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PWR 1LS: Beyond the Achievement Gap: Writing about Education

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Catalog Number: PWR 1LS

Instructor: Lisa Swan

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


Whether it be the college admissions scandal or the Covid-19 pandemic, recent media coverage has revealed many inequalities in our education system. This class invites you to explore the ways education problems are defined, discussed, and communicated in media. You will investigate the education scholarship informing this coverage and probe the assumptions the resulting rhetoric presents about equality, equity, merit, and our education system more broadly.

Possible education topics to research include education technology like ChatGPT, school choice, common core, college admissions, athletics, ethnic studies, rural education, the STEM pipeline, Hispanic Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges, or FLI summer bridge programs. You are encouraged to draw on your personal experiences, majors, and areas of interest to identify a topic to research.

To frame your research, our class will define the concepts of equality, equity, and meritocracy. We will consider how education problems are presented in a range of media sources, including newspaper and magazine stories, podcasts, social media posts, and documentaries. Then we will assess the current scholarly research on this problem. For example, students interested in selective enrollment magnet schools may watch the documentary Try Harder, listen to a Have You Heard or AMP Reports podcast, and read articles from The New York Times and Education Researcher alike. Students’ writing and research will investigate the ways different audiences (policymakers, researchers, school officials, educators, students, and communities) frame and communicate education problems in order to develop a thoughtful, research-based written argument.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) Students will analyze how a particular text frames and rhetorically communicates an education problem.

Texts in Conversation Essay

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) To prepare for your Research-Based Argument, you’ll select an education problem, research it from a variety of perspectives, and write an annotated bibliography and synthesis essay about the conversation surrounding your topic.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) You will continue to research your topic, drawing on both scholarly and public sources, before writing a longform feature article that takes a position within the conversation. In the past, students have written essays that explored the impacts of cultural mismatch on the STEM pipeline, the way college rankings discriminate against historically black colleges, policies that reinforce gender bias in college athletics, and the causes of rural brain drain.