EDF 580 – History of American Education


Instructor: Dr. David I. Backer
Office: Wayne 930
Telephone: 610-436-2326
e-mail: dbacker@wcupa.edu
Office Hours: Please make an appointment: Monday 2-4pm; Thursday 2-5pm
Room Link: https://wcupa.zoom.us/j/2505224880
University Emergency Number: 610-436-3311

Course Description 

Nature and direction of American education, studied through individual and group research. 

Essential Questions

What is the history of American school funding? How does this relate to contemporary struggles for funding equality? Can the history of American education be understood through interpellation?

General Content Objectives 

  1. Read historical texts on American education focusing on a specific concern.
  2. Understand education and schooling in its social-structural context throughout US history.
  3. Practice writing and presenting historical analysis of education.

Thesis Specific Objectives 

  1. Generate research materials and assignments relevant to your thematic concern.
  2. Complete historical section of your thesis.

Course Readings

All readings will be made available as PDFs at D2L and davidbacker.com/classes.

Course Schedule

    Date                                                       To Read                                        To Turn in





Part 1: Framework and early history

Backer, D.I. (2019). “A Beginner’s Guide to Interpellation,” in The Gold and the Dross: Althusser for Educators. Brill-Sense.


Follow this link


Baker, B. (2018). Educational Inequality and School Finance. Harvard University Press, Chapter 2.

PDF: Baker Chp. 2

Come to class ready to discuss each reading, focusing on two things:



  1. What is an interpellation, and did the chapter make you think of any experiences of your own?
  2. What is the difference between equity, adequacy, and efficiency in school funding?
2/2 Shoked, N. (2017). An american oddity: The law, history, and toll of the school district. Northwestern University Law Review, 111(4), 945-1024.READ PARTS 1 +2



PDF: 111NwULRev945


2/9 Walker, B. D. (1984). The local property tax for public schools: Some historical perspectives. Journal of Education Finance, 9(3), pp. 265-288.



PDF: history of property tax


2/16 Steffes, T. (2012). School, society, and state. University of Chicago Press. Chapter 3.



PDF: steffes chp 3, Speaker Series, 5pm


Presentation: Christina 


Presentation: Bryce

2/23 Bisset, J., Hillman, A., & Elliot, E. (2018). The History of School Funding in Pennsylvania: 1682-2019. Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools. (Section 1 is required, other sections are supplemental.)



PDF:PARSS HistoryofSchoolFunding Kyle2FINAL


Presentation: Mary


Presentation: Katie Manges




PDF: CYNA_Schooling the Kleptocracy_draft


Presentation:Briana LaFratte


Presentation: Whitney Winters

3/9 Glass, M. R., Vanatta, S. (2021). The Frail Bonds of Liberalism: Pensions, Schools, and the Unraveling of Fiscal Mutualism in Postwar New York. Capitalism and History, forthcoming.



PDF: Frail Bonds

Social Justice Education Speaker, 5pm


Presentation: Jen Rodgers


Presentation: Cris McCardell

3/23 Anonymous. (2017). History of the ESEA Title 1-A Formulas. Congressional Research Service.


PDF: Title1Ahistory

Social Justice Education Speaker, 5pm: Camika Royal


3/30 Cyna, E. (2019). “Equalizing Resources vs. Retaining Black Political Power: Paradoxes of an Urban-Suburban School District Merger in Durham, North Carolina, 1958-1996,” History of Education Quarterly 59 (1) no. 1, 35-64.



PDF: Cyna Black Power


4/6 Paris, M. (2009). Framing equal opportunity: The law and politics of school finance reform. Chapter 3, “Egalitarianism made legal: From Robinson to Abbott.”



PDF: Paris Chapter 3


Mini-syllabus due


Focus: Jen R

Focus: Mary

4/13 Tracy L. Steffes, “Assessment Matters: The Rise and Fall of the Illinois Resource Equalizer Formula,” History of Education Quarterly 60, no. 1 (2020): 24-57.


Social Justice Education Speaker, 5pm

PDF: Steffes Assessment Matters


Focus: Whitney


Focus: Briana

4/20 Mark Brilliant, “From Integrating Students to Redistributing Dollars: The Eclipse of School Desegregation by School Finance Equalization in 1970s California,” California Legal History 7 (2012): 229-243.





