Richard Rothstein

Richard Rothstein is a Prospect contributing editor, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, and senior fellow at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at U.C. Berkeley School of Law.

Recent Articles

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...

It's Not Just Education

If we want more economic opportunity and equality, a better-skilled work force is only one element among many.

The vast inequalities in American society, even in prosperous times, include correlated inequalities in income, wealth, security, health, occupation, and education. We need policies to remedy each of these inequalities; addressing any one of them will impact the others. Raising the education and skill levels of youth from more disadvantaged backgrounds is a valuable end in itself as well as a way to improve the quality of our civic and cultural life. It will also enable these youth to compete with middle-class youngsters for more skilled and better paying jobs. For example, the unemployment rate of young African American men is scandalously high -- 22 percent. So is their high school dropout rate: over 50 percent in many large urban areas. If we could figure out how to get more of them to persevere in high school and then get the additional postsecondary education and training to qualify for jobs paying middle-class wages, we'd take a meaningful step toward narrowing inequality. On...

Leaving "No Child Left Behind" Behind

Our No. 1 education program is incoherent, unworkable, and doomed. But the next president still can have a huge impact on improving American schooling.

The next president has a unique opportunity to start from scratch in education policy, without the deadweight of a failed, inherited No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The new president and Congress can recapture the "small d" democratic mantle by restoring local control of education, while initiating policies for which the federal government is uniquely suited -- providing better achievement data and equalizing the states' fiscal capacity to provide for all children. This opportunity exists because NCLB is dead. It will not be reauthorized -- not this year, not ever. The coalition that promoted the 2001 bipartisan law has hopelessly splintered, although NCLB's advocates in the administration and the Congress continue to imagine (at least publicly) that tinkering can put it back together. NCLB, requiring annual reading and math tests in grades 3 through 8 (and one such test in high school), represents an unprecedented federal takeover of education. It punishes schools not making "...

Too Young to Test

Last fall and again in the spring, the government administered a standardized literacy and math test to all children in the Head Start program. It's being given again this year. Four-year-olds are asked to count objects, name alphabet letters and simple geometrical shapes, understand directions, characterize facial expressions, and identify animals, body parts, and other objects in pictures. It is hard to discern why the Bush administration insisted on the test over the objections of most leading early-childhood experts and even members of its own Head Start advisory panel. Perhaps it is nothing more than a reflexive decision of administration ideologues who see tests and more tests as the solution to every conceivable educational problem -- or worse, a way to expose the academic failures they fundamentally believe to plague the public-school system in America. There are certainly some legitimate issues to address. One is that the government spends nearly $7 billion annually on Head...

Dreams and Realities

The American Dream and the Public Schools By Jennifer Hochschild and Nathan Scovronick, Oxford University Press, 301pages, $35.00 Beneath all the controversies that roil America's public schools -- bilingual education, school choice, inclusion of children with disabilities, alternative approaches to instruction, and so on -- is there one fundamental conflict and one master key? The political scientists Jennifer Hochschild and Nathan Scovronick think so. In their new book, they claim that the crux of America's education debate is a conflict between individual and collective goals. The individual goal, they say, is to give each child the chance "to make whatever I want of my life," limited only by talent and hard work -- in short, the ability to achieve one's "dreams." The collective goal is that the schools enable all children to "achieve their dreams." The trouble, according to the authors, is that in a competitive world, each child's success depends on others being less successful,...