Public Schools & Public Policy

PSLC 240/Edst 245

T/Th 11:35-12:50, HLH17 115

The purpose of this lecture is to consider some of the ways in which educational researchers and policy makers have identified, examined, and sought to address the goals and challenges of preK-12 public education in the United States.

This course is divided into three sections. The first section considers the goals and the range of what is possible in public education and surveys some central aspects of the landscape: accountability, desegregation and school diversity and rural schools. The second section examines a key debate on school choice and the impact of charter schools, at a time when both the NAACP and Black Lives Matter have called for a moratorium on charter expansion. The third section examines who becomes teachers and how they are trained, focusing in particular on the debate around Teach for America and alternative certification programs. The course is designed to encourage a wide range of viewpoints on these topics, and the course readings come from a variety of disciplines including political science, public policy, sociology, anthropology, education and media reports.

Students are encouraged to read outside of the syllabus, bring ideas and questions to class, and explore further topics in independent projects. The course assumes some prior knowledge of the American education system. Education Studies 110 is strongly recommended. Students who have not taken Edstudies 110 are recommended to read its core texts, Dana Goldstein’s Teacher Wars and Linda Darling-Hammond’s The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future prior to the start of the semester.

Key questions

1) How can education policy be designed to create education innovation?

2) How do preK-12 systems of schooling limit inequality?

3) How do preK-12 systems of schooling exacerbate inequality?

4) What are policy correctives to correct inequality?

Check below for updates throughout the semester, marked in red.

These readings are a starting point for our conversation, but they are by no means comprehensive! Please read outside of the syllabus and share your articles and thoughts in class and on our Facebook group.

Part I: An Overview of the K-12 American Educational Landscape

Week 1

Tu. Jan 17 Introduction: An optimal learning experience

Complete student survey: 

Th. Jan 19 What is the purpose of public education? What is the purpose of education policy?

Labaree, David F. 1997. “Public Goods, Private Goods: The American Struggle over Educational Goals.” American Educational Research Journal 34(1):39-81.

Hirsch, ED. 1987. Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. New York: Vintage. Ch 1.

Excerpts from:

  • Dewey, John. 1916. On Democracy.
  • Durkheim, Emile. 1925. Education and Society
  • Fichte, Johann Gottleib. 1808. Address to a German Nation.
  • Duncan, Arne. 2015. “Remarks of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to the Congressional Caucus Hispanic Institute.”

Week 2 The Purpose of Education: Alternative Critiques

Tu. Jan 24 What is the purpose of public education (contd.)? What are alternative approaches to traditional education? Who pursues them, can access them?

Go inside a series of alternative pedagogies through the following film excerpts of alternative pedagogical practitioners in their own words.

  1. Khan, Sal. 2011. “Let’s use video to reinvent education.” TED talk. 20 mins.
  2. Progressive Education: Valens, Amy and Tom Valens. 2012. “A Year at Mission Hill.” Watch Ch. 1-2, 20 mins,
  3. Molomot, Lisa. 2015. “School’s Out: Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten.” 6 mins
  4. Montessori: Kay, Vina and Jan Selby. 2016. “Building the Pink Tower.” 6 minutes.
  5. Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship. 2013 “What is a Steiner School” 19 mins.
  6. Mauser-Carter, Lillian, 2011. “Learn Free, an Unschooling documentary” 14 mins,
  7. Homeschooling: Stuart, Jeremy. 2012. “Class Dismissed.” 2 mins. Trailer.
  8. Reggio Emilia: St. Michael’s University School. 2013. “Joyful Learning, the Reggio approach to learning.” 5 mins.

Th. 1.26 Is public education in crisis? If so, what is wrong with it, and how can it be fixed? Who  should be involved in fixing it?

