Falling Short of an Ideal: How American Education Reforms Failed to Serve as the "Great Equalizer"

Max Herteen University of Wisconsin - Madison
Faculty Sponsor(s): Walter Stern University of Wisconsin - Madison
The American creed of equal opportunity is a widely echoed ideal in public and private discourse alike. The principles of fair play and a level playing field are hard to disagree with, and policy makers of all political stripes have embraced the creed of equal opportunity as a guiding doctrine and a policy goal. The ideal, however, has clearly been just that: an ideal. The reality for many Americans, especially ethnic minorities and women, is that the playing field is anything but level. Inequities in society and disparities in opportunity—whether in housing, the job market, or many other public and private arenas—have plagued the non-white, non-male majority for hundreds of years. Inequality has persisted despite concerted efforts and periods of progress. Efforts at reform in public schooling have fared no better. There is no doubt that progress has been made, especially for women and African-Americans, who were at one point denied schooling altogether. However, public schools have not fully achieved their goal to be the “great equalizer” in American life that some have argued them to be. Barriers that ethnic minorities and women in particular face have not been overcome by public schooling, and public schools have not created an equal playing field to promote social and economic mobility. The historical exclusion of women and African-Americans from decision-making and policymaking in educational reform, paired with persistent and pervasive inequality, racism, and discrimination, has meant that American public schooling has been at best selectively successful and at worst discriminatory.
Oral Presentation

When & Where

11:15 AM
Jordan Hall 203