View the Executive Summary for this brief.
Listen to The Civic Leader Podcast for an audio version of this brief.
Why it Matters
A quality education provides the foundation upon which one can build a productive life. Yet, based on a number of evaluations, the U.S. education system lags behind that of other developed nations. Domestic assessments of American students also indicate little improvement in education over time, even as spending has increased.
Through education, individuals learn knowledge and skills essential for self-sufficiency, self-dependency, and confidence. This provides them with the opportunity to learn about the world around them, and open doors to determining and fulfilling dreams and ambitions to establish stability in life and provide for oneself and family.
Putting it in Context
The first public school in the U.S. opened in Boston in 1635. Most of the colonies followed in establishing schools in the mid-late 1600s; some were state-run, some were more local schools, and some primarily educated the children of elite families rather than the general public. Private tutors were generally more common in the south.
During the 1700s, Common Schools were the norm; these schools consisted of one room and one teacher that students of all ages learned from. Parents paid tuition, and provided the teachers’ accommodations as well as materials. All children of different ages shared the same teacher and same study materials, which created difficulties in educating all students.
In the mid-19th century academics became almost entirely a public endeavor. This was primarily driven by rapid population growth and mass immigration in the early 19th century, with the goal of providing social order among a great number of children from a variety of backgrounds. By 1918, every state had laws requiring students to complete elementary school.
By the Numbers
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are over 130,000 K-12 schools in the U.S., including over 87,000 elementary schools and over 26,000 secondary schools. Just under 100,000 are public or public charter schools, and about 32,000 are private schools.
EdWeek notes that over 50 million students attend public schools in the U.S., with 3.3 million of these students attending charter schools. About 5.7 million attend private schools and 2 million students are homeschooled. Public schools employ approximately 3.2 million teachers, roughly 70% of whom are members of a teachers’ union. Private schools employ about half a million teachers.
Women make up just over three-quarters of all public and private school teachers. At public schools in particular, women comprise 89% of elementary school teachers, 72% of middle school teachers, and 60% of high school teachers.
Over $751 billion was spent on public K-12 education across local, state, and federal levels for the 2019 fiscal year, which amounts to about $13,200 per student as a nation-wide average.
Role of Government
The U.S. Constitution does not directly address education. Based on the Tenth Amendment, state and local governments play the predominant role in setting education policy, but the federal government has still exercised significant influence.
The Department of Education was created in 1867 to help the states establish school systems, and has since provided monetary support for education. The first federal education legislation was the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) passed by Congress in 1958 during the Cold War to provide monetary support for schools to “help America compete with the Soviet Union.”
The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and 1970s became a focus of the Department of Education. Laws including “Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which prohibited discrimination based on race, sex, and disability,” addressed equality of access for all students.
Additionally, the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provided federal grants to improve the overall quality of elementary and secondary education and, particularly Title I, federal aid programs and scholarships for low-income children in poor urban and rural areas.
In 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) updated the ESEA and increased the federal role due to concerns “that the American education system was no longer internationally competitive.” The law required states to test K-12 students, and linked what states could do with federal funds based on test results. In 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act replaced NCLB, rolling back the federal government’s part by giving “new leeway to states in calling the shots” on testing, teachers, and academic performance goals.
The federal contribution to elementary and secondary education is on average less than 10% of all education spending. Federal money flows to states primarily through grants designed to minimize funding gaps not well addressed by states. These rely on formulas that consider the need of each state, taking into account the cost of education in each state and poverty data from the Census. For this reason, some states receive more than others; Alaska, Mississippi, South Dakota, and New Mexico all received at least 13% of their revenue from the federal government in 2019, while New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York received less than 5% of their revenue from the federal government.
Of the roughly $750 billion in expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools during the 2018-2019 school year (the most recent data available), 8% came from the federal government. This includes contributions not only from the Department of Education but also from other federal agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services (which runs the Head Start program) and the Department of Agriculture (which runs the School Lunch program). The majority of federal funding usually comes in the form of Title I funds, special education programs, and child nutrition programs.
