Running from Radicalism: Washington's D.C.'s Public Schools, 1973-1975

Cohen, Benjamin, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Harold, Claudrena, Department of History, University of Virginia

Barbara Sizemore’s tenure as the superintendent of the Washington, D.C. public schools from 1973-75 is the story of an epic clash between her vision of progressive educational reform and the D.C. Board of Education’s (DCBOE) pro-growth framework. Hired by the DCBOE in 1973 after years of radical experimentation in Chicago’s school system, Sizemore planned to radically alter D.C.’s public schools by emphasizing community control and decentralization, multicultural and multilingual education, and by rethinking assessments and school organization. The Sizemore-DCBOE battle climaxed with a months-long conflict over the D.C. Youth Orchestra Program (DCYOP) in 1974, in which the DCBOE successfully contracted out public services to the private sector. In doing so, the DCBOE practiced “black regime politics.” This phrase, coined by Adolph Reed, Jr. and Clarence Stone, describes informal alliances brokered between public bodies—oftentimes post-Civil Rights Movement urban African American politicians—and private interests to generate public policy. Black regimes seek corporate investment in exchange for managing urban conflict. Usually, such governance comes at the expense of progressive redistributive policies. Compromised by her bitter defeat in the DCYOP controversy, Sizemore waged an ideological (and sometimes personal) war against the DCBOE in the pages of the Washington Post, in public board meetings, and in speeches to local organizations. Eventually this conflict led to her firing.

MA (Master of Arts)
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: