This study illustrates the overall dynamics of public policy, issue evolution, and agenda setting, applying that research to a case study of the 1996 Ebonies controversy in Oakland, California. After proposing research questions and hypotheses, reasoning for the issue's development, the results and drawbacks of the research are presented in detail. How and why do small local issue become nationally recognized? This study outlines the determinants of issue development by primarily focusing on the influences of political participants and their resources. An extensive examination is dedicated to the importance of the media as a political tool that influences on policies. The media, as both an actor and resource in policy conflicts, affects agendas and policy outcomes by determining a policy's image, venue for debate, and salience. Effectively, these elements of an issue evolution reflect the degree of the participant's influence in the debate. The Ebonies controversy was an important policy debate in recent history. The extreme nature of this urban African American education controversy provides an excellent illustration of conflict theories, the necessity for issue management skills, and most importantly usage of the media as a tool for transmitting information and opinions. The results of the study found that the Oakland subsystem fought in an intergovernmental battle that was inherently biased against it. The opposition's extensive manipulation of the policy's goals created an overwhelmingly negative issue image that could not be rectified. The Ebonies resolution had such a powerful opposition, that its chances for success were infinitely small. Although its consequences on California's system of education cannot be conclusively measure, it is safe to say that the mass public still does not accurately understand the original policy goals even today. At some point during the fall of 2000, I was having lunch with some of my friends in northeast New Jersey and we started jokirig about Ebonies. One of my middleclass white friends, Jonah Eisenstark, was trying to convince us that he learned how to speak Ebonies from often going into Manhattan. Obviously we all shared a good laugh at his expense. Another friend of mine, Dave, made reference to the Ebonies controversy in Oakland, California a few years prior and stood on his soapbox preaching about how teaching Ebonies in schools was the dumbest idea. I didn't really know much about the case at the time, but it captured my curiosity. A few months later, I went onto the Internet and looked up the relevant information to the debate. First I read the Oakland School Board's resolution that acknowledged Ebonies as a language and then I read some scholarly articles. All of a sudden, I noticed that my search had more than one thousand results. As I read more and more articles, both public and private, I realized that my friends had no idea what they were talking about. The 1996 Ebonies controversy was heard all around the United States. When the media reported on the subject, they referred to "bilingual education." Talk shows hosted debates over whether Ebonies was meant in the classroom - specifically, teaching Ebonies in schools. The conversations of the mass public focused around the fact that a school district had decided to teach Ebonies in the classroom. Frequently heard phrases contained the words "slang," "lazy English," "African American Vernacular English," and "Standard English." The point is, that Dave's argument was unsubstantiated, based on misconceived notions about the case. The goals of the program were not to teach Ebonies, but to treat it in the same way as one would treat Italian or Spanish. The school board's intentions were to create a English class that recognized the differences between the two languages to help students learn English more effectively. If a student said or wrote something in Ebonies, the teacher would correct him or her by explaining how the phrase would be constructed in Standard English. During the winter of2001, I had more important questions than why should we start teaching Ebonies classes. If the school board's public resolution was intended to affect their district, creating programs in their school system, how did Oakland's case suddenly make its way to the east coast through the national media? This seemed to be out of the ordinary. So what makes small, local issues such as this become large national controversies? There was some set of reasons that made Ebonies stand out from other issues and attract a conglomerate of national media puryeyors. Furthermore, why was it that everyone I asked about the issue responded in the same way? There is a very definite reason why the general public still misunderstands the events that transpired. What or who caused this massive public misconception? The following thesis will study the relationship between three major variables that influenced the eventual demise of the Ebonies resolution in 1996. The first conclusion that one may make about the case is that because the debate was in the national media, the participants could not have solely come from the local level. Every debate has two sides, so the first two variables are the advocates and opposition for the Oakland policy. First, one must examine how the local advocates lost a battle for their own policy that had already been adopted. One cannot simply say that the opposition acted effectively because that means that the advocates did not. The third variable that influenced the eventual failure to implement the policy is the media. If the public still does not understand the true nature of the debate today, than the media obviously did not portray it accurately. What factors allowed this to happen? The negative opinions towards the policy inherently aided t' he opposition's goals. What role, if any did that opposition play in misconstruing the facts? This is a case about public policy More specifically, about an issue evolution that traveled across all three governmental levels. These two general subjects will constitute the major portion of this thesis. The point of this overall examination is to critically review scholarly research and political theory with the purpose of applying it to the Ebonies case in order to fully understand what transpired. Chapter 1 is a critical review of relevant literature to the study of public policy. The chapter begins by explaining what constitutes an issue and where it comes from. Next, issue evolutions can be interpreted as a constant battle that begins to achieve recognition and status on the political agenda. A successful achievement of that status is not easily granted considering that every battle has two opposing sides. Therefore, the next portion that deals with Types of Agendas and Agenda Setting outlines both methods for successful agenda recognition and the various barriers preventing entry. After agenda status has been achieved, the next extension of the battle fights for policy success. For this, the examination outlines important governmental actors with extensive influence on both agenda setting and policy outcomes. These include the President and his appointees on the national level, paralleled by the Governor and his administration on the state level, Congress and the state assembly, and different types of interest groups that lobby the former decision-makers in the interests of their own agendas. Each of the different actors and groups will be explained within the context of their levels of influence and available resources. The next type of actor truly deserves its own category: the media. The media's role in agenda setting and policy results will focus on the general nature of the media as a provider of information, how political actors can utilize the media advantageously, and the resultant effects on agenda and policy success. Subsystems and coalitions explain alliances between multiple actors and groups, increasing the overall resource base to affect change. This discussion mainly follows the Advocacy Coalition Framework discussed by Paul A. Sabatier and Hank C. Jeilkins Smith. Policy analysis explains how government and subsystems construct venues and rules for appropriate debates. Chapter 2 is the theory and hypotheses chapter. The first portion of the chapter outlines three underlying concepts from the literature review: issue image, venue, and influential jurisdiction. An analytical discussion about issue management in terms of these concepts and in the context of the literature will prepare the reader for a fuller understanding of the case predictions. Hypotheses predicting the factors causing the overall public destruction of the Ebonies debate utilize the former concepts in terms of proposing relationships between the variables in the case. Abstract conflict theory will then allow the reader to conceptualize the case as it is unfolded. Issue management concepts are interwoven within the theory that discusses the nature ofchanging conflicts, controlling conflict, socialization and privatization, and shifting lines of cleavage. The reader is now preparedto understand the debate. Chapter 3 outlines the method through which to conceptualize the debate and all of its elements. Three independent variables affect the dependent outcome of the controversy: the advocates, opposition, and the media. As an intervening variable between the IV and DV, policy image is a tool that all three IV can utilize to their advantage or disadvantage. Chapter 4 analyzes the case as it evolved from a local policy to a national disaster. It reveals the participants of each opposing side and their corresponding resources. Most importantly, the analysis critically analyzes the crucial role that the media played in shaping the nature ofboth the policy image and the overall controversy. After investigating all the available details of the story, the chapter unmasks the results of the examination. The results show how each opposing side attempted to use its resources the control the three key elements of issue management. Furthermore, in the context of conflict theory, one can have an understanding the reasons for how and why the issue transformed into such a public misunderstanding. After detailing whether or not the results supported the proposed hypotheses, the final portion determines the status of the resolution and its effect on today. The final chapter illustrates the possible shortcomings of the examination and their level of importance to the results. In concluding this thesis, my discussion will explain the importance of the work to public policy research and in general, political sctence.


Lewis, Arnold


Urban Studies

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis

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© Copyright 2002 Andrew G. Bonito