Focus: Cristina


Focus: Bryce

4/27 Fowler, J. (2007). A level playing field: School finance in the Northeast. SUNY Press. Chapter 3, “Sharing in Vermont.”



PDF: Fowler Sharing in Vermont


Focus: Cris


Focus: Katie

5/4 Orfield, M. & Wallace, N. (2007). The Minnesota Fiscal Disparities Act of 1971: The Twin Cities’ struggle and blueprint for regional tax sharing. Wm. Mitchell Law Review 33(2).



PDF: Tax-Sharing history


5/11 Paper due by 11:59pm  


I will send out a grade proposal survey at the midpoint and end of the semester. Students will take the measure of their own learning with this survey and propose a grade, with which I will agree or disagree.

While no given assignment will be worth any amount in particular, the percentages below are suggestions to help you think about self-evaluation as part of this process.

  1. Presentation                                  30%
  2. Mini-syllabus                                 30%
  3. History Section                              30%
  4. Focus presentation                        10%


All assignments should be turned in through email to dbacker@wcupa.edu.


Find an interpellation from the history of your school district’s funding and analyze it. Using at least one primary and one secondary source, tell the story of what led to that interpellation moment in your district’s funding. Prepare a short presentation (5-6 slides, 20-30 minutes) to give to the class. Suggested structure:

  1. Narrative of a moment/event/interpellation (1-2 slides, 5 minutes)
  2. Research-based account of state structures and persons that led to the interpellation with citations (3-4 slides, 20 minutes)
  3. Conclusion summarizing basic historical elements leading to the initial moment. (1 slide, 5 minutes)

Resources for Research

Bruce Baker’s blog has lots of useful information: 


SHANKER Institute


Michael Rebel at Columbia maintains this site with state-by-state breakdowns of state funding support, school finance litigation, and recent news. 


EdBuild has some really cool, interactive maps that students will want to play with (under “Broken” link), along with databases (“Tools”) and policy proposals (“Fix It”). 


Redlining database: https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/

The urban renewal database: https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/renewal/ 

And a new database overlaying public health data: https://dsl.richmond.edu/socialvulnerability/ 


In the second half of the course, students will propose and negotiate a mini-syllabus based on the history of their thematic concern with me. During the second half of the semester, students will work in a studio format on their mini-syllabus, meeting with me and with one another as you make your way through the content. This mini-syllabus will include:

  1. 5-6 peer-reviewed historical texts (articles, books/book chapters, primary documents) that address your thematic concern.
  2. An intentional ordering of these articles, or the sequence in which you want to read/analyze them. 
  3. Be prepared to talk through what you’re working on with the group on one day during the studio period (during the Focus section). 

Mini-syllabus Process Recommendation

  • Delimit a general domain of interest 
    • This could be your thematic concern, thesis topic/theme
  • General Reading List 
    • Choose 3-5 texts (research books/articles/reports) that provide a lay of the land for your general domain of interest: legal and political trends. Read and annotate these texts.
  • Find 1-2 interpellations 
    • What interpellation catches your eye in the readings above? 
  • Specific Reading List 
    • Based on your general list, choose another 2-4

History Section

Write the historical section of your thesis using the sources you’ve studied in your mini-syllabus. Roughly 3,500 words. 

One possible approach: Find three interpellations in the history of your thematic concern and analyze them, telling what state structures and persons led to them. Suggested structure:

  1. Introduction articulating a pattern between the three interpellations (250 words)
  2. Interpellation 1 + analysis: 1,000 words
  3. Interpellation 2 + analysis: 1,000 words
  4. Interpellation 3 + analysis: 1,000 words
  5. Conclusion (250 words)

Course Attendance Policy

I think of attendance as fluid. I only ask that if you’re going to be absent please let me know via email either well before or just before class begins.


Rarely, students need incompletes for extraordinary reasons.  I will not grant an incomplete at the end of the semester without prior discussion with the student and a firm deadline the student proposes for completing the work.  

