Dissertation Title: Supply-Side Education: Race, Inequality, and the Rise of the Punitive Education State
Committee: Marie Gottschalk (Co-Chair), Adolph Reed (Co-Chair), Rogers M. Smith, Sigal Ben-Porath
Summary: The 1930s were dominated by an understanding that unemployment and inequality were primarily the result of structural failures of the market economy. However, the unraveling of New Deal liberalism throughout the 1940s and 1950s shifted ideological understandings of problems like unemployment, poverty and racial inequality to explanations focused on individual deficiencies. This development had dramatic consequences for federal education policy. Buttressed by a coalition of civil rights groups and educational organizations pushing for federal involvement in education, Democratic policymakers turned towards education as a cheaper and more effective replacement to earlier redistributive taxation and full employment policies. The success of this coalition in passing the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act meant that the institutions of the federal education state were designed with an eye towards solving poverty, unemployment, and racial inequality. This left public schools vulnerable to political attack as these social problems failed to disappear. By the end of the 1960s, Democratic politicians and civil rights groups began to call for greater accountability and punishment for schools that failed to live up to expectations. This critical view was eventually adopted by Republicans and conservative interest groups, who pushed for the introduction of market forces in public education as a necessary corrective. These earlier developments explain how punitive sanctions became a cornerstone of federal education policy, with particularly negative consequences for racial minorities and poor communities.