State and Local
The Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee a right to education, although the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment is generally interpreted to require the states to provide each child equal access to schooling. Thus, state and local governments have long had primary responsibility for public K-12 education.
Children are assigned to public schools based on geography. Schools within a town or county belong to a public school district. There are over 50 million students attending almost 100,000 public schools in over 13,000 school districts in the U.S. See a full list here.
At the local level, school districts are “governed by multiple-member boards that oversee school district policies, finances, superintendents, and collective bargaining agreements with teachers and other staff.” At the state level, each state has a department or agency that oversees elementary and secondary public education, and an elected or appointed state executive, usually referred to as the superintendent of schools or chief school administrator, to head the department. At both the state and local levels, school board members can either be elected by residents or appointed by mayors or governors. School boards usually share power with the local municipal government or state departments of education. See The Policy Circle’s Understanding School Boards Engagement Guide for more on this topic.
State legislators set state budgets and funding formulas, which determine how much each particular school district receives in funding from the state. Each state’s funding formula is meant “to diminish somewhat the high degree of inequality in revenues per pupil that would result if funding were based only on local taxable resources and the willingness of local citizens to tax themselves” and thus “provide at least some limited degree of ‘equalization’ of spending and resources” for all districts across the state. Funding goes towards operations (salaries and benefits for teaching, guidance counseling, materials like textbooks, transportation, facilities like libraries) as well as maintenance and construction of public schools.
State and local funding is almost equal as a national average, with state governments providing around 47% of revenue and local governments providing about 45%. But individual state shares vary widely; Hawaii has no local educational agencies, so almost 90% of funding comes from the state. On the other hand, the District of Columbia has no state government, so almost 90% of its revenue comes from local sources. You can see your state’s distribution in this Congressional Research Service Report (last updated 2019).
Revenues are raised mainly from taxes; state revenues come mostly from income and sales taxes, while local revenue comes primarily through property taxes. Property taxes supplied $212 billion to school districts in 2017.
Challenges and Areas for Reform
Spending and Outcomes
According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), total public elementary and secondary school spending amounted to $762 billion for the 2017-2018 school year, or $13,200 per pupil ($14,900 per pupil if including capital outlays – see NCES’s explanation). Per-pupil spending has increased every year since 2015, with a 5% increase during the 2019-2020 school year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic marking the largest increase in a decade.
“Money can matter, but spending more on schools does not yield big improvements,” explains Mark Dynarski of Brookings Institution. Despite overall spending increases, the “Nation’s Report Card” from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reveals fewer than half of students (and in many cases, fewer than a quarter of students) in grades 4, 8, and 12 are at or above NAEP proficiency levels in civics, geography, mathematics, reading, writing, science, and history. In most subjects, there has been little change in student performance since 2011. A 2019 report from Michigan State University analyzing long-term education spending trends found that, based on the NAEP scores, “there was no clear correlation between spending increases and test improvements from 2003-2015.”
U.S. student performance amidst higher spending has remained stagnant at an international level as well. In 2017, the U.S. average spending per K-12 student ($14,100, including capital expenditures) was 37% higher than the average spending for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries ($10,300). Despite the spending differences, results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which measures performance in reading, math, and science among 15-year-olds in dozens of countries every three years, show the U.S.’s scores in these three categories have not significantly changed since the early 2000s. The most recent PISA results, from 2018, placed the U.S. 13th in reading, 37th in math, 17th in science out of 77 education systems.
Evidence does indicate how money is spent, rather than how much money is spent, plays an important role. According to EdWeek’s Quality Counts 2020 report, students in high-poverty districts often have the greatest need for educational services and resources; a 2018 report from the Education Trust estimated that “school districts serving the largest populations of Black, Latino, or American Indian students receive roughly $1,800, or 13 percent, less per student in state and local funding than those serving the fewest students of color.”
