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Overview

This website is part of a larger project, housed at the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society and funded by the Spencer Foundation, to examine the relationship between the ideal of equality of opportunity and the public provision of education. Over 90 percent of Americans believe that equality of opportunity is an “absolutely essential” American ideal. This ideal is key to ongoing conversations about social mobility in the US, particularly with respect to public education. Can schools be the “great equalizer” that Horace Mann suggested they should be over 150 years ago? What vision of equality should they aim to enact given competing understandings of this ideal? 

In thinking through such questions, it is important to appreciate the various understandings of equality of opportunity and what they might mean in the education realm. To that end, this site provides an annotated bibliography of relevant books, articles, and legal cases and is organized into four parts:  

  1. equality of opportunity generally 
  2. different views of equality of opportunity 
  3. their application to education 
  4. relevant landmark US court cases 

Each section begins with a brief introduction to familiarize readers with major debates about the ideas discussed in the books and articles we highlight, after which key sources are listed. Since the ideas and debates featured in different sections are closely connected, many sources appear in multiple sections of the site. The bibliography is not exhaustive but includes significant publications on equality of opportunity and education. Liam Shields, while a postdoc at the Center for Ethics in Society, did the research and writing for the creation of the site.

The main goal of the larger project of which this site is a part is to refine our understanding of the relationship between ideals of equality - especially equality of opportunity - and education. The project examines different aspects of this relationship -- e.g., competing understandings of equality and what they mean for concrete policies for school finance or racial and economic integration -- through a series of academic articles and a white paper. The importance of this project is magnified by mounting evidence of the increasing scope of income and wealth inequality in the US over the past generation. No matter how the ideal of equality of opportunity is defined, countless studies show just how far we are from actually achieving that ideal for all: how little social mobility there is in the US, how wide the achievement gap is, and how systematic the difference in opportunity structures is for whites, African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans.