Education is a passionate topic for many of the Persephone team. From the former and current teachers who write for us and comment to the Persephone parents to our American taxpayer readers, we’ve all got a stake in public education. There is no question that we need to work together as a nation to improve how we educate our children, but until we’re able to put the needs of our nation’s kids ahead of political agendas, we’re screwed.
This is an introduction to what I hope will be a long and interesting series of posts about the current state of the American education system. I’m hoping to pull in several writers, both from the awesome pool we already have, as well as outside experts and stakeholders. Mona has already written several great pieces, like this one on standardized testing or yesterday’s post on bilingual education, and we’ve realized we’re barely scratching the surface at a time when it’s critical for Americans to understand the real problems with the system, without having them filtered through someone who’s trying to get elected for something.
Today, one of the top education stories is exposing a potential cheating scandal in the D.C. public schools. Michelle Rhee, controversial education reform leader and chancellor of D.C. public schools when the infraction allegedly occurred, is under fire from many outlets. As with most education stories, this one is more complicated than it looks. To help all of us make more sense of what’s really happening in education and what we can all do to help make sure upcoming reforms to No Child Left Behind are actually beneficial to America’s kids, we’re going to be tackling the following topics:
- It’s Not the Teachers: Using data collected under NCLB to prove that teacher quality is not the primary cause for poor school performance. We’ll be looking at the interventions, programs, incentives and penalties faced by public school teachers when their schools met or didn’t meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Most of the programs mandated by NCLB were aimed at improving teacher quality, we’ll look at each of these programs and the data associated with them to show you the results unfiltered by a politician.
- The Long Term Cost of NCLB Sanctions: What happens after a state takes over a school or district? Schools which fail to meet AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) for more than a certain number of years are turned over to for-profit corporations. We’ll be examining the New Orleans public school system, which is the district which has been at least partially under government take-over the longest, and how the corporate run schools compare to the public schools still under district control. New Orleans’ schools were taken over after Katrina, which is a story in and of itself, well ahead of the timelines established in NCLB. Now many other districts, all across the country, are out of time as well, and many public schools are set to be taken away from local control and run by what amounts to a franchise.
- School Funding: How it works. Public school funding is, in the most basic terms, more complicated than a Gordian knot. We’ll break down how funding is acquired and distributed at the state and federal level.
- Testing Monopolies: How five companies made billions of dollars from NCLB. We’ll look at the companies who produce the standardized tests used in public schools, as well as the billions of dollars of supplemental tests and materials they forced schools to purchase by having the use of these particular products as a requirement of complying with NCLB.
- The Students Who Need Us the Most: Looking at student populations with special needs, non-native English speakers and students from high-poverty, low-resource areas.
As you can see, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. We’ll be hammering away at these topics for several weeks, and I’d love it if any of you would like to jump in and help us make this series as comprehensive as possible. If you’ve got any questions or other topics you’d like to see explored, let us know in the comments!