policy analysis, for undergrads

I have an opportunity to teach a special undergraduate seminar next spring. I’m not sure if I’ll accept, because it would mean doing less of something else. However, it’s fun to think about. I’m imagining that students would spend the whole semester producing background materials about k-12 education in Prince George’s County, MD. The materials would be published on a new part of the Prince George’s Commons website to accompany an online public deliberation about local education. The students would collect such useful and relevant background as:

  • quantitative data about budgets, enrollments, demographics, test scores, graduation rates, and personnel
  • qualitative information about what it’s like to be a student or a teacher in various County schools
  • information about public opinion, derived from polls or interviews of students, faculty, parents, political leaders, or randomly selected adults
  • philosophical perspectives on education–for instance, libertarian arguments that families ought to be able to choose their schools and that competition would improve results; left-liberal arguments that “human capital” is unequally distributed and that we would have a more just society if we invested more public money in poor kids; and communitarian arguments that everyone should be educated together in ways that enhance shared values
  • arguments for various reforms, including vouchers, charter schools, smaller class-sizes, smaller schools, more high-stakes testing, more “authentic assessments,” more diverse curricula, higher teacher salaries, fewer union work-rules, etc.
  • I think I would require everyone to read some philosophical arguments about education, because students can’t learn those arguments second-hand by listening to other students’ presentations. In addition to the philosophical readings that everyone would do together, each student would be assigned one empirical research task. Some might collect and crunch data; others might shadow teachers or interview school board members. They would all present their empirical research to one another. Finally, everyone would be required to complete an internship with one of our University’s programs in the County schools, just to give the whole class basic sense of what the schools are like from the inside.

    In subsequent years, new classes could either enhance the public website about our schools or move on to major new institutions, such as the police.