Russakoff, Dale. 2015. The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Personal Reflection due Friday. 1.27 by 12 midnight to CANVAS

Week 3 Progressivism’s Antithesis: Standards & Accountability

Tu. 1.31 Historical context: Policy cycles & Administrative Progressivism

How does education policy believe in progress yet move in cycles? How have schools changed reforms? What types of policies have been most effective? Least effective?

Tyack, David B and Larry Cuban. 1995. Tinkering toward Utopia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Th. 2.2 Standards & Accountability, NCLB, Race to the Top, ESSA, Common Core

How did accountability become the dominant movement in education reform? What have been critical expansions and their results? Why is the common core so controversial?

Ravitch, Diane. 2011. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education: Basic Books. Ch 6 pp. 93-112, Ch 8 pp. 149-168.

Gewertz, Catherine. 2015. “The Common Core Explained.” Education Week, September 28.

Long, Cindy. 2013. “Six Ways the Common Core is Good for Students.” NEA Today, May 13. Retrieved from (comments are worth reading.)

Strauss, Valerie. 2014. “Everything you need to know about Common Core — Ravitch.” Washington Post, January 11. Retrieved December 21, 2016 (

Week 4 Accountability from the ground up: grassroots policy actors

Tu. 2.7 Understanding Common Core & Testing today

What do assessments look like in school districts today? How do teachers respond to these policies?

Au, Wayne. 2010. Unequal by Design: High-Stakes Testing and the Standardization of Inequality. Ch 1: 1-6, Ch 2: 19-25; 34-50, Ch 4: 86-103. London: Routledge.

 Booher-Jennings, Jennifer. 2005. “Below the Bubble: “Educational Triage” and the Texas Accountability System.” American Educational Research Journal 42(2):231-68.

Maloney, Patricia. 2016. “Teachers who Cheat.”

Kraemer, Jackie. 2016. “Statistic of the Month: When High-Performing Countries Test Students.” Center on International Benchmarking.

Th. 2.9 Supporting and Opting Out of Testing

Why do civil rights groups strongly support annual testing? Why are some parents and educators organizing against testing? What is the influence of grassroots actors in making policy change?

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. 2015. “27 Civil Rights Groups and Education Advocates Release Principles for ESEA Reauthorization: “The Federal Role Must Be Honored and Maintained””.

Tucker, Mark. 2016. “Annual Accountability Testing: Time for the Civil Rights Community to Reconsider.” Ed Week. 

Strauss, Valerie. 2016. “The Testing Opt-Out Movement is Growing Despite Government Efforts to Kill It.” Washington Post, January 31

Croft, Michelle. 2015. “Opt Outs: What is lost when students do not test.” ACT Issue Brief. 2015. 

Inside Opt Out, Ed Week 2015. Use my login information:, password: debsedweekpassword

Check out several Opting Out websites.


Change the Stakes.

Week 5 All Together Now: The case for racial and socioeconomic integration

Tues. 2.14

Hannah-Jones, Nicole. 2016 “Choosing a school for my daughter in a segregated city.”

Kahlenberg, Richard. 2001. All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools through Public School Choice. Ch 1, Pp. 1-11. New York: Brookings Institution Press.

Optional * Minow, M. 2010. In Brown’s wake: Legacies of America’s educational landmark. New York: Oxford University Press. Ch. 1: What Brown Awakened, pp. 5-32.

Thurs. 2.16 Remedies for creating diverse schools

Potter, Halley, Kimberly Quick and Elizabeth Davies. 2016. “A New Wave of School Integration.” New York: The Century Foundation.

Wells, Amy Stuart, Lauren Fox and Diana Cordova-Cobo. 2016. “How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms Can Benefit All Students.” New York: The Century Foundation.

Opting-Out Policy Brief due Friday 2.17 to Canvas by 12 midnight

Week 6 Rural Education, Indigenous Education

Tues 2.21 What are unique policy concerns for rural schools?  How does the history of indigenous education influence policy concerns today?

Tieken, Mara. Why Rural Schools Matter. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press. Ch1 & 4, pp. 1-9, 48-84.

