Embracing Complexity: The Diverse Efforts to Address Racial Inequity in One School District
Erica Turner

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Wisconsin-Madison

Primary Discipline

Educational Policy
After decades of school choice and testing policies, educators, activists, and scholars are turning to community engagement strategies to advance racial equity in schools. This puts a spotlight on the challenges and promise of diverse stakeholders working towards policy change. The proposed study examines how school and civic actors in Madison, Wisconsin make sense of racial inequity, envision new possibilities, and pursue interrelated efforts to advance policy change as they confront persistent racial inequity. Using new socio-cultural theories of policy, contemporary theories of race, and a comparative case study design, I examine race talk in policy deliberation across three issues–disparities in school discipline, access to advanced course-taking, and emergent bilinguals’ education–which engage different racialized groups and constellations of discourses, strategies, processes, and resources. The study furthers knowledge of how complex policy ecologies contribute to, complicate, or undermine equity in school district policymaking; enriches our conceptualization of education problems and aims, equity, and policy strategies; and provides new theoretical understandings of policy as a racialized, socio-cultural phenomenon. In examining Madison, a best-case situation of diverse citizen involvement, this study points to the possibilities for more democratic, effective and just policy, a necessity in our increasingly racially diverse country.
About Erica Turner
Erica O. Turner is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A scholar of education policy, her research examines how diverse groups—from school district leaders to students to community members—make sense of and negotiate education problems, policies, and equity in the shifting organizational, social, political, and economic contexts of urban school districts. She uses socio-cultural, political, and race-critical theories and qualitative methods to illuminate local governance of public schools as a site of contestation and possibility for educational equity. Her research is published in journals such as the American Educational Research Journal, Teachers College Record, and Urban Education. Her work has been sponsored by the University of Wisconsin, the Spencer Foundation, the State Farm Companies Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Dr. Turner is an Anna Julia Cooper Fellow and an ELL Policy Fellow. She was a middle school teacher before earning her PhD at the University of California, Berkeley.

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