This course seeks to answer the question: how did a school system, once the envy of the world, stumble so that the performance in math, science, and reading of U.S. students at age 15 fell below that of students in a majority of the world’s industrialized nations?
We start by identifying the personalities and historical forces—the progressives, racial desegregation, legalization and collective bargaining—that shaped and re-shaped U.S. school politics and policy. We visit the places where new ideas and practices were spawned, and we look at some of their unanticipated consequences.
From there, we seek answers to a second question: What are the best ways of lifting the performance of American schools to a higher level? To explore these questions, we look at ideas and proposals of those who want to save our schools—be it by reforming the teaching profession, holding schools accountable, or giving families more school choices. In interviews with reform proponents and independent experts, we capture the intensity of the current debate. In the end, we do not find any silver bullets that can magically lift schools to a new level of performance, but we do pinpoint the pluses and minuses of many new approaches to education reform.