Sarah Reckhow

Michigan State University
Political Science

368 Farm Lane, S303
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI
48824 |  Visit Personal Website

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My research interests include urban politics, education policy, policy reform, and racial and ethnic politics. I apply social network analysis to study coalitions in urban policy-making. I have studied education reform development and implementation in New York City, Los Angeles, and Oakland, and I am currently working on a study of education reform in Detroit. My Oxford University Press book, Follow the Money: How Foundation Dollars Change Public School Politics, covers the role of major foundations, such as the Gates Foundation, in urban school reform.

Snyder, Jeffrey and Sarah Reckhow. Forthcoming. “Political Determinants of Philanthropic Funding for Urban Schools.” Journal of Urban Affairs.
Abstract: K-12 education philanthropy has grown rapidly since 2000, with major funders like the Gates and Walton foundations expanding their grant portfolios. We examine whether and to what degree place-based characteristics help explain funding for local school districts. Using an original database of grants from the 15 largest K-12 education foundations to the largest school districts in 2000, 2005, and 2010, we present three main findings. First, the set of districts receiving the most funds varies over time. Second, foundations tended to give to sites with capacity for reform in 2000; yet by 2010, funders increasingly targeted places embracing philanthropic priorities, including charter schools and Teach for America. Finally, major foundations increasingly gave grants to same districts as other major funders—producing a convergent pattern of funding. These rapid and dramatic changes introduce questions about how foundations and districts interact and whether these funds will produce sustained reforms.
Reckhow, Sarah, Jeffrey R. Henig, Rebecca Jacobsen, and Jamie Alter Litt. Forthcoming. “‘Outsiders with Deep Pockets:’ The Nationalization of Local School Board Elections.” Urban Affairs Review.
Abstract: Recent election cycles have seen growing attention to the role of “outside” money in urban school board elections. Using an original data set of more than 16,000 contributions covering election cycles from 2008 to 2013 in four school districts (Los Angeles, CA; New Orleans, LA; Denver, CO; Bridgeport, CT), we show how large national donors play a significant role. Our study links two dynamic fields that are rarely studied together: (1) the behavior of wealthy donors in a changing national campaign finance system and (2) the evolving politics of urban education. By examining donor networks, we illuminate the mechanisms behind the nationalization of education politics and national donor involvement in local campaigns. We show that shared affiliations through education organizations are significantly associated with school board campaign contributions.
Lester, T. William and Sarah Reckhow. 2013. "Network Governance and Regional Equity: Shared Agendas or Problematic Partners?" Planning Theory 12 (2):115-138.
Abstract: Over the past decade, scholars from various fields have argued that the salience of the metropolitan region as a scale of real economic interaction and public intervention has increased significantly. Simultaneously, many scholars have identified a shift in governing processes away from formal bureaucratic forms toward “network governance.” This article joins these fields by (1) evaluating the challenges and opportunities posed by network governance systems in a range of policy venues from the local to the global level, and (2) applying these insights to the problem of economic inequality within metropolitan regions and the multiple efforts to address it. Although we are sympathetic with the goals of regional equity and the participatory promise of network governance, our objective is to paint a realistic picture of the limits to joining these agendas. We conclude that, for equity issues, public deliberation does not take place around one fixed “table”—limiting the usefulness of much of the governance literature. Instead, public deliberation around social equity occurs in an evolutionary manner as members of progressive networks engage networks of business and pro-growth interests in a series of skirmishes throughout a region and over time. More often than not, these exchanges occur at “real scales” such as city-council chambers or state legislatures, and involve traditional forms of political action rather than “network governance” per se.
DOI: 10.1177/1473095212455189
Reckhow, Sarah, Matt Grossmann, and Benjamin C. Evans. 2015. "Policy Cues and Ideology in Attitudes toward Charter Schools." Policy Studies Journal 43 (2):207-227.
Abstract: Charter schools have generated support from politicians in both major American political parties while stimulating intense debate among interest groups. We investigate whether and how public attitudes reflect interest group polarization or politician consensus. Using an original survey, we find that charter school opinions diverge along ideological lines among high-information respondents. With embedded experiments, we manipulate respondents' information using policy cues tied to opposing sides of the charter debate: We assess whether the role of private companies and nonunion teachers changes support for charter schools. We find that the public responds favorably to some informational cues; conservatives without prior information are especially persuaded by information about nonunion teachers. This explains how polarized opinion can develop even in the absence of strong partisan sorting among top political leaders and clarifies the partisan and ideological context of ongoing education policy debates.
Reckhow, Sarah and Jeffrey Snyder. 2014. "The Expanding Role of Philanthropy in Education Politics." Educational Researcher 43 (4):186-195.
Abstract: Philanthropic involvement in education politics has become bolder and more visible. Have foundations changed funding strategies to enhance their political influence? Using data from 2000, 2005, and 2010, we investigate giving patterns among the 15 largest education foundations. Our analyses show growing support for national-level advocacy organizations. Furthermore, we find that foundations increasingly fund organizations that operate as “jurisdictional challengers” by competing with traditional public sector institutions. We apply social network analysis to demonstrate the growing prevalence of convergent grant-making—multiple foundations supporting the same organizations. These results suggest that a sector once criticized for not leveraging its investments now increasingly seeks to maximize its impact by supporting alternative providers, investing concurrently, and supporting grantees to engage in policy debates.
Reckhow, Sarah. 2009. "The Distict Patterns of Organized and Elected Representation of Racial and Ethnic Groups." Urban Affairs Review 45 (2):188-217.
Abstract: Studies of minority political incorporation have demonstrated that advocacy organizations are critical for advancing minority electoral success and policy change. Drawing on an original data set of 30 midsized U.S. cities, the author evaluates the extent of organized representation of racial and ethnic groups and the effect of organized representation on elected representation. Latinos and Asian-Americans both have greater numbers of local advocacy organizations as the groups’ proportion of the population increases. Yet many cities with sizable African-American populations have a lower density of advocacy organizations than cities with fewer African-Americans. A smaller field of organizations increases elected representation for African-Americans but not for Latinos.
DOI: 10.1177/1078087409331933
Ansell, Chris, Sarah Reckhow, and Andrew Kelly. 2009. "How to Reform a Reform Coalition: Outreach, Agenda Expansion, and Brokerage in Urban School Reform." Policy Studies Journal 37 (4): 717-743.
Abstract: Coalitions have always played an advocacy role in policymaking, but they are increasingly regarded as a form of community capacity that can be harnessed to civic ends. As explored in this study of urban school reform in Oakland, California, this civic view of coalitions confronts a tension between the cohesiveness and the inclusiveness of coalitions. Coalitions unified around cohesive goals and beliefs are often narrowly based, which can encourage the formation of rival coalitions. By contrast, reform coalitions that build broad-based support across the community may have difficulty developing coherent reform strategies. Using a social network analysis of key stakeholders to analyze the challenges of building civic capacity in Oakland, we find that the school district's recent reform experience more closely resembles an advocacy coalition than a broad civic coalition. The article then explores strategies for developing a broad civic coalition by expanding the existing advocacy coalition. We use the network analysis to identify opportunities for brokerage across individuals, institutions, and issues.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1541-0072.2009.00332.x
Reckhow, Sarah. 2013. Follow the Money: How Foundation Dollars Change Public School Politics. New York: Oxford University Press.
Abstract: Some of the nation's wealthiest philanthropic organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Broad Foundation, have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in education reform. With vast wealth and a political agenda, these foundations have helped to reshape the reform landscape in urban education. In Follow the Money, Sarah Reckhow shows where and how foundation investment in education is occurring and provides a penetrating analysis of the effects of these investments in the two largest urban districts in the United States: New York City and Los Angeles.

Substantive Focus:
Education Policy PRIMARY
Social Policy
Urban Public Policy SECONDARY

Theoretical Focus: