What Is the Future of U.S. Education?

The Atlantic Education Summit brings to GW discussions on funding of public higher education, “resegregation” of K-12 schools and more.

Maria Ferguson
Center on Education Policy Executive Director Maria Voles Ferguson gave welcoming remarks at The Atlantic Education Summit. (William Atkins/GW Today)
May 26, 2016

By Ruth Steinhardt

State defunding of public institutions of higher learning is a “national crisis,” George Washington President Steven Knapp said Wednesday at The Atlantic’s Education Summit.

Discussing the increasing cost of a college education, Dr. Knapp said net tuition, meaning the amount that students have to pay after financial aid and scholarships, has grown by 17 percent at private institutions since 2000.

At public institutions, he said, the amount has grown by 136 percent over the same period of time.

The disparity, Dr. Knapp said, indicates a need for public and private institutions to better align their goals and strategies so that all students can have access to higher education.

“What we’re doing now in Washington, D.C., is we’re going out into the community and helping families identify sources of student aid wherever they want to go to college,” he said.

Chronicle of Higher Education writer Eric Hoover moderated the conversation. It included Barmak Nissirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The session was among several in the annual two-day education summit convened by The Atlantic magazine.

At GW’s Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre, 59 speakers—including teachers, administrators, activists, parents and students—tackled topics from the importance of play in early childhood education to learning opportunities in prisons and juvenile detention centers.

Center on Education Policy Executive Director Maria Voles Ferguson welcomed participants Tuesday morning, saying that GW was “a great hub of activity” for people interested in the future of education. Her own organization, she said, works extensively with faculty and students at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

“[GW] is an ideal place to host an educational summit,” she said.

GSEHD Dean Michael Feuer participated in a panel called “The Making of a Great Teacher” alongside Clare Berke, an English teacher at Washington, D.C.’s, Benjamin Banneker Academic High School and a graduate of GSEHD’s teacher training program.  Jacqueline Greer, executive director of Urban Teachers, also sat on the panel.

Dr. Feuer pointed out that teaching is “one of the most evaluated professions,” but that teachers also face a constantly sliding scale as evaluation metrics change and standards shift.

He said there also is an American myth that teachers should emerge from their training prepared to meet every possible challenge of the classroom “on the first day of work.”

Rather than take on the impossible task of training for every contingency, Dr. Feuer said, “[Education schools] hope to instill in [students] a kind of agility of mind and behavior so they will become increasingly better in this profession.”

One theme ran throughout the summit: American education has progressed in some important areas in the last few decades, but has stagnated or even regressed in others.

The conference fell precisely on the 62nd anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which ordered the desegregation of state-sponsored schools.

But at a panel on the “resegregation” of American schools, New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah Jones said that in many cities schools are still effectively segregated and that the racial makeup of schools correlates with different resources and outcomes.

“We have never given the same resources to schools where there are large numbers of black and Latino students,” Ms. Jones said. “The more heavily black or Latino a school is, the less likely it is to have qualified, experienced teachers or to teach a college prep curriculum. Its facilities tend to be worse. It has less technology. And this is across the board, no matter what region of the country you’re in.

“Our education system was built on a racial caste, and we have not undone that,” she said.