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.
New Article: Zachary D. Liscow, Are Court Orders Responsible for the ‘Return to the Central City’? The Consequence of School Finance Litigation, SSRN Jan. 2015. Abstract below:
Central cities’ populations have rebounded over the last few decades, but scholars are unsure why. I propose and offer econometric evidence for a novel hypothesis — legal changes have driven central cities’ resurgence. In particular, state fiscal aid for schools in poor cities, mandated by state courts, has made poor cities more desirable places to live by improving their schools and reducing their taxes.
I test my hypothesis by taking advantage of the natural experiment resulting from the dramatic increase in transfers to some states’ poor cities in response to court-ordered school finance equalization, using Census data on over 20,000 cities and towns. The key threats to accurate measurement are that poor places may have grown differently than rich places in the absence of school finance redistribution, and places in high-redistribution states may have grown differently than places in low-redistribution states. To address these concerns, I use a continuous version of the “difference-in-difference-in-differences” econometric technique. The results show that redistribution had a large effect on urban population growth between 1980 and 2010, explaining about one-third of the “return to the central city.” I then conduct a case study on the local finances of Connecticut, and find that the state transfers for education led to tax reductions, as well as the intended increases in education spending.
Finally, the paper suggests two reasons that state aid to poor places may be not only equitable but also efficient. First, financing schools locally discourages people from living in poor cities by requiring that their residents pay for the costs of providing services to the cities’ poor. The results show that the location choices of many people are affected by this local financing, suggesting that its efficiency costs may be large. Second, the paper shows that school finance redistribution promotes the positive externalities associated with central city living. These arguments could be used in future legislative debates or litigation to support more school finance redistribution.
Call-for-Papers: “A Workshop on Vulnerability and Education,” Amherst College, Amherst, MA, Apr. 24-25, 2015 with a call deadline of Jan. 19, 2015.
New Report (from the White House): “2014 Native Youth Report” (2014). [Largely about socioeconomic issues and educational problems.]
The American Dream Is Leaving America – NYTimes.com. [Op-Ed by Kristof on education and economic mobility.]
New Article: Aaron J. Curtis, Tracing the School-to-Prison Pipeline from Zero-Tolerance Policies to Juvenile Justice Dispositions, 102 Geo. L.J. 1251 (2014). Abstract below:
In recent years, schools have attempted to combat school violence and other behavioral problems by instituting harsh disciplinary policies and referring students to law enforcement. Civil rights advocates argue that these practices push students, especially students of color, “out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.” The process has come to be known as the school-to-prison pipeline.
Throughout the literature discussing this phenomenon, authors often reference juvenile justice systems in passing, but few studies have given in-depth attention to the specific practices within juvenile courts that perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline. Accordingly, this Note takes a closer look at the connection between harsh disciplinary practices in schools and the dispositional processes that occur in juvenile justice systems. Part I examines zero-tolerance policies that push students out of schools in the first place. Part II explores the ways that students then enter juvenile courts. Part III discusses the guidelines and other factors that shape judges’ dispositional decisions, particularly when they handle minor crimes and violations of zero-tolerance policies. Finally, Part IV describes alternatives to punitive sanctions for juvenile offenders. Overall, this Note concludes that zero-tolerance policies and punitive juvenile justice dispositions fail to remedy the problems that they are meant to resolve.