Can America Ecucate Itself out of Inequality?
Abstract: Michael Katz, "Review Essay: Can America Ecucate Itself out of Inequality?"

Economists Claudia Golden and Lawrence Katz claim that the race between education and technology pits the supply of educated workers against the demand for their services. For most of its course, the distance separating contestants has remained more or less the same, with exceptions between 1915 and 1940, when supply began to overtake demand, and in the years after 1980, when the pace of supply flagged. The race is crucial because the relation of supply to demand widens or narrows inequality and determines the trajectory of economic growth. Despite the authors' stunning and invaluable empirical contributions, a number of their interpretations and, even, their book's framework itself, remain questionable. A tension at the book's core undermines the authors' thesis about the implications of history for turning around the recent trajectory of American inequality.
Article Type: Critical essay
Subject: Economists (Works)
Economists (Criticism and interpretation)
Equality (Analysis)
Social justice (Analysis)
Technology and civilization (Analysis)
Author: Katz, Michael B.
Pub Date: 09/22/2009
Publication: Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529
Issue: Date: Fall, 2009 Source Volume: 43 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: The Race between Education and Technology (Nonfiction work)
Product: Product Code: 8525201 Economists NAICS Code: 54172 Research and Development in the Social Sciences and Humanities
Persons: Named Person: Goldin, Claudia; Goldin, Claudia; Latz, Lawrence F.; Latz, Lawrence F.
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 209577955
Full Text: The Race between Education and Technology. By Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008).

In 2008, the implosion of the American economy exposed inequalities that the housing bubble and easy credit had partially masked. The social scientists and journalists who had been writing about the astonishing post-1973 growth of inequality no longer could be ignored or dismissed as leftist cranks or whiners; even politicians had to pay attention, fielding questions about staggering CEO pay while corporations laid off workers by the hundreds of thousand. The issue became how to understand inequality and what to do about it. With some notable exceptions, historians have been slow off the mark in joining this conversation, raising the question of whether, in fact, they have anything very useful to say. Now, two distinguished economic historians have plunged into the core of the debate with The Race Between Education and Technology, a book certain to generate debate about the links between inequality, education, and economic growth, past and present. (1) They ask whether Americans can once more educate themselves out of inequality. At the start of the book, the implicit answer appears to be yes, at its close, no.


The race between education and technology pits the supply of educated workers against the demand for their services. According to Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, it has been run for more than a century of American history and probably will never stop. For most of its course, the distance separating contestants has remained more or less the same, with exceptions between 1915 and 1940, when supply began to overtake demand, and in the years after 1980, when the pace of supply flagged. The race is crucial because the relation of supply to demand widens or narrows inequality and determines the trajectory of economic growth. Reducing the post-1970 intensification of inequality--and recapturing America's international standing--requires finding mechanisms for accelerating the pace of supply towards its historic speed. "In economic terms," claim Goldin and Katz, "the twentieth century fully merits the title 'The American Century.' ... [but it] could also be titled the 'Human Capital Century.'" The link between the two designations "concerns the role of education in economic growth and individual productivity. A greater level of education results in higher labor productivity. Moreover, a greater level of education in the entire nation tends to foster a higher rate of aggregate growth." (1-2).

Vigorously argued, The Race Between Education and Technology (RBET) rests on massive research, most of which is explained at greater length and in more technical detail in the authors' many articles and working papers written since the mid-1990s. Indeed, Goldin and Katz explain their sources and methods in meticulous, if sometimes excruciating, detail, and their discovery of sources with which to answer elusive questions reflects ingenuity and imagination. The book abounds in tables and figures, some straightforward and comprehensible to any educated reader, while others reflect the conventions of econometrics--Goldin and Katz are economists by profession--and require specialized training to interpret. Some of the stories they tell are familiar, others revise conventional wisdom. Even in the familiar, they make original contributions through precise and detailed analysis. RBET's bibliography alone is worth the book's price. For it brings together literatures on topics usually considered in isolation and includes obscure sources that few, even scholars in the field, will know. Its merits notwithstanding, RBET is in places a hard read and, with the same point made in different chapters, repetitive.

Despite RBET's stunning and invaluable empirical contributions, I am left with questions about a number of its interpretations and, even, about the framework itself. I will leave the authors' econometric analyses to others more qualified to evaluate them than me and, instead, concentrate on the book's interpretations of the histories of inequality and education and on what seems a tension, perhaps even a contradiction, at its core, and on what it implies about how to turn around the recent trajectory of American inequality.


