Education can be a surprisingly contentious area for the development of law and policy. While many of the most pivotal cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education that ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional, have long been accepted as common practice, federal education policies, such as the No Child Left Behind Act and the Common Core curriculum, have fierce debates between proponents and critics.
If you are looking for research paper topics in education law and policy, you could consider looking into the division between federal and state legislation, historic rulings that have changed education law or the role of standardized testing, as well as the debates on at what grade levels testing is most appropriate, and how much importance testing should be given when allowing schools to receive government funding.
Historical legislation on education law
In the Questia education law and policy library, several historical acts and rulings that have changed the shape of education have their own sections of resources.
- Plessy v. Ferguson, an 1896 ruling, allowed for separate but equal education.
- Brown v. Board of Education overruled Plessy v. Ferguson in 1954, making racial segregation illegal.
- Title I came into force in 1965, is the largest federal education program, and aims to narrow the education gap between wealthy and underprivileged students.
- Title IX of 1972 bans sex discrimination in schools.
- The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 guaranteed “free and appropriate” education to students with disabilities.
Looking into any of these policies or rulings and investigating how they impacted national education could make for an interesting research paper topic.
Ongoing controversial topics
If you are looking to do a research paper topic that examines both sides of an issue, you could consider looking into some of the more contentious pieces of legislation and policy that remain modern issues in education in the United States and internationally.
- Prayer in public schools varies widely internationally. In some nations, prayer is mandated in public schools. In others, such as the United States, prayer in public schools is prohibited. Tracy L. Cook analyzed the issue of prayer in public school in her 2014 text First Amendment Religious Liberties: Supreme Court Decisions and Public Opinion, 1947-2013. In discussing the issue of prayer in public schools, Cook also touched on the issue of curriculum. “Determining how public opinion compares to the Court’s opinion on the issue might be easier if one starts from the premise that the Court would reject the teaching of creationism, whether in a required or voluntary manner, in public schools. With this understanding, it is quite evident that public opinion disagrees with the Court’s opinion on the issue, and the gap is widening.”
- The No Child Left Behind Act, implemented by President Bush in 2002, was intended, like Title I, to narrow the education gap between wealthy and underprivileged students. However, many have criticized the ways that the act emphasized standardized testing, suggesting that it neglects special education programs or actually leaves behind overachieving students. For example, in “No Child Left Behind has Left the Gifted Children Behind,” posted March 24, 2014, in the Penn State Psych 424 blog, the contributor suggested, “Since the focus has shifted to ensuring that all students receive a similar education, thus emphasizing that the children in the bottom 10% of classrooms are being instructed properly—they are actually the ones who receive the majority of the attention.” The contributor went on to argue that gifted students are thus left to figure it out on their own and are not challenged in the classroom.
- Common Core, the federal curriculum standards introduced during the Obama administration, was designed to implement a universal education system for the United States, with a goal of preparing students for college and bringing the United States into competition with other international scholars. While many have praised the idea of instituting a core curriculum to even out what students are expected to learn, rather than leaving curriculum up to states, it has been equally criticized for denying states the right to determine their own curriculum. Controversy also remains when linking common core to standardized testing, which Natalie Aguilar discussed in her article for the SUNY New Paltz student newspaper the New Paltz Oracle, March 30, 2017, in “Common Core Continues to Create Controversy in the Classroom.”
Breaking down any of these topics into the pros and cons, or taking one side of the argument and backing it with studies, could make for an interesting research paper.
For more on education, visit Questia.
What do you think are key issues in education law and policy? Tell us in the comments.