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

Conceding Success

Several recent studies show that two major undertakings of progressive government -- environmental regulation and public education -- have been far more successful than widely believed.

Works Discussed in this Essay: David C. Berliner and Bruce J. Biddle, The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud and the Attack on America's Public Schools (Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1995). Gerald W. Bracey, "The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education," published each October since 1991 in Phi Delta Kappan. Gerald W. Bracey, Final Exam: A Study of the Perpetual Scrutiny of American Public Schools (TECHNOS Press, 1995). Gregg Easterbrook, A Moment on the Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism (Viking, 1995). Samuel G. Freedman, Small Victories: The Real World of a Teacher, Her Students and Their High School (Harper and Row, 1990). David W. Grissmer, Sheila Nataraj Kirby, Mark Berends, and Stephanie Williamson, Student Achievement and the Changing American Family (RAND, 1994). Leonie Haimson, and Billy Goodman, eds., A Moment of Truth: Correcting Scientific Errors in Gregg Easterbrook's A Moment on the Earth (Environmental Defense Fund, 1995). Christopher Jencks...

Behind the Numbers: When States Spend More

Surprisingly, even without federal mandates, the states have both increased and equalized school outlays. There is a political lesson here -- about coalition building and grassroots activism.

L iberals and progressives have generally believed that shifting federal authority for social programs to the states will typically lead to a "race to the bottom" as states try to attract business and keep taxes down by cutting expenditures and regulations [see Mary Graham, "Why States Can Do More"]. But a common trend of the last quarter century has also been a race to the top in which state policies can become more generous over time and even rival those of the federal government. Education is the social enterprise for which state and local governments have always had almost exclusive responsibility. Public education has never won much federal support (only 6 percent of spending comes from the federal government, and at the height of federal involvement in 1979, it was still less than 10 percent), so if there was an inevitable trend in our federal system for competitive inadequacy, we might expect to see it in the public schools. And we did see it in the South, until about 1970 when...

Charter Conundrum

In exchange for autonomy from school districts, charter schools promise to achieve measurable progress in children's performance. But the movement is based on a dubious premise.

C harter schools probably will not settle the education wars, but they may provide an armistice. Conservative privatizers see charter schools as a next-best alternative to voucher plans, which have now lost political momentum; progressive educators, on the other hand, see charters as places where they can implement long-sought reforms, free from constraints imposed by rule-bound school bureaucracies. Each side hopes to exploit charter schools' disarmingly simple trade—that almost any group can get public funds to run almost any kind of school, provided they are "explicitly accountable" to the public for "improving student performance," in the U.S. Department of Education's words. But there's the rub. The premise on which charter schools are based—that we can hold schools accountable for results—is a myth. As contemporary debates about national standards and testing show, there is no consensus about how to assess educational outcomes objectively. Nor does political accountability seem...

Charter Schools in Action: Renewing Public Education

Fifteen hundred charter schools have been established nationwide since 1991, enrolling 300,000 schoolchildren. The original idea was for parents and teachers, with educational visions, to establish independent publicly funded schools, free from regulations that impede innovation. Superior results would stimulate imitation by regular schools. Charters have been endorsed by both liberal reformers and conservative critics of public education. Chester Finn, Jr., Bruno Manno, and Greg Vanourek are among the latter. (Finn, Ronald Reagan's assistant secretary of education, typically speaks for conservative Republicans in education controversies.) In the authors' Manichaean view, charter schools are not a mere incremental reform, but challenge everything regular schools represent. To justify this polarization, they view public education through a misfocused lens. A frequent conservative ploy, repeated in this book, is to assert that...