RBET's story begins with the post-1970 growth of inequality to its current historic and alarming scale. Goldin and Katz join a host of other writers in describing declining real wages and the vastly increased mal-distribution of wealth. Despite broad agreement on what has happened, debate swirls around why. Explanations centered on human capital, demography, technological change, labor market institutions, and public policy all vie for supremacy. Thus, no one reasonably well-informed about economic developments will find any of what the authors describe surprising, although they tell the by-now familiar story well, with sharp detail. Their explanation of trends aligns them clearly with the camp that attributes heaviest weight to changes in the supply and quality of human capital.

Goldin's and Katz's originality lies in their claims about the early twentieth century. Most histories see inequality increasing in the 1920s and 1930s before starting its precipitous decline, often called "the great compression", in the 1940s. Goldin and Katz, to the contrary, date the start of inequality's decline from around 1915. This early start is crucial to their thesis that the sharp rise in relatively well educated workers--represented by high school graduates--drove down the educational wage premium.

The federal census did not include questions about income until 1940. So, in the absence of direct evidence, tracking income trends demands the disciplined application of creative historical guesswork. For income, Goldin and Katz substitute wages. Enough wage studies exist to make reasonable estimates of how much was paid to workers in different occupations and industries over time. Fortunately, they have one other source against which to check the wage patterns that emerge from scattered studies. That is the remarkable Iowa State Census of 1915, whose cards with information on all individual Iowans were rescued by the Mormon Church and microfilmed. The Iowa census asked about individual income, type of school attended, and overall educational attainment. Goldin and Katz coded a large sample of the records, and their Iowa database became the key source for many of their interpretations of the relations among education, income, and work in 1915. They make a reasonable case that several general patterns in Iowa may be extended to the rest of the nation.

What caused inequality to decline in the early twentieth century? The answer, according to RBET, is the vastly heightened supply of educated workers. Even though new industrial processes and technological innovations accelerated demand for workers with more advanced educations, the explosion of high school-educated workers forced relative wages down. To be sure, the decrease was relative. Advanced education--a high school degree in 1915, a college degree in 2000--has always heightened earning capacity; education, in the language of economists, has continuously paid a premium. The educational premium increased in the late 20th century because the supply of educated workers, represented especially by the number of college graduates, stagnated, even retreated. Demand did not accelerate; it grew at its more or less historic steady pace. But this was enough to distance it more and more from supply, thereby driving up the educational premium.

By grounding the history of inequality in the race between education and technology, Goldin and Katz provide a stripped-down, elegant, human capital-centered explanation for trends in American income distribution over the last century. But, as an explanation, the metaphor of race misses crucial change in the character of inequality and subordinates other influences that helped shape its trajectory. Inequality is in fact a complicated idea not wholly captured by trends in income distribution. In modern American history, inequality is better understood as a multidimensional process that is historically and geographically contingent. (Elsewhere, Mark J. Stern and I elaborate on these features and on the definition of inequality. (2)) Government has structured inequality directly with state-sanctioned slavery and racial segregation as well as tax policy, labor laws, civil rights legislation, and affirmative action, to take obvious examples. The institutions of the labor market--notably, trade unions--also have played powerful roles in shaping the distribution of personal income. Thus, by themselves, neither human capital nor market forces--the interaction of supply and demand--explain the history of American inequality. Historic patterns of inequality, to put the matter another way, result from political economy as well as from human capital and markets.

RBET acknowledges some of these factors but treats them more or less in passing, distinctly subordinate to the interplay of educational supply and demand until the book's very last pages (discussed below). Consider some of the legislation whose impact on inequality RBET does not examine systematically: the Wagner Act (1935), which legitimated trade unions; the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938), which regulated wages and hours; and the Social Security Act (1935), which introduced old age pensions and unemployment insurance. In the years when these and other instances of state action and labor market regulation took hold, income inequality plummeted to historic lows. Goldin and Katz do, however, pay close attention to the argument that immigration has heightened inequality by depressing wages. In rejecting immigration as a primary driver of inequality, they marshal persuasive evidence which shows that it impacted wages much less than commonly supposed either in the early twentieth century or today.

