Democratic Education and the American Dream


Hochschild JL, Scovronick N. Democratic Education and the American Dream. In: Rediscovering the Democratic Purposes of Education. edited by Lorraine McDonnell, P. Michael Timpane, and Roger Benjamin. Lawrence KS: University Press of Kansas ; 2000. pp. 209-242.

Full Text



One, Some, and All:

American Dreams and Democratic Education


Jennifer L. Hochschild and Nathan Scovronick


Forthcoming, spring 2000, in Lorraine McDonnell and Michael Timpane, eds., Rediscovering the Democratic Purposes of Education (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas). 


NOTE: not quite final version.





Nothing can more effectually contribute to the Cultivation and Improvement of a Country, the Wisdom, Riches, and Strength, Virtue and Piety, the Welfare and Happiness of a People, than a proper Education of youth, by forming their Manners, imbuing their tender Minds with Principles of Rectitude and Morality, [and] instructing them in… all useful Branches of liberal Arts and Science.

--Benjamin Franklin, 1749[1]


As Franklin believed it should be, the education of children is the United States’

most important social policy.[2] Public schooling involves more people, both as providers and as recipients, than any other government program for social welfare. Its provision absorbs a larger share of the gross domestic product than almost any other social program. [3]  It is the main governmental activity, both financially and operationally, at the local level and a central activity of all state governments.[4]  It is America’s answer to the European social welfare state,[5] to massive waves of immigration, and to demands for the abolition of structures of immobility based on race, class or gender.


The Goals of Public Education

As the epigram from Franklin also implies, this massive effort devoted to public education is intended to accomplish a variety of purposes.  Virtually all Americans hold two broad goals for schooling which shape most choices for educational policy and practice.[6]  First, education plays a key role in the ideology of the American dream -- Franklin’s “Wisdom, Riches, and Strength, Virtue and Piety, Welfare and Happiness of a People.”  Most briefly, the American dream is the promise that all residents of the United States have a reasonable chance to achieve success as they define it (material or otherwise) through their own efforts and resources, and to attain virtue and fulfillment through that success.[7]  Equality of opportunity to become legitimately unequal is an essential part, though not the whole, of the American dream. From this perspective, publicly provided education is intended to enable individuals to succeed.

The second core value, Franklin’s “Cultivation and Improvement of a Country,” is a commitment to democracy or the collective good, broadly defined.  By democracy we mean a governance system in which control over policy choices is chiefly vested in elected officials chosen through fair and frequent elections in which virtually all adult citizens may participate. Alternatively, citizens may choose policies directly through some fair and frequent electoral mechanism.  In either case, the practice of democracy presumes a degree of civility, shared knowledge, the ability to communicate beyond face-to-face encounters, willingness to play in accord with the rules of the voting game, tolerance or even respect for disparate views, equal opportunity to attain full citizenship, a common culture, and commitment to the polity even if one’s electoral choice loses.  From this perspective, publicly provided education is intended to provide benefits for the society as a whole.

Surveys, campaign platforms, Fourth of July speeches, and other indicators of popular culture show that most Americans ascribe to the ideology of the American dream, and believe that democracy is the best form of government.[8]  Similarly, the vast majority of Americans agree that schools should both enhance the chances for individual students to succeed in life and provide the skills necessary for engaging in democratic politics.

At various points in American history, and especially during the past decade, some Americans have also demanded that schools fulfill a third goal – satisfying the distinctive needs of particular groups and demonstrating respect for the identity of distinctive groups. This goal is based on the belief that members of marked racial, ethnic, religious, sexual or other disadvantaged groups cannot have the same chance to succeed or be full participants in the American democratic polity unless their group identity is recognized, publicly respected, and treated differently from that of unmarked citizens. From their perspective, public education is intended to provide distinctive benefits for children in particular groups, different from and perhaps at the expense of benefits to other groups, individual students, or the collectivity as a whole.  This claim on behalf of “some” is distinct from the focus on the “one” of the American dream or the “all” of democracy, but it shares features of both of the core claims.  It can appeal to those who seek absolute success for their children, and it can resonate with those who demand respect for their heritage or their particular problems, but it has very different implications and demands very different means from the individual or collective goals of education.   Americans show least support for this goal and it is the most controversial in practice.

In principle, Americans want schools to help individuals as well as to strengthen the collectivity, and some also support group differentiation.  But in practice, anyone who reads the newspaper knows that endorsement of general goals does not translate into comity on when or how to pursue each.  Let us examine the three values in a bit more detail before exploring the ways in which disputes among them play out in choices of education policies.[9] 


The Role of Schools in the Dream of Individual Attainment

Good schools should and can help individuals attain success.  Virtually all Americans share that belief.  That shared belief does not, however, resolve all difficulties because “success” can have several meanings with different pedagogical implications.[10] One form of success is absolute – reaching some threshold of well-being higher than where one started. Absolute success is, in principle, available to everyone.  In schooling it would consist in teaching all students the skills they need to live satisfactory adult lives, such as literacy and numeracy, the ability to find and use desired information, the ability to plan and discipline oneself, and the pleasure of exercising one’s mind. As that list suggests, enabling all individuals to achieve absolute success would be a triumph indeed; no society has attained it.  The serious pursuit of this goal can be controversial because it can imply the provision of more educational resources to some students than to others so that all may have a chance of success regardless of their initial endowments or family context.

For most parents, absolute success is a threshold that they want their children to move beyond. This desire comports with a second, relative definition of success – attaining more than a comparison point such as one’s parents or classmates. Relative success is egalitarian if it applies an equal standard of measurement to all, but it is inegalitarian in the sense that some individuals will do better than others. Most Americans assume that in a properly functioning system of relative success in schooling, some – but not all -- children will achieve permanent upward mobility or in some other way be better off than their parents (they seldom consider the possibility of corresponding downward mobility or declines in satisfaction).

Some parents go even further, and expect schools to provide their children with an advantage over other children.  That is the third form of success – competitive – in which  my success implies your failure.  A system of district boundaries and a method of school finance based on local wealth can, for example, create or maintain a privileged competitive position for some children. Competitive success might (but need not) imply initial equality of opportunity to seek victory, but beyond that starting point opportunities are to be taken and advantages used, not redistributed to those with fewer.

            The pursuit of success for individual students is further complicated by different visions of the American dream, and thus disagreement over what schools should teach. Some share the Puritans’ view: “The mind of man is a vast thing, it can take in, and swallow down Heaps of Knowledge, and yet is greedy after more; it can grasp the World in its conception.”[11]  Children thirst for knowledge, and schools should nurture that thirst while teaching students how to slake it.  Some are more instrumental, along with Benjamin Franklin:  “In Europe, the Encouragements to Learning are… great…. A poor Man’s Son has a chance, if he studies hard, to rise… to gainful Offices or Benefices; to an extraordinary Pitch of Grandeur;… and even to mix his Blood with Princes.”[12]  In this view, children thirst for wealth or power rather than for knowledge, and schools should give them the tools they need to improve their status.  The ideology of the American dream is itself agnostic on what counts as success, but its liberal neutrality can lead to disputes over whether teachers should be drilling students in the basics or encouraging them to follow their imaginations and let the correct spelling come later.


The Role of Schools in Promoting Democracy

Just as most Americans endorse some variant of the American dream, most agree that schools are a crucial locus for training children to become democratic citizens. “Democracy” is usually conceived very broadly, to encompass everything from republican virtue to participation in elections to neighborliness.[13] Thus schools are supposed to provide at least six collective outcomes.

 The first is a common core of knowledge.  Americans abhor the (apocryphal?) boast of the French administrator that at 10 a.m. he could know just which page of Virgil all students of a certain age were construing throughout the nation.  But they do generally agree that all students in the United States should end their schooling with some shared learning.  They should know the rudiments of American history; they should be able to communicate in English; they should have basic literacy and numeracy; and they should understand basic rules of politics and society such as the purpose of elections and the meaning of the rule of law.

