Richard Rothstein

Richard Rothstein is a Research Associate of the Economic Policy Institute, a Senior Fellow of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law, a Contributing Editor of The American Prospect, and an occasional contributor. His previous work on racial segregation and public education is posted here, and his most recent Prospect print story, "The Making of Ferguson," can be read here. Readers may correspond with him about his writing at

Recent Articles

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...

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 because public schools are so awful, any alternative is...