Education Policy

Education Policy

Education policy refers to the collection of laws and rules that govern the operation of education systems.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the institutions and issues relevant to current education policy in the United States and the sources of education policy evaluation and analysis

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Examples of areas subject to debate in education policy include school size, class size, school choice, school privatization, teaching methods, curricular content, and graduation requirements.
  • Unlike the systems of most other countries, education in the United States is highly decentralized, and the federal government and Department of Education are not heavily involved in determining curricula or educational standards (with the recent exception of the No Child Left Behind Act).

Key Terms

  • Department of Education: The Department of Education is a Cabinet-level department of the United States government. The primary functions of the Department of Education are to “establish policy for, administer and coordinate -most federal assistance to education, collect data on US schools, and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights. “
  • Education policy: the principles and government policy-making in the educational sphere, as well as the collection of laws and rules that govern the operation of education systems
  • Education policy: Education policy refers to the collection of laws and rules that govern the operation of education systems.

Education Policy

Education policy refers to the collection of laws and rules that govern the operation of education systems.

Education occurs in many forms for many purposes. Examples include early childhood education, kindergarten through to 12th grade, two and four year colleges or universities, graduate and professional education, adult education and job training. Therefore, education policy can directly affect the education of people at all ages.

Examples of areas subject to debate in education policy, include school size, class size, school choice, school privatization, tracking, teacher education and certification, teacher pay, teaching methods, curricular content, graduation requirements, school infrastructure investment, and the values that schools are expected to uphold and model.

Education policy analysis is the scholarly study of education policy. It seeks to answer questions about the purpose of education, the objectives (societal and personal) that it is designed to attain, the methods for attaining them and the tools for measuring their success or failure. Research intended to inform education policy is carried out in a wide variety of institutions and in many academic disciplines. Important researchers are affiliated with departments of psychology, economics, sociology, and human development, in addition to schools and departments of education or public policy.

The Department of Education

The federal department relating responsible for education oversight is the Department of Education. The Department of Education is a Cabinet-level department of the United States government. The primary functions of the Department of Education are to “establish policy for, administer and coordinate -most federal assistance to education, collect data on US schools, and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights. ” However, the Department of Education does not establish schools or colleges.

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U. S. Department of Education: The Lyndon B. Johnson Department of Education Building

Unlike the systems of most other countries, education in the United States is highly decentralized, and the federal government and Department of Education are not heavily involved in determining curricula or educational standards (with the recent exception of the No Child Left Behind Act). This has been left to state and local school districts. The quality of educational institutions and their degrees is maintained through an informal private process known as accreditation, over which the Department of Education has no direct public jurisdictional control.

The Department’s mission is: to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. Aligned with this mission of ensuring equal access to education, the Department of Education is a member of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, and works with federal partners to ensure proper education for homeless and runaway youth in the United States.

Current Challenges for Education

Some challenges in education include curriculum unification, racial achievement gap, and controversy over sex education and affirmative action.

Learning Objectives

Identify the most pressing issues in education curriculum and control

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • There is no unified curriculum in the United States. Not only do schools offer a range of topics and quality, but private schools may include mandatory religious classes.
  • In 2003 a Supreme Court decision concerning affirmative action in universities allowed educational institutions to consider race as a factor in admitting students, but ruled that strict point systems are unconstitutional.
  • Almost all students in the U.S. receive some form of sex education between grades 7 and 12; many schools begin addressing some topics as early as grades 4 or 5. However, what students learn varies widely, because curriculum decisions are so decentralized.

Key Terms

  • Racial Achievement Gap: The Racial Achievement Gap in the United States refers to the educational disparities between minority students and Caucasian students.

Contemporary Education Issues

Major educational issues in the United States center on curriculum and control. One of the major controversies of the United States education policy is the No Child Left Behind Act which will be covered in its own section.

Curriculum issues

There is no unified curriculum in the United States. Not only do schools offer a range of topics and quality, but private schools may include mandatory religious classes. These religious aspects raise the question of government funding school vouchers in states with Blaine Amendments in their constitution. This has produced debate over the standardization of curricula. Additionally, there is debate over which subjects should receive the most focus, with astronomy and geography among those cited as not being taught enough in schools.

Attainment

Drop-out rates are a concern in American four year colleges. In New York, 54 percent of students entering four-year colleges in 1997 had a degree six years later — and even less among Hispanics and African-Americans. Since the 1980s the number of educated Americans has continued to grow, but at a slower rate. Some have attributed this to an increase in the foreign born portion of the workforce. However, the decreasing growth of the educational workforce has instead been primarily due to slowing down in educational attainment of people schooled in the United States.

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Educational Attainment Since 1947: This graph shows the educational attainment from 1947 to 2003 in the United States.

Racial Achievement Gap

The Racial Achievement Gap in the United States refers to the educational disparities between minority students and Caucasian students. This disparity manifests itself in a variety of ways: African-American and Hispanic students are more likely to receive lower grades, score lower on standardized tests, drop out of high school, and are less likely to enter and complete college.

Evolution in Kansas

In 1999 the School Board of the state of Kansas caused controversy when it decided to eliminate teaching of evolution in its state assessment tests. Scientists from around the country demurred. Many religious and family values groups, on the other hand, claimed that evolution is simply a theory in the colloquial sense, and as such creationist ideas should therefore be taught alongside it as an alternative viewpoint. A majority of the Kansas population supported teaching intelligent design and/or creationism in public schools.

Sex education

Almost all students in the U.S. receive some form of sex education between grades 7 and 12; many schools begin addressing some topics as early as grades 4 or 5. However, what students learn varies widely, because curriculum decisions are so decentralized. Many states have laws governing what is taught in sex education classes or allowing parents to opt out. Some state laws leave curriculum decisions to individual school districts.

According to a 2004 survey, over 80% of polled parents agreed that the sex education was helpful while fewer than 17% stated their view that the sex education was inappropriate. 10 percent believed that their children’s sexual education class forced them to discuss sexual issues “too early. ”

Textbook review and adoption

In many localities in the United States, the curriculum taught in public schools is influenced by the textbooks used by the teachers. In some states, textbooks are selected for all students at the state level. Since states such as California and Texas represent a considerable market for textbook publishers, these states can exert influence over the content of the books.

In 2010, the Texas Board of Education adopted new Social Studies standards that could potentially impact the content of textbooks purchased in other parts of the country. The deliberations that resulted in the new standards were partisan in nature and are said to reflect a conservative leaning in the view of United States history.

Affirmative action

In 2003 a Supreme Court decision concerning affirmative action in universities allowed educational institutions to consider race as a factor in admitting students, but ruled that strict point systems are unconstitutional. Opponents of racial affirmative action argue that the program actually benefits middle- and upper-class people of color at the expense of the lower class. Prominent African American academics Henry Louis Gates and Lani Guinier, while favoring affirmative action, have argued that in practice, it has led to recent black immigrants and their children being greatly overrepresented at elite institutions, at the expense of the historic African American community made up of descendants of slaves.

Control

There is some debate about where control for education actually lies. Education is not mentioned in the constitution of the United States. In the current situation, the state and national governments have a power-sharing arrangement, with the states exercising most of the control. The federal government uses the threat of decreased funding to enforce laws pertaining to education. Furthermore, within each state there are different types of control. Some states have a statewide school system, while others delegate power to county, city or township-level school boards.

The No Child Left Behind Act

The No Child Left Behind Act supports standards based education reform to set high standards and establish goals to improve education.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate the arguments for and against the No Child Left Behind Act

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Act requires states to develop assessments in basic skills. States must give these assessments to all students at select grade levels in order to receive federal school funding. The standards in the act are set by each individual state.
  • Schools receiving Title I funding must make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in test scores; each year, its fifth graders must do better on standardized tests than the previous year’s fifth graders.
  • Critics argue the focus on standardized testing as the means of assessment encourages teachers to teach a narrow subset of skills the teacher believes will increase test performance, rather than focus on acquiring deep understanding of the curriculum. This is referred to as teaching to the test.

Key Terms

  • No Child Left Behind Act: The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) is a United States Act of Congress that is a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which included Title I, the government’s flagship aid program for disadvantaged students. NCLB supports standards-based education reform based on the premise that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcomes in education.

No Child Left Behind Act

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The Signing of the No Child Left Behind Act: President Bush signs the No Child Left Behind Act January 8th, 2002.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) is a United States Act of Congress that is a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which included Title I, the government ‘s flagship aid program for disadvantaged students. NCLB supports standards-based education reform based on the premise that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcomes in education. The Act requires states to develop assessments in basic skills. States must give these assessments to all students at select grade levels in order to receive federal school funding. The standards in the act are set by each individual state. NCLB expanded the federal role in public education through annual testing, annual academic progress, report cards, teacher qualifications, and funding changes. The bill passed in the U.S. Congress with bipartisan support. President Bush signed it into law on January 8, 2002.

Provisions of the Act

Schools receiving Title I funding through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 must make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in test scores (each year, its fifth graders must do better on standardized tests than the previous year’s fifth graders). If the school’s results are repeatedly poor, then steps are taken to improve the school.

Schools that miss AYP for a second consecutive year are labeled as being “in need of improvement” and are required to develop a two-year improvement plan for the trouble subject. Students are given the option to transfer to a better school within the school district, if any exists. Missing AYP in the third year forces the school to offer free tutoring and other supplemental education services to struggling students. If a school misses its AYP target for a fourth consecutive year, the school is labeled as requiring “corrective action,” which may involve wholesale replacement of staff, introduction of a new curriculum, or extending the amount of time students spend in class. A fifth year of failure results in planning to restructure the school; the plan is implemented if the school fails to hit its AYP targets for the sixth year in a row. Common options include closing the school, turning the school into a charter school, hiring a private company to run the school, or asking the state office of education to run the school directly.

The act also requires schools to let military recruiters have students’ contact information and other access to the student, if the school provides that information to universities or employers, unless the students opt out of giving military recruiters access.

Increased accountability

Supporters of the NCLB claim one of the strong positive points of the bill is the increased accountability that is required of schools and teachers. The yearly standardized tests are the main means of determining whether schools are living up to the standards that they are required to meet. If the required improvements are not made, the schools face decreased funding and other punishments that contribute to the increased accountability. According to supporters, these goals help teachers and schools realize the significance and importance of the educational system and how it affects the nation. Opponents of this law say that the punishments hurt the schools and do not contribute to the improvement of student education.

Additionally, the Act provides information for parents by requiring states and school districts to give parents detailed report cards on schools and districts explaining the school’s AYP performance. Schools must also inform parents when their child is being taught by a teacher or para-professional who does not meet “highly qualified” requirements.

Criticisms of standardized testing under NCLB

Critics have argued that the focus on standardized testing as the means of assessment encourages teachers to teach a narrow subset of skills that the teacher believes will increase test performance, rather than focus on acquiring deep understanding of the full, broad curriculum. This is colloquially referred to as “teaching to the test. ”

Under No Child Left Behind, schools were held almost exclusively accountable for absolute levels of student performance. This means even schools that were making great strides with students were still labeled as “failing” just because the students had not yet made it to a “proficient” level of achievement.

The incentives for improvement also may cause states to lower their official standards. A 2007 study by the U.S. Dept. of Education indicates that the observed differences in states’ reported scores is largely due to differences in the stringency of their standards.

“Gaming” the system

The system of incentives and penalties sets up a strong motivation for schools, districts and states to manipulate test results. For example, schools have been shown to employ “creative reclassification” of drop-outs to reduce unfavorable statistics. Critics argue that these and other strategies create an inflated perception of NCLB’s successes, particularly in states with high minority populations.