Food and Housing Security 

When students face challenges securing food and/or housing, it can be difficult to learn. If you are in this situation, please contact the Dean of Students. If you feel comfortable, please also let me know, and I will do what I can to connect you with appropriate resources. Our campus offers various services and supports for students; know that you are not alone in dealing with these issues.


Many students have care responsibilities for a child in their life, whether as a parent, an older sibling, cousin, etc. If your childcare needs ever come into conflict with the course schedule, please don’t feel as though you need to miss class. I understand that sometimes plans fall through. If this happens, you are welcome to bring a child to class with you. I simply ask that you bring materials to keep them busy (e.g., a book, drawing materials, etc.), and remain mindful of your classmates. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Common West Chester Syllabus elements:


All students have a right to expect that the University will reasonably accommodate their religious observances, practices and beliefs.  In accordance with this policy, I expect you to notify me in writing if you intend to be absent for a class or announced examination.


It is the responsibility of each student to adhere to the university’s standards for academic integrity. Violations of academic integrity include any act that violates the rights of another student in academic work, that involves misrepresentation of your own work, or that disrupts the instruction of the course. Other violations include (but are not limited to): cheating on assignments or examinations; plagiarizing, which means copying any part of another’s work and/or using ideas of another and presenting them as one’s own without giving proper credit to the source; selling, purchasing, or exchanging of term papers; falsifying of information; and using your own work from one class to fulfill the assignment for another class without significant modification. Proof of academic misconduct can result in the automatic failure and removal from this course. For questions regarding Academic Integrity, the No-Grade Policy, Sexual Harassment, or the Student Code of Conduct, students are encouraged to refer to the Department Graduate Handbook, the Graduate Catalog, the Ram’s Eye View, and the University website at http://www.wcupa.edu.

Academic Dishonesty:  Academic dishonesty is prohibited at this University and will not be tolerated in this class.  It is a serious offense because it diminishes the quality of scholarship, makes accurate evaluation of student progress impossible, and defrauds those who must ultimately depend upon the knowledge and integrity or the institution, its students and faculty.  Students should review the academic dishonesty policy stated in the University catalog.


If you have a disability that requires accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), please present your letter of accommodations and meet with me as soon as possible so that I can support your success in an informed manner. Accommodations cannot be granted retroactively. If you would like to know more about West Chester University’s Services for Students with Disabilities (OSSD), please visit them at 223 Lawrence Center. The OSSD hours of Operation are Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Their phone number is 610-436-2564, their fax number is 610-436-2600, their email address is ossd@wcupa.edu, and their website is at http://www.wcupa.edu/ussss/ossd.


West Chester University and its faculty are committed to assuring a safe and productive educational environment for all students. In order to meet this commitment and to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and guidance from the Office for Civil Rights, the University requires faculty members to report incidents of sexual violence shared by students to the University’s Title IX Coordinator, Ms. Lynn Klingensmith. The only exceptions to the faculty member’s reporting obligation are when incidents of sexual violence are communicated by a student during a classroom discussion, in a writing assignment for a class, or as part of a University-approved research project. Faculty members are obligated to report sexual violence or any other abuse of a student who was, or is, a child (a person under 18 years of age) when the abuse allegedly occurred to the person designated in the University protection of minors policy.  Information regarding the reporting of sexual violence and the resources that are available to victims of sexual violence is set forth at the webpage for the Office of Social Equity at http://www.wcupa.edu/_admin/social.equity/.


All students are encouraged to sign up for the University’s free WCU ALERT service, which delivers official WCU emergency text messages directly to your cell phone.  For more information, visit http://www.wcupa.edu/wcualert. To report an emergency, call the Department of Public Safety at 610-436-3311.


It is expected that faculty, staff, and students activate and maintain regular access to University provided e-mail accounts. Official university communications, including those from your instructor, will be sent through your university e-mail account. You are responsible for accessing that mail to be sure to obtain official University communications. Failure to access will not exempt individuals from the responsibilities associated with this course.


I am a member of APSCUF, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties. We uphold the highest standards of teaching, scholarly inquiry, and service. We are an organization that is committed to promoting excellence in all that we do to ensure that our students receive the best education. Ask me for more information on what APSCUF does for students, and see http://www.apscuf.org or http://www.facebook.com/APSCUF.