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Faculty & Research

Richard J. Murnane

Juliana W. and William Foss Thompson Research Professor of Education and Society

Richard J. Murnane

Degree:  Ph.D., Yale University, (1974)
Email:  [javascript protected email address]
Phone:  617.496.4820
Vitae/CV:   Richard J. Murnane.pdf
Office:  Gutman 406B
Office Hours Contact:  Email the Faculty Assistant to set up the appointment
Faculty Assistant:  Wendy Angus


Richard Murnane, an economist, is the Thompson Research Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. With Greg Duncan, Murnane has examined the respects in which the growth in family income inequality in the U.S. has affected educational opportunities for children from low-income families and the effectiveness of alternative strategies for improving life chances for these children. This project has resulted in two major publications: the 2011 edited volume, Whither Opportunity, and the 2014 book, Restoring Opportunity. One of Murnane's current research projects (with Stanford sociologist Sean Reardon) examines whether trends in the use of different types of private schools by low- and higher-income families contributed to the recent increase in income-based gaps in educational outcomes. Another (with John Willett and Emiliana Vegas) examines how changes in the system of educational vouchers in Chile have influenced the distribution of students across schools and the distribution of student achievement.
Areas of Expertise
Russell Sage

Spencer, Smith Richardson, and Hewlitt

Sponsored Projects

The Role of Private Schooling in contributing to the increase in inequality (2014-2016)
Russell Sage Foundation

Over the last four decades, inequality in family incomes in the United States has grown markedly. During this same period, inequality in academic achievement and educational attainments between children from high- and low-income families has also increased substantially. The papers collected in the volume "Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances" document these patterns and present evidence that the increase in income inequality contributed causally to the increase in inequality of children’s educational outcomes. The volume also provides evidence on mechanisms through which the causal impact took place. However, to date, the causal mechanisms are not well understood. The research contributes to improved understanding by examining the extent to which trends in families’ decisions about whether to send their children to private elementary and secondary schools contributed to the increase in inequality in educational outcomes. We address a set of research questions that concern trends in the types of schools attended by