The greatest anomaly in Goldin's and Katz's interpretation remains race, whose history puts African-Americans outside the inequality story as told in RBET. Racial inequality, Goldin and Katz acknowledge, cannot be explained by the race between education and technology, and they tell a story primarily of inequality among white workers. (In contrast to race, they pay close attention to gender.) But is this enough? Surely, if we have learned nothing else from modern writing on American history, it is that race has shaped everything. Slavery made possible white fortunes. After the Civil War, a pool of cheap black labor impacted white wages and undercut labor militancy. In the twentieth century, residential segregation translated into the unequal distribution of resources and concentrated poverty. These examples are not meant to be exhaustive but, rather, to highlight the imbrication of inequality in race and the inadequacy of any history of American inequality based primarily on the experience of white workers. Indeed, in the early twentieth century, as African-American educational attainment rose, the income inequality separating them from whites--as far as we can tell--did not go down.

The history of African American inequality illustrates how the character of inequality can change over time. Mark J. Stern and I have described it this way:

This shift in the character of African American inequality did not. result from the race between education and technology. More important were powerful grassroots social movements joined to institutional change through the force of legislatures, courts, and executive actions. Unlike the early twentieth century, when even advanced education collided with the barriers erected by segregation and the educational premium more or less stopped at the color line, in the late twentieth and early twentyfirst centuries, those African-Americans filtered into ever-more promising statuses have been able to capitalize on their educations, especially the returns to college degrees.


RBET offers a history of education curiously out-of-step with main trends in educational historiography since the late 1960s. A brief characterization does not capture the variety of interpretations offered by historians of education, but it is safe to report that many of them set out to complicate, if not overturn, the celebrationist thrust of earlier writing about the origins and development of America's public schools. In the older view, public schools served as engines of democracy won with heroic effort by great reformers, like Horace Mann, who overcame the opposition of the rich and selfish to assure free education to all Americans. While Goldin and Katz would substitute a "grassroots movement" for the emphasis on heroic reformers, their interpretation might be labeled "neo-celebrationist". Like the earlier celebrationist history, it offers little help explaining the inequalities built into public education from its inception or the failures of public education, especially urban public education, in the last half century. By ignoring the conflicting purposes of public educational systems, the debate over alternative models for public schools, the class biases in school attendance, the origins and role of testing and tracking within high schools, and the stratified character of higher education, RBET flattens the history of public education and overplays its egalitarian tendencies.

RBET describes three "transformations" in the history of public education and six "Virtues" present at its origins. The nineteenth century achievement of "mass elementary and publicly funded education" constituted the first transformation; the "high school movement", which resulted in virtually universal secondary education between 1910 and 1940, was the second; the emergence of mass higher education by the close of World War II was the third. In their time, these three transformations were historically and internationally without precedent.

No historian of education would quarrel with this characterization. Again, Goldin's and Katz's contributions lie in the details, most notably their description of the high school movement. Although the high school movement started in New England, the region did not retain its lead. "In 1928 the states with the highest rates appear to form an 'educational belt' across the midsection of the nation." The South lagged far behind while "some of the more industrial states in the North" also remained outside the belt. (203) High school attendance was high on the plains and in the towns of the North Central Region and relatively low in the industrial cities of Pennsylvania and other great manufacturing metropolises.

One pre-requisite of a high school was community wealth; high schools cost a lot more than common schools. Goldin and Katz highlight the prosperity of the agricultural regions which supported high schools, but they do not link prosperity to the "golden age" of American agriculture in the first two decades of the twentieth century. In those years, urban population growth created an immense demand for food that farmers were able to meet with the help of new technologies. As a consequence, the value of good agricultural land skyrocketed, thereby growing the tax base necessary to support high schools.

Progressive farmers who realized the importance of scientific and technological advances to agriculture had strong incentives to support high schools and to send their children. In relatively small ethnically homogeneous communities, social capital translated into a willingness to spend money on a public good. In the same years, white collar work, including secondary school teaching, exploded, and new manufacturing processes required technical knowledge and skill. These labor market changes encouraged parents to want high schools for their sons and daughters. They rightly believed that high school educated workers earned higher wages, a distinction that Goldin and Katz show held not only between occupations and industries hut within them as well. Within industrial cities, however, the future rewards of a high school education failed to seduce young men to remain in school; many left as soon as possible to take up work in factories', meeting the huge, growing appetite for semi-skilled labor at the heart of America's first mass industrialization. Young women, by contrast, more often stayed longer in school where they acquired the credentials needed for teaching and the skills necessary for the expanding and feminizing world of office work.

