New Article: Palma Joy Strand, Education-as-Inheritance Crowds Out Education-as-Opportunity, 59 St. Louis L.J. 283 (2015). Abstract below:
Since the founding of our nation, education has been valued as a preeminent means of achieving equal opportunity and the social mobility of democracy. A generation ago, however, Professor John Langbein diagnosed a different function of education: the transmission of wealth from one generation to the next.
In this article, I examine education as intergenerational wealth transmission through a critical lens. My primary inquiry is whether the traditional role of education-as-opportunity is being “crowded out” by education-as-inheritance.
The article first examines and verifies Langbein’s diagnosis: Education today is indeed an important way to transfer wealth intergenerationally. The article next documents lack of access to education for those without economic resources, a lack of access that extends from birth through college. The article concludes by identifying flagging public investment in education as creating a vacuum that is being filled by the increasingly privatized provision of education. This privatized investment constitutes an indirect but real form of intergenerational wealth transmission, which dampens social mobility.
Countering this trend, increasing social mobility will necessitate a shift away from education-as-inheritance toward education-as-opportunity. More progressive public investment at all levels of education is called for to facilitate this shift.
New Article: Joseph Fishkin & William E. Forbath, The Great Society and the Constitution of Opportunity, 62 Drake L. Rev. 1017 (2014).
New Book: Lani Guinier, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America (2015). From the publisher’s website:
Standing on the foundations of America’s promise of equal opportunity, our universities purport to serve as engines of social mobility and practitioners of democracy. But as acclaimed scholar and pioneering civil rights advocate Lani Guinier argues, the merit systems that dictate the admissions practices of these institutions are functioning to select and privilege elite individuals rather than create learning communities geared to advance democratic societies. Having studied and taught at schools such as Harvard University, Yale Law School, and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Guinier has spent years examining the experiences of ethnic minorities and of women at the nation’s top institutions of higher education, and here she lays bare the practices that impede the stated missions of these schools.
Goaded on by a contemporary culture that establishes value through ranking and sorting, universities assess applicants using the vocabulary of private, highly individualized merit. As a result of private merit standards and ever-increasing tuitions, our colleges and universities increasingly are failing in their mission to provide educational opportunity and to prepare students for productive and engaged citizenship.
To reclaim higher education as a cornerstone of democracy, Guinier argues that institutions of higher learning must focus on admitting and educating a class of students who will be critical thinkers, active citizens, and publicly spirited leaders. Guinier presents a plan for considering “democratic merit,” a system that measures the success of higher education not by the personal qualities of the students who enter but by the work and service performed by the graduates who leave.
Guinier goes on to offer vivid examples of communities that have developed effective learning strategies based not on an individual’s “merit” but on the collaborative strength of a group, learning and working together, supporting members, and evolving into powerful collectives. Examples are taken from across the country and include a wide range of approaches, each innovative and effective. Guinier argues for reformation, not only of the very premises of admissions practices but of the shape of higher education itself.
The American Dream Is Leaving America – NYTimes.com. [Op-Ed by Kristof on education and economic mobility.]
New Book: Karl Alexander et al., The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood (2014). Overview below:
West Baltimore stands out in the popular imagination as the quintessential “inner city”—gritty, run-down, and marred by drugs and gang violence. Indeed, with the collapse of manufacturing jobs in the 1970s, the area experienced a rapid onset of poverty and high unemployment, with few public resources available to alleviate economic distress. But in stark contrast to the image of a perpetual “urban underclass” depicted in television by shows like The Wire, sociologists Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson present a more nuanced portrait of Baltimore’s inner city residents that employs important new research on the significance of early-life opportunities available to low-income populations. The Long Shadow focuses on children who grew up in west Baltimore neighborhoods and others like them throughout the city, tracing how their early lives in the inner city have affected their long-term well-being. Although research for this book was conducted in Baltimore, that city’s struggles with deindustrialization, white flight, and concentrated poverty were characteristic of most East Coast and Midwest manufacturing cities. The experience of Baltimore’s children who came of age during this era is mirrored in the experiences of urban children across the nation.
For 25 years, the authors of The Long Shadow tracked the life progress of a group of almost 800 predominantly low-income Baltimore school children through the Beginning School Study Youth Panel (BSSYP). The study monitored the children’s transitions to young adulthood with special attention to how opportunities available to them as early as first grade shaped their socioeconomic status as adults. The authors’ fine-grained analysis confirms that the children who lived in more cohesive neighborhoods, had stronger families, and attended better schools tended to maintain a higher economic status later in life. As young adults, they held higher-income jobs and had achieved more personal milestones (such as marriage) than their lower-status counterparts. Differences in race and gender further stratified life opportunities for the Baltimore children. As one of the first studies to closely examine the outcomes of inner-city whites in addition to African Americans, data from the BSSYP shows that by adulthood, white men of lower status family background, despite attaining less education on average, were more likely to be employed than any other group in part due to family connections and long-standing racial biases in Baltimore’s industrial economy. Gender imbalances were also evident: the women, who were more likely to be working in low-wage service and clerical jobs, earned less than men. African American women were doubly disadvantaged insofar as they were less likely to be in a stable relationship than white women, and therefore less likely to benefit from a second income.
Combining original interviews with Baltimore families, teachers, and other community members with the empirical data gathered from the authors’ groundbreaking research, The Long Shadow unravels the complex connections between socioeconomic origins and socioeconomic destinations to reveal a startling and much-needed examination of who succeeds and why.