Research

Public Education and the Social Contract: Restoring the Promise in an Age of Diversity and Division

September 2017
Keywords: 

Building on the premise that closing achievement gaps is an economic imperative both to regain international educational supremacy and to maintain global economic competitiveness, I ask whether it is possible to rewrite the social contract so that education is a fundamental right—a statutory guarantee—that is both uniform across states and federally enforceable. I argue that the federal government was complicit in aggravating educational inequality by not guaranteeing free, public education as a basic right during propitious political moments; by enabling the creation of a segregated public higher education system; by relegating the Department of Education and its predecessors to a secondary status in the federal administration, thereby compromising its enforcement capability; and by proliferating incremental reforms while ignoring the unequal institutional arrangements that undermine equal opportunity to learn. History shows that a strong federal role can potentially strengthen the educational social contract.