 Brayboy, B. M. J. (2014). Culture, Place, and Power: Engaging the Histories and Possibilities of American Indian Education. History of Education Quarterly, 54(3), 395-402.

Brayboy, B. M. J., & Castagno, A. E. (2009). Self‐determination through self‐education: Culturally responsive schooling for Indigenous students in the USA. Teaching Education, 20(1), 31-53.

Thurs. 2.23              Course Midterm


Part II: School Choice and Charter Schools

Week 7

Tu. 2.28 Promise of choice: Magnets, Vouchers & Charter Schools

What groups have supported school choice and why? What are the critical policy differences between magnets, charters and vouchers?

Orfield, Gary. 2013. Ch 1, pp. 3-45 (Ch 2 optional *) in Educational Delusions? How Choice Can Deepen Inequality and How to Make Schools Fair, edited by G. Orfield and E. Frankenberg. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Bielenberg, Brian. 2000. “Charter Schools for American Indians.” From Chapter 11 (pp. 132-151) of Learn in Beauty: Indigenous Education for a New Century edited by Jon Reyhner, Joseph Martin, Louise Lockard, and W. Sakiestewa Gilbert. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University.

Fuller, Howard. 2004. “The Struggle Continues.” Education Next 4(4).

Assign CMO project & groups

Th. 3.2 Competing Charter Narratives
How have has the charter sector evolved over time? How diverse is the charter sector? Are charter schools public schools?

Whitmire, Richard. 2016. The Founders: Inside the revolution to invent (and reinvent) America’s best charter schools. 74 Media Inc. Ch. 1-16 (1-229) (It’s a quick read.)

Fabricant, Michael and Michelle Fine. 2012. Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education: What’s at Stake? New York: Teacher’s College Press. Ch 1-3, pp. 1-60.

Finn Jr, Chester E, Bruno V Manno and Gregg Vanourek. 2001. “Epilogue” from Charter Schools in Action: Renewing Public Education. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 265-268.

Bring laptop for class data exercise: CMO demographics compared to district using ELSI data, turn in CANVAS by Friday 3.3 12 midnight

Week 8

Tu. 3.7 Charter Enrollments

How “Public” Are Charter Enrollments? How does state regulation impact the quality of  charter schools?

Wilson, Terri S and Robert L Carlsen. 2016. “School Marketing as a Sorting Mechanism: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Charter School Websites.” Peabody Journal of Education 91(1):24-46.

Welner, Kevin G. 2013, “The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment” Teachers College Record (online).

Finn, Chester and Bruno Manno. 2015. “A Progress Report on Charter Schools.” National Affairs. 24: 3-18.

Frankenberg, Erica and Genevieve Siegel-Hawley. 2013. “A Segregating Choice? An Overview of Charter School Policy, Enrollment Trends and Segregation.” Pp. 129-44 in Educational Delusions? How Choice Can Deepen Inequality and How to Make Schools Fair, edited by G. Orfield and E. Frankenberg. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Bring laptop for class coding exercise: CMO key words, using Wilson and Carlsen.

Complete Teaching Survey: URL to come

Th. 3.9 High achieving charters & disciplinary culture

What makes ‘No Excuse’s charter schools distinctive? What is the link between No Excuses and the Broken Windows policing strategy? How has this idea been criticized? How are charters responding to such criticisms?

Thernstrom, Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom. 2004. No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 43-80.

Golann, Joanne W. 2015. “The Paradox of Success at a No-Excuses School.” Sociology of Education 20(10):1-17.

White, Terrenda. 2015. “Demystifying Whiteness in a Market of ‘No Excuses’ Corporate Styled Charter Schools.” Pp. 121-45 in What’s Race Got to Do with It?: How Current School Reform Policy Maintains Racial and Economic Inequality, edited by E. Mayorga and B. Picower. New York: Peter Lang.

Moskowitz, Eva (2015) “Why Students Need to Sit Up and Pay Attention.” Wall Street Journal, Nov. 12.

Taylor, Kate. (2015) “At a Success Academy Charter School, Singling Out Pupils Who Have ‘Got to Go’.” New York Times, October 29.

Optional * Joanne Golann, Mira Debs and Anna Weiss. 2016. “A Fine Line between Autonomy and Structure: How Parents of Color Perceive Discipline at Public Montessori and No-Excuses Schools.” Unpublished manuscript.

Bring Laptop for class data exercise: CMO discipline data, turn in on Canvas by Thursday 3.9 12 midnight

* Spring Break * Spring Break *

Week 9 Charters as district change-agents?

Tu. 3.28 Charter Impact on school districts

How have districts with a large charter sector been impacted? How does competition impact overall public school quality?

Zernicke, Katie. 2016. “A sea of charter schools leaves Detroit adrift.” New York Times, June 28.

Ewing, Eve L. 2016. Shuttered Schools in the Black Metropolis: Race, History, and Discourse on Chicago’s South Side. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education. Ch 1-3, pp. 1-149 (read Ch 2 lightly…)

Assign debate position, prepare debate brief with 7 talking points

Laptop in class: practice googledoc sharing, reporting back about charter CMOs

CMO rough draft to googledocs by Weds. 3.29 by 12 midnight

Th. 3.30 Charter Schools In-class Debate

Are charters having a positive or negative impact on public education? Should their expansion be limited?

CMO Peer review comments due Friday 3.31. 

CMO Reports due Sunday 4.2 posted on class website 12 midnight

Part III: Who teaches?

Week 10

Tu. 4.4 Teach for America and Alternative certification models

How do we create a pipeline of quality teachers? How should they be trained?

Sutcher, Lieb, Linda Darling-Hammond and Desiree Carver-Thomas. 2016. A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S. Learning Policy Institute Research Brief.

Kopp, Wendy. 2001. One day, all children: The unlikely triumph of Teach for America and what I learned along the way. New York: PublicAffairs. Ch 1-3, p. 3-72.

Brewer, T. Jameson and Kathleen deMarrais, editors. 2016. Teach for America Counter-Narratives. New York: Peter Lang.

  • Brewer, T. Jameson and Kathleen deMarrais “Introduction.” Pp. 1-5.
  • Martin, Anne. 2016. “Elite by Association, but at What Expense? Teach for America, Colonizing Perspectives and a Personal Evolution.” Pp. 110-118.
  • Ecton, Walt. 2016. “I Confess, I am a TFA supporter. But…” Pp. 155-162.
  • Garza, Ryan. 2016. “From 106th to 41st, One Chicagoan’s Experience with Teach for America and Chicago Public Schools.” Pp. 163-168.
  • Houk, Derrick. 2016. “Can we change? Reflections on TFA’s ongoing internal criticism.” Pp. 169-177

Whitmire, Richard. 2016. “Ch 9: Relay Graduate School of Education.” Pp. 113-122 in The Founders: Inside the revolution to invent (and reinvent) America’s best charter schools. 74 Media Inc.

Anderson, Lauren. 2016. “CT can do better for minority teacher candidates than Relay GSE.” CT Mirror. November 1.

Cotto, Robert. 2016. “Letter to State Board of Education (public comment): Relay teacher training program – November 2, 2016.” Cities, Suburbs and Schools Project. Hartford, CT: Trinity College.

Assign policy final, reading groups for Week 12

Th. 4.6 How should effective teachers be measured?

Goldstein, Dana. The Teacher Wars. New York: Doubleday. Ch 9-10. Pp. 189-274.

In class: brainstorming policy final projects

Week 11 Who Teaches?: Teachers of Color, White Teachers Implicit Bias, Racially Disproportionate Discipline

Tu. 4.11 “The Minority Teacher Shortage”

Why are there so few teachers of color (TOC)? What are the potential benefits of TOC?

