Richard Kahlenberg

Richard D. Kahlenberg is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and author of Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy.

Recent Articles

How the Left Can Avoid a New Education War

A battle is brewing between portions of the civil-rights community and teacher unions over the future of liberal education policy.

Just as Democrats have finally settled on a nominee and begun to unite, a major new fight has broken out between competing factions in the liberal education-policy community. One group argues that poverty should not be used as an excuse for failure and sees teacher unions as a major obstacle to promoting equity through education reform. The other group says education reform by itself cannot close the achievement gap between rich and poor and black and white without addressing larger economic inequalities in society. The battle, which can broadly be characterized as one between portions of the civil-rights community and teacher unions, is a movie we've seen before -- most explosively in the New York City teacher strikes of the 1960s -- and it doesn't end well. Sen. Barack Obama should follow the lead of legendary teacher-union leader Albert Shanker and recognize that both sides in the debate need to bend. The first coalition , led by the self-described "odd couple" of the Rev. Al...

The New Look of School Integration

A bad Supreme Court decision overturning race-based integration programs in Louisville, KY, and Seattle, WA, has produced a positive result. A new initiative in Louisville does something even better for children -- it integrates them by class.

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down racial-integration plans in Jefferson County (Louisville), Kentucky, and Seattle, Washington, last June, some feared the decisions spelled the end of America's commitment to Brown v. Board of Education . But last Wednesday the Jefferson County school board unanimously voted to adopt a new plan that emphasizes integration by socioeconomic status, which is more legally viable and educationally sound than integration based on race alone. The revised plan, which considers parental education and income levels in addition to race, may very well represent the future of school integration in the United States. Louisville's schools, like most throughout the South, were de jure segregated by race prior to Brown . Local officials resisted the Brown decision for years, but in 1975 the district was subject to a federal court order to desegregate. Under the plan, students were bused to ensure that all schools were between 15 percent and 50 percent black...

A World Without Teacher Unions?

Despite the myriad criticisms of teacher unions, their abolition would be a huge loss for supporters of public education -- and for the American labor movement as a whole.

For many, Labor Day marks the end of summer and a time to return to school; others see it as a day to contemplate the role of trade unions in American society. For one group in America -- leaders and members of teacher unions-- it represents both, but this Labor Day, they have little to celebrate. Teacher unions are widely seen as disastrous for education. The attacks predictably come from conservatives, but they also come from some liberals and moderates. Earlier this year, for example, Apple's Steve Jobs declared at an education reform conference: "I believe that what's wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way." Jobs was particularly angry that unions sometimes stop bad teachers from being fired. "This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy," he concluded to enthusiastic applause from the audience. So it seems worth asking: what would life be like without teacher unions? In the 1950s,...

Back to Class

The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial by Susan Eaton (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 357 pages, $24.95) The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Jonathan Kozol (Crown, 404 pages, $25.00) The Charter School Dust-Up: Examining the Evidence on Enrollment and Achievement by Martin Carnoy, Rebecca Jacobsen, Lawrence Mishel, and Richard Rothstein (Economic Policy Institute/Teachers College Press, 186 pages, $16.95) The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. (Houghton Mifflin, 169 pages, $22.00) This year the U.S. supreme court will rule in high-profile cases challenging voluntary racial school integration programs in Seattle and Louisville. The Court may very well ban or restrict these programs, which would be unfortunate. But such a decision could also spur liberals to new thinking on integration and education reform that could be very productive. Ever since the wars over...

Schools of Hard Knocks

The fights over education -- school vouchers, the No Child Left Behind Act, affirmative action, and access to higher education -- resonate deeply with people because they are literally fights over the American dream. Americans used to be able to move up economically with a high-school degree and a blue-collar, unionized job, and their kids could enjoy decent public schools. Now, however, those who have little education are also likely to have little income, forcing them to live in neighborhoods where their children attend inferior schools. Moreover, with skyrocketing college tuitions and federal financial-aid policies tilted toward education tax breaks for more affluent families, even academically prepared low-income and working-class students are having a hard time pursuing a college degree. For all his talk about "compassionate conservatism," George W. Bush has shortchanged working families and their children. Yet clearly these children need a good education -- now more than ever...

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