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

The Class-Based Future of Affirmative Action

Progressives must move on from the idea of race-based admissions policies. 

AP Images/Paul Sakuma
Although many liberals have expressed initial relief that the Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. University of Texas did not kill affirmative action outright, when the dust settles it will become clear that the ruling made it substantially harder to justify race-based affirmative-action programs. The Court adopted a new, higher standard, requiring that judges "must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity." Unlike the earlier ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger , the Court won't simply take the word of universities that race is a necessary consideration; universities will receive "no deference" on that issue, the Fisher Court ruled. Procedurally, the Justices simply sent the case back to the lower court, but make no mistake: The ability to use race as a qualification for admission has been scaled back by this decision. Counterintuitive as it may seem, this step back represents a unique opportunity for...

It's Not the Teachers' Unions

Contrary to conventional wisdom on the right -- and now the left -- unions have actually been at the forefront of education-reform efforts.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (Flickr/House Education and Labor Committee)
The resignation of Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee concludes the latest chapter in the ongoing war between free-market education reformers and teachers’ unions. Many Rhee supporters blame union opposition for the electoral defeat of Rhee’s boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, and see unions as the biggest problem in education. In the much-discussed documentary, Waiting for Superman , in which Rhee is painted as a heroine, Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter declares, "It's very, very important to hold two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time. Teachers are great, a national treasure. Teachers' unions are, generally speaking, a menace and an impediment to reform." The dichotomy (teachers good, unions bad), which has been a staple of conservative rhetoric for years, has taken hold among the center-left as well. Like Alter, the director of Superman , Davis Guggenheim, is a self-described liberal who nevertheless paints unions as the central problem in urban education...

The Affirmative Action Trap

Obama is weighing in on the University of Texas's affirmative action policy, but it may be politically dangerous for him to do so.

For a Democratic administration to support racial affirmative action -- as the Obama administration is doing in a contentious lawsuit challenging the University of Texas at Austin's racial-preference admissions policy -- may seem natural and predictable. The administration filed an amicus brief with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, siding with the university in a lawsuit filed by two white students. But given President Barack Obama's past rhetoric on the issue, the decision to enter the fray is somewhat surprising -- and fraught with political danger. As a candidate, Obama sent mixed signals on affirmative action, sometimes suggesting support for the policy and other times suggesting that he was willing to place a greater emphasis on helping economically disadvantaged students of all races. When asked by ABC's George Stephanopoulos whether Obama's own daughters deserved affirmative action in college admissions, Obama replied that no, his daughters should "be treated by any...

Can Separate Be Equal?

The classroom is where poor and middle-class kids should meet -- to the benefit of both.

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
For generations, those seeking to break the cycle of poverty have divided into two camps: integrationists, who believe that separate schools and neighborhoods for rich and poor perpetuate poverty, and community organizers, who want to "fix" inner-city communities and schools rather than move people around. Generally speaking, integrationists have had stronger social-science research on their side, while community organizers have claimed to be more politically realistic. During the Democratic presidential primary campaign, candidates Barack Obama and John Edwards neatly embodied the two approaches. Edwards proposed expanding housing vouchers to allow low-income families to move to better neighborhoods while Obama called for increasing funding for the Community Development Block Grant program. In the education arena, Edwards proposed giving middle-class suburban public schools a financial incentive to recruit low-income urban students trapped in failing schools. By contrast, Obama...

Obama: Stay Away From Notre Dame's Commencement

Abortion has nothing to do with it. A progressive president shouldn't support an institution that reserves 25 percent of its admissions seats for legacies.

The University of Notre Dame has traditionally invited new presidents to address its student body at commencement. (Flickr)
Conservative Catholics have been berating Notre Dame for extending a commencement-speaking invitation to a pro-choice president. We agree that President Barack Obama shouldn't speak at Notre Dame -- but abortion has nothing to do with it. Notre Dame practices pervasive discrimination in its admissions policies. Every year the school reserves 25 percent of the seats in its entering class for children of alumni. These "legacy preferences" result in applicants being granted or denied admission based not on their merit but on their ancestry. Notre Dame's quota for right-ancestry students -- as reported in Daniel Golden's book The Price of Admission -- offends an American egalitarian tradition dating back to the Revolution. The Founders overthrew a semi-feudal order where rank and status were inherited rather than earned. In Gordon Wood's memorable phrase, the Revolution was "a vindication of frustrated talent at the expense of birth and blood." After transcribing the self-evident truth...