Friday, April 14, 2006

Rob Reich

I am a former sixth grade teacher in Houston, Texas (early corps member with Teach For America). This experience motivated my later doctoral training and continues to influence the scholarly work I do now as a political theorist at Stanford University. What does equal educational opportunity mean? What kinds of inequalities matter? How should we pursue equality in education?

Like William Taylor, I am not especially optimistic that the Supreme Court will revisit the Rodriguez decision. We should accept that the judicial and legislative battleground is now the fifty states. But what concerns me a great deal – and what I hope to convince you of at the conference – is that the orientation of school reform has moved from an equity to an adequacy ideal. Not only have we given up on securing education as a fundamental right, we have also abandoned the very ideal of equal educational opportunity. Instead, the adequacy ideal seeks to compel the state to provide sufficient education to all students. I think this retreat from equity may yield some short-run gains but is a deeply misguided and strategic error in a long-run perspective.

Our most disadvantaged schoolchildren are both absolutely deprived and relatively deprived in educational provision. That is, our worst schools do not meet the standards of an adequate education; they are bad in absolute terms. And of course, our worst schools are also terrible when compared to schools in our wealthy suburbs; they are bad in relative terms.

Will America ever make good on its promise of equality and making educational available to all on equal terms? Probably not. But should we give up on the aspiration to equality? This, in effect, is what Rodriguez wrought. And this, in effect, is what adequacy represents. The retreat from equality as a general matter is what I believe really needs “rethinking”.


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