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

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,...

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...

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