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Back to School: What is the Purpose of Public Education?

  • Commonwealth Club 555 Post Street San Francisco, CA, 94102 United States (map)

Nikole Hannah-Jones, Investigative Reporter, The New York Times Magazine

Kristina Rizga, Senior Reporter, Mother Jones; Author, Mission High - Moderator

Across the country, the challenges of growing extremism, xenophobia, violence, and filter bubbles plague communities and the country at large, alongside a lack of mutual understanding and collective responsibility. Can public education be a part of the solution or will it crumble in today’s political climate?

Over the last 30 years, education reform has drastically changed American schools: The slashing of public dollars, backlash against racial integration, test-and-punish policies, and other shifts have increased inequities and other divisions within our public school system. In just the past decade, the per-student funding gap between rich and poor schools has grown 44 percent, and public schools are more segregated by race and class today than they were shortly after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. The Trump administration heralds school choice and vouchers as the best solution to issues facing education, but access and quality of these systems are hotly debated.

This leaves the American public with lots of questions. Can the promise of public education stand up to the current state of the country? Are there ways to uphold public schools as a bastion of democracy, civic engagement, and inclusion? How can parents and citizens help revive the promise of public education? How can choice policies improve to serve students with disabilities, black children, and English learners more equitably?

Join journalists Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times Magazine and Kristina Rizga of Mother Jones and author of Mission High as they reflect on their extensive reporting in schools—as well as personal experiences—and highlight key, largely invisible forces that are slowly eroding the promise of public education, the intentions and money that drives some of them, and look ahead to the future of schools in America.