Miller Center

Jesse Rhodes

Political Science, University of Virginia

Making the Educational State: The Transformation of Educational Governance in the U.S. from a Nation at Risk to No Child Left Behind

Rhodes photo

Jesse Rhodes is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Rhodes's major areas of scholarly interest are social policy (especially education policy), political parties, and the American presidency. His book, An Education in Politics: The Origins and Evolution of No Child Left Behind, has been published by Cornell University Press. With support from the Spencer Foundation, he is also analyzing the effects of education standards, testing, and accountability policies on citizenship; and with a Faculty Research Grant, I am investigating patterns of presidential partisan rhetoric. His research on political parties includes a longterm project, with Sidney Milkis, on the developing relationship between the presidency and the political parties during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama; and a multi-article study, with Shamira Gelbman, of the factors that inhibit or permit parties to embrace new positions on racial issues. 

Rhodes' dissertation blended historical and quantitative methods to model the development of new governing arrangements in education at the state and federal levels from the late 1970s to the present. As it showed, a national reform coalition composed of business elites, governors, and conservative intellectuals set a new agenda for education policy stressing high standards and accountability for results, profoundly shaping the trajectory of state educational policymaking during the 1980s and 1990s. However, the structure of opportunities and constraints provided by a diverse federal polity mediated the diffusion of the new educational agenda, helped create feedback loops that led to the reformulation of educational agendas and the refocusing of reformers on national government involvement, influenced the formation of new educational coalitions and organizations, and provided platforms and prestige for strategically placed individuals and groups to shape both state and national education debates. This policy feedback fed the increasing nationalization of educational governance, culminating in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), that has characterized the past two decades. However, states' commitment to the reform agenda have continued to be mediated by their unique political and racial environments, producing a patchwork of reform that belies NCLB's nationalizing pretensions.

Fellowship year: 2008

Mentor: Cathie Martin, Boston University

Selected Recent Publications

"Financial Capacity, Ideology, and Political Donors in an Era of Deregulation." with Brian F Schaffner, Raymond J La Raja. (2016)

"Learning citizenship? How state education reforms affect parents’ political attitudes and behavior." Political Behavior 37, no. 1 (March 1, 2015): 181-220.

"The transformation of partisan rhetoric in American presidential campaigns, 1952–2012." with Zachary Albert. Party Politics (October 19, 2015)

An Education in Politics: The Origin and Development of No Child Left Behind (Cornell University Press, 2012).

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