How Much do You Know about Public Education? Take this Quiz

Americans are so delusional. We think we’re better than we are. We think we’re the best at everything. We are so great, we think other countries should emulate us. Bless our hearts. We don’t know. Like, literally. We don’t know much.

Especially about K-12 public education. Education is one of the largest social institutions in the nation touching the lives of almost every person in the country at some point, yet we put far more time and effort into researching a new car than researching our children’s schools and education policies. It is therefore unsurprising that our schools suck. Yes, I said it. They suck. We are a body of people who know nothing but continue to advocate for sweeping education reform efforts with little to no understanding of the variables that truly affect student achievement and for whom and in what context those variables are indeed causal mechanisms.

We rely on education rhetoric and political propaganda to inform our knowledge about schools. Words and phrases like “school choice”, “privatization”, “accountability”, “small classes”, “parental involvement”, “teacher quality”, and “standardization” overwhelm the discourse about education and mask the real conversations we should be having to improve our schools.

Take this 10 question(ish) quiz (answers at the bottom) and see how much you know about public education.

  1. What is the United States’ global education ranking?
  2. Define NCLB and CCSS
  3. Define RTTT. How much money has been dedicated to this reform effort?  What do school districts do to get these funds? How effective has this movement been?
  4. How are schools funded? What percentage of school funding is from the federal government? What is the relationship between per pupil expenditure (primary measure of school funding) and student achievement?
  5. What qualifications do people need to become full time K-12 teachers?
  6. Who is the Secretary of Education? What is his experience in education? Who was rumored to be an alternative nominee for the position?
  7. What is constructivist learning?
  8. Does class size or teacher quality matter more in predicting student achievement?
  9. How do charter schools differ from a privatized school? Are charter schools more or less effective than traditional schools?
  10. What is the sole predictor (i.e., the only variable we consistently see connected to achievement) of student achievement?



Don’t be this woman. Don’t just say nonsense (i.e., things about which you know very little in relation to academic achievement) as justification for choosing a particular school for your child. Educate yourself about what matters in schooling so you can see through the propaganda and be an informed participant in educational discourse.





Quiz Answers

  1. 36th
  2. No Child Left Behind, Common Core State Standards
  3. Race to the Top. For the rest of the answers, check out two past blog posts of mine. Race to the Top and Obama on Education
  4. Schools are primarily funded by local property taxes (approximately 70-75% depending on the state). Only about 8% of schools funding comes from the federal government. The remaining money is allocated to education from the state budget. Check out this post to see the relationship between school funding and achievement: School funding
  5. Teacher qualifications vary by state. Each state requires at least 1test (some states require 3) and a minimum of hours (Florida requires 200 hours. Colorado requires 800) spent in the classroom to get licensure—NOT to be a classroom teacher. One can become a full time classroom teacher with a provisional or alternative license with only a Bachelors degree and one test and zero hours in the classroom. Most states allow people to have provisional (e.g., alternative) licenses for up to 3 years before they are required to get a professional license.
  6. Arne Duncan is the SoE. Here is his Wikipedia page:  Notice that he has never been a classroom teacher or school-level administrator. He majored in Sociology in undergrad and holds no advanced degrees (nonetheless in education). Rumor has it that President Obama was going to pick Professor of Education at Stanford University, Linda Darling Hammond.
  7. Constructivist learning is not anything. Constructivism is a theory about how people come to know. It is common in educational settings to hear people say they are ‘constructivist’ teachers. Whenever someone says that, it is obvious they have never taken an educational psychology course and have little understanding of the difference between cognitive theories and pedagogies.
  8. Neither matters more. There is a tipping point at which even the best quality teacher becomes ineffective in a large class. That tipping point ranges between 32-38 depending upon level and subject matter. Prior to that, a quality teacher matters more to student achievement than class size. In other words, a good teacher can effectively teach 30 students.
  9. Charter schools are public schools that receive about 80% of their funding from private sectors. They are still held accountable to public education state standards BUT they are policed by their own charters instead of common education policy. Privatized schools are schools whose funding is 100% from the private sector. This means that they operate outside of the bounds of government control and can set their own standards and their own policies. 20 years of evidence suggests that charter schools are no more or less effective than traditional public schools.
  10. Socioeconomic status is the sole predictor of student achievement (and broad scale life success).

The Politicization of Pedagogy

This is not make-believe, or as we used to say, for play-play.

I teach real shit to real students in a real classroom. My classroom is a battleground. I talk about issues of stratification, marginalization and subjugation. We read about access and opportunity so students might recognize that the latter cannot exist without the former. We watch documentaries depicting the ‘other’ so that students can use the social as a mirror for the self. I push them to contextualize their experience through the lens of someone else with hopes that tolerance turns to understanding.purpose of education

This is real life.

This is my life. My presence is political.

I am a twenty-something single, childless black woman in a space never meant to be my own. Questions about hiring processes, affirmative action, targeted opportunities and other banal phrases meant to ask ‘what the f*** is she doing here?’ Well I got news for you. Celie said it first: “Dear God, I’m here!” I made it. I played the game. I earned the right to sit at the table.

My journey was political.

I befriended whom I needed and smiled at just the right time. I laughed at lame jokes and cried when no one was looking. I asked for help when I knew I needed it but was certain not to appear unable. I wrote three drafts but told you I freestyled it because you needed to be impressed. I gave you that. And you gave me…

My body is political. And you made that so. My afro, mocha skin, thin frame, thick lips, tall stature, wide nose…I carry all that into the classroom. Proudly.