Preliminary data suggest a link between state education finance reforms and higher test scores among students, higher rates of high school graduation, and better earnings among graduates. State education finance reforms usually increase overall spending, and specifically increase spending in low-income districts relative to high-income districts. Because these reforms are not temporary increases, they allow lower-income schools to make long term investments. Finance reforms have also reduced achievement gaps between high- and low-income school districts, and a National Bureau of Economic Research paper found “significant gains for students in poorer school districts in the wake of court-ordered state funding increases.”
Nationally, between 1992 and 2014, student enrollment increased by 19% and the number of teachers increased by 28%. This increase in teachers reduced the pupil-to-teacher ratio from 23-1 in 1970 to 16-1 in 2016. Meanwhile, non-teaching staff grew by 45%.
In his study, “Back to the Staffing Surge,” Professor Ben Scafidi notes that “the productivity of American public schools has fallen rather dramatically over the past few decades. And, in retrospect, the staffing surge in American public schools has appeared to have been a costly failure.”
This video synopsis explains further (8 min):
Teacher quality matters when it comes to student outcomes. Hoover Institute Senior Fellow Eric Hanushek writes, “evidence shows that bad teachers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income and productivity each year that they remain in the classroom.” According to a University of Melbourne review of over 65,000 papers exploring the effects of various classroom interventions, “‘[a]ll of the 20 most powerful ways to improve school-time learning identified by the study depended on what a teacher did in the classroom.’”
PolicyEd explains why investing in good teachers pays off (1 min):
Teachers’ unions originated as local associations and “grass roots efforts to support teachers through improved salaries, benefits and working conditions.” The National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers’ union, was first organized in 1857 for college and university faculty, but grew to include primary and secondary teachers by the 1960s. About three quarters of all public school teachers were affiliated with teachers’ unions. As education reform gains traction nationwide, teachers’ unions are seen “either as the major hurdle standing in the way of true reform, or a potentially valuable tool in bringing about the sort of change needed in education today.”
Whether teachers’ unions’ effect is positive or negative remains a key debate in education reform. A 2018 study from the University of Michigan found that “states with stronger unions saw more of the money earmarked for education actually reach the classrooms” or be used for teacher compensation, whereas states with weak unions saw funding for schools being used to cut local property taxes. Another University of Michigan study from 2019 found a reform that weakened unions in Wisconsin “led to increases in the share of college students training to be teachers,” and that average test scores on the state’s standardized exam did increase in the four years after the reform’s implementation.
Political spending and endorsements is another area of debate surrounding teachers’ unions. According to a 2018 Commonwealth Foundation, the NEA spent roughly $45 million on political activities. Money comes from dues paid for by both union members and non-union-member public employees, based on the idea that non-members also benefited from the efforts of unions in terms of actions such as collective bargaining. In 2018, the Supreme Court decided in Janus vs. AFSCME that public sector unions cannot compel non-members to pay dues based on the argument that forcing non-members to support certain political activities through their dues violates free speech rights.
Teacher strikes from Arizona to Oklahoma to West Virginia have brought attention to the issue of teacher pay in the last few years. According to a 2019 report from PEW Research Center, 16% of public elementary and secondary school teachers have summer jobs and 18% have second jobs during the school year. These earnings make up 5-10% of their annual income. See this Business Insider report for state-by-state rankings accounting for salary.
Real spending in education has increased by almost 40% since the 1990s, but teachers have seen little of this in their salaries. Per pupil spending increased between 1992 and 2014 by 27%, but teacher salaries decreased by 2% over that time period. Education scholar Frederick Hess calculated that teacher salaries in West Virginia would have increased by more than $17,000 since the early 1990s if salaries had increased at the same rate as per-pupil spending.
On the other hand, substantial retirement and healthcare benefits make total teacher compensation higher than average salaries indicate. Public school teachers receive over $6 per hour in retirement compensation; the average civilian employee receives less than $2 per hour in retirement benefits. However, in some cases where school funding has gone up, payments go to paying down pension debt rather than funding better benefits for current teachers. According to Chad Adleman of Bellwether Education Partners, teacher salaries in Kentucky would be $11,400 higher “if the state wasn’t forced to spend vast sums paying down pension debt,” but paying for existing obligations remains a challenge that many states have yet to figure out.
The teacher strikes that were common in 2018 and 2019 had a lull during the coronavirus pandemic, during which time teachers had to manage “unprecedented classroom concerns, such as masking, vaccinations, remote learning and hybrid learning,” and found themselves “on the front lines of a mental health crisis among adolescents who also incurred significant academic losses due to remote learning[.]” These demands and pressures have left many teachers citing burnout. In 2020, there was a record drop in public education employment, and 2022 strikes have restarted in cities from Minneapolis to Chicago to Sacramento.
Demands include smaller class sizes, better benefits, mental health resources for students, and higher wages. Some states and districts are considering using leftover funds from the American Rescue Plan to offer raises and signing bonuses, but whether these incentives can spark long-term change and offset problems in the education system that have been growing for years remains to be seen. For example, staffing shortages are not new; because student loan debt has increased, many college graduates are pushed towards careers that pay more than teaching.
Another component of education reform debates centers around school choice. Some argue that families should be able to find and access the best school for their child, particularly among low-income or minority student groups, or students with specific educational needs. If parents have the ability to choose the school that is best for their child, it can generate better quality educational options and promote greater access to higher quality education. Others maintain that public schools in their districts are essential to the community, and that a successful school helps children and the community flourish. Some are concerned that school choice may negatively affect public schools by taking students and funding away from struggling district schools, or that lower-income families with few additional resources will not be able to take advantage of school choice options.
School districts offer a number of school types, from public to private to charter schools. Charter schools are publicly-funded schools that are part of the state school system, but are privately run by an organization that has a charter, or contract, to do so. They are schools of choice, meaning they do not enroll students based on where they live. As of late 2018 (the last year for which data is available as of early 2022), charter schools enroll 3.3 million students in 44 states and the District of Columbia. Charter schools have governing bodies but are not governed by a traditional school board, as other public schools are.
School Choice Week further breaks down the types of schools in K-12 Education (2 min):
According to Edchoice.org, “School vouchers give parents the freedom to choose a private school for their children, using all or part of the public funding set aside for their children’s education. Under such a program, funds typically spent by a school district would be allocated to a participating family in the form of a voucher to pay partial or full tuition for their child’s private school, including both religious and non-religious options.”
There are 29 voucher programs operating in 16 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, of which just under 250,000 students are recipients.
Tax Credit Scholarships
Tax credit scholarships “allow taxpayers to receive full or partial tax credits when they donate to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships. Eligible taxpayers can include both individuals and businesses. In some states, scholarship-giving nonprofits also provide innovation grants to public schools and/or transportation assistance to students choosing alternative public schools.”
There are 26 tax credit scholarship programs in 21 states, of which just under 330,000 students are recipients.
Education Savings Account (ESA)
Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) are a more recent innovation in parent choice programs that “allow parents to withdraw their children from public district or charter schools and receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts with restricted, but multiple, uses such as private school tuition or outside educational services.”
ESAs gained attention due to the coronavirus pandemic when the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act (EFS) was proposed. Through an annual federal tax credit for businesses and individuals who donate to certain certified organizations, funds would pay for K-12 education options such as private school tuition, private tutoring, online classes, instructional materials for home education, and even after-school or day care programs. In the short term, EFS could serve as a means of providing emergency assistance to students and their families. The California Policy Center, for example, notes parents that are able have been learning about and investigating options such as virtual schools, home schooling, and private schools. Others argue this would undermine public schools that are struggling and facing budget cuts amidst the pandemic.
For more on ESAs and EFS, see The Policy Circle’s Education Savings Accounts Brief, or watch The Policy Circle’s Virtual Circle Discussion (46 min):
For what school choice options exist in your state, see the National Conference of State Legislature’s guide.
