Publications & Resources

Practical Deliberation in Local School Districts: A South Carolina Experiment

May 2000

Lorraine M. McDonnell and M. Stephen Weatherford

Despite its growing prominence as a political reform strategy, it is still unclear whether deliberation, with its emphasis on an inclusive process where citizens and politicians listen to each other and are open to persuasion, is a feasible strategy for engaging citizens in public education. This paper explores the feasibility of practical deliberation using a comparative case study of a deliberative experiment in South Carolina. Reconnecting Schools was intentionally designed to be deliberative and represents a good test of whether a diverse group of citizens can come together to discuss what kind of community and schools they want, formulate a plan for furthering those goals, and then take action. Although it is too soon to make a final assessment because the process is not yet complete, the Reconnecting experience suggests that deliberative forums can be more inclusive than conventional venues for citizen participation in education politics, and that diverse participants can discuss controversial issues in an open and civil fashion. However, the enduring challenge of bringing the disenfranchised to the table and sustaining effective participation over the long term remains. Nevertheless, the Reconnecting experiment represents a promising strategy for engaging a broad segment of the community in the work of educating children.

McDonnell, L. M., & Weatherford, M. S. (2000). Practical deliberation in local school districts: A South Carolina experiment (CSE Report 520). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).