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Our Last IDEA “Theme,” But Stay Tuned

Posted by mirra at Jul 12, 2013 12:05 PM |


Week of July 8-12, 2013


Every Friday, for almost 200 Fridays, UCLA IDEA has produced an education “Themes in the News.”  IDEA staff, supported by suggestions from our many organizational partners, has tried to place the headlines and “breaking” education-related events in larger structural contexts; that is, we looked for relationships, consistencies, and sometimes ironies between education and the larger social, political, and economic landscape.  Today’s commentary is our last for a while. After a hiatus this summer, we plan to return with a new blog format and a sharper focus on how economic inequality shapes and is shaped by learning in k-12 public schools.  

The archive of our “Themes” ( offers more than a quick reference—a linear summary—of California education news.  Upon reflection we can draw from the archive some overarching themes that penetrate all aspects of California education since our first theme in March 2009. We might abbreviate these larger themes as economic crisis, distracting reforms, and activism and resistance.

First, IDEA “Themes” chronicled education during the great recession from which some sectors of the state are now recovering.  Our first “Themes” was written as California entered its second consecutive month of double-digit unemployment.  Districts had begun issuing massive numbers of pink slips on March 15—a practice that was to become an annual ritual.  The pain and dislocation of the economic crisis had taken root, and analysts correctly predicted that it would last a long time.  California’s families and California’s public schools, colleges, and universities were in crisis.  We wrote often about how instability and insecurity outside schools made young people’s lives harder and created new challenges for California educators. We also highlighted the many ways that cuts to California’s (already substandard) education budget diminished learning opportunities and supports, particularly for the state’s most vulnerable children.

A second major theme that emerges is the rash of new reforms that promised dramatic improvement in educational outcomes, even as the state pulled dollars from its underfunded public schools.  Charter schools, teacher evaluation systems based on student test scores, school turnaround models—these initiatives consumed the attention, energies, and resources of California educators and California’s public. The momentum of these reforms is striking given the lack of evidence in their favor, especially when viewed alongside the meager policy attention given to California’s core, structural education challenges behind the state’s disinvestment in public education and the inequitable distribution of learning resources. 

A third major theme is seen in the resistance of many Californians who refused to accept an inevitable decline of public education in the state.  Teachers questioned the misuse and overuse of standardized tests.  Young people, mostly college students, joined mass rallies protesting diminished services and rising tuition.  Unions, community-based organizations, and parents forged an unexpected and powerful electoral coalition supporting reasonable tax increases to bring desperately needed funds back to California schools and colleges. All were propelled by a deep sense of hope—a belief that our state can be better, but only if we invest in our collective future through public education.

In these “Themes” we have tried to uncover patterns in the education news that revealed if public schools were, week-by-week, becoming more capable, fair, just, and democratic; we looked for evidence and trends of a public that was informed and engaged. We tried to honor news of hard work and tangible achievements that have made public schools better; and at the same time not ignore the bitter disappointments that school betterment is too weak, too slow, and too unfair for so many students. In sum, the past four years have confirmed to us that accepting the status quo is a sign of despair while critique and resistance are the hallmarks of hope.  

Thanks to all those who have contributed to the “Themes” …  Melanie Bertrand, Gary Blasi, Claudia Bustamante, Sophie Fanelli, Julie Flapan, Martin Lipton, Jared Planas, John Rogers, Marisa Saunders, Arif Shaikh, Claudia Vizcarra.

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Weekly Themes In The News

Each Friday “Themes in the News” explores one of the current week’s “breaking news” topics—selected by IDEA staff and its partners—for summary and reflection.   Hyperlinks of the news stories, which are cited, allow readers to explore the theme on their own.