This is my positionality. I come from NorthEast where I pushed kids off slides, broke glass bottles over heads and pulled knives on uncles. Did I mention this was before age 7? I skipped gifted and talented because it bored me, but I was smart enough to fall in love with Langston Hughes and learn that life is not a crystal stair. I fought for position at school, on the street, in the house.

My knowledge is political. I understand content to the extent I’ve experienced it. I read and write and talk and write and laugh and think…that I will never get a handle on the interrelatedness of life. I cannot choose when to enact the parts of me that best fit the theory currently in question. I cannot ignore that I am a walking contradiction, an oxymoron of educated black or smart woman or eloquent southerner. All I know I live.

This is real to me. I make it real for them.

So yeah, my pedagogy is political.

A Black Professor’s Decision to Teach White Students

It’s 2014 and while I’ve never been one to make new year resolutions, I do engage in deep reflection at the start of a new year. Something that has been on my heart (as they say in the Church), for which I am presently developing the words to convey, is my decision not to teach at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU).

Or rather, my decision to teach at a predominately white institution (PWI).

Because really, I never decided against HBCUs; I decided in favor of PWIs.

I decided in favor of teaching where I would be most effective. In favor of teaching to affect and effect change. In favor of teaching what I knew.

And what I knew was that my life experiences had not prepared me to teach at an HBCU.  In fact, they’d prepared me to do the exact opposite: to teach white students. This is not because I do not identify with the black community or because I am uncomfortable around my own people (as I have been accused of). On the contrary, I yearn to be with people who know what an HBCU is. I crave discussion about recently released movies and their depiction of black history. I sometimes dream of not being the only person of color in a meeting, in the department, in a classroom. I fantasize about what it would be like to not have to tout my degree to provide credence to my words.  I wonder what it would be like to not have to worry about someone walking away with all my stuff or being perceived as an angry black woman meant to Mammy the students.

But still, I choose to stay at my PWI. Mostly because that is where I am needed. That is where I can help students gain an understanding of the world beyond what is written in the textbook of their lives. That is where I can challenge students to feel emotions they would never have felt if they’d not enrolled in my course. That is where I can draw from my own personal and educational experiences as a skinny middle-class black girl with glasses and braces who fought to move beyond conditional acceptance (read: tolerance) in our white male world, to having a rightful place at the table.

That is where I can teach to liberate.


School freed me from myself. And my family. And my crime ridden neighborhood of North East D.C. School was where I learned that everyone does not start on an equal playing field. School was where I interacted with people whose family structures were different than my own. School was where I received invitations to visit friends whose homes were not 3 bedroom, 2 bath houses with a fenced in yard. School was where I learned that not everyone believes in me the way my parents do. School was where I learned to defend myself, my family and my beliefs from those whose cultural norms countered my black bourgeoisie mindset. School was where I learned to coexist amicably despite cultural differences. School was where I grew.

I decided at age 19 that I wanted to teach. I wanted to teach middle school Language Arts but knew that a 32k salary would not yield the life I envisioned for myself. So I decided to become a professor. During that decision making process I gave little thought to where I would profess. I just wanted to teach. My own experiences in K-12 public schools were automatically juxtaposed with my undergraduate career at a private Ivy League college. These experiences were further complicated when I visited my brother at his large public university. Here again I learned something: everyone is not given equitable access to information.

Throughout graduate school I realized that teaching is easier when you have tools with which to teach, so I decided to teach at a private school to take advantage of all their fancy resources. Still, I did not consider teaching at an HBCU. I did not consider them mostly because HBCUs were not a part of my existence. Yes, I knew all about them. My father works almost exclusively with HBCUs in his small business. I’d even spent a summer at a STEM camp housed on an HBCU campus. My family on my father’s side all attended HBCUs, as did my younger sister. Almost all of my friends in graduate school were enrolled in a PhD or MD program at an HBCU in the same city as my graduate school.

But that had nothing to do with me. I couldn’t see myself there.

It’s hard to explain, but in short, I felt and feel no sense of belonging or purpose at an HBCU. I feel as though there are competent and passionate people already doing what I could do at a school serving predominately African Americans. What would I contribute? I, whose life experiences ran parallel to, but never overlapped with, the black community. Me, who doesn’t always participate in “black culture” (whatever that is) simply because I am not always exposed to it. I, who have always had a friend group comprised of multiple racial and ethnic groups, which sometimes got me labeled a sell-out. Me, who became successful by taking what they had on the other side of the tracks and making it my own. The beauty and tragedy of my journey is that I found what I needed outside of the black community and I will not apologize for that. Because I am not sorry.

I am proud to have carved an entry point into a world from which blacks have been barred. I am amused that I can access the cultural capital they’ve placed under lock and key. Most of all, I am elated to interact with students whose lives have run parallel to, but never overlapped with, marginalized groups. I am in a unique position to give my students information and experiences very few others will have the wherewithal, desire or courage to provide.

I am teaching them the means through which they can liberate themselves from hegemonic culture and become an agent and participant of change.

Teaching-to-Transgress-Hooks-Bell-9780415908085I am teaching where I am most effective. I am affecting and effecting change. I am teaching to transgress. I am enacting education as a practice of freedom.

Education was my passage to freedom. I want it to be theirs as well.