Vocational and career and technical education (CTE) are “‘organized education programs offering a sequence of courses which are directly related to the preparation of individuals in paid or unpaid employment,’” and were meant to provide students with labor market skills while preparing them for jobs in technical fields through hands-on training.
In the 1980s, there was a shift away from vocational and CTE classes as schools increased the number of courses students needed to take in math, science, social studies, and foreign languages. Many also dismissed vocational and CTE classes, claiming “vocational education in high school deters capable students from college and prepares them for ‘dead end’ jobs.”
The counter argument that not all students are college-bound, combined with the reality of worker shortages in skilled professions, has led to increased attention towards vocational and CTE training as the potential difference between high- and low-paying jobs for many students. In 2018, legislators proposed over 250 CTE-related bills in 42 states, mostly to increase state funding for programs, and the numbers have only increased since. See the National Conference of State Legislature’s Education Bill database for CTE legislation that has passed in your state.
The development of regional vocational and technical high schools, entire schools devoted to vocational and career-oriented instruction, also indicates vocational training is viewed as more than just auto mechanics; today, it “encompasses everything from welding, to sports management, to computer science.” Programs such as P-Tech, a partnership with IBM, and other programs incorporate dual enrollment opportunities with local community colleges or apprenticeships. Engaging with local businesses can also ensure students are getting skills that lead to employment, especially in a local job market. For more on CTE and vocational training, see The Policy Circle’s Creating Career Pathways Brief.
Early Childhood Education
Research is fairly clear that high-quality early childhood education is an important part of students’ success, with a number of longitudinal studies finding that “those who participated in these early childhood educational interventions persist in education, have higher earnings and commit fewer crimes than the control group.”
Some studies of government-funded preschool programs, such as Head Start, have found evidence of “fadeout,” which indicates the advantages children gain early fade as they move into grade school, while other studies have shown the programs do work, “particularly for students who otherwise would not be in center-based care.” According to the RAND Corp., in preliminary assessments, “researchers found that returns of $2 to $4 were typical for every dollar invested in early childhood programs,” on top of social benefits such as school readiness that continue into adulthood.
Summer Learning Loss
“Summer learning loss,” when students forget material and achievement scores decline over the summer, can result in students starting the year behind where they should be. According to a Brookings report, studies found on average, “students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning.” This can affect lower-income students in particular, based on the “faucet theory,” that all students have access to resources during the school year but the flow of resources slows or stops for students from lower-income backgrounds.
Taking advantage of summer vacation can be an important step towards helping students. Professor Paul T. von Hipper of the University of Texas at Austin claims that “every summer offers children who are behind a chance to catch up.” However, summer program coordinators have trouble attracting high quality teachers and appealing to students and families, and high costs are another dilemma especially for lower-income students. Professors David Quinn and Morgan Polikoff of the University of Southern California suggest lower-cost home-based summer programming can still have positive effects on learning outcomes. Additionally, when extensive school-based options are infeasible, districts can pursue more cost-effective strategies such as targeted interventions for “students most at risk of backsliding.”
“The educational attainment of people living in rural (nonmetropolitan) areas has increased markedly over time but has not kept pace with urban (metropolitan) gains,” says the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Low populations of students and difficulty recruiting teachers also present a challenge in rural areas. On the opposite end of the spectrum, inner cities and urban districts also face staffing and funding shortages. Problems associated with urban poverty including housing and food insecurity, as well as high dropout rates, criminal justice system involvement, and high proportions of students whose first language is not English also pose challenges to educators in inner cities.
Online Learning & The Digital Divide
Online education can be a cost-effective means to fill gaps and offer more course choice and access, but the quality of online schools varies greatly. Additionally, the issue of the “digital divide,” that not all households have access to reliable high speed internet, presents a problem for many students. For more on the digital divide, see The Policy Circle’s Digital Landscape Brief.
