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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Julius and Rosa Sachs Lecturer Amy Stuart Wells Addresses TC

Amy Stuart Wells spoke to a packed audience in all three of her lectures as the Julius and Rosa Sachs Lecturer and Visiting Associate Professor of Sociology and Education. Stuart Wells is an Associate Professor and Head of the Graduate School of Education's Division of Urban Schooling: Curriculum Teaching, Leadership, and Policy.

She received her Ph.D. in Sociology and Education from Teachers College in 1991 and since then her research on detracking in racially mixed schools, charter schools, and desegregation has been widely cited.

Stuart Wells' first talk was titled "In Search of the Uncommon Schools: Charter School Reform in Historical Perspective." While in the abstract, she said, almost everyone believes in the common school, her research on tracking revealed that, in truth, the common school exists within a highly-stratified, segregated society. She said that parents liked schools because they were racially diverse, but they wanted separation within at the same time. They didn't want their kids in classes with lower-tracked kids-they wanted "diversity at a distance."

In her second lecture, "Local versus Community Control: Distinctions of Race, Class and Power," she focused on community control of education. While reviewing the historical context of recent demonstrations of community control, Stuart Wells said, "I would argue that, neither historically nor today, the push for greater community control is not or does not need to be solely an anti-state political movement. Community control efforts among African Americans in the 1960s were taking place parallel to the Civil Rights Movement that relied heavily on the federal government and the U.S. Constitution for enforcement of basic rights. Furthermore, we know that one of the most successful and enduring War on Poverty programs has been Head Start, which relied on a strong federal presence to bypass state and local power structures and channel money, jobs and pre-school opportunities into poor communities."

The third lecture, "Lessons from Free Market Reforms of the 1990s: The Need to Bring Equity Back into Educational Policy Debates," summed up her first two lectures and challenged the audience to make a change. "We need to step back from the rush to make the educational system more efficient and question the current role for public schools in an increasingly unequal capitalist democracy. Are the schools to reflect the capitalist nature of our nation more so than its democratic nature? If not, then we need to rethink the political possibilities for making publicly-funded schools sites of true democratic discourse and deliberation."

"Part of the challenge," she said, "must be to move away from atomized decision-making to the reassertion of collective responsibility without recreating the very bureaucratic systems whose shortcomings have helped to legitimate the current tendency to treat education as a private good rather than a public responsibility."

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