Richard Rothstein

Richard Rothstein is a Research Associate of the Economic Policy Institute, a Senior Fellow of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law, a Contributing Editor of The American Prospect, and an occasional contributor. His previous work on racial segregation and public education is posted here, and his most recent Prospect print story, "The Making of Ferguson," can be read here. Readers may correspond with him about his writing at

Recent Articles

The Urban Poor Shall Inherit Poverty

Sociologist Patrick Sharkey proves a mother’s insecure upbringing harms her child as surely as a neighbor’s broken window.   

A n apparent conundrum bedevils our understanding of African American students’ inadequate school performance: Blacks from low-income families have worse academic outcomes—test scores and graduation rates, for example—than similarly low-income whites. To some, this suggests that socioeconomic disadvantage cannot cause black student failure; instead, poorly motivated and trained teachers must be to blame for failing to elicit achievement from blacks as they do from whites. This was the theory motivating the George W. Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind law and the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. That flawed conclusion overlooks the fact that low-income blacks differ considerably from low-income whites in their social-class backgrounds. Conventional analyses consider students similarly disadvantaged when their families have incomes below 185 percent of the poverty line, making them eligible for lunch subsidies. Yet zero to 185 percent of poverty is a big span; it...

Public Housing: Government-Sponsored Segregation

When the early New Deal first constructed public housing in New York City and elsewhere, projects for blacks were built in existing ghettos or undeveloped areas where planners wanted to shift existing black neighborhoods. [1] But projects for whites were built in existing white neighborhoods, places like Woodside, where the Klein family lived. By the mid-1930s the government began to lure white families out of public housing with federally insured mortgages that subsidized relocation to new single-family homes in the suburbs. With Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and then, after World War II, Veterans Administration (VA) guarantees, white middle-class families could buy suburban homes with little or no down payments and extended 30-year amortization schedules. Monthly charges were often less than rents the families had previously paid to housing authorities or private landlords. [2] The government had an explicit policy of not insuring suburban mortgages for African Americans. In...

Joel Klein's Misleading Autobiography

What the former chancellor of New York City schools' sleight of hand tells us about education reform

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo/Richard Drew) Former New York City schools chief Joel Klein during an interview in his New York office. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) T his is a story about a story, of how a fiction about impoverished children and public schools corrupts our education policy. The fiction is the autobiography of Joel Klein, the former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. Appointed in 2002 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Klein transformed the city’s public-school system by promoting privately managed charter schools to replace regular public schools, by increasing the consequences for principals and teachers of standardized tests, and by attacking union-sponsored due process and seniority provisions for teachers. From his perch as head of the nation’s largest school district, Klein wielded outsize influence, campaigning to persuade districts and states across the nation to adopt the testing and accountability policies he had established in New York. Deputies he trained...

Battle of the Romney Plans

(Flickr / caniswolfie)
Consider the Detroit area, including suburbs like Sterling Heights, Grosse Pointe, and Warren, whose segregation presented such challenges to George when he was governor and then housing and urban development secretary. Thirty percent of students in the Detroit area are now African American and 39 percent are “economically disadvantaged”—that is, eligible for free or subsidized lunches. In Detroit, 88 percent are African American and 85 percent lunch-eligible. Virtually all are from households with income of less than $22,000 a year for a family of four. If by the Mitt method (school choice) or the George method (residential integration), students now living in Detroit were to attend schools where concentrated disadvantage did not overwhelm school capacity, each school in the area, including those in Detroit, might have about 30 percent African American and 39 percent lunch-eligible enrollment. Of course, no policy should aim for such a mechanically even distribution; these numbers...

The Cost of Living Apart

Without neighborhood integration, Mitt Romney’s school-choice plan won’t close the achievement gap. George Romney knew better.

(Flickr/Seattle Municiple Archive) P oliticians and experts typically refer to schools as “failing” if they are filled with low-income children with low test scores. Faced with enormous challenges, such schools may be doing as well as they possibly can, though. African American children from low-income urban families often suffer from health problems that lead to school absences; from frequent or sustained parental unemployment that provokes family crises; from rent or mortgage defaults causing household moves that entail changes of teachers and schools, with a resulting loss of instructional continuity; and from living in communities with high levels of crime and disorder, where schools spend more time on discipline and less on instruction and where stress interferes with academic achievement. With school segregation continuing to increase, these children are often isolated from the positive peer influences of middle-class children who were regularly read to when young, whose homes...