By supplying educated workers, RBET emphasizes, American mass education contributed mightily to economic productivity and growth. "Human capital embodied in one's people," they hold, "is the most fundamental part of the wealth of nations." Through the three transformations within American education, the "Human Capital Century rapidly became the American Century. The United States became and remained the most economically advanced nation in the world." (41) How much of America's productivity growth can be attributed to education? Goldin's and Katz's "educational growth accounting" for the period 1915-2005 arrives at an estimate of 1.3.6 percent. (39, Table 3.1) The "direct contribution of educational advance within the workforce of 0.34 percent per year explains about 14 percent of the average annual increase in labor productivity of 2.47 percent." (39-40) The quantity is not trivial, but, on the other hand, it is not very large, either, and leaves the great majority of the increase unexplained. Goldin and Katz try to inflate the 14 percent figure by speculating that the "actual role of more education must have been considerably greater because of omitted indirect effects," (41) but by how much they do not say. The glass in this argument seems considerably less than half full, leaving the sources of American productivity growth a ripe field for historians.

What, exactly, is in the glass? How did education increase productivity? What was the source of the educational premium paid as a result of attending high school or, later, college? In places, Goldin and Katz stress the value of the skills schools taught. They point to the reliance of early twentieth century continuous and batch processing on workers with mathematical and scientific training; the importance of advanced education to teaching; and the skills needed in office work, for instance. But the return on those skills accrued from the balance between their supply and demand. Educational credentials carried a market value, which schools worked hard to protect. (In his fine study of Philadelphia's Central High School, David Labaree shows just how this educational market worked in one city. (3) ) From this perspective, the value of prolonged education largely grew out of its marginal utility, and the value of schooling rested in the credentials it bestowed, not in its contents. The tension between the value of learned skills and marginal utility lies unresolved at the core of RBET.

American education worked so well, according to RBET, because of its founding "virtues." These virtues, which had little to do with the content of schooling, mostly "had emerged in the period before the American Civil War" and "would determine U.S. Educational development in the twentieth century and ... enable the United States to lead the world in schooling, particularly in educating the masses." (129) Six in number, the virtues were "public funding, public provision ... the separation of church and state. ... a decentralized system containing thousands of fiscally independent districts, an open structure in which youthful transgressions were often forgiven, and the ability of girls to receive instruction in coeducational public schools, which we term 'gender neutrality.'" (129) These features may be called virtues because they made American education egalitarian. They "can be summed up as egalitarian in nature. The democratic, republican vision of education triumphed over an elitist one in which private schools would exist for some and charity or pauper schools would serve the others." (161)

This neo-celebrationist interpretation turns back the historiographical clock. The work of a generation of historians undermines the unqualified claim that American education was "egalitarian". The view that a "democratic, republican vision of education triumphed over an elitist one" vastly oversimplifies the origins of public educational systems. It overemphasizes the importance of eighteenth and early nineteenth century republican theorists whose visionary plans generally had few practical results, and it neglects the Lancasterian or monitorial schooling (not given a mention in RBET)--mass charity education on the cheap for the poor--that swept the country, especially its cities. By the early decades of the nineteenth century, outside the South, only a handful of reactionaries argued against the importance of education and the need for its public support and wide diffusion. The contest, rather, was over how mass education should be organized and administered. I have located four organizational models or ideal types that competed for ascendance in the decades before the Civil War, each one resting on distinct social values and priorities. They are paternalistic voluntarism, corporate voluntarism, democratic localism, and incipient bureaucracy. (4) Incipient bureaucracy triumphed in public education, corporate voluntarism in higher education.

Neglecting the contest among alternatives and the significance of the victor, as RBET does, carries consequences. For one thing, it leads to a celebration of decentralized school districts and misses the centralizing tendency of educational reform since the 1830s. Horace Mann and other ante-bellum reformers railed against the district system as the bane of American education. With various measures--for instance, state legislation, high schools, and improved teacher training--they fought to lessen its influence. They succeeded best in cities which, by the third quarter of the nineteenth century, had built elaborately differentiated, centralized, professionally administered educational bureaucracies which insulated public schools from the communities they served. Historians and educational critics have amply documented their anti-democratic, non-egalitarian results. The battle against decentralization continued during the early twentieth century with the national campaign for school consolidation focused on rural America. The fierce resistance to school consolidation showed, once again, the contest between alternative models of educational organization and their anchor in conflicting values and priorities.

Without doubt, genuinely democratic impulses were at play in ante-bellum school reform. But public school systems were built to serve multiple purposes, of which the promotion of democracy was only one, and to solve an array of new problems: escalating crime and poverty; increased cultural diversity; the need to discipline a newly urbanized workforce; the crisis of youth in nineteenth century cities; and the anxieties of middle class parents about the futures of their children. The story of public education's origins is vastly more complex and interesting than the triumph of a "democratic, republican vision of education ... over an elitist one." (5)

High schools were central to the vision of early school promoters. Who went to them? What were the consequences of their social demography? Do the answers to these questions reveal high schools as egalitarian, democratic institutions? Until the acceleration of high school attendance in the second decade of the twentieth century, only a small minority of young people attended or graduated from them. From every study, it is clear that they were not a cross-section of local towns and cities. High school students came mainly from professional, white collar, and, to a lesser extent, prosperous artisan families. For these families high schools proved a boon. They spread the cost of secondary education among all taxpayers, thereby saving individual parents the price of tuition. (6) In other words, high schools socialized the cost of secondary education, providing disproportionate advantage to the families that wanted and were able to use them. That is why working-class voters often objected to high schools. Labeling the expansion of high schools a "grassroots" movement, as Goldin and Katz do, stretches enthusiasm and support for them beyond what the record suggests.

To be sure, in the 1910s more students began to pour into high schools, as Goldin and Katz and many others show. These new students widened high schools' social demography, but they did not make the schools more egalitarian. High schools met the challenge of mass enrollment with testing and tracking, using tests to differentiate students into tracks which led in divergent directions, that is, to college, clerical jobs, or manual work. Tracks, as is well known, correlated with social background. Through internal tracking, high schools retained their ability to secure differential advantage to children from more advantaged families. The correlation, of course, was not perfect; social mobility existed. But, overall, high schools served to help stratify as well as educate American teenagers. (A similar story could be told about the institutional differentiation that accompanied the growth of mass higher education. (7)) RBHT tells none of this story.

If American education was overwhelmingly democratic and egalitarian, what accounts for today's massive failure in urban schools? RBET offers very little help in answering this crucial question. For useful interpretations one needs to turn to the work of historians and historical sociologists who study education, notably the essay, "Urban Education and the 'Truly Disadvantaged': The Historical Roots of the Contemporary Crisis," by Harvey Kantor and Barbara Brenzel (8) and the spectacular recent book, Schools Betrayed, by Kathryn Neckerman. (9) Kantor and Brenzel emphasize the potent blend of bureaucracy with social geography, and Neckerman dissects the process through which urban schools lost legitimacy. Together, they highlight the inadequacy of neo-celebrationist interpretations of American educational history and point to powerful alternative explanations.


RBET's last chapter asks, what is to be done now? Goldin and Katz describe the current situation this way.

As they look for what is the matter, Goldin and Katz bump up against the limits of their own interpretation. They are too honest to gloss over what they find. The result leaves them at odds with the logic of their book.

They ask, first, whether the six defining features of American education still remain "virtues." They are not sure. With vast inequalities in spending based on variations in municipal wealth, decentralization appears decidedly less virtuous. The separation of church and state is under challenge, raising the question of "a trade-off ... between the provision of a common education and the provision of an adequate education, especially for children in poor neighborhoods with failing public schools." (343, italics in original) Openness and forgiveness worked well when "educational attainment was low," but now "they do little to increase the quality of education. ... [and] can lead some to delay finishing their education." (345) Anachronistic features no longer virtues constitute one set of influences restraining renewed growth in educational attainment. The other two major culprits are the failure of schools to equip high school students, including many who graduate, for college and the inadequate financial assistance for those who are ready.