The problem has become even more prominent due to the coronavirus pandemic; one poll in California at the beginning of the pandemic revealed 50% of low-income families said they lack sufficient devices to access distance learning at home. Nationally, principals in the highest-poverty schools reported a full 20% of students did not have adequate access to internet services at home.
Online learning also requires teachers to be proficient in technology and have the resources necessary to teach and engage students. A RAND analysis of the American Educator Panel’s Fall 2020 COVID-19 Surveys found 80% of teachers reported feelings of burnout since the start of the pandemic, and two-thirds reported they have not received adequate guidance on how to support students. Resources that support teachers can help them best implement personalized learning through flexible approaches and interventions for students at risk of falling behind or dropping out.
Detailed assessments of each school in the district can help identify what stressors are impacting the ability of children to learn, which in turn will help determine what resources can be leveraged to meet students’ needs. Understanding the needs of students, families, and communities can open avenues of communication with local philanthropic organizations, utility and technology providers, and businesses for public-private partnerships.
Professor Paul Reville of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education suggests taking advantage of youth-serving organizations and institutions to form “children’s cabinets,” which can “bring together community members, government officials, business leaders, parent organizations, and student organizations to develop strategies to better student outcomes.” For example, school buses outfitted with Wi-Fi were used as hotspots in South Carolina; Staples in Tennessee began printing materials free of charge for students who could not afford it; and partnerships with Comcast brought free internet to students in school districts including Caldo Parish, Louisiana and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Coronavirus & The Future of Schools
Coronavirus-induced school closures in 188 countries affected 1.7 billion children and their families. In the U.S. alone, 55 million school children under the age of 18 were learning from home in the spring of 2020. In 2022, even with schools reopened, a considerable number of parents have chosen to keep homeschooling their children. There has been a slight decrease since record numbers of 2021, but numbers are still above pre-pandemic levels. Across 18 states that shared data, the number of homeschooling students increased by 63% in the 2020-2021 school year, then fell by 17% for the 2021-2022. Prior to the pandemic, only about 3% (2 million students) were homeschooled, which did not prompt much consideration from governments. For example, there are no federal guidelines for homeschooling, resulting in little uniformity. Connecticut and Nevada require little to no information from from parents, while New York and Massachusetts require instruction plans and assessments. How state legislatures proceed, and whether this trend will decrease over time remain to be seen.
While some believe the negative side effects of learning disruptions will fade by the time students complete their education in the years to come, the abrupt shutdowns brought to the forefront “needs which have been so glaringly exposed in this crisis,” ranging from food deficits and inadequate access to health and mental health resources, to housing instability and inadequate access to educational technology and internet services. The resource-based advantages and disadvantages between students will likely affect the extent to which K-12 students experience learning loss.
Congressional relief aid for K-12 schools came in the form of the $2 trillion stimulus package (CARES Act) in March 2021, which included $13.2 billion for K-12 schools. Calls for action at the federal level continue, as states and school districts “are not only overstrained but also facing imminent budget cuts caused by the pandemic, with an inability to incur deficit spending.” The federal spending bill passed in March 2022 increased public school spending by $2 billion over 2021 funding levels.
According to one analysis by the Association of School Business Officials International and the Superintendents Association, it will cost an average school district almost $1.8 million in additional costs to reopen schools safely, with spending going towards cleaning/disinfecting, providing personal protective equipment, and providing transportation and childcare.
Another weakness in the education system the State Policy Network points to is that it is “built for one approach and a single learning style,” which makes pivots to virtual learning all the more difficult for schools, teachers, and students. Emma García, education economist at the Economic Policy Institute, highlights the limitations of standardized testing especially in a virtual learning environment. Assessments besides standardized tests that are more tailored towards online learning or are more representative of various learning styles, such as diagnostic tests, project-based assessments, or capstone projects, can better measure students’ progress.
