University of Wisconsin–Madison


History of the Washington, D.C. Public Schools
Prof. Reese is currently composing a one-volume history of the Washington, D.C. public schools.  Historically, public schools were by law and custom largely under state and local control, despite Congressional approval of notable educational programs during the Cold War and Great Society and, more recently, the unprecedented “No Child Left Behind Act.” While the federal government has traditionally lacked much influence over schools, there is one notable exception. For more than two centuries, it claimed an outsized role in shaping and controlling educational policy in its own backyard: Washington, D.C.

This project analyzes how federal policies influenced academic achievement and the character of public schools. It explores how shifting perspective and policies on race, pedagogy, and curriculum shaped academic achievement and the social history of the public schools from their origins in the early 1800s to the eve of the twenty-first century. For well over a century before Michelle Rhee’s turbulent tenure as chancellor (2007-2010), an array of politicians and activists had Washington D.C.’s schools in their cross-hairs seeking to advance or hold back the tide of racial integration, promote or discredit public education, and ignore or lift student achievement.

Biography of Zerah Colburn

Prof. Reese is penning a biography of early 19th century mathematical prodigy Zerah Colburn.  Born to a poor farming family in Cabot, Vermont in 1804, Colburn became perhaps the most famous of the period’s “calculating boys.”  He was exhibitioned throughout America, Britain, and the European continent and educated in London and Paris.  His wide travels and celebrity brought him into contact with some of the most prominent figures and significant events of early 19th century America and Europe.  By 1824, Colburn had returned from Europe and become an itinerant Methodist minister.  He spent the final years of his short life teaching at Norwich University and died of tuberculosis at the age of 34. Reese’s biography explores the themes of family, patronage, religion, and class while diving through the economic, political, and social upheaval of the period.