community affairs” that make no attempt to influence government action. the legislation fails. hold a public forum on the problem. not including influence as a definitional requirement makes differentiation between interest groups and other organizations problematic. these scholars require the inclusion of latent interests to understand the process of transformation to an organized state (i. 400). Truman (1958).org. To illustrate potential problems encountered. In response the parents write letters to legislators. Sidney Verba and Norman Nie (1972) also contribute to this confusion. on the political party side. and get a local reporter to write a story about the impact on the band.dlc. AND FUSARELLI This organizational requirement also contrasts sharply with the ideas set out by some of the founders of interest group research. Compounding the similarity is the recent practice by both political parties and interest groups to spin-off “satellite groups. In the thirty-year period of the band boosters they have attempted to influence government once.indd 198 3/26/2008 5:21:15 PM . “The distinction between party and pressure group is not absolute” (p. 1998). This conceptualization of interest groups which includes unorganized interests is most prominent in the work of scholars concerned with the formation of interest groups such as Jeffrey Berry (1984) and Mancur Olson (1967). the Democratic Leadership Council developed the Third Way Foundation.. Both advocate specific policy positions.” For example. how it occurs). Through their actions. consider the following scenario. Since then the parents have returned to raising funds for their band and have not engaged in further influence activity. the Education Sector (see www. recognized that it is from unorganized interests that interest groups often arise. as a requisite for interest group status. when it occurs. Truman (1958) refers to both “interest groups” and “political interest groups” but makes little distinction between the two in regards to the types of activities they engage in. RT61112_C011. interest group scholars have also failed clearly to define these groups in ways that differentiate groups by the activity they undertake. endorse candidates. Given this overlap. Are they an interest group? Should we only include them for the period for which they were engaged in influence? What if a similar legislative attempt is made in the next year and this reactivates them? Separating organizational purpose and organizational influence activity appears clearly important to the delineation of an interest group definition but doing so creates other problems for determining organizational onset and demise. In 2000 the legislature in their state decides to raise significantly the gas tax paid by high occupancy vehicles which includes the buses rented for band trips. The activities undertaken by political parties and interest groups have significant overlap. which then funded an education specific organization. Thus. From that time until 2000 their primary purpose was to raise funds for band uniforms and band travel through various fundraising activities.198 OPFER.. For example. Edward Malecki (1976) argued that. Distinctional Ambiguity A third definitional problem that has arisen in the interest group literature is in distinguishing between political parties and interest groups. This change would increase the cost of band travel by 25%.e. YOUNG. Activity Ambiguity Beyond variation in organization. work to get out the vote. and the actions of other interest groups. The booster club for a local high school marching band has been in existence since the school was built in 1974. albeit in a different way. Some of the lack of clarity on the inclusion or exclusion of influence activities. And. with his concept of latent interest groups. David B. may result from an inability to consistently identify organizational purposes (Yoho. which funded the Progressive Policy Institute.

g. Nownes (2001) however. research organizations. 83–93).indd 199 3/26/2008 5:21:15 PM . context. In contrast. 12). reports show the United Teachers of Los Angeles funding community groups which support their position on district level reform (Boghossian. universities and colleges. charities. in the case of James Madison’s Federalist 10.S. Political parties. they reason. In addition to the corporations. POLITICS OF INTEREST 199 www. foreign governmental entities. and larger versus limited resources. churches.org). RT61112_C011.educationsector. For example. some have taken his use of the term faction to refer to political parties (e.11. and still others claim the reference could be applied to both (e. These researchers propose that we consider whether groups have: temporary versus permanent organization. and unclassified collections of interests.. answers to the question. special versus broad interests.. As we will argue in the last section of this chapter. citizen groups. Because the classic distinction between political parties that attempt to influence elections and interest groups that attempt to influence policy no longer remains. could both nominate and endorse candidates whereas interest groups could only endorse those they wished to see elected. identifies thirteen major types of organized interests active in the United States today. As with the other issues discussed in this section. 1958). Truman. historical literature which often failed to identify groups as either political parties or interests. domestic governmental entities. trade associations. Interest group researchers who have attempted to demarcate interest groups from political parties have relied on a sole criterion.g. Growth in technology multiplies the points of contact for influence resulting in a more diverse interest group universe. Lowi. we can add bloggers and Internet social networking sites with embedded political action applications. 1969) others to interest groups (e. On the interest group side we have recently seen instances of the National Education Association funding other interest groups and think tanks which oppose the No Child Left Behind legislation (Toppo. “What is an interest group?” are not simple or easy. Graham Wilson (1981) concluded. Similarly. These problems of classification are likely to increase in the near future. Wirt and Kirst (2005) readily admit that their classification schema cannot accommodate issue networks or other collections of interests such as advocacy coalitions and political action committees: “Policy issue networks are in some ways an interest group but do not fit any of the conventional definitions. While this distinction holds some useful analytical promise in the current U. think tanks. Hofstadter.ppionline. 2006). but will focus on a single issue…. “perhaps all that can be done to distinguish political parties from interest groups is to suggest that their ostensible purpose is always narrower than that of political parties” (p. and distinction. coalitions. some of which do not fit within that classification system: corporations.. Policy issue networks can encompass several interest groups. activity. it proves more problematic in distinguishing between political parties and interest groups in multiparty political systems where parties are more platform oriented and the nomination of candidates is less consequential. labor unions. professional associations.org. 1979). this increase in individualistic activity without the need for membership and affiliation traditionally associated with interest groups has serious implications for the politics of education and democratic governance more generally. and political action committees. The distinction based on the ability to nominate is also less helpful in regard to U.g. 2006). Wirt and Kirst (2005) suggest a classification of interest groups that highlights differences among groups.S. Kay Schlozman and John Tierney (1986) make a distinction based on a group’s ability to nominate electoral candidates. interest groups are concerned with numerous interrelated issues” (pp. and www. Implications of Definitional Ambiguity In an attempt to overcome the conceptual problems of organization.

HOW DO INTEREST GROUPS INFLUENCE POLICY? With more groups and greater activity than ever. As such. 1995. more interest groups does not necessarily equate to greater influence by these groups (Heinz. nonpartisan and nonideological. 171). Fuhrman & Elmore. Gray & Lowery. 1993.200 OPFER. 1990. 1990. AND FUSARELLI This continuing growth and diversification of interest groups. states that the “idea of a group in these works is essentially an analytic construct used to order and interpret observed phenomena and not necessarily identical with what the real world would identify as interest groups” (p. Walker. However. & Salisbury. 2001). Interest groups can wield considerable influence. 1990). Fuhrman. 1994. 2001. Interest groups will have a high probability of affecting policy outcomes when they face little or no opposition from other policy actors or policy actors are undecided on an issue. Schlozman & Tierney.S. Interestingly. and focusing on the one aspect that currently differs in the U. the definition of interest group chosen should depend on the reason for studying them and should be delineated as such in the research being conducted. and yet in other instances. 1993. Chance. studying the influence of organized interests has shifted from asking whether interest groups exert influence to understanding when groups are likely to be influential (Baumgartner & Leech. 1986. 1994. the presence of many of these advantageous conditions is often associated with issue niches (Browne. 2001). 1986. Rosenthal. Identifying groups based on their organizational purpose is fraught with difficulties as organizational circumstances change. it comes as no surprise that Malen (2001) and others have concluded that political elites depress or even eclipse the influence of interest groups (e. in referring to the work of Bentley. and our inability to develop encompassing classification systems. they wield little or no influence over policy outcomes. and yet identifying them based solely on the use of influence tactics creates a constantly revolving cast of interest groups on which to focus.. Educational interest group researchers can draw heavily upon the lessons learned by political science scholars who have wrestled with this question of interest group definition. As such. and the influential in this process. we present the current literature on how interest groups affect influence by focusing on the roles of context. lobbying. Salisbury. whereas excluding them makes the study of interest group formation problematic. Context Matters An examination of the literature indicates a variety of environmental conditions that increase the likelihood of an interest group exerting influence (Nownes. or receives little public or media attention. . 1991). Salisbury (1975). Distinguishing interest groups from political parties is becoming increasingly difficult as both organizations take on properties of the other.g. 1998). Nelson. the definitional issues raised in existing research. Interest groups are also likely to be successful at influencing policy outcomes when an issue is highly technical or complex. the conditions that promote interest group influence are often absent from the environment when political elites are actively involved. In contrast. context would limit both comparative and historical research on interest groups. Thomas & Hrebenar. measures to influence policy have burgeoned at the state and federal levels (Cigler & Loomis. 1990. Gittell RT61112_C011. where groups successfully exert control over particular issues. Nownes. and others. YOUNG. Laumann. Including unorganized interests makes it difficult to study systems of interest groups. Latham. Given this ambiguity we cannot expect to have an agreed-upon definition of interest groups. In this section. Salisbury. 1998. In practice. have implications for the research carried out on educational interest groups.indd 200 3/26/2008 5:21:15 PM .