            Closely allied with the goal of a common core of knowledge is the desire for students to graduate with a common set of values.  Those values include loyalty to the nation, acceptance of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution as venerable founding documents, appreciation that in American constitutionalism rights sometimes trump majority rule and majority rule is supposed to trump intense desire, belief in the rule of law as the proper grounding for a legal system, belief in equal opportunity as the proper grounding for a social system, willingness to adhere to the discipline implied by rotation in office through an electoral system, and so on. They also include economic and social values such as the work ethic, self-reliance, and trustworthiness.

            The ability to deal with, if not warm to, diverse others is a third collective value which Americans want schools to inculcate.  At the time of the founding, the most volatile dimensions of diversity were varying Christian faiths and different views of monarchical governance. In subsequent generations, the list of things we expect students to learn to tolerate and cope with has lengthened to include differences by political and social ideology, class, region, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disability.  Most people agree that the best way to teach mutual tolerance is to have students learn in casual contact with others unlike themselves; that is why public schools have always been under great pressure to admit all students within their duly designated district.  Private schools were permitted to be parochial, but public schools were not.  (The greatest exception to this point, of course, was racial segregation, which we address below.)  Schools are increasingly expected to teach through a multicultural curriculum so that children will understand and appreciate each other’s racial or cultural background as well as their own.

            A fourth collective goal of schooling is teaching democratic practices.  These include: following properly designated procedures, negotiating rather than using violence to secure what you want, respecting those who disagree, taking turns, expressing your own views persuasively, organizing with others for change, competing fairly, and winning (or losing) gracefully.  There is, of course, always tension between maintaining educators’ authority and teaching democratic practices through actually permitting students to make decisions.  Schools and teachers negotiate this tension differently, depending mostly on the age and social class of their students, although they can never resolve it.

            Fifth, Americans expect schools to participate in the broad social goal of providing equal opportunity for all children. Equality of opportunity is a protean goal – it is as important in the American dream of individual success described above as in democratic governance. We discuss it here because its collective implications require more change in schooling policy than do its individual implications.[14]   Most Americans now agree, at least in principle, that schools should offset some unfair disadvantages (such as disability), and should provide equal treatment to those with other social disadvantages (such as those occasioned by racial minority status, poverty, or lack of facility in English).  After all, if unfair disadvantages into which one is born persist into adulthood, one is unlikely to be able to participate fully in public affairs.  For some people, that is a matter of simple injustice that should be rectified if it can be.  Others calculate, more instrumentally, that even if they themselves do not suffer these disadvantages, they do not want their children to have to confront the specter of second-class citizens and to compensate for their social, economic, and political drawbacks.  Thus it is in the interests of everyone for schools to do what they can to transform inequalities of birth into equality of adult citizenship.[15]

            As with the American dream, the more specific goals within Americans’ broad democratic commitment have never been fully achieved for all – or even most – students.  And strong efforts to promote one or several of these specific goals are likely to conflict with strong efforts to promote others of them.  But the deepest dilemmas for public schools lie not within each of these two values but between them, and among them and the third, most contentious, one.


The Role of Schools in Respecting Groups

Claims to distinctive treatment for particular groups have two roots. One origin is the demand for respect of the educational rights of individual children who were treated unjustly because of some ascriptive characteristic.  In the nineteenth century, for example, reformers insisted that girls deserved access to public schooling just as much as boys did. In the twentieth century, Brown v. Board of Education held that, once a state committed itself to a system of public education, black children were unconstitutionally deprived if they could not participate in that system on the same terms as white children.  In some cases, such claims to individual rights have been broadened into an insistence that the child cannot attain an equal education unless the child’s group is treated distinctively.  Thus, for example, the claim that blacks would be better off if members of their own race controlled their educational system.  Only that arrangement, in this view, can provide the same autonomy, respect, and cultural self-definition that whites have always enjoyed.[16]

            The second root of group-based claims is itself based on group identity rather than individual treatment.  In the mid-nineteenth century, Catholic leaders vigorously opposed the Protestant pedagogy of the new public schools. They proposed either that schools be religiously neutral, that they teach Catholic doctrine to Catholic children,[17] or that the state should provide public funds for a system of Catholic schools parallel to that of the Protestant “public” schools.[18] A century later, some proponents of bilingual education argue that helping to maintain a foreign student’s culture is just as important as teaching that student to study and speak in English.[19] These are examples of a more general claim: schools must not only include students with particular characteristics, provide for their needs, and teach other students to accept their presence, but also either change their practices in deference to their distinctive group or enable them to be taught separately in accord with their own distinctive values.[20]

                  Demands for respect for group identities are highly volatile.  They emerge from an unstable mix of the desire for inclusion but on terms distinctive of and specified by that group, the desire to use public resources to be educated outside the mainstream, the desire to change the educational mainstream to accommodate the group, and the desire to be left alone or to remove one’s children from the mainstream. 

                  Some of these desires affect schooling practices but do not speak to the purposes of education.  Others, however, do. Teachers may be asked to change their pedagogical techniques to accommodate the more cooperative style of girls or the more physically-oriented learning preferences of young African American boys.  Similarly, educators may also be asked to change the curriculum to teach in more than one language, to describe American history as a story of oppression rather than unbridled progress, or to teach all subjects from an Afrocentric rather than a Eurocentric perspective.[21]  In its most drastic (and rare) form, policymakers may be asked to provide a separate education for particular groups, as they tried to do in Detroit when the school district adopted a plan to establish three all-male Afrocentric schools [22] A school in New York City was similarly established to provide “leadership training” for young black girls, and another there and in Los Angeles were set aside for gay teens.[23]

                  Advocates’ points of intersection or conflict with proponents of individual success or democratic training are not always predictable.  What is predictable is that all of these efforts can expect sooner or later (probably sooner) to be discordant with the highest priorities of those focused on other groups, and with the priorities of educators and parents focused on the two most basic values.


Putting the Core Values into Practice

Many of those who have thought most carefully about the purposes of public education have insisted with Benjamin Franklin that the core goals of individual success and democratic governance must be united and that neither may supercede the other.  Thomas Jefferson, for example, offered six “objects of primary education.” in order “to instruct the mass of our citizens in these, their rights, interests, and duties, as men and citizens:”[24]

  • “To give to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business;
  • “To enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts, in writing;
  • “To improve, by reading, his morals and faculties;
  • “To understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either;
  • “To know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains; to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor, and judgment;
  • “And, in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed.”[25]

The first three focus on varied forms of individual success.  The fourth and sixth focus on participation in the public arena.  The fifth combines both goals.  Based on these principles, Jefferson designed an elaborate system of public elementary and secondary education for all (white) children of Virginia, to be publicly subsidized for those who could not afford it.

            Almost 200 years later, the Supreme Court echoed the framers' assumption that the purpose of schooling jointly and equally comprises both individual and collective goals: “The American people…have recognized ‘the public schools as a most vital civic institution for the preservation of a democratic form of government,’ and as the primary vehicle for transmitting ‘the values on which our society rests’…In addition, education provides the basic tools by which individuals might lead economically productive lives….”[26] 

Public opinion surveys similarly demonstrate Americans’ commitment to using the schools simultaneously to promote individual success and democratic engagement; they also endorse in some situations particular group claims. Almost everyone supports the mastery of basic skills, endorses teachers and principals who will “push students to…excel,” and wants every student to be given a chance to successfully complete a high school curriculum.[27] Over eight in ten also agree that schools must “teach values such as honesty, respect, and civility,” and believe “the percentage of students practicing good citizenship” is a very important measure of schools’ success.[28] Most want textbooks and lesson plans to teach racial and ethnic respect as well as gender equality; 70 percent want schools to teach that “democracy is the best form of government.”[29] Between half and three-quarters of Americans endorse teaching “the diverse cultural traditions of the different population groups in America” even when that implies “decreas[ing] the amount of information on traditional subjects in U.S… history.”[30]

Finally, Americans occasionally endorse schooling claims of particular groups in ways that are inconsistent with their general verbal support for the goal of democratic inclusiveness. Thus despite their usual rejection of group separatism, on several surveys a majority think that “special public schools for young black males should be allowed.” Similarly, on one survey almost nine out of ten women favor single-sex education for part of a student’s career in school, mainly so that girls attain the kind of information that will enable deeper knowledge and informed choices later in life.[31]

            Some school practices can in fact foster the two basic values, or even all three values, simultaneously.  Enabling the brightest students to learn as much as they can not only bolsters them as individuals but also increases the possibility that they benefit the nation through discoveries, insights, or leadership.  Ensuring that all students are verbally and mathematically competent helps them to live satisfying lives at the same time that it makes them better democratic citizens.  Teaching foreign students to speak English makes their transition into the American workplace easier as well as reinforcing the cultural core so essential to a huge and diverse democracy.  Showing respect for the identity of students who are outside the racial or cultural mainstream encourages them to achieve while teaching all students to be mutually tolerant.  Allowing some children to be educated separately might enhance their individual success as well as respecting their distinctiveness.

However, amity and balance do not usually reign.  In the actual practice of schooling, fostering what is good for all may divert resources from one or some; what shows respect for the identity of some may violate the convictions of others or distort democratic practices; what encourages success for the brightest or luckiest may deny opportunity for the weakest or unluckiest. When choices must be made and priorities determined -- under pressure from demographic change, political demands, fiscal limits, global competition, competing values, or fear -- then one goal or another is likely to take precedence.

            The history of previous tradeoffs among goals itself shapes the context within which new choices must be made. In the first decades of this century, for example, many citizens saw immigration as a frightening challenge to democracy, and demanded that schools be transformed in order to “Americanize” these future citizens.  In the 1980s, with many people fearing economic challenges from abroad and reduced opportunities for success at home, the emphasis shifted even more than previously to individual achievement, and parents engaged in an intense competition for advantage in educational or fiscal resources.  Most recently, demands for group respect that started as a drive for integration in the 1960s have sometimes been transformed into advocacy for separate schools or distinct treatment within common schools.

Over time, the combination of multiple goals, competing interests, and a fragmented governance structure has created considerable incoherence in policy and instability in decision making.  As one goal takes precedence and then is replaced by another, some policies, institutions, and practices continue to function well in the new environment.  Others, however, become relics that create an inappropriate policy emphasis, use a disproportionate amount of resources, or otherwise distort the system.  Too much bureaucracy may remain from Progressive era attempts to deal with demographic change; too much willingness to accept an unequal educational system, or to jettison public schooling entirely, may be the legacy of fear from the 1980s; too much separatism may be the consequence of the newest demand for group rights and respect.


Interaction among Goals in Educational Policy and Practice

We cannot in this paper analyze the layers remaining from previous emphases on one goal or another, or sort out the many ways in which the values combine, coincide, or conflict.  We will, instead, look briefly at several major policy disputes in which the interaction among values has crucially shaped schooling policy, practice, and outcomes.


School Desegregation

The elimination of de jure segregation was essential to permit equal educational opportunity for all children.  In principle, it provided a greater chance for children of all races to attain success, it enhanced the ability of the United States to become a fully democratic community, and it ensured that African Americans would be recognized as full citizens.  Thus the elimination of de jure segregation reinforced both of the values central to American public education.

            Most Americans concur on the necessity and even desirability of desegregated schooling. In the two decades after 1964, the proportion who agreed that black and white children should attend the same schools rose from fewer than two-thirds to over 90 percent.  Over 40 percent of whites were unwilling to send their child to a school in which half or more of the students were black in 1964; that figure has since declined to fewer than 20 percent.[32]

            In one important sense the practice of school desegregation promoted the two basic values. The most careful studies of desegregated schools show that, when properly implemented, the African American children involved showed improved achievement scores, more attainment of schooling, greater college attendance, and more adult participation in integrated jobs and neighborhoods. There is no systematic evidence that desegregation hurt the achievement of white children, and arguably it made them more inclined to respect and live among African Americans as adults.[33]  Most Americans now recognize the gains for blacks, and a plurality perceive gains for whites as well. In 1971, four in ten Americans thought desegregated schools had improved the quality of education for blacks; by 1996, six in ten did.  The proportion who thought desegregated schools had improved the quality of education for whites increased over the same period from one quarter to almost half.  Similarly, in 1971, four in ten thought that desegregated schools had improved the quality of race relations (though almost as many thought it had “worked against better relations”).  By 1994, two-thirds saw improvement, and fewer than three in ten saw worsening.[34] 

School desegregation has, of course, been tried only in a limited way and was often implemented in a fashion that seemed designed to ensure its academic and political failure.[35]  It has rarely been used to remedy de facto segregation or racial separation across district lines, even though cross-district remedies have in many ways been the most successful of all.  It has too often been imposed without sensitivity to the real allegiance of both blacks and whites to local governance, neighborhood schools, or well-known teachers and administrators.  It often did not sufficiently recognize that parents were worried that their children would be uncomfortable, unable to learn, or even physically endangered if they were in the minority in a tense situation.  Legitimate opposition occurred for all of these reasons, among others.

Thus in a different and larger sense the policy of mandated school desegregation has not succeeded in fostering the basic goals of education.  White opponents argued that individual white children would suffer, and that the pursuit of collective goals could not be allowed to outweigh the pursuit of individual success.  More recently, black opponents have argued that individual black children also are harmed, or at least that they are not benefited enough to offset the costs imposed on individuals or the damage that desegregation does to the racial identity of children and the black community.[36] Thus by now, despite support for desegregation in principle, the opposition to its vigorous pursuit, especially through busing, is as strong as ever.  In 1988, three quarters of Americans rejected busing even if “white children were bused to top quality schools in the inner city and black children were bused to equally good schools outside of where they live.”[37]  A decade later, four in ten black parents and twice as many white parents were opposed to “busing children to achieve a better racial balance in schools.”[38]

By the mid-1990s, about one third of black children were educated in majority white schools, but another third continued to attend schools that approach 100 percent minority (black and Hispanic) population. The typical Anglo student in the mid-1990s had between 5 percent and 20 percent blacks in his or her school, depending on how urban the community was.[39]  African Americans’ and whites’ achievement test scores converged somewhat in the 1970s and 1980s (largely because blacks’ scores rose more than did whites’ scores).  But the convergence has been arrested in the 1990s.[40] 

Thus school desegregation brought Americans part but not all of the way toward putting into practice their ideals of using schools to enable individual success and prepare for democratic governance.  Mandated desegregated schooling may be the right policy for a democratic society, it may be the best way to guarantee the same educational opportunities for children of all races, and it may have been a successful method to enhance the chances of individual success – but it is not a viable policy option because individual fears as well as concerns about group identities have overwhelmed broader, collective values.


Equitable School Funding

Once it became clear that opposition to mandated racial desegregation would prevent most further efforts, reformers shifted their focus from the redistribution of students to the redistribution of resources.  They argued that equal school funding -- or at least funding at a level to permit absolute and relative success for most students -- was essential for the American dream to be something other than a hypocritical cover for maintaining class privilege. If education had to be separate for most poor, often black, children, they wanted it at least to be equal.  They believed that these children warranted the same training to enable them to pursue success as better-off children, and that poor communities have the same claim to public respect as wealthy ones.

            As with school desegregation, most Americans agree, in theory.  Since 1990, between 70 and 90 percent of Americans have endorsed an equal allocation of public education funds to all students regardless of their wealth. Results are similar in state-level polls that ask about support for particular measures to equalize funding.  But as with school desegregation, many politicians who have tried to redistribute funds have been punished in the next election. Legislatures have found it politically very difficult to redistribute schools funds, except under threat of court order.  Again like school desegregation, the courts moved into the void; of the state supreme courts that have considered this issue, half have found grounds in their state constitutions to require greater equality in funding school districts.  Some (e.g. in Alabama, Arkansas, New Jersey and Wyoming) have made such a finding several times or more or have ordered legislatures back to the drawing board in order to see their orders carried out.  Even when the public has approved new funding formulas, the new ratios of funding have often proved difficult to sustain. 

In short, although a great deal more money is now available for education, and some places have achieved much greater equity, there has been an acrimonious debate for twenty-five years about the level of funding to which all children should be entitled and particularly about the obligation of all citizens to pay for the schooling of poor children. Again like the controversy over school desegregation, the debate over funding equality has involved other issues, such as corruption, management efficiency, program impact, and especially the relationship between financial reform and achievement outcomes.[41]  But underlying particular disputes over school funding has been the conflict between enabling one’s own child to achieve the American dream, defined competitively, and enhancing democratic outcomes for all Americans. Many parents, particularly those who worked hard to move to a district with better schools, see little reason to subsidize the districts they left.  Many parents, anxious for the success of their children, have little desire to use their resources to level the playing field; privileged parents naturally want to pass on their privileges to their children.  Thus while all adults accept responsibility to finance a basic education for everyone, there is little consensus beyond that on the proper relationship between the pursuit or maintenance of competitive advantage and the goal of equal opportunity.[42]


Distinctive Group Treatment

As most commonly understood, multicultural education seeks to be inclusionary and mutually respectful by exposing all students to the array of cultural heritages represented in the school, district, state, or nation.  It is an attempt to redefine American culture away from that of the culturally dominant Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority, and thereby to enrich it.  During the 1990s, most Americans came to endorse this understanding of multiculturalism.  Typically more than seven in ten respondents agree with survey questions asking if schools should “increase the amount of coursework, counseling, and school activities… to promote understanding and tolerance among students of different races and ethnic backgrounds,” to quote one unusually specific question.[43]  This is a fairly new conviction for most Americans; the rapidity of its acceptance is a testament to Americans’ belief in the need for mutual tolerance and respect in order to promote democracy.

Even thus understood, multicultural education is difficult to implement well.  At a minimum, schools do not have time to do everything; if they teach the history of African Americans and Hispanics as well as that of European immigrants, they are leaving out Asian Americans and Native Americans (not to speak of variations within each category). The more inclusive school curricula and activities become, the sharper the exclusion of those remaining outside the fold.  And absent a lot of thorny intellectual work, the more inclusive the curriculum becomes, the more superficially it treats all subjects.  Finally, the more inclusive it becomes, in the usual sense of adding another cultural dimension to those already taught, the more difficult it is for teachers and students to retain any focus on the culture that was traditionally considered American -- or any other common core. 

But there is a deeper complexity, which moves the concept of multiculturalism away from promoting the good of “all” into promoting the good of “some.”  Some advocates have altered their position from a call for inclusion and respect to a demand for separate and distinctive schooling appropriate to the particularity of their group.  They often begin from a perception of power imbalance: “the nation’s predominantly white educators have been slow to recognize that their own backgrounds – and the culture of the school – have a bearing on learning. And, rather than think of minority students as having a culture that is valid and distinct from theirs, they sometimes think of the youngsters as deficient.”[44]  To that they add a distinct pedagogical philosophy, claiming that pedagogy must change to fit the cultural context of particular types of children, preferably by having a teacher from the same culture.[45]

The most assertive advocates of, for example, cultural maintenance programs for bilingual education, Afrocentrism, or fundamentalist Christianity may insist on the unique merit of their group’s heritage and identity, and implicitly or explicitly reject the value of other cultures or the idea of a common culture. “Public school integration and the associated demolition of the black school has had a devastating impact on African American children – their self-esteem, motivation to succeed, conceptions of heroes or role models, respect for adults, and academic performance. Unless rational alternatives are devised that take into account the uniqueness of the African American heritage,… compulsory school integration will become even more destructive,… ultimately to the nation as a whole.”[46]  Most African Americans do not share that view (nor do most whites, not surprisingly). But almost half agree that African American students are not doing as well as white students because “schools are often too quick to label black kids as having behavior or learning problems,” and in most surveys blacks no longer place a high priority on racial integration in schooling. Their priorities instead lie in higher achievement, safety and discipline, and sometimes political control of black schools by members of their own race.[47] About a fifth of whites also blame schools’ behavior for black students’ problems.[48]  Thus a significant segment of the population is available to be mobilized by advocates who value group differentiation more strongly than they do, but who are concerned about cultural loss and who are frustrated by the failures or the discriminatory practices of some public schooling.

Other programs for separating students focus less on group identity and more on satisfying particular needs. Advocates of these programs typically begin with a focus on the core values of promoting individual success or enabling full participation in the democratic community. But they sometimes end up seeking distinctive treatment for a particular group of students if they come to believe that conventional educational practices cannot satisfy those students’ needs. Thus, for example, most immigrants want their children to learn English as quickly as possible, whether through immersion in English-only classes or in transitional bilingual education classes.  But some Americans –roughly a seventh of the population as a whole, and a quarter of nonwhites – think that “students who want to keep up with their native languages and cultures should be able to take many of the classes in Spanish or other languages all the way through high school.”[49] Again we see a small proportion of Americans committed to the value of distinctive group treatment, and a somewhat larger set of people available to be mobilized in particular circumstances by proponents of group distinctiveness.  Most Americans, however, remain focused on the two core values.

Contests over whether and how to provide distinctive group recognition are played out at all levels of government.  The federal Department of Education issues regulations on bilingual education and the Supreme Court rules on religion in the schools; state legislatures and local school boards debate the use of particular books in classrooms; principals and teachers contend over appropriate pedagogy and student placement; some parents demand to have their child included in all-black classes and others demand to have their children removed from them. All of these disputes take place without regard to the bits of compelling evidence about the actual educational benefits of various programs and sometimes in the absence of any achievement data at all.

There is, in fact, almost no evidence on the outcomes of some forms of group-distinctive schooling such as Afrocentric schools or schools for gay and lesbian students. The lack of evidence is unfortunate but not surprising; few advocates, or opponents, seek systematic evaluations that might turn up distressing results.  Even when researchers do seek dispassionate measures of outcomes of distinctive group treatment, many programs are too variable in quality or design to be compared, or the desired outcomes are too subtle to be clearly measured.   Thus, for example, the evidence for sustaining many bilingual programs beyond the point of basic English proficiency is not clear, since “the major national-level evaluations suffer from design limitations; lack of documentation of study objectives; conceptual details and procedures followed; poorly articulated goals; lack of fit between goals and research design; and excessive use of elaborate statistical designs to overcome shortcomings in research designs.”[50]  For similar reasons, scholars produce contradictory conclusions on the benefits of separate classes for children with learning disabilities or emotional disturbances.[51] Pull-out programs for disadvantaged children apparently do little to help them.[52]

            Although there are relatively few advocates of group-distinctive education in the American population as a whole and relatively little evidence about their claims, they have a disproportionate impact on debates over educational policy for several reasons.  First, their claims are sufficiently close to the core values that they cannot be dismissed as illegitimate, but they are sufficiently antagonistic that they do not fit well into most reform efforts.  Second, their claims do not sort neatly into a consistent liberal or conservative framework,[53] or into a consistent demand for inclusion or separation – so that the advocates of “some” must usually be dealt with one group or even one school at a time.  Finally, a substantial part of the American public can sometimes be mobilized into support for distinctive treatment for some students, usually because they are frustrated with schools’ efforts to promote individual success or the collective good.         


School Reform and School Choice

The field of public education has been full of reformers since it was first conceived – by reformers.  From the mid-nineteenth century onward, the American public has devoted considerable effort to building and improving the public school system.  In the last few decades, the public has demonstrated its willingness to spend an enormous amount of money on the schools;[54] at the same time, reform activity has been particularly intense.  This activity has been driven to a great extent by serious failures in some poor urban school districts.  It also results from economic changes that have made  education even more important to individual success, as well as from demographic and social changes that have placed additional demands on the public schools.  In all its forms, however, these efforts to improve the system represent a serious national commitment to public education and its multiple goals.

The past few decades have seen several waves of school reform. Although they have been characterized differently in different places, most studies identify four distinct stages.  The first can be broadly characterized as an attempt to fix various parts of the system through research and development. The second focused on fixing the people, that is, on improving the knowledge and skills of educational professionals, preparing them for innovation, and helping them improve classroom practice. The third emphasized fixing the schools by restructuring the organization, changing the culture, or adopting a school-wide pedagogical approach.  The most recent wave of reform is in a real sense an effort to fix everything in a coherent way-- by setting high standards, changing the curriculum to be consistent with the standards, developing appropriate tests to measure student progress, and improving teachers’ capacity to help students take advantage of more demanding material.[55]   Many of the previous reform efforts have continued and are thriving within the framework of this new, systemic reform.

The public broadly supports the idea of school reform, the implementation of high standards, and many of these individual reform initiatives.[56]  There is evidence of positive achievement effects from the implementation of standards[57] and from some initiatives such as substantive teacher education and professional development;[58] some whole school and curricular reform models;[59] quality preschool programs,[60] and small classes in the early grades.[61]

            Systemic reformers in many ways have attempted to learn from the mistakes of the past and respond to a public system that they believe had become too fragmented,  bureaucratic, and focused on unchallenging, short-term, quantifiable results.  These problems resulted partly from the layering of previous reforms,[62] partly from the multiple demands coming from an array of stakeholders,[63] and partly from the variety of children who come through the doors of public schools.  Although they disagree somewhat on explanations and prescriptions, the reformers believe that the problems with public schools can be remedied within them. 

During this entire recent history of school reform, there has been a parallel movement promoting a very different type of educational change, based on a market approach.  Advocates of school choice see many of the same problems as school reformers but no longer believe that reform is possible or no longer think it is preferable. Thus they seek to drastically modify or even eliminate the present structure of public schooling.  A few share with the reformers a belief in the multiple goals of education, but most hold this view because they do not.  Either they are almost entirely focused on relative or competitive individual success and think it will be best achieved in a fairly unregulated market, or they seek the validation of group identities and think it will be best achieved in a system where distinct groups can choose to school their children together.

            In its strongest form, market proponents advocate a system of vouchers that would permit students to make publicly-funded choices among public, private, and parochial schools.  A libertarian economist first promoted vouchers in the 1950s as an alternative to the heavy hand of government implied by geographically-based school districting and assignment.[64]  In the late 1960s, progressive reformers, with a particular interest in improving education for poor and minority children, adopted the idea as a variant of “alternative schooling.”[65]  In the 1980s, proponents of deregulation and market-based solutions to a range of problems once again revived the idea, generally to the dismay of liberals.[66]  In the 1990s, two new groups of voucher supporters emerged: advocates of private schools devoted to maintaining group identity through distinctive forms of teaching,[67] and parents of children in atrocious inner city schools who often support vouchers along with any other reform idea offered to them.[68]  The evidence is mixed and deeply controversial on the achievement effects of voucher programs for private schools; perhaps the most that can be said at present is that parents whose children participate are more satisfied with the choice.[69]

            Although Americans broadly support greater choice within the public system, they are in general ambivalent about the desirability of vouchers for private and parochial schools. Several surveys in the 1990s asked Americans to choose among voucher proposals; in each case, respondents split evenly regardless of the number or type of options. That is, when asked to choose between vouchers restricted to public schools and those that could be used in private schools as well, roughly half chose each; when asked to choose between the current system, public vouchers, and private vouchers, roughly a third chose each. If schools in their community were failing, identical proportions of the public (28 percent) would want private school vouchers or to have the public schools overhauled.[70]   Nevertheless, Americans consistently and strongly prefer spending more money to fix the public schools than providing alternatives to it.[71]

Charter schools represent a compromise position: they are quasi-public schools financed by public funds and subject to periodic public scrutiny, but they are run by private trustees and compete in a market.  Charters are supported by those trying to move toward vouchers, as well as those trying to stop them; they have been seen as a drain on the public system and an attempt to strengthen it.  After considerable controversy, they have been authorized in a majority of states and appear in various forms: limited in number or quite widespread; held tightly accountable or left largely alone; exclusive or inclusive; pedagogically innovative or traditional.  They are too new and too varied to permit any conclusions about whether they have any impact on student performance.

At the root of the controversy over charters and choice is the issue of whether to risk the public system to allow a focus on individual achievement or group identity alone, or try to preserve the public system as central democratic institution with multiple individual and collective goals. At the heart of this serious, unresolved, public policy debate is, again, this conflict of values.



Tracking is in a real sense the issue that brings all these themes together.  Sorting students by ability group is almost universal, and children who are white, or come from upper class, middle class, or professional families, almost always dominate the high tracks.[72]  In many places, therefore, it is a race issue, like desegregation, or a class issue, like funding; it is by definition about the separation of students.  Tracking may be the price paid for desegregation; in many districts, white students attend school with black students but rarely go to class with them. Tracking may also be the price paid to keep the children of the elite in the public schools; many wealthy parents will forego private schools as long as their children are educated separately in the high track, and have access to the best teachers and the most resources.  Finally, while bilingual education is about students whose language ability may affect their ability to learn with others, and special education is about students whose handicap may affect their ability to learn with others, tracking is actually about students whose ability to learn affects their ability to learn with others.  In this way, it is a more fundamental issue than all of those we have discussed so far.

Tracking is different from most of the other controversies because it is also a matter of pedagogical practice, and for that reason rarely the subject of action by the legislatures or the courts, except as part of a desegregation case.  People genuinely disagree about the educational benefits or costs of tracking.  According to the academic literature, however, the chief impact of ability grouping seems to be the educational disadvantage at which it puts those in the low tracks.  Being in the high track is certainly preferable when the best teachers, the smallest classes and the most resources are available there, but this means that everyone would be better off in the high track, and there is evidence that this is so.[73]  In the same way, being in the lower track when resources and expectations are low is not a prescription for success, and we have evidence that this, too, is the case.[74]  In general, when the studies on tracking are fairly evaluated, and the number of cases is large enough to deal with the impact of resource and other factors, the evidence indicates that tracking per se may not help anyone.[75]  With rare exceptions, even the best students will be just as well off in properly taught, heterogeneous classrooms.

Yet we have witnessed not only generalized policy debates about tracking, but school by school warfare every time someone tries to eliminate it.   It is difficult to eliminate for several reasons.  First, it is compatible with the way many teachers have been trained; it is very hard to teach well in heterogeneous classrooms without the proper preparation.  Second, many parents were themselves taught in tracked classrooms and sincerely believe, despite the evidence, that it is the only proper way for children to learn.[76]  As we know, it is very hard to change schools in any manner that is a dramatic departure from the adult image of how they should look.[77]  Third and perhaps most important, tracking is strongly supported by elite and politically powerful parents whose children occupy the high tracks and who seek to maintain an advantage for them.[78] 

Like the other issues discussed here, this one is complicated involving matters  not only of policy but its implementation.  Tracking is more questionable when it is mandatory and begins in the primary grades than when it is voluntary and occurs late in high school. At root, however, tracking in almost all circumstances represents a conflict between a policy that is believed to be good for individual achievement, sometimes for a few, and one that is probably better for equal opportunity, often for a greater number of students.     

            Although it is so embedded in practice, some districts have been at least partly successful in detracking.[79]  And on all the other policy issues discussed here, real changes have been made in the last fifty years. There is a much higher level of integration than before Brown, and a striking transformation in the way schooling is organized in the South.[80]   In part because of desegregation, there has been a substantial growth in the black middle class.  School funding, similarly, is at a much higher level than before 1974, and in many states is much more equitable.[81]   Handicapped children have been brought much more into the mainstream and parents continue to challenge the separation of handicapped and other students when they believe justification for it is weakNAEP scores, although uneven, have shown improvement for most age groups in most subjects over the last thirty years, despite many more children with language and other problems, and black students have in fact made the greatest gains.[82]  And through it all Americans have sustained a remarkable commitment to the public schools.  The conflicts over education policy are clearly serious and intractable, but movement on these issues is clearly not impossible.

These changes have, to be sure, taken place in the context of a sustained prosperity that has made it much easier to dedicate more resources to education and to broaden opportunity.  They have also been driven in part by wider political and demographic developments.  Yet in part they can be explained by the fact that Americans truly believe in the promise of equal opportunity that is inherent in the American Dream.  Cumulatively, the changes have been remarkable.


Policy Implications

We have been asked to discuss the policy implications of all this.   To do so is both daunting and appealing.  However complicated, it is easier to document the conflicts created by the multiple goals of education, or to identify the dominant role in the past of one or another of them, than to try to determine the direction of future policy.   In part this is because the context for policymaking will certainly change; developments in education will continue to be affected by electoral shifts, economic trends, and international challenges, and these are extremely difficult to anticipate.

On the other side, we can predict future policy developments without fear of authoritative contradiction, and can base them upon our own views of these matters with the knowledge that the foundation is as solid as any other in such circumstances.   We believe that both core values – success for each one and the collective good of all -- are appropriate goals of the American educational system.   We do not believe that either core value should be completely dominant: too much attention to individual success leads to atomistic selfishness, and too much attention to the collective good leads to populist despotism. In the same way, too much attention to group identity leads to fragmentation and mutual antagonism.

Except in a few tragic cases, parents can be trusted to work energetically on behalf of their own children.  Some parents (and students) will be more successful than others, fairly or not – but we do not fear that the value of individual success will lose its motivating force.  Similarly, advocates can be trusted to work energetically on behalf of their group, whether they seek fuller incorporation of “their” students into, or treatment separate from, the mainstream.  In contrast, there are few besides policymakers and public officials who will persistently focus on efforts to attain the collective good;[83] that is their job, and their job alone.  In short, if one supports the two core values equally, or even group values as well, then we believe that public officials should place a priority on the value of “all”; otherwise it will be submerged under pressures for “one” and “some.” [84]Specifically, public policy should promote inclusion, tolerance, equal opportunity, and democratic knowledge and commitments. 

Furthermore, we believe that this position will in the future be good politics as well as good policy.  Despite all the political pressures in the other direction, despite the fact that policymakers will have mixed incentives and will hold other, competing values, a new political context will permit a sustained focus on the public good.

The Changing Demography

While many future developments cannot be easily predicted, demographic projections for the United States are relatively clear as well as dramatic.  The evidence points to another era, like that at the turn of twentieth century, when population trends will again drive decision-making.

The outstanding demographic impact for the next few decades will come from the aging of the baby boomers and, absent a major change in immigration laws, from the increased diversity of the population.  The first of the baby boomers will reach age 65 shortly after 2010.  They will still be a substantial part of the total U.S. population – roughly 20 percent, or 70 million people -- in 2025.  Only Florida now has an elderly population of more than 15 percent, but virtually all states[85] are expected to exceed that figure by then.

Over the same period, the Anglo population of the country is projected to become a smaller proportion of the total, decreasing from 77 percent in 1990 to about 60 percent in 2025.  The black population, about 12 percent of the population in 1990, is expected to grow slowly during the same period, but the percentages of Latinos (8 percent in 1990) and Asian Americans (3 percent), are both projected to more than double by 2025.[86]  These trends will be felt most powerfully in California, where the Latino population could exceed the white population well before 2025.[87]  By that time there are expected to be 21 million Latinos, 17 million Anglos, and 9 million Asian Americans in California.  Other states will see major changes as well.[88]   Nationally, because of the growth in the (mostly Anglo) elderly population and the size of the (increasingly minority) school-aged population, the dependency ratio (that is, the ratio of those of working age to the young and old) is expected to become much worse.[89]

A larger and more diverse school population, combined with a larger and relatively homogeneous elderly population, could create a series of difficult policy dilemmas.  The need for schooling for the young will be great at the same time that the demand for health care and social services for the elderly will peak.  At the least, a severe competition for scarce public resources is likely. Furthermore, communities with large numbers of senior citizens already demonstrate some resistance to proposals for increased spending on school buildings or operations, and this is also likely to get worse.[90]  

The potential for social division will be very high.  In addition to polarization between young and old, we may see increased divisions between wealthy and poor, white and non-white populations, immigrants and non-immigrants, and among communities of immigrants themselves.  We saw some of this in the early 1990’s where it could be expected, in California.[91]


Politics and Policy

Many policymakers, particularly elected officials, do not think much about the long run; the horizon until the next election is too short and the rewards for small, symbolic actions too great. Some will no doubt yield to the temptation to practice the politics of division or exclusion in the face of the coming demographic changes, especially in situations of volatile transition.  In some contexts, at some times, that will succeed politically, as it did for the Republicans in California in 1994 with Proposition 187.  But the old demagoguery will not work the same way where there is a new majority or even a substantial voting bloc of nonwhites, once those new voters begin to participate in politics.  In jurisdictions like California and Texas, it will be risky for white politicians to try to play on racial or ethnic divisions; the backlash against Republicans in the 1998 California gubernatorial and senatorial elections provides some evidence for that.[92]  Even in places where the changes in racial proportions will be less dramatic, the demagogic approach will offer substantial risks for politicians.  Divisiveness and reaction never worked with some segments of the white population. and are likely to be opposed by identity-based groups who will have more political power than ever before and may be prepared to exercise it.

In this new world, a message that focuses on democratic values, national unity, mutual respect, and even-handed treatment could be politically very attractive.  It will be important, as always, to provide special services when students’ educational progress depends on it, but controversial to use resources to benefit any group when it does not.  Groups seeking extra resources to foster inclusion may be treated differently from groups seeking resources to foster separate or oppositional identities. It is likely to be crucial for everyone to perceive that they have an equal chance to pursue success, and more difficult for anyone to defend special privileges.  Individuals seeking extra resources to maintain their inherited advantages may find less sympathy than individuals seeking resources to overcome their inherited disadvantages.  In short, with the coming set of demographic changes, inclusive policies could work better in many places than divisive politics, even in the short term. In the long run, with the potential for political chaos so great, more people in the next generation of Americans are likely to want to find their leaders on the high road rather than in the swamp.


Good Education for All Students

 If our claim about the political advantages of the high road is correct, it means that policies that separate distinct categories of students, or that provide unusual opportunities to well-off children, are likely to be called into question. Absent better proof than we now have that they are worth their educational costs, policies on extended bilingual education, pull-out classes for poor children, curricula keyed to particular groups, and separate education for many children with disabilities will come under even greater scrutiny. It may become difficult to argue that the collective good should give way to group needs if the expression of group needs does not provide clear educational benefit to individual students.  It may become similarly difficult to argue that children in wealthy school districts should retain the advantages that high levels of funding bring if other children lack them.

This does not mean that changing these policies will be easy.  The new ways may not always save money.  Reducing the number of students inappropriately labeled “disabled” may provide savings, for example, but properly mainstreaming more of the handicapped could cost just as much as separation.  Furthermore, schooling is very difficult to change for reasons having little to do with finances: parents are used to particular forms of organization and methods of teaching; the essential retraining of teachers will be personally and politically painful; the radical decentralization of American schooling means that all reform will be incremental and uneven across districts; and elites will continue to resist changes that threaten their status. Nevertheless, as the evidence about the ineffectiveness of some current practices is circulated more widely, as teacher preparation changes, and especially as special privileges become politically more difficult to defend, these issues should become more amenable to compromise and change.  

Some courts are in fact currently developing a set of standards on special education that may in the future be broadly appropriate beyond it.[93]  These standards clearly put the burden of proof on school districts to show that a child has been mainstreamed “to the maximum extent appropriate.”  This requires a greater level of inclusion than at present, absent clear evidence that the child’s achievement would substantially suffer, that the child’s presence would be very disruptive for the other students, or that a more inclusive placement would be much more expensive.  Although there have been plenty of problems in implementing special education policy, variations on this general standard may in the new context be applied to a range of issues involving the separation of students.

If the playing field levels, elite parents are likely to provide a new and stronger set of advocates for public-private choice programs.  Those who would like voters to think of themselves more as individual consumers in a marketplace and less as citizens in democracy will support them.  The schools in elite communities, however, are unlikely to be in sufficient trouble that the wider public will be willing to replace the public system to improve them.  If their schools are not as good as they should be, elite parents and their neighbors will continue to have the capacity to fix them. Draining resources from public education, endangering a democratic institution as central as the public schools, is likely to be too high a price for most people to pay in order to permit elite parents to pursue individual competitive advantage for their children.  Elite parents may have to settle for the continued benefits of residential separation, or pay for private schooling.[94]                                   The case will be stronger for vouchers for poor children who attend public schools that fail to achieve any of the goals of education.   A public-private system for all children has the potential to further fragment or stratify educational settings, and arguably will leave urban children even more isolated than they are now.  Public school choice programs and inclusive charter schools, however, could decrease the racial and class isolation of urban children, since these programs could make it easier for them to attend suburban schools.  These mechanisms could therefore be increasingly attractive in the new demographic and political context.  They may also improve the quality of teaching for poor children, if arguments about the salutary effects of competition are at all correct.