The first problem--"the lack of college preparedness"--Goldin and Katz trace to "resources." These include talented teachers and the wherewithal to "enhance accountability through testing and standards", and parental choice. The problem, which is worst for "mainly minority students in inner-city schools", starts early in childhood, long before young people reach high school. (348). Even if children receive an education that prepares them adequately for college, many "may lack the family resources to afford a college education and may find it difficult to access financial aid or borrow sufficient funds." (.349) This diagnosis of the problem leads Goldin and Katz to propose three types of policies: first, "greater access to quality education" for poor children; second, improved K-12 schooling geared at preparing more children for college; and, third, more "generous and transparent" financial aid that will permit students to earn their degrees, whether at a four-year or community college.

Greater educational investment would ''benefit the entire nation through an increase in economic, growth and a slowdown, or reversal, of inequality trends." But education takes a long time to work its magic, and even increased growth and productivity might not redistribute the share of income "accruing to the very top of the income distribution." To jump start the process, Goldin and Katz recommend the nation consider a "modest increase in tax rates at the very top end of the income distribution" and "institutional interventions in wage setting," that is raising the minimum wage and reinvigorating labor unions. (351-2)

Whether education can once again promote economic growth and reduce inequality depends on a successful wager about the future of the labor market, "it is ... imperative to know what new skills will be demanded in the future." (352) The trouble is that "prediction is fraught with difficulties." in fact, they admit on the last page, "College is no longer the automatic ticket to success. ... No longer does having a high school or a college degree make you indispensable, especially if your skills can be imported or emulated by a computer program." (353) For nearly 400 pages, RBET relentlessly promotes the race between the supply of educated workers and the demand for their services as the key to fueling economic growth and reducing inequality. in its last pages, it admits the nation cannot depend on reenergizing its educational system to reverse the growth of inequality or on college to deliver an income premium. Have economic globalization and its discontents changed the dynamics of history? Or does RBET oversell its case about the past? Can America educate its way out of inequality? The question is fraught with implications for public policy. its answer is no. This is what the evidence in RBET's last chapter along with the work of a generation of historians of education shows. For many reasons--not. all of them by any means strictly economic--a high quality education should be an entitlement of citizenship for all Americans. But it is a delusion to pin national aspirations for reduced inequality and faster economic growth on the schools.

Department of History

Philadelphia, PA 19104-6379


(1.) Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, The. Race Between Education and Technology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008). For astute comments on an earlier draft of this essay, I am grateful to Harvey Kantor.

(2.) Michael B, Katz and Mark J. Stern, One Nation Divisible: What America Was and What It Is Becoming (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006), pp. 64-66

(3.) David F Labaree, The Making of an American High School: The Credentials Market and the Central High School of Philadelphia, 1838-1939 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988).

(4.) Michael B. Katz, Reconstructing American Education (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), pp. 24-57.

(5.) Ibid., pp. 16-23.

(6.) For a discussion of the arguments in favor of high schools, see Michael B. Katz, The Irony of Educational Reform: Educational Innovation in Mid-Nineteenth Century Massachusetts (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968; reissued with a new introduction, Teachers College Press, 2001), PP. 27-49.

(7.) For an account of how the famed G.I. hill heightened economic differences between blacks and whites, see Ira Katznelson, When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold Story of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Norton, 2005).

(8.) Harvey Kantor and Barbara Brenzel, "Urban Education and the 'Truly Disadvantaged': The Historical Roots of the Contemporary Crisis,' in Michael B. Katz, editor, The "Underclass" Debate: The View from History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. pp. 366-402.

(9.) Kathryn M. Neckerman, Schools Betrayed: Roots of Failure in Inner-City Education (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

By Michael B. Katz

University of Pennsylvania
Inequality among African Americans no longer grows out of a massive
  and mutually reinforcing, legal and extra-legal, public and private
  system of racial oppression. Rather it is a subtler matter, proceeding
  through a series of screens that filter blacks into more or less
  promising statuses, progressively dividing them along lines full of
  implications for their economic futures and, in the face of natural
  disaster, their very lives." (87)

... sometime in the early 1970s indicators of educational attainment
  in the Linked States began to change. Secondary school graduation
  rates reached a plateau; college graduation rates slid backwards;
  educational attainment by cohort reached a standstill. After the
  mid-1980s educational attainment for young Americans did begin to
  rise again, largely driven by a surge in college-going, especially
  for young women. But this has not been enough to brighten the overall
  picture. College completion and high school graduation rates have
  been sluggish and overall years of schooling have risen more slowly
  an in the past. Is something the matter? (324-325)
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