Finally, schools play important roles in non-academic areas, The CARES Act touched upon this with over $25 billion for SNAP and child nutrition programs, as well as a key provision that gave school districts greater flexibility in providing meals to students and their families. This provision, which was extended through September 2021, allowed schools to use summer rules when distributing food, allowing families to pick up food at community locations. Still, one study reported that just over 60% of families who were supposed to receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year actually received meal assistance during school closures.
The Economic Policy Institute takes this one step further, recommending that “institutions that create education policy and practice must make many changes to ensure that schools teach and reward the development of cognitive and socioemotional skills,” rather than only academic skills. Brookings Institution’s Emiliana Vegas, EdD, argues for “teaching students transferable skills, including creativity, problem solving, and analytical thinking.” The March 2022 federal spending bill includes $1.2 billion in grants supporting school safety and student health.
Over the past few decades, increases in spending have not led to improved educational outcomes, nor have they closed achievement gaps. Dilemmas facing students, teachers, and schools, from food insecurity to the digital divide, have only been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Providing students, parents, and teachers with necessary resources and flexibility will be key to the U.S. education system’s ability to best prepare young people for successful adulthoods and careers.
Ways to Get Involved/What You Can Do
Measure: Find out what your state and district are doing about K-12 education.
- Do you know the state of K-12 education in your community or state?
- Do you know how your district’s public school ranks? Are there private or vocational options?
- Are there afterschool programs to engage children, or local organizations dedicated to this?
- Do you know your school district’s budget? How are teachers compensated while they teach and after retirement?
- What are your state’s laws on school choice?
- Does your state offer tax credit or similar scholarships?
Identify: Who are the influencers in your state, county, or community? Learn about their priorities and consider how to contact them, including elected officials, attorneys general, law enforcement, boards of education, city councils, journalists, media outlets, community organizations, and local businesses.
- Who are the members of the school board in your community? Who is your state’s superintendent of schools?
- Who is your school district’s superintendent, and who are the principals?
- What steps have your state’s or community’s elected or appointed officials taken in terms of education?
Reach out: You are a catalyst. Finding a common cause is a great opportunity to develop relationships with people who may be outside of your immediate network. All it takes is a small team of two or three people to set a path for real improvement.
- Find allies in your community or in nearby towns and elsewhere in the state.
- Foster collaborative relationships with community organizations, school boards, or local businesses.
Plan: Set some milestones based on your state’s legislative calendar.
- Don’t hesitate to contact The Policy Circle team, firstname.lastname@example.org, for connections to the broader network, advice, insights on how to build rapport with policy makers and establish yourself as a civic leader.
Execute: Give it your best shot. You can:
- Meet with a family who chooses private or charter schools as an option for educating their children, and ask their views.
- Volunteer at your child’s school to learn how the school runs and how decisions are made.
- Volunteer as a mentor or tutor for an organization or support an after-school program, maybe by even sharing your own professional talents such as cooking or gardening.
- Ask to meet with a school board member, or attend school board meetings to ask questions, find out about priorities, and review annual budgets.
Thought Leaders and Additional Resources
Thought Leaders and Organizations
- Economist Roland Fryer, founder and faculty director of the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University on why he was drawn to education reform and why accidents of birth should not determine our access to a high-quality education:
- Dr. Fryer was also the lead on a research project that determined the five effective habits of charter schools.
- The Education Trust is a nonprofit organization that promotes closing opportunity gaps by expanding excellence and equity in education for students of color and those from low-income families from pre-kindergarten through college.
- Foundation for Excellence in Education focuses on personalized learning, in addition to choice and accountability.
- The American Federation for Children website compiles data on parent choice programs available across various states in an easy-to-use map format.
Suggestions for your Next Conversation
Explore the Series
This brief is part of a series of recommended conversations designed for circle's wishing to pursue a specific focus for the year. Each series recommends "5" briefs to provide a year of conversations.
Want to dive deeper on Education: K-12? Consider exploring the following:
Want to learn more about how states are dealing with this issue? Read our state-specific briefs below: