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

Testing Our Patience

State and federal law assume that the quality of public education can be gauged by the number of students who reach the "proficiency" mark on a standardized test. Indeed, the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law provides serious penalties for schools that fail to make sufficient annual gains in these numbers. It is a terribly misguided policy. But the problem is not, as some critics argue, that all tests are invalid. Standardized tests can do a good job of indicating, though not with perfect certainty, whether students have mastered basic skills, can identify facts they should know or can apply formulas they have memorized. Such tests have a place in evaluating schools, as they do in evaluating students. However, they are of little use in assessing creativity, insight, reasoning and the application of skills to unrehearsed situations -- each an important part of what a high-quality school should be teaching. Such things can be assessed, but not easily and not in a standardized...

Vouchers in Court

O n December 11, 2000, in a decision now headed to the Supreme Court, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the voucher program in Cleveland, Ohio, violates the separation of church and state. The program provides tuition vouchers of $2,500 for low-income children to attend private schools. Over fourth-fifths of the students who benefit attend religious schools, and most of these are Catholic. In a bitter dissent, Judge James L. Ryan said the majority decision "sentenc[es] nearly 4,000 poverty-level, mostly minority, children in Cleveland to return to the indisputably failed Cleveland public schools." Debates about government aid to religious schools are not new, but couching them in terms of whether public schools "fail" more than private schools is a new twist. This argument joins a number of disparate forces in a temporary pact of convenience: those who sincerely believe that competition will improve education for the disadvantaged, along with free-marketeers and...

Continental Drift: NAFTA and Its Aftershocks

The trade problem is much bigger than the treaty.

T he North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a symbol of Mexico's incorporation into the U.S. economy as a low-wage manufacturing center. This economic integration will drive down wages, employment, and living standards, while rolling back environmental regulations in the United States as well as in Mexico. But NAFTA is only a symbol: the low-wage approach to economic integration continues apace with or without NAFTA. The treaty was mainly designed not to promote economic changes (which were happening anyway) but to improve the domestic political fortunes of Presidents Bush and Salinas. However, many Americans appropriately concerned about declining labor and environmetal standards that result from integration with Mexico have fallen into the trap of opposing NAFTA while giving less attention to the underlying economic strategies followed by both nations regardless of the treaty's formalization. Consider the trading practices that have developed even without NAFTA. General...

The Left's Obsessive Opposition

My liberal friends are being too hard on Bill Clinton. His mandate and congressional majority are wafer thin, and he's doing well with what he has. Would you rather have George Bush?

M y liberal friends are being too harsh on Bill Clinton. I am not uncritical of administration policies: I have objected in print to its overemphasis on human capital as an economic cure and to its reluctance to embrace forthrightly the labor movement. I believe its NAFTA side agreements don't go nearly as far as they should. Still, I admire the Clinton administration. I credit its good faith and basic progressivism and fear that the increasingly sour tone of the liberal left will only backfire. I have in mind two unfortunate patterns. First, Clinton's liberal critics forget the narrowness of his mandate; they are too quick to blame the absence of a strong working liberal majority in Congress on alleged lack of presidential leadership. Second, they fall into the familiar liberal habit of making the good the enemy of the best. Perhaps liberals who have spent their entire lives in bitter opposition to Democratic and Republican presidents alike have no instincts on which to draw when a...

Friends of Bill? Why Liberals Should Let Up on Clinton

In Clinton's first two years, myopic liberals complained about his compromises and disparaged his accomplishments. Now there will be fewer accomplishments and bigger compromises. Insisting on purity could only make things worse.

F ollowing the midterm election debacle, the conventional liberal wisdom is that Bill Clinton should now follow Harry Truman's strategy: refuse to move to the center in an attempt to find moderate votes for a watered-down agenda and instead confront the Republican majority with populist attacks on a "do-nothing Congress." This advice ignores that prior to his "give 'em hell" 1948 election campaign, Truman spent three and a half years trying to appease conservatives to win support for a reform program. He compromised and then abandoned expansion of unemployment insurance, higher minimum wages, universal health insurance, and civil rights proposals (including anti-lynching legislation, elimination of poll taxes, integration of interstate commerce, and a Fair Employment Practices Commission). The Truman model ignores that Truman continued to pursue a strategy of moving to the center even after his devastating 1946 midterm election rebuff, when his unpopularity produced even greater...