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Spencer Foundation Project on Equality of Opportunity and Education

Over 90 percent of Americans believe that equality of opportunity is “absolutely essential” as an American ideal.  The ideal of equality of opportunity gains its largest traction in discussions about social mobility and in the structure, purposes, and financing of education.  But while this ideal is widely adhered to, its very meaning is deeply contested.

Funded by the Spencer Foundation, the core goal of the Project on Equality of Opportunity and Education was to refine our understanding of the relationship between ideals of equality – especially equality of opportunity - and the public provision of education.  To do this, two of the Center's 2014-15 postdoctoral fellows and a group of international scholars focused on three main questions:

  1. Which ideal of equality should govern the public provision of education?
  2. What are the implications of this ideal for concrete decisions about school financing, admissions practices such as those attempting to achieve racial or economic integration, and the national, state and local distribution of educational responsibility?
  3. What are the main practical obstacles to achieving this ideal in education?

We believe the importance of our project is magnified by the mounting evidence of the increasing scope of income and wealth inequality in the United States 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 equal opportunity for all: how little social mobility there is in the U.S., how wide the achievement gap is, how systematic the difference in opportunity structure for whites, African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans.  Indeed, when issues of race, class and ethnicity come into play, the meaning of equal educational opportunity for all quickly becomes contested. To culminate our work on the Spencer Project, we've created a website to share insights on the initiative.

SCHOLARS WORKING ON THE SPENCER FOUNDATION PROJECT:

Debra Satz, (PI) Professor of Ethics in Society, Professor of Philosophy, and, by courtesy, Political Science, Stanford University

Eamonn Callan, (PI)  Professor of Education, Stanford University

Rob Reich, (PI) Associate Professor of Political Science and, by courtesy, Education and Philosophy, Stanford University

Anne Newman, Associate Director at the Center for Ethics in Society, Stanford University

Kendra Bishoff, Assistant Professor in Sociology, Cornell University, former Spencer Foundation postdoc fellow at the Center for Ethics in Society

Sarah Hannan, Assistant Professor at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, former Spencer Foundation postdoc fellow at the Center for Ethics in Society

Bill Koski, Professor of Law,  Director of the Youth and Education Law Clinic, Stanford University

Hugh Lazenby, faculty in philosophy at the University of Glasgow, former Spencer Foundation postdoc fellow at the Center for Ethics in Society

Susanna Loeb, Professor of Education, Faculty Director of the Center for Education Policy Analysis, Stanford University

Liam Shields, Spencer Foundation postdoc fellow at the Center for Ethics in Society, Stanford University

Ken Shores, PhD candidate in the Administration and Policy Analysis program, Stanford University