Mary Lulloff’s essay for WR 150, “Civil Rights and Education,” provides an example of the challenges and rewards of genuinely interdisciplinary research. In “Quality Education…In This Economy? Lessons from the Great Recession,” Mary weaves economic data and historic context to offer a more complex and contextualized view of the impact of recessions on public education. Her paper “attempts to more critically identify nuances” (4) in the widely accepted truth that economic downturns have a negative effect on K-12 public schools. She compares two geographic regions, and deftly analyzes a range of variables to understand how factors such as teacher salary affect student achievement.

This excellent essay, with its strong prose, organization, research, and analysis, could be used in many ways as a teaching model. Three that I think could be especially useful are:

  • Often, we think of research as either qualitative or quantitative. This essay employs both. Students could compare the use of sources in “Historic Background” to the graphs and figures in the results section. They could also discuss their own experiences using data, and find a quantitative source that bears on their research topic.
  • Mary’s topic is a broad one, but she made it manageable by limiting to one recession (2008) and two states (Oklahoma and Arizona). Students could discuss these choices and consider how they might focus their topics on a moment in time, or place, or another limiting factor.
  • Mary’s findings are very specific. For example, she finds that the fourth grade reading scores of African Americans students in Oklahoma fell “drastically” (10) between 2007-2009. Yet she uses her sources to reach broader conclusions, arguing that “data suggest that students of color display higher sensitivity to funding changes.” (11) This makes her essay particularly helpful for discussing how to assemble an argument that is nuanced and well-supported, yet significant.

WR 150: Writing, Research, & Inquiry