THE ZONE D’ÉDUCATION PRIORITAIRE: Why French Legislators Revived a 1981 Public Education Program in the Wake of Mass Youth Riots
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This paper is public policy analysis that looks into the design and history of the French Zone d’Éducation Prioritaire (ZEP) program in order to understand why policymakers revived the program in the wake of 2006 mass youth riots. The ZEP policy espoused principles of positive discrimination, or affirmative action, in French primary and secondary schools. First enacted under socialist president François Mitterand, the ZEP policy changed both the nature and purpose of French education. Previously, France’s education system had been one for the elite, its policies designed to provide academic studies to a few and vocational training to the rest. In the early 1980s, however, Mitterand’s government implemented a policy known as the Zone d’Education Prioritaire policy, thereby providing extra funding, resources, and specific services to students in low-income areas. A program that exists to this day, the ZEP policy created a form of positive discrimination that politicians hoped would lead to greater equity among French students in secondary schools and beyond. My paper examines why and how policymakers have maintained this hope, relying on ZEPs as a reform to improve conditions in suburban public housing projects among students of low-income and often minority status in the twenty-first century.