SAGE Publishing’s recently released reference set Debating Issues in American Education is a 10-volume deep dive into many of the most salient issues regarding the state of PreK-12 education in the United States today. A stellar roster of contributors appears in each issue, recruited by the editors for their knowledge and insight into the topics at hand.
The ten volumes are:
- Alternative Schooling & School Choice
- Curriculum & Instruction
- Diversity in Schools
- Religion in Schools
- School Discipline & Safety
- School Finance
- School Governance
- School Law
- Standards & Accountability in Schools
- Technology in Schools
Within each volume, a dozen or more specific questions are put forward and argued in point/counterpoint essays by contributing authors. The variety of approaches and areas of focus brought to the series by the wide array of authors is a particular strength of the set. I found myself wondering before I sat down to review a volume if interest could be sustained in the topic overall when there were literally hundreds of pages spent on what seems from the outside to be subtle variations in the questions being debated. I found on more than one occasion that what had been meant to be a review of the essays ended up being an in-depth reading of more than half the volume. It is also rewarding when discussion of one particularly important study or Supreme Court Case is echoed or reinforced in another essay by another contributor. There is a real sense that the volumes are geared to build knowledge over a full reading of their essays. Some topics are broader than others and even eighteen essays are perhaps not enough to fully cover every nuance, but there is never a sense that any topic is being short changed.
The editors of the individual volumes also are diligent in making sure that the various themes and insights are part of a unified whole. Editors provide an introduction to the broad topic for that volume that often explains how individual questions were chosen for each topic as well as using history and context to build a throughline for the variety of essays covering those questions. Each question’s point/counterpoint essays also feature a detailed headnote by the volume editor that takes the same tack with the specific question, providing context for the essays to follow.
Contributing authors come from academia, think tanks, government, schools, and the law. They are all well-versed in their topic areas and seem well-chosen from a point/counterpoint perspective. It is clear that each author has had opportunities to review the other’s essay prior to publication and it is often interesting to see how a supporter of an issue addresses (or chooses not to address) the other’s contentions in his or her own essay. Subtlety often pays off more than direct contention.
And that I think is the main benefit of this, frankly, amazing collection of thought and discourse. Even if the topics are not relevant to you directly, the ways in which these issues are discussed and debated – including historical context and interpretation of studies and court decisions – are interesting in themselves.
We at the Fordham Institute are proud to have three contributors to the volume on Standards & Accountability in Schools, but for this reviewer personally it is the breadth of topics, the depth of knowledge, and the care in presentation of the material that really makes this reference set stand out. These are the topics that are uppermost in the minds of education stakeholders across the spectrum today, which require the deep knowledge and historical context in order to be properly addressed going forward.