Richard Rothstein

How Princeton's Trustees Failed History with Their Woodrow Wilson Decision

Last week, the Princeton University trustees announced they were rejecting student protester demands that “Woodrow Wilson” be removed from the names of the university’s School of Public and International Affairs and a residential undergraduate college.

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Widespread Racial Housing Segregation Is a Major Instigator for Protests

A pattern has emerged—in Oakland, New York, Cleveland, Baltimore, the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, and beyond. Police claiming to feel threatened kill unarmed black men. Protests follow, sometimes including violence. The Department of Justice finds a pattern and practice of racially-biased policing. The city agrees to train officers not to use excessive force, encourage sensitivity, prohibit racial profiling. These reforms are all necessary and important, but ignore an obvious reality that the protests are not really (or primarily) about policing.
In racially isolated neighborhoods where jobs are few and transportation to job-rich areas is absent, where poverty rates are high and educational levels are low, where petty misbehavior and more serious crime abound, young men and cops develop the worst expectations of each other, leading to predictable confrontations.
In 1968, following more than 100 urban riots nationwide, almost all in response to police brutality or killing by police, a presidential commission concluded that “[o]ur nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal” and that “[s]egregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans.” The Kerner Commission added that “[w]hat white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”
“White society” was a euphemism. It was government—federal, state, local—whose explicitly racial laws, policies, and regulations ensured that black Americans would live separately. St. Louis and Baltimore, the bookmarks of our recent incidents, illustrate this.
A hundred years ago, both cities adopted ordinances prohibiting African Americans from moving to blocks where whites predominated. After the Supreme Court banned such rules in 1917, St. Louis’s planning board preserved the policy. In neighborhoods where deeds prohibited sales to African Americans, the board prohibited anything but single family homes. Where neighborhoods had black families, it permitted multifamily structures, saloons, and factories. It changed zoning designations when necessary to enforce racial boundaries. Baltimore’s official “Committee on Segregation” coordinated building and health inspectors’ efforts to condemn black residences found in white neighborhoods. The committee also organized neighborhood associations to adopt pacts pledging white homeowners never to sell to black purchasers.
The federal government led nationwide to enforce segregation. In the 1930s, many urban neighborhoods were modestly integrated when both European immigrants and African Americans walked to factory jobs. Cities razed such neighborhoods to construct federally financed segregated public housing—in St. Louis, for example, for blacks on the north side, for whites farther south.
During World War II, the government built segregated housing for defense workers. In cities with previously few black residents, this imposed rigid segregation on burgeoning black populations.
Faced with post-war housing shortages, President Harry Truman proposed expanding public housing. Conservative Republicans, rejecting government participation in private markets, introduced a “poison pill” amendment requiring that public housing be integrated. They knew that if the amendment passed, Southern Democrats would oppose any public housing, defeating the program. Northern liberal Democrats like Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota campaigned against the integration amendment, uniting with their Southern colleagues to defeat it, and the 1949 Housing Act funded segregated housing.
When civilian housing construction recovered, the government promoted suburbanization. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) guaranteed bank loans to builders on condition that no homes be sold to African Americans. The FHA even provided model deed language barring re-sales to non-whites.
Such subdivisions blossomed in virtually every metropolitan area. Best known is Levittown, N.Y.—17,000 homes for veterans, sold initially for about twice national median family income (less than $125,000 in today’s dollars). Affordable to working class families of any race, federal policy restricted them to whites.
As suburbanization accelerated, whites left segregated public housing, lured to racially exclusive communities by FHA or G.I. bill mortgages. Soon, white projects had vacancies while black waiting lists were long. Housing authorities then opened all projects to African Americans. When industry also left inner cities and black workers couldn’t get to good suburban jobs, ghetto impoverishment grew.
The FHA refused to insure mortgages in black neighborhoods as well—“redlining” neighborhoods to indicate they were uncreditworthy because African Americans lived in (or even near) them.
Unable to get mortgages and restricted to overcrowded neighborhoods where housing was in short supply, African Americans paid rents considerably higher than those for similar dwellings in white neighborhoods, or bought houses on installment plans with no equity rights. Higher housing costs forced black families to double-up, sometimes subdividing single-family homes. City services declined where black populations increased and neighborhoods turned into slums. If they were close to downtown businesses, federal, state, and local governments collaborated in “slum clearance” programs that relocated black residents to outlying areas.
That’s how formerly all-white Ferguson evolved. Government cleared the St. Louis slums it had created to construct the city’s trademark Gateway Arch, university expansion, and freeway interchanges that brought white suburbanites to downtown jobs. Some displaced residents received government vouchers to subsidize rents in outlying areas, but with no requirement that landlords must accept them. When only landlords in borderline areas took vouchers, new ghettos like Ferguson were created.
Houses in places like Levittown cost more than seven times national median income. In 1968, we adopted a Fair Housing Act, telling African Americans they were free to move to such suburbs. A few have, but the homes are now unaffordable to most black working families whose grandparents could have found housing there 60 years ago. Whites who bought such houses gained, over the last 65 years, hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity appreciation, wealth they used to send children to college or to provide for their own retirements.
Housing equity is Americans’ most important source of wealth. Average black family income is now about 60 percent of white family income, but black household wealth is only about 5 percent of white household wealth. This disparity is almost entirely attributable to federal policy that prohibited black families from accumulating equity during the suburban boom and thus from bequeathing that wealth to children, as whites have done.
We don’t have what is commonly termed “de facto” segregation—primarily resulting from private prejudice, income differences, preferences to live separately, or demographic trends. Our segregation is “de jure,” resulting mostly from racially explicit public policies designed to create residential patterns we too easily accept as natural or accidental. These policies were blatant violations of constitutional guarantees that have never been remedied. Without remedy—desegregation, in short—we are sure to see more Fergusons, and Baltimores, and Clevelands, and vainly hope to avoid them by teaching police to be gentler.


The Ethical Challenges Today's Teachers Face

On May 14, 2015, the  Bank Street Graduate School of Education recognized Richard Rothstein with an Honorary Doctorate degree as part of its annual Commencement ceremony at Riverside Church.

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The Poverty and Segregation in Baltimore and Ferguson- It is All Connected to Racist U.S. Housing Policies

In Baltimore in 1910, a black Yale law school graduate purchased a home in a previously all-white neighborhood. The Baltimore city government reacted by adopting a residential segregation ordinance, restricting African Americans to designated blocks. Explaining the policy, Baltimore’s mayor proclaimed, “Blacks should be quarantined in isolated slums in order to reduce the incidence of civil disturbance, to prevent the spread of communicable disease into the nearby White neighborhoods, and to protect property values among the White majority.”

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The Latest Big-City School Testing Scandal Exposes Everything That's Wrong with the Standardized Approach

Eleven Atlanta educators, convicted and imprisoned, have taken the fall for systematic cheating on standardized tests in American education. Such cheating is widespread, as is similar corruption in any institution—whether health care, criminal justice, the Veterans Administration, or others—where top policymakers try to manage their institutions with simple quantitative measures that distort the institution’s goals. This corruption is especially inevitable when out-of-touch policymakers set impossible-to-achieve goals and expect that success will nonetheless follow if only underlings are held accountable for measurable results.

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The Unfulfilled Promise of Brown v. Board of Education

Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court’s unanimous school desegregation decision whose 60th anniversary we will celebrate on May 17, had enormous impact. Its narrow result was to annihilate the “separate but equal” rule, previously sanctioned by the Supreme Court in 1896, that permitted states and school districts to designate some schools for “whites-only” and others for “Negroes-only.”1

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What Will It Take to Build a Better Accountability System for Our Schools?

Education policy in both the Bush and Obama administrations has suffered from failure to acknowledge a critical principle of performance evaluation in all fields, public and private—if an institution has multiple goals but is held accountable only for some, its agents, acting rationally, will increase attention paid to goals for which they are evaluated, and diminish attention to those, perhaps equally important, for which they are not evaluated.

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How High School Text Books Indoctrinate Youth With A False and Dangerous Sense of Our Racial History

In the last week, we’ve paid great attention to Nelson Mandela’s call for forgiveness and reconciliation between South Africa’s former white rulers and its exploited black majority. But we’ve paid less attention to the condition that Mandela insisted must underlie reconciliation—truth. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Mandela established, and that Bishop Desmond Tutu chaired, was designed to contribute to cleansing wounds of the country’s racist history by exposing it to a disinfecting bright light. As for those Afrikaners who committed even the worst acts of violence against blacks, they could be forgiven and move on only if they acknowledged the full details of their crimes.

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Don't Believe the Hype: Why International Test Scores Are Way More Complicated Than the Dept. of Ed Wants You to Think

National average scores of students on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) will be released Tuesday, and we urge commentators and education policymakers to avoid jumping to quick conclusions from a superficial “horse race” examination of these scores.

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Does "Poverty" Cause Low Achievement?

On her “Bridging Differences” blog, educator Deborah Meier began a discussion with Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, on whether urging disadvantaged women to defer childbearing until they had sufficient income (whether from work or marriage) to adequately support their offspring would result in better outcomes for those children. This, in turn, led to an extended discussion (not on the blog, but widely circulated among some education policy experts and commentators by e-mail) about whether alleviating poverty would raise student achievement; whether alleviating poverty through tax reform or income redistribution might be effective for that purpose; whether poor children in the United States have worse outcomes than poor children in other countries; what the best way might be to calculate poverty levels across countries; and whether school reform in the absence of alleviating poverty can be significantly effective.

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Joel Klein Claims "K-12 Isn't Working" -- But the Facts Prove Him Dead Wrong

I don’t mean to pick on Joel Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor, but he has made himself such a caricature of self-styled school reformers who are undermining American public education that it would be a mistake not to respond to the claims on which he bases his efforts.

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Expose: Former NYC School Chancellor Joel Klein Is Not Telling the Whole Truth About His Personal History

“Sleight of Hand,” an article in the November-December issue of The American Prospect, describes how federal, state, and local housing policies, including the public housing program, were designed a half-century ago to segregate our major metropolitan areas, and how the residential patterns created by public policy at that time persist to this day.

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Is 'Teacher Accountability' Ready for Prime-Time?

It was bound to happen, whether in Chicago or elsewhere. What is surprising about the Chicago teachers’ strike is that something like this did not happen sooner.

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Segregation, the Black-White Achievement Gap, and the Romneys

This article originally appeared on the Working Economics blog of the Economic Policy Institute.

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