Tag Archives: education policy

Reflecting on Workshop with Dr. Charles Payne: The Historical Context of Universality Rhetoric in American Education


This evening, I attended a workshop with Dr. Charles Payne, hosted by UChicago Careers in the Education Professions. I attended an event with Charles Payne last quarter as well, hosted by Block 58. I have to say, having the opportunity to hear him speak frequently is very much a perk of attending this university.

One of the great things about events featuring Charles Payne is that there are only two certainties. The first is that you never have any idea what the topic will be. As one of my professors put it, he speaks about whatever happens to be on his mind that day. It can range from neighborhood development to national policy, employing any and all types of logic from theoretical sociology to real-world policy debate. The second certainty, luckily, is that whatever Charles Payne chooses to speak about, it will never be boring.

This evening’s talk was a short presentation followed by a Q&A discussion with Dr. Payne. The presentation commenced with a question: “Why do kids who look like they’re from very similar backgrounds have very dissimilar outcomes?” I’ve heard Dr. Payne speak to this interest of his before, though always with a slight twist that makes each asking of it differ from the last . After all, so much about education boils down to variability, and so does much of the political rhetoric. In the classroom, teachers must work with variability in an incredible way, somehow managing a classroom with (sometimes up to 35) students who come from different cultures, socioeconomic levels, and home climates, and that’s before even broaching the topic of differences in academic abilities and motivation levels. The issue of variability travels all the way up to the international level, with our top officials asking how our students compare to those of different nations.

Of particular interest to me is the management of variability in urban school districts, both in terms of neighborhood composition and policy rhetoric. Fortunately, Dr. Payne spoke to this tonight. He explained his most recent research interest, which concerns the successes and failures of various urban school districts in the United States. One story in particular I found really intriguing, namely, his story of an urban district superintendent who tried to directly combat “white privilege.” There are many ways of circumventing this crucial issue in urban education, and it is always refreshing to hear someone use the term in the context of honest inquiry, rather than with apology or hostility.

The most important policy lesson that Dr. Payne saw in the superintendent’s success, he explained, was universality. In short, improving educational opportunities for less-privileged children in urban districts is only politically achievable when improvement can be shown for more-privileged children as well. This is something I spent a lot of last quarter thinking about, while I was writing a term paper about the history of universality in education reform rhetoric and putting the universal pre-k movement into that historical context. After hearing Dr. Payne speak, I believe even more fervently in the sheer power that universality rhetoric can have in the field of educational reform. I am not saying I have an opinion in whether this power is ultimately a positive or negative force for society (though perhaps this question will go on my list of potential topics for my Sociology BA Thesis). Regardless of connotation, the rhetoric of universality has proven important historically in a country that prides itself on–though it rarely knows how to promote–its own diversity.


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What the UFT Endorsement of Thompson Could Mean

For New Yorkers, one of the biggest pieces of news in the education world is the UFT’s endorsement of Bill Thompson in the mayoral race. With Mayor Bloomberg’s leaving office later this year, it has yet to be seen whether his self-declared title of “the education mayor” will stick in the history books. Whoever the next mayor is will play a significant role in determining how Bloomberg’s education policies are viewed in the long run. By electing a mayor who chooses to put a stop to the Bloomberg education policies, NYC voters may have a significant impact on Bloomberg’s education legacy. In endorsing Thompson, the UFT seems to be taking a definitive step in this direction, as Thompson has tried to set himself apart from Bloomberg in some ways while promising to simultaneously continue some of his iconic policies, such as mayoral control of the city’s schools. In light of this, it is rather difficult to determine whether Thompson believes that Bloomberg’s version of education reform should be seen as successful. 

Thompson may have received the UFT’s coveted endorsement, but this is certainly not a definitive conclusion to the question of which mayoral candidate the education reform community will ultimately support. The UFT last endorsed a winning candidate when it supported Dinkins in the 1989, and has had a losing streak ever since. Mayor Bloomberg has claimed that this is not simply coincidental, but that an endorsement by the UFT is practically a “kiss of death,” going on to explain that the voters should understand that “[i]f the UFT wants it, it ain’t good, and you don’t want that person.” 

The UFT is attempting a comeback by endorsing Thompson, but still faces competition posed by the multitude of fellow labor unions who have endorsed other candidates, mostly notably in the way of Quinn, de Blasio, and Liu. Interestingly, de Blasio seems to be the candidate who supports public education most strongly. If this comes down to a battle between support for public schools and allowances for charter schools, de Blasio may stand out as a singularly unique candidate. 

For further comparison of the candidates and where they stand on education policy, you can follow the candidates and their policy statements here.

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Welcome! This greeting is partly directed at myself, somewhat of a “welcome to the world of blogging, and welcome to the 21st century!” I have never been very interested in recording my thoughts and publishing them on the internet for who-knows-who to see. However, school is out for the summer and I figured that it might be a productive use of my time to become accustomed to this modern form of mass communication. So, here I am in a cliché NYC Starbucks, watching the bustle of Broadway and preparing to publish my thoughts for the world to see.

To start off, I suppose it might be a good idea to explain what this blog is about. And what better way to introduce something than the traditional 6 questions?


As the name “EducationThinker” implies, I am a person who thinks about education. I am a college student planning on pursuing a career in education policy reform (and/or law? tbd). I grew up in New York City (with a short hiatus in New Jersey that I’d rather not talk about, but may come up in the future) and had some fairly significant trauma from dealing with bureaucracy in the education system, stories of which I’m sure will come out in this blog at some point or another. I’ve been interested in American education policy since about 8th grade. Currently I attend college in Chicago, where I work with the Neighborhood Schools Program, a great organization that sends university students to help teach classes and run extracurricular programs in underprivileged schools and community programs.


What will this blog be? Well, that is partly unpredictable. As of now, I plan to make this blog a sort of diary of my self-schooling on education policy over the summer (and perhaps beyond).


Daily. Hopefully. Aim high, right?


If you’re here already then you know this, but obviously the location is https://educationthinker.wordpress.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @KiaraNerenberg.


This is probably the most important part of the introduction, as this is where I’m going to set some goals for myself and explain my reasoning for starting this blog.

1) Learn: The main goal of this blog is to learn and to educate. I want to educate myself and the public about the news going on in the world of education reform. Through analyzing news in the realm of education, I also hope to learn more about myself and further explore where my interests lie and what my role can be in education reform.

2) Write: Blogging allows people to keep their writing skills in shape, and will allow me to practice my writing while school is out. Additionally, blogging gives way to practicing a much more personable and useful type of writing. I love college, but after a while of writing papers about what Plato and Shakespeare said hundreds of years ago, you begin to feel disconnected from the interpersonal communication that writing is made for.

3) Stay Accountable: My summer focuses on an autodidactic approach to education policy. Writing this blog will help me keep track of what I learn and ensure that I am actively thinking about and analyzing the knowledge I gain.


My plan is to post on EducationThinker daily, each day focusing on one thing that I read or watch or experience or witness or think or feel or…really anything relating to education. I think you get the idea.

So, there are my goals. I’m excited to start this experiment in self-education and excited to have you along for the ride!


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