In general, improving terrible urban and rural schools will continue to be the most important and difficult policy challenge for public schooling over the next few decades.[95] Current attention to high standards and high expectations and the recent focus on the professionalization of teachers have begun to show effects.  Politicians may have supported these changes for the wrong reasons – for the pleasure of challenging their opponents to come out in favor of low standards and incoherence--but the reforms themselves are based on lessons learned over time, are consistent with the (scarce) reliable research, and correctly place the focus of change on quality of instruction.  They provide an appropriate framework for securing the right to a good school for all students.[96]

However, meeting high standards, developing knowledgeable teachers, acquiring good materials, and ensuring adequate buildings cost tax money; here the politics of one versus all have been and will continue to be most difficult.  It is of course hypocrisy to endorse high standards, comprehensive reform, and quality instruction without providing sufficient funding for everyone, but hypocrisy is not unusual where taxes are involved.  In the future it may become easier to secure adequate funding for regular education in all districts if the dramatic growth in some special programs can be brought under control; both changes can be made and justified in the name of equal treatment.[97]  Court decisions may, however, still be necessary to make the hard financial reforms possible. 

To resolve all the issues raised in this paper, there will in fact be no substitute for democratic decision making of all possible types; executive leadership, legislative determination, and court intervention will no doubt all be necessary, along with appeals to and persuasion of citizens. The debate on these matters will be intense, the potential for social division will be high, and the competition for public resources will be fierce.  Yet the new demography will present great opportunities as well as enormous challenges.  There will be a real chance to bring people together in a new way to work for the common good.  Education will clearly be more important than ever, not only to enable individuals to achieve their dreams but also to enable the United States to persist as a democracy.   It could be a new America.





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[1] Franklin, 1962 (1749): 152-53.

[2] Our deepest thanks go to Smriti Belbase, without whom this paper would be much less complete, and without whom we might never have gotten past our arguments.  Thanks also for excellent suggestions, some of which we accepted, to Rainer Baubock, Elaine Bonner-Tompkins, Thomas Corcoran, Jeffrey Henig, Christopher Jencks, Lorraine McDonnell, Richard Murnane, Michael Paris, Harry Stein, Clarence Stone, Michael Timpane, and the participants in the seminar series on Inequality and Social Policy, J.F. Kennedy School, Harvard University.

[3] In 1996, 2.7 million people were employed as public elementary and secondary classroom teachers.  That compares with, for example, 66,314 who were employed in providing Social Security and approximately 1.5 million people who were employed in the armed forces.  In 1996-97, the U.S. spent an estimated $314 billion on elementary and secondary public education, compared with $190 billion for Medicare and $365 billion for Social Security (National Center for Education Statistics 1997: table 4; Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1998, tables 251, 543, 559, and 582).

[4] In 1996, local governments spent  $292 billion on education (including higher education), compared with  $42 billion on hospitals,  $38 billion on police, and $33 billion on public welfare ( ).  A different measure shows that in 1997, 31 percent of all state expenditures went to education; the next most expensive state program was public welfare, at 23 percent ( ).

[5] In 1994, the most recent year for which data are available, the United States spent $5,944 per student in elementary and secondary education.  Among the G-7 countries, the next highest was Germany at $5,262 per student.  The lowest in this group was the United Kingdom, at $3,914 per student (U.S. Department of Education 1998: Table 56-4).  Heidenheimer (1973, 1981) analyzes why the U.S. focused more and earlier on public education than did European nations.

[6] "Education" here is elementary and secondary schooling that is universal, mandatory, and directly provided or otherwise ensured by public authorities.  We are not here considering college or postgraduate schooling, vocational training, pre-school or after-school child care, or other programs that teach in some sense but are not a central part of the system of schooling.  We do at times consider private and religious elementary and secondary schools. The "educational system" is the set of institutions that are formally and publicly granted the authority and resources to convey "education."

[7] Hochschild (1995) provides an extensive discussion of the meaning and practice of the American dream.

[8] See Hochschild (1995: chap. 1) for evidence of support for the American dream; McClosky and Zaller (1984) and Verba and Orren (1985) provide evidence on support of democratic values.  Many Americans reject claims that our values are actually practiced, but they are often those who are most committed to the values themselves (Huntington 1981).

[9] An increasing number of scholars share our core framing, that disputes over educational pedagogy and policy are really disputes over the nature and priority of core values.  Cuban (1998), Labaree (1997), and Paris (1995) are excellent examples.

[10] Hochschild (1995: 16-17) further explicates these three forms of success.

[11] Miller (1954: 66)

[12] Franklin (1987 [1749]: 326)

[13] Barber (1992) and Gutmann (1987) focus on the centrality of public education for a well-functioning democracy.

[14] Our discussion below of school desegregation explains and justifies this proposition.

[15] Economic purposes of education, official and unofficial, are beyond our discussion here.  In this category, we would place the pursuit of national economic competitiveness, as well as the desires to protect children from economic exploitation, to keep them out of economic competition with adults, and to permit adults to work without child care responsibilities for most of the day.  Finally, there is the role that education plays in sorting students for their future economic roles. 

[16] The classic claim here is Bell (1976). Plaintiffs in a school desegregation suit in Atlanta, for example, chose to have the school system turned over to black educators rather than to pursue desegregation with neighboring white communities partly because they valued the chance for the black community to run its own schools.  By the 1990s, most local black activists endorsed black-run schools over desegregative efforts. See Gewirtz (1997) for a discussion of the spread of group-based claims from race to other ascriptive traits.

[17] Macedo (1999, in press).

[18] Kaestle (1983: 136-181, esp. 166-171); Viteritti (1998: 664-675)

[19] “The loss of language…causes [children] to be cut off from their past and their heritage…. A sense of group belonging… is badly needed in today’s American schools which are mainly Eurocentric, competitive, individualistic, and materialistic” (Pewewardy 1997: 2).

[20] See symposium on “Group Rights” in The Good Society (1996).

[21] See the African-American Baseline Essays used in school systems in Portland (Oregon). The Portland School District is developing three additional sets of essays, one for each of the remaining minority groups.  The Atlanta City School District instructs its teachers to include the original essays among their resources; the essays are also used by individual teachers in Milwaukee, and in Prince Georges County (Maryland). (Rowe 1995; Ortiz de Montellano 1995, Education Week 1998). 

[22] Roy 1995; Campbell 1992; Associated Press 1991; Wilkerson 1991. After a challenge by the ACLU, the schools were opened to girls, but they remain focused on a particular race and gender.

[23] Baldouf 1997.

[24] Jefferson 1856 (1818).

[25] Jefferson 1856 (1818).

[26]Plyler v. Doe 1982.

[27] Public Agenda Foundation 1998: ques. 23; Phi Delta Kappa 1998: ques. 17  (accession # 0306952 and 0308651 in RPOLL).

[28] Public Agenda Foundation 1998: ques, 25; Phi Delta Kappa 1998: ques. 18 (accession numbers 0306954 and 0308652 in RPOLL); Johnson and Immerwahr 1994: ques. 43-49.

[29] Johnson and Immerwahr 1994: ques. 43-49.  

[30] Phi Delta Kappa 1994: ques. 55 and 56 (accession #s 0220676 and 0253725 in RPOLL); Time/CNN 1994: ques. 54 (accession # 0226911 in RPOLL).

[31] Los Angeles Times 1991: ques. 34 (accession #0163132 in RPOLL); CNN/USA Today 1994: ques. 70 (accession #0234970); National Black Politics Study (1993-94): ques. D6d (blacks only); Redbook 1994: ques. 7, 8 (accession #0233559, 0233560 in RPOLL).

[32] Hochschild and Scott 1998: 84.

[33] For evidence on trends in students’ academic achievement by race and ethnicity, see National Center for Education Statistics 1998b: 13-14, 62-63,112-113, and 160-161; on the effects of desegregation in particular see Wells and Crain 1994; Schofield 1995;  Sigelman et al. 1996; and Lissitz 1994.

[34] Hochschild and Scott 1998: 102.

[35] Berg and Colton (1982: 45) provide a classic example of atrocious implementation.

[36]  In an 1998 survey, only half of blacks and 28% of whites said that it was “very important” that their child’s school be racially integrated. In the same survey, however, 82% of all respondents chose “raising academic standards and achievement” over “more diversity and integration” as their preferred priority for their children’s school (Public Agenda 1998: ques.13, 2; accession #0306942, 0306931 in RPOLL). 

[37]  NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund 1988: ques. 21 (accession #0074189 in RPOLL).

[38] Public Agenda 1998: ques 57 (accession 0306986 in RPOLL). 

[39] Orfield et al. 1997: 11-14, 21.

[40]  National Center for Education Statistics 1998b: xiii.

[41] Burtless 1996; Corcoran and Scovronick 1998.

[42] Reed 1997.

[43] Phi Delta Kappa 1992: ques. 41 (accession # 0202655 in RPOLL). Typically, the less specific the query and the more generic its focus on “teaching respect for people of different racial and ethnic groups,” the higher the rate of support, which sometimes reaches 90 percent or more.

[44] Viadero1996: 1.

[45] Delpit 1995; Prentice and Miller 1999: chapters XX.

[46] Wilkinson, 1996: 1, 3.

[47] See Henig et al. (1998: 69-77) on Atlanta and Detroit.

[48] Public Agenda 1998: ques. 34, 13, 20-22, 24, 26- 28 (accession #0306963, 0306942, 0306949-0306951, 0306953, 0306955-0306957 in RPOLL).

[49] National Opinion Research Center 1994, ques. 511 (ENGTEACH).

[50] Walters 1998; August and Hakuta 1998.

[51] Heller et al. (1982) found special education classes to be “ineffective and discriminatory.” Baker et al. (1994) find that inclusion in regular classrooms leads to academic and social benefits for disabled and special needs children.  However, Kavale (1990), Carlberg and Kavale (1980), and Sindelar and Deno (1979) find that separation improves the academic achievement of learning disabled and emotionally disturbed children

[52] Puma  et al. 1997.  The evidence cited in this paragraph, however, may have little bearing on the concerns of those seeking distinctive group treatment, since it is all focused on the two primary values of individual success and the collective good.  One could argue that even if separate programs do not benefit “one” or “all,” they could still enhance the values behind “some.”

[53]  Fundamentalist Christian requests for curriculum changes are on the conventionally-defined right; schools for gay and lesbian students or Afrocentric schools for black boys are on the conventionally-defined left. No proposal for distinctive group treatment is “liberal,” as conventionally understood.  In contrast, one can reasonably begin with the assumption that people concerned about individual success will be more conservative in conventional terms than will people concerned about the community as a whole. (One must be cautious here about labeling: those concerned about “one” could call for dramatic downward redistribution if they focus on absolute success, whereas a concern for “all” could take the form of strong pressure toward conformity to rules and laws, or passionate patriotism.  Nevertheless, the political allegiances of advocates for particular groups are harder to predict than those for advocates of individual success or the collective good.)

[54] Hochschild and Scott 1998: 85-86, 103-112.  Since 1960, the United States has increased its expenditures on public elementary and secondary education from less than $75 billion to over $250 billion in 1997, in constant 1997-98 dollars (National Center for Education Statistics 1998a: figure 8). 

[55] Sahskin and Egirmeir 1993; Goertz et al. 1996.

[56] Hochschild and Scott 1998:86-87, 114-116; Elam 1989; Elam 1995; Doherty 1998; Phi Delta Kappa 1998: ques. 31, 35 (accession #0308665, 0308669 in RPOLL); American Association of University Women 1998: ques. 45, 57 (accession #0320047, 0320059); Henry J. Kaiser Foundation 1998: ques. 11 (accession #0322421).

[57] Grissmer and Flanagan 1998.

[58] Darling-Hammond 1996; also see Elmore 1997.

[59] See Barnett 1996 on Slavin.

[60] Gomby et al. 1995; Barnett 1995; Reynolds 1998.

[61] Mosteller 1995; Krueger 1998; Cuban 1995.

[62] See our comments above; for more detail, see Smith and O’Day 1990.

[63] Chubb and Moe 1990; Stone 1998; Henig et al. 1999 forthcoming

[64] Friedman 1955.

[65] Jencks 1970.

[66] Chubb and Moe 1990.

[67] Ravitch 1996;  Henig 1994: 113-116.

[68] Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies 1996: table 10; 1997: table B-3; 1998: table 4; Public Agenda 1998: ques. 41-48 (accession #0306970-0306977); Witte (forthcoming, 2000: chap. 3).

[69] Greene, Peterson and Du (1996); Witte (forthcoming, 2000); Rouse 1998.

[70] Hochschild and Scott 1998; Johnson et al. 1995: table 3; Education Commission of the States 1996.

[71] NBC News 1998: ques. 74 (accession #0310011); Democratic Leadership Council 1998: ques. 76 (accession #0314686); American Association of University Women 1998: ques. 27, 62, 63 (accession #0320029, 0320064, 0320065).

[72] Lucas 1999: 49-60.

[73] Gamoran and Mare 1989.

[74] Oakes 1985.

[75] Slavin 1990.

[76] Johnson and Immerwahr 1994: 19.

[77] Tyack and Cuban 1995.

[78] See Fine 1997.

[79] Wells and Serna 1996; Shore 1996.

[80] Orfield and Yun 1999: 13-15.

[81] Murray et al. 1998.

[82] Krueger 1998: 30-31.

[83] Olson 1965

[84] Paris 1995; Labaree 1997.

[85] Campbell 1997.

[86] U.S. Bureau of the Census: 1996 data from website.

[87] New Mexico is projected to follow the same pattern as California, and New York and New Jersey will probably be home to more Latinos than Anglos soon after 2025. Unless otherwise noted, the information in this paragraph comes from population projection charts on the U.S. Bureau of the Census website.

[88] See, for example, Bouvier and Briggs (1988) on New York, and Bouvier (1992) on Florida.

[89] The dependency ratio is defined as the number of people under 20 and over 65 for every 100 people of working age. By one prediction, the dependency ratio in the United States will increase from about 63:100 in 1992 to about 78:100 in 2030  (Day 1996: figure 6 and table E).

[90] Hochschild with Kolarick (1997: 11-12) review the evidence on when the elderly do, and do not, oppose new spending on schools.  The most recent study finds that the black elderly are more likely, and the white elderly are less likely, than the rest of the population to support higher school spending (Weiher et al. 1998).

[91] Hochschild and Rogers (forthcoming, 1999), McClain and Stewart (1998) and Preston, Cain, and Bass (1998) discuss coalitional possibilities and tensions among racial and ethnic groups.

[92] In the past few years, Hispanic immigrants to California have become naturalized citizens, registered voters, and Democratic Party supporters all at much higher rates than they did before Proposition 187. Many analysts attribute Governor Gray Davis’s and other Democrats’ success in the 1998 election to Hispanic support; soon after taking office, he made several high-profile Latino appointments (Salladay and Coile (1999)), reduced efforts to implement Proposition 187 (Lesher 1999), and pledged reform of public schools (Salladay and Coile 1999).

Governor George Bush of Texas is learning the same lesson.  As the composition and mood of voters in Texas changes, the nationally ambitious governor increasingly emphasizes his inclusionary, pragmatic, compassionate conservatism over his former more rightist proclivities. (Berke 1999, XXXX).

[93] Sacramento v. Rachel Holland, 512 U.S. 1207 (1994).

[94] The best articulation of this position that we know of is Levin (1983). Elite parents might be reassured, although the rest of us will not be, by the fact that local communities and even whole regions are becoming increasingly, and unprecedentedly, segregated by class (Jargowsky 1997; Frey 1995).

[95] Stone 1998; Elmore 1996; and Henig et al. 1999 all offer convincing analyses of why it will be difficult.

[96] Heubert and Hauser 1999; McDonnell et al. 1997.

[97] Absent sufficient capital funding, new operating funds get diverted from instruction to buildings. Given the demographic trends, construction and renovation should be started as soon as possible so that the debt retires before the baby boomers do. Substantial state assistance, not just local bond funds, are needed, but politically this should be feasible given that public works means ribbon-cutting ceremonies.