Griffin, Ashley and Hilary Tackie. 2016. Through Our Eyes: Perspectives and Reflections From Black Teachers. Education Trust.

Madkins, Tia C. “The black teacher shortage: A literature review of historical and contemporary trends.” The Journal of Negro Education (2011): 417-427.

Ingersoll, Richard M and Henry May. 2011. “The Minority Teacher Shortage: Fact or Fable?” Phi Delta Kappan 93(1):62-65.

Bailey, Melissa 2013 “Out Of 1,883 Teachers, 56 Black Males” November 29

Bass, Paul and Aliya Swaby 2016 “Mass Walkout At Amistad High” May 3

1-2 paragraph prospectus on Policy Final due Weds. 4.12 by midnight to CANVAS

Th. 4.13

What are implicit bias and racially disproportionate discipline? Why are they important in schools?

Gilliam, Walter, Angela Maupin, Chin Reyes, Maria Accavitti and BS Frederick Shic. 2016. “Do Early Educators’ Implicit Biases Regarding Sex and Race Relate to Behavior Expectations and Recommendations of Preschool Expulsions and Suspensions?” New Haven, CT: Yale Child Study Center.

Lee, Jennifer and Min Zhou. 2015. The Asian American Achievement Paradox. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. Ch 1: 1-20, Ch 6:115-137, Ch 8: 161-177 (available Yale online)

Lewis, Amanda E and John B Diamond. 2015. Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Chapter 3, pp. 45-81.

Noguera, Pedro “What discipline is for: connecting students to the Benefits of Learning.” Everyday Anti-Racism: Getting Real About Race in Schools, edited Mica Pollock. New York: New Press. Pp. 132-137.

Take an implicit bias test from Project Implicit developed by researchers at Harvard, Yale and UVA (you can choose which test or multiple tests you take):

Optional * Bias among college students: Cain Miller, Claire “Is the Teacher Bossy or Brilliant? Much depends on the Gender” Check out the interactive chart!

Week 12 Restorative Justice & Policy Reading Groups

Tu. 4.18 Policy Reading Groups

Readings TBD by group

Th. 4.20 How does restorative justice work, and how can it resolve racially disproportionate discipline?

Restorative justice speaker from New Haven public schools

Read articles about restorative justice in NHPS:

Fronius, Trevor, Hannah Persson, Sarah Guckenburg, Nancy Hurley and Anthony Petrosino. 2016. Restorative Justice in US Schools. San Francisco, CA: West Ed Justice and Prevention Research Center.

Policy memo rough draft due for peer editing on class googledoc organizer Sunday 4.23 by midnight

Week l3 ABAR Education

Tu. 4.25 Anti-Bias/Anti-Racist Education

What is ABAR education and what does it aim to do in education? How is it different from

critical pedagogy, multiculturalism and culturally responsive education?

Hobson, Mellody. 2014. “Colorblind or colorbrave?” TED talk.

Pollock, Mica and colleagues. 2008. Everyday Anti-Racism: Getting Real About Race in Schools. New York: New Press. Part 1-3 pp. 1-38 and Part 17 pp. 254-272.

Abu El Haj, Thea. 2008. “Arab Visibility and Invisibility.” Everyday Anti-Racism: Getting Real About Race in Schools, edited Mica Pollock. New York: New Press. Pp. 175-179. 

Peer editing due Tuesday 4.25 by midnight

Th. 4.27 Is public education broken? What should be changed? What should stay the same?

Goldstein, Dana. The Teacher Wars. New York: Doubleday. Ch 11: Epilogue. Pp. 263-274.

Ravitch, Diane. 2011. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education: Basic Books. Ch 11: Lessons Learned pp. 223-242.

Student presentations in small groups, meeting with peer editors

Policy Memo, published to class website due Wednesday 5.3 by 12 midnight