11. A crowded political landscape and competitive politics also serve to limit the influence of any particular interest group (Heinz et al. First. and local level. multiple policy actors. 1993. Kirst & Yee. has been addressed for over 100 years (Ravitch. our theoretical knowledge. 2000). 1994. Indeed. Mazzoni. or stir the public and practitioners. 1990. 2000. For example. 1995. Laumann & Knoke. then we need to include more states in our study of educational politics and endeavor to conduct comparative studies. 1995). & Song. In light of the importance of contextual variables.. That is. 1990. but are estimated to be inconsequential at the state level more generally. 2001. suggests that groups are more influential at the state level than in Washington. are political elites more likely to get involved when the conditions favor their influence. Salisbury et al. Future research also needs to investigate the similarities and differences in the relationship between contextual factors and group influence at the federal. fascinate. 1987. 1994. The level of analysis in conjunction with environmental context may prove a reasonable explanation for the contradictions in the literature about the influence of groups. Wohlstetter. Baumgartner & Leech. 1993. 1992). Yet few issues generate such substantial hullabaloo and participation. If state-specific variables play an important role in interest groups’ ability to affect policy. 1999. like the larger interest group universe (c. Mitchell. several items need to be considered for future investigations of the influence of interest groups over educational policy. and improve our efforts to understand vertical effects (i. our selection of educational issues creates a biased sampling. and Wirt (1989) found that the relative power and influence of policy actors engaged in educational policy making varied across states. Furthermore. national groups affecting state or local policy). involve one or a few groups and stay under the public and media radar. Reading. Mitchell. Longitudinal investigations may also provide needed understanding of the intersection of context and interest group influence. In effect. Shifting the level of analysis might also provide different lenses for interpreting influence. many single-issue groups may exert considerable control over specific issues. 1992). research funding and strong public and governmental interest in our research are often attached to vogue issues or issues that appeal. many state-level analyses commonly show the state teacher associations as being one of the more (if not the most) influential groups in the state (Marshall.indd 201 3/26/2008 5:21:15 PM .. Too often educational politics studies focus on issues that involve heightened media and public attention. Rosenthal’s (1993) Third House. Browne. Kirst & Carver. as it relates to educational politics. What we do not yet fully comprehend in the literature is the direction of the association. do the political elites advance some of these conditions to enhance their own influence. 1995. Young. for example. and market-based initiatives have repeatedly RT61112_C011. In contrast to teacher associations. political culture. socioeconomic development. Shepley. Most educational issues. Salisbury. policy making occurs in a complex milieu. practical counsel will wane should we not develop a more comprehensive representation of political circumstances that includes both attention-grabbing and monotonous topics. 1994..f. Mazzoni. and ultimately. and analyzing the environment is key to understanding influence. and other conditions (Thomas & Hrebenar. This state level influence is greatly affected by the diversity in political and institutional environments. Thomas & Hrebenar. Marshall. which includes the power of the governor and legislature. we need to expand our scope of states in which we study interest groups (Mazzoni. 1987). 1990). Simply. POLITICS OF INTEREST 201 & McKenna. will also enlighten our understanding of the relationship between context and group influence. international comparative study of groupñstate relationships. 2000. Issues are long-standing or tend to recur on the policy agenda (Browne. 1986. state. Moreover. and strong partisan or ideological discourse. 2002). Miskel.e. As such. we need to expand the body of research to include a range of circumstances. & Wirt. or is it some combination of both depending on the situation? Additionally. 1990).

and groups doing more lobbying. Computerbased technologies also facilitate the capability of organized interests to carry out other lobbying RT61112_C011. Schlozman & Tierney. Knoke. This upsurge in information is largely due to technological advances that facilitate information gathering and dissemination. the study of interest group lobbying delves into how groups attempt to affect government decision-making. Interest groups have also increased the range of lobbying techniques (Mahood. As Salisbury explains: Before [interest groups] can advocate a policy. inside and outside the government. 2004). extensively. (pp. Before they do this. AND FUSARELLI surfaced in various forms since the 1980s. expertise.. lobbying largely involves generating. 1996). Conversely. and interest groups offer policy makers expertise (Kaplan & Usdan. YOUNG. 1988. we need predictive models that include a variety of contextual factors that allow us to understand the relative impact of individual environmental factors on interest group influence LOBBYING Generally. monitoring. Interest groups primarily comprised of noneducators also skillfully. after the 1994 election. Nownes & Freeman. “more of the same kind of activity” has become “something categorically different” (Cigler & Loomis. Kollman 1998. PAC giving. Education research suggests a similar pattern of interest group lobbying behavior (e. are thinking and planning. 1987. with more groups lobbying. 1986). 1998. Additionally. 1998. Contemporary educational policy making requires considerable knowledge about problems and alternatives. there are a few important departures from past lobbying activities. Young & Miskel. Hojnacki. they must find out not only what technical policy analysis can tell them but what relevant others. However. Of particular note is the expansion of monitoring. 2001. Karper and Boyd (1988). First. and knowledge. but lobbied with more professionalism. al 1993. and monitoring is a central activity of many interest groups (Salisbury. found that traditional educational interest groups used the same lobbying tactics they had always used. Heinz et.. lobbying activity overall has dramatically increased (Cigler & Loomis & Cigler. 1992). Wright. For example. Wright. 2001). 1995. Second. 2002. 1983. 1986). lobbying is more sophisticated (Cigler & Loomis. Third. and disseminating information (Cigler & Loomis. Educational researchers should investigate shifts in group influence across time. interest groups expanded their use of grassroots mobilization and quasi-access tactics where members contacted congressional members and staff. and effectively lobby to influence educational policy (e. Mazzoni & Malen. and grassroots lobbying (Nownes & Freeman. 2000. Rosenthal.g. Ultimately. 1990. Although groups are engaging in “more of the same” in terms of lobbying activities (Schlozman & Tierney. 1986). 1993. 225–226) Interest groups also disseminate information to their memberships or interested publics to stimulate support and activity for their policy goals. 1990). for example. Mazzoni & Malen. they must determine what position they wish to embrace. 1985). 2002). Lobbying has been studied extensively. Schlozman & Tierney. interest groups seek information. educational interest groups operating at the federal level heavily utilized tactics that provided groups with direct access to legislators (Opfer. and the research consistently shows that at both the national and state levels. Karper & Boyd. 393).g. Caldeira. organized interests use a wide range of similar lobbying tactics (Baumgartner & Leech. 1983. p.202 OPFER. Mazzoni & Clugston.indd 202 3/26/2008 5:21:15 PM . Opfer. Longitudinal analysis will advance our understanding of how influence of groups varies with changes in the environment. 1985. 2000. 2002). 1998).

and judicial branches.. by and large and on specific issues.g. We need to expand the literature to include a wider range of group types. seeking issue niches. and conservative groups). Caldeira & Wright.e. 1990. 2001). 1990). 1992. Browne. and lobbying efforts did not maintain support when the members proposed threatening amendments and motions. 1998. which in conjunction with context variation will allow us better to ascertain how groups select lobbying strategies. Because educational policy is multilevel (i. Given the limited resources. context impacts lobbying effectiveness. 2000). teacher associations. 1988). Wright. Godwin. for example. we must expand our study of lobbying activity to include a variety of political situations (Young & Miskel. legislative. and national) and increasingly involves the participation of the state executive. and quantitative research. the number of group members who lobbied members of Congress. Finally. For example. Young and Miskel (2004) concluded that variations in state environments may have accounted for why increases in the number of lobbying tactics used or increases in the extent to which a tactic was employed increased a policy actor’s influence in some states but not others. then their lobbying strategies will certainly depend on the political context (Baumgartner & Leech.g. Smith’s (1984) study of the influence of the NEA. interest groups have broadened their lobbying targets (Mahood. As such. Caldeira et al. contributing to electoral campaigns. contributing to their ability to engage in a lobbying activity more often. 1994). one or only a few groups. 2000. Though important strides have been made to advance our understanding of the relationship between lobbying and influence over educational policy outcomes. most qualitative and quantitative studies explore lobbying efforts jointly (Baumgartner & Leech. 1989.. or a single state) (Young & Miskel. Further. Langbein. DeGregorio & Rossotti. Many quantitative studies on the relationship between interest groups’ lobbying tactics and influence indicate that lobbying increases a group’s influence (e. This lack of consensus in the literature on the effect of lobbying suggests that in the same way that context affects group influence. use multiple lobby strategies. Further. However. engaging in an extensive lobbying offensive. Wright.e. 1993. 2004). several studies of PACs and direct lobbying have shown lobbying to be marginal or inconsequential (e. The policy environment plays an important role at the state level as well. group range. Tierney. interest groups must discover which strategies are effective and under what conditions they are most effective. 1998).. some lobbying activities are more likely to result in policy success than others: forming coalitions. If interest groups respond to changes in the policy environment. Quantitative research will facilitate study of many groups across RT61112_C011. the study of lobbying tactics of educational interest groups remains woefully underdeveloped. Next.indd 203 3/26/2008 5:21:15 PM . relative comparisons.. much of the educational literature tends to focus on the same types of groups (i. Langbein & Lotwis. investigates a single issue. the educational research on interest group lobbying is largely qualitative and generally limited in scope (i. Howard.11. Finally.. state. 1990).. found that lobbying for the passage of a bill only marginally increased Congressional support. local. 1995. several items deserve consideration: context. and lobby more efficiently and faster than decades past. allowing educational researchers to contribute to the novel and burgeoning literature on choices of lobbying tactics (e. POLITICS OF INTEREST 203 activities as well. business groups. In another study. Grenzke. and mobilizing the public (Nownes. 1990. Smith (1993) found the NEA and AFT’s influence depended on the proportion of their members who resided in the member’s congressional district. Rothenberg. 1998. Skocpol. and their endorsement of the member of Congress during the previous election. 1993. & Lehmann. 2004). Research that attempts to rank the relative effectiveness of strategies will provide considerable practical insight to educational interest groups with limited fiscal and temporal resources.g. more access points are used to influence policy than ever before. campaign contributions to the member.e. Abend-Wein. To build our knowledge base about interest group lobbying.

204 OPFER. 1995. Lugg. that new groups exert little to no influence. In recent decades. In fact. 1987. 1999). the influence of the new interests in comparison is “relatively light weight.. 1999a). assessment. 1999a). 2001. however. Despite the increase in new group activity and the splintering of formidable alliances among some traditional education groups (Feir. Vergari. 1991. 1989. additional research that compares the activi- RT61112_C011. teacher associations are also not uniformly influential. 1986). 1996.g. 2005). Fuhrman. 2000). and teacher associations are now considered reactive rather than proactive policy actors (Kirst. 1989. Massell & Fuhrman. 1995. blocking implementation of comprehensive sexuality programs (Lugg. In light of these developments in the literature. Mazzoni & Clugston. Corporate interest groups individually and in coalitions have participated in task forces. Sipple et al. p. The growing involvement and influence of political elites likely accounts for the waxing influence of business groups (with whom they often partner) and for the waning influence of teacher associations (with which they often disagree). 2001). However. most notably. 1997). 1996. and policy centers continues to grow as well.. Like business groups. 1995. and promoting phonics instruction in Utah (Osguthorpe. Explanations for their preeminence are their long-standing “insider relations” with officials (Thomas & Hrebenar. 1999a). and accountability policies. Mazzoni. yet are still viewed as one of the more influential interest groups. 2001. Marshall et al.” and their successes have been minor and infrequent (Thomas & Hrebenar 1991.indd 204 3/26/2008 5:21:16 PM . particularly on market-based initiatives. 2000) points out in his review of state educational policy making in the 1980s. 2000). scholars provide compelling evidence of the significance of business in state school policy (e. For example. The role of conservative media. 1995. 1994. 2000. new interest groups have been shown to be effective at the state level in influencing policy making (Allen. many educational reform initiatives have been passed despite the resistance of teacher associations. 1989). Thomas & Hrebenar. other groups have increasingly exerted influence over educational policy. with only a few groups effective in a large number of states (Thomas & Hrebenar. 1984. so dominant are the traditional interests.. possibly allowing us to develop generalizations about interest group lobbying in educational policy. Shipps. 2004. Conservative groups have been extremely effective at altering educational policy throughout the country (Apple. conservative interest groups. business groups and traditional educational associations retain their influential status (Thomas & Hrebrenar. These groups generate and disseminate information that often informs all aspects of the policy process and further enhances the influence of these conservative groups. It should not be presumed. 2003. Cibulka. 2003). A similar pattern of business group and traditional educational association dominance exists in the educational research literature as well (Mazzoni. particularly in an information-driven policy environment. Thomas & Hrebenar. Schlozman & Tierney. 1996. think tanks. formed coalitions with political elites. 2000). Chance. business groups were not uniformly influential on K-12 issues across all states (Mazzoni. 1999a). 1999b. Berman & Clugson. 1991. AND FUSARELLI multiple situations in an array of environments. they were successful at winning a court battle for tax-funded educational vouchers (Lugg. 1997. 1986. 2001. However. Mazzoni. initiated partnerships with schools and school districts. McDonnell & Fuhrman. 1986. and funded policy research to influence policy (McGuire. As Mazzoni (1995. 2004). THE INFLUENTIAL Businesses and traditional associations still tend to be the more influential groups (Lowery & Brasher. 33) and the resource advantage they enjoy (Baumgartner & Leech. 1995. 1996. Wirt & Kirst. 1997). 1988. YOUNG. 2000. In fact.

148). A policy subsystem is defined as “those actors from a variety of public and private organizations who are actively concerned with a policy problem or issue. The first concerns the interaction of competing advocacy coalitions within a policy subsystem. They argue that policy change over time is a function of three sets of processes. Within policy subsystems. In this segment of this chapter. An anthology of classic works in public policy by McCool (1995) devotes an entire section to policy subsystems. provide substantial new insights about what denotes influence in educational policy. Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith (1993) developed a model of interest group interaction that they call the advocacy coalition framework. researchers. their influence may be overstated because studies tend to focus on the very issues that are likely to draw their participation. An advocacy coalition consists of actors from a variety of public and private institutions at all levels of government who share a set of basic beliefs (policy goals plus causal and other perceptions) and who seek to manipulate the rules. and competition exist within policy subsystems. Expanding our purview of groups and issues studied may show that new groups are vastly more influential than once believed. Extending our measures of influence may also provide additional insight about group influence. 179). and a burgeoning literature has developed around it. and policy analysts” (Jenkins-Smith & Sabatier. Often. p. alignment. 5) RT61112_C011. and personnel of governmental institutions in order to achieve these goals over time. cooperation. McDaniel (2001) and Song and Miskel’s (2005) utilization of a social network analysis measure. business and traditional education groups do exert influence. we examine the development of the advocacy coalition literature and the relationship between these coalitions and educational change. The second set of processes concerns changes external to the subsystem in socioeconomic conditions. (p. centrality and prestige.indd 205 3/26/2008 5:21:16 PM . and output from other subsystems that provide opportunities and obstacles to the competing coalitions. scholars studying interest groups have begun examining the complex workings of policy subsystems—particularly the formation. 1994. 2002). HOW HAVE INTEREST GROUPS EVOLVED? Moving way from outmoded conceptions of iron triangles. system-wide governing coalitions. Advocacy Coalitions Varying degrees of consensus. Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith argue that policy change and learning can best be understood as the product of competition among interest groups within the constraints of a policy subsystem. budget.11. POLITICS OF INTEREST 205 ties and influence of traditional groups with nontraditional groups is needed (Gray & Lowery. as well as journalists. much like models of political culture. interest groups—and the policies and programs they seek to promote—have well established belief systems that are relatively stable over time. Research on policy subsystems has become the dominant paradigm of interest group scholars. Sabatier (1991) observes that “one of the conclusions emerging from the policy literature is that understanding the policy process requires looking at an intergovernmental policy community or subsystem” as the basic unit of study (p. and realignment of coalitions within and between those subsystems. However. Undoubtedly. The third set involves the effects of stable system parameters—such as social structure and constitutional rules—on the constraints and resources of the various subsystem actors. coalitions form within policy subsystems—each seeking to obtain desired benefits through changes in programs and policies. either on a single issue or collectively. conflict.” including “actors at various levels of government. In an attempt to explicate the political dynamics of this process.

71). the Home School Legal Defense Association and the National Home Education Network have been instrumental in the drive to legalize home schooling throughout the United States. advocacy coalition models demonstrate how changes in the external environment affect the policy-making process. In his analysis of changes in state educational policy making over twenty years in Minnesota. Tim Mazzoni (1993) found that advocacy coalitions were a driving force behind the educational reform movement.indd 206 3/26/2008 5:21:16 PM . Thus. freeing it from the static. By focusing on changes external to the policy subsystem. and outputs from other subsystems. Policy learning. Hula (1999). Advocacy Coalitions and the Politics of Educational Change A number of studies of the politics of educational change support advocacy coalition theory. learning is conceptualized as the product of each actor’s (or interest group’s) success at achieving its intended policy objectives. particularly over an extended period of time. notes that: “Organized interests fight their major battles today largely in coalitions” (p. (p. status quo elements of previous theories. In particular. which contributed significantly to Minnesota’s adoption of the nation’s first charter school law in 1991. 19). as used by Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith. AND FUSARELLI According to this model. the advocacy coalition approach brings some important elements more explicitly into the analysis than does the rational actions approach. For example.206 OPFER. is really political learning—an altogether different process. governing coalitions. Burlingame and Geske (1979) assert that “the politics of education at the state level is still a politics of interest groups” (p.2 Support for this model comes from studies of the dynamics of the legislative process. Mazzoni argues that Minnesota’s state school policy subsystem can be characterized as an advocacy coalition of innovative reformers. Baumgartner and Jones (1991) believe that the coalition-building component of the theory is essential for policy change and innovation. In their review of major multiple-state case studies in education. He observed that “linking together gov- RT61112_C011. ideas. operating in organizations. which is different from organizational learning wherein policymakers. YOUNG. each advocacy coalition may revise its beliefs or alter its strategy” (p. This approach offers several advantages to researchers studying the politics of education. 1993b) found that “the Ontario educational policy community is tightly knit with well defined sets of assumptions and norms” (p. Advocacy coalitions have emerged as powerful players in the educational policy arena. Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith refer to this process as policy learning. 171) Another advantage of this approach to understanding policy change is that advocacy coalition models incorporate a change component into the theory. Sabatier (1993) argues that “on the basis of perceptions of the adequacy of governmental decisions and the resultant impacts as well as new information arising from research processes and external dynamics. utilize systemic learning processes to improve policies. The success of this movement attests to the power of organized interests in shaping education policy at the state level. or assumptions can be considered in ways other than just as rational actions within organizations. Sabatier (1988) found that policy change occurs via the interaction of competing advocacy coalitions. Mawhinney (1993a. 2). the role of new information. This suggests that policy communities have a significant impact on the nature and direction of policy change. 412). In her studies of policy change in Canadian education. such as changes in socioeconomic conditions. Stewart (1991) argues that in looking at change in public policy. networks of policy actors learn how best to play the political game to achieve their policy objectives. Many such communities exist within the school choice movement.

375). Minnesota’s advocacy coalitions have repeatedly squared off during the past decade over issues of school reform. in reality significant differences exist. Fusarelli (2003) found that interest groups coalesced into well-defined advocacy coalitions supporting and opposing vouchers. 28).] and lots of those groups don’t trust one another very much. given the enormous expenditure such plans would require. 29). Some groups support vouchers for everyone. The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA).11. a leader of an advocacy coalition stated. highly controversial issues such as vouchers or student reassignment that polarize the electorate tend to bring highly organized advocacy coalitions to the forefront of political battles. The existence and impact of advocacy coalitions are more prominent on some issues than others. education. For example. and favor reimbursing parents who already send their children to private or parochial school—a wholly unrealistic policy. The wide variety of choice plans that have been proposed in state legislatures throughout the country indicates the diverse interests and objectives of voucher supporters. willing to make political trade-offs to get a small-scale voucher plan targeted at poor families and their children through the legislature. Feir found that a coalition of business leaders. provided opportunities for new actors to set the agenda” (p. and by the impact of multiple changes in a turbulent external environment. 377) Mazzoni concludes that Sabatier’s advocacy coalition model is a useful approach to understanding policy change in education and that it “appears to fit significant developments within Minnesota’s education policy system” (p. while on less controversial issues the prominence and visibility of such coalitions are less obvious. 1995. lost considerable power in the 1980s and 1990s when it opposed two popular Republican governors—Richard Thornburgh and Tom Ridge—leading to “a long period of isolation from the administration’s policy discussions” (Feir. According to Mazzoni. All these groups that are in my RT61112_C011. political. etc. (p. Extending his research on school choice into Pennsylvania and Ohio. However. POLITICS OF INTEREST 207 ernment. superintendents.indd 207 3/26/2008 5:21:16 PM . Fusarelli observed that although advocacy coalitions supporting school choice are usually portrayed as being highly unified. while traditional education interest groups played minor roles in the reforms of the 1980s. Fusarelli (2003) also found that cohesive advocacy coalitions are not as easy to maintain as early theorists predicted. media. in his research on political battles over charter schools and vouchers in Texas. Some provoucher groups are strongly ideological and have an “all or nothing” attitude. He notes that “the expansion of the conflict over education reform to include business. and chief state school officers were actively engaged in educational reform. teachers. business. you have a coalition of 25 diverse organizations [school boards. regardless of income. the wide bipartisan support for charter schools did not produce well-defined advocacy coalitions since the issue was much less controversial. governors. p. Acknowledging the difficulty of keeping unity among a coalition of organizations with diverse interests. with their struggle appearing to have been spawned by a fundamental cleavage over core beliefs. by stable structural features of the institutional setting. For example. and media leaders. and civic actors—and led by elected officials— this coalition became a potent force in setting forth a restructuring agenda and in influencing the policy system to adopt public school choice as the central element in that agenda” (p. Other groups and individuals are more pragmatic. the state’s largest teacher’s union and traditionally the most influential lobbying organization in the state. even among groups supporting vouchers. 377). The findings of Mazzoni’s research are consistent with Feir’s (1995) analysis of education policy making in Pennsylvania. foundation. coupled with the substantial neutralization of education interest groups. parent.

and administrator groups (the traditional Education Establishment) often disagreed vehemently on key education policies. AND FUSARELLI coalition never worked together. (p. school board associations. key issues during the 1980s and 1990s have brought these groups into a more collaborative. advocacy coalitions fracture. disagreements and differences among school choice coalitions are common throughout the fifty states.indd 208 3/26/2008 5:21:16 PM . Diverging from some previous research on advocacy coalitions in other policy areas such as water politics. ‘Congratulations.). nearly all members of the major antivoucher advocacy coalition. we would like to suggest that the next wave of research and scholarship in this area should focus not on interest groups or advocacy coalitions per se. Adding to this complexity of studying advocacy coalitions in education is that in many advocacy coalitions. a key committee staff member in the Texas Senate noted that the “public school lobby—a lot of those people don’t normally agree about anything. communications policy. we have analyzed the evolution of interest groups and their important impact on the politics of education. YOUNG. Kingdon (1995) argues that changes in the composition of actors in policy subsystems. For example. 28). student reassignment. Finally. “The best lobbying is coalition lobbying where you agree to form alliances on issues that you can agree on and then you agree to disagree” (p. 1999. The researchers quote a lobbyist in Pennsylvania who trenchantly observed. You have managed to unite the entire school lobby which no one has ever been able to do’” (p. 86). supported charter schools. 84) Echoing this viewpoint. or airline deregulation (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith. cohesive. in Texas. in the case of more popular issues with wide bipartisan support. during the 1970s. relationships among key interest groups change over time. in education politics advocacy coalitions tend to be much more prevalent. outcomes-based education. teacher dismissal policies and certification requirements. for example. Voucher coalitions are diverse and often fragile—a finding that contradicts a major premise of advocacy coalition theory. depending on their constituencies. 1999).208 OPFER. For example. p. 1988. I think it’s the only one issue [opposition to vouchers] they could all agree on. but rather on the emerging importance of individual policy entrepreneurs and the politics of personalism. such as charter schools. However. making it more difficult to sustain them (Bulman & Kirp. 1999). Morken & Formicola. religiously inspired groups such as the TEACH Michigan Education Fund compete with free-market motivated coalitions led by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy over the preferred type of school choice (Morken & Formicola. FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTIONS In this chapter. significant disagreement and rivalries exist within coalitions. I remember telling Senator Bivins during the session. coalitional mode of operation “epitomized by the formation of a broad new coalition to protect and improve the state education funding levels” (Karper & Boyd. In Michigan. However. However. Karper and Boyd observed that education coalitions became common in state politics in the 1980s and 1990s as coalitions formed around issues of school funding. 1993). etc. Bulman and Kirp (1999) documented the deep divisions in the provoucher coalition in Milwaukee between market-oriented conservatives and equityoriented minorities as the battle for vouchers raged throughout the 1990s. RT61112_C011. and visible (and thus more easily identifiable) when they operate as oppositional coalitions—coalitions opposed to significant educational change (such as vouchers. 44). teachers’ unions. when teacher strikes and collective bargaining were contentious issues. and increased graduation requirements.

sensitive to marketing issues. Hess (2005.indd 209 3/26/2008 5:21:16 PM . personal qualities and personal relationships. candidates with enough money and charisma can virtually bypass the system entirely and capture a major party’s nomination (this is now common in gubernatorial races). Still others have argued that the activism undertaken by individuals with personal motivations is usually short-lived and results in shifting public attention to issues (Bellah.3 This change in strategy and tactics is similar to how political candidates for national office now operate. Policy entrepreneurs focus almost exclusively on single issues (be it vouchers. RT61112_C011. and the issues they passionately advocate are often intensely personal to them (Fusarelli. 2006). candidates for national office worked their way up through the system. & Fusarelli. small schools. A situation is thus created where these entrepreneurs are well known within the political and policy-making community. Wagstaff. 1972. diverse coalitions or organizations. Now. and exert their impact more effectively through this emerging politics of personalism. We suggest that while interest groups and advocacy coalitions will continue to be important in shaping educational politics and policy making. 42). Opfer. In fact. they avoid interorganizational conflict. and able to move with lightening speed and chutzpah” (p. Verba. Swidler. personal experience. 43). 1999. By utilizing the media. As Morken and Formicola observe. Schlozman.11. 409). scholars should give more careful attention and devote more research to policy entrepreneurs. Polly Williams in Wisconsin. paying their dues—from precinct captain to local or state office.) rather then broad agendas. Following this vein of research. These entrepreneurs also take positions on issues that the majority does not care about (Verba & Nie. often play a determinant role in opening up windows for policy entrepreneurs to initiate policy change. etc. curriculum reform. comes from outside the traditional educational policy-making subsystem (Reyes. my values. Sullivan. 738). forming broad-based coalitions with multiple members). and talk radio) to get their message across to a much wider audience then ever before. In the past. and other scholars have begun studying the emergence of individual policy entrepreneurs and their impact on politics and policy in education. particularly educational reform. 2004. 1999. student reassignment. This personalism can have serious implications for policy making and democracy in general. 2006). their future”). and Paul DeWeese in Michigan “raise significantly the probability of legislative consideration and approval of school choice as a policy innovation” (p. p. freewheeling. Policy entrepreneurs possessing enough fiscal resources have been able to utilize the mass media (TV. abstinence education. Mintrom (1997). and then working with the state and national party apparatus. Madsen. In his research on school choice. Anything else tends to strike [them] as ‘abstract’ and boring” (Culpit. Policy entrepreneurs such as these: “want if they can to bring everything down to persons. much policy change in education. policy entrepreneurs are often also able to get their message across without working through large. 1985). Lugg. Fiorina (1999) argues that it “increasingly has put politics into the hands of unrepresentative participators ñ extreme voices in the larger political debate” (p. 22). & Tipton. 2006. & Brady. Internet blogs. my money. 1995). Coupled with the often personal nature of education and its conflicting values (“my kids. Mintrom found that policy entrepreneurs such as Joe Nathan in Minnesota. Personal beliefs become the standard by which political actors influence policy makers and also judge the decisions made. policy entrepreneurs have begun to bypass the traditional timeconsuming routes of influence (such as joining groups. A tax credit initiative in Colorado and charter school legislation in California “both began as ballot initiatives and each was the brainchild of a businessman” (Morken & Formicola. 1999). “What is new in school choice is the arrival of entrepreneurs— activists who are independent. p. POLITICS OF INTEREST 209 coupled with changes in the external environment.

advocacy coalition models share elements of this approach. empirical. This review also demonstrated that organized groups and coalitions are difficult to study because of the diversity in their organization. As such. white papers and issue briefs as opposed to peer-reviewed journal articles). because educational studies tend to be smaller in scale (because we often attend to local and state level endeavors). Reports and analyses are specifically written with this target audience in mind. Though the politics of education literature related to interest groups and advocacy coalitions remains small. However. But it is important to note the dates for this work—all of this was going on yet submerged and unnoticed by politics of education. Much of the intellectual groundwork of advocacy coalition models rests upon traditional systems theory. In brief. we have a few prominent areas of advance that contribute to the broader study of interest groups. Traditional systems theory incorporates such processes into the analytical framework (see Easton. particularly those representing conservative interests. Think tanks. noted the range of progress and challenges in the theoretical. and influence of interest groups and coalitions and their respective interactions with other types of policy actors. and the lack of required vetting (i. and methodological approaches being used. government officials and agencies. this review suggests that despite progress. Consequently. their activities. and discussed ways in which the literature could be made more effective. enables these policy entrepreneurs to get their findings disseminated much more quickly and informally to a wide audience (including to influential policy makers).210 OPFER.indd 210 3/26/2008 5:21:16 PM . Undoubtedly. and policy entrepreneurs. we are able to gather more information about the political milieu and foster insider relationships with policy actors. This scope is further complicated by the intricate nature of political environments. 3. YOUNG. most notably. activity. and the impact of the Internet and blogs on education politics and reform. and their influence. we have more questions than answers about organized interests and advocacy coalitions in American education. CONCLUSION We have reviewed the state of the literature on interest groups and advocacy coalitions in educational politics. interest groups. developing a knowledge base sufficient in breadth and depth from an accumulation of studies specific to the study of educational politics is a challenging undertaking. systems theory is not really a testable or verifiable theory of policy change so much as a laundry list of factors affecting policy development and change. we believe that we will have to continue to draw heavily upon the broader field of political science for more comprehensive views. RT61112_C011. have been instrumental in their role as policy entrepreneurs in disseminating their research and ideas to a mass audience..e. particularly through the media. NOTES 1. This list of scholars is not intended to be inclusive of all the powerful work done by feminists in the policy sciences. and contemporary educational politics cannot be fully understood without substantive knowledge about the role of these groups and organizations. 2. AND FUSARELLI the politics of personalism. The field remains woefully undertilled. the attention to context and the interactions of coalitions. These small scale studies permit rich descriptions which facilitate theory building about the relationship between context and the role. As such. This review has clearly demonstrated that both interest groups and advocacy coalitions are key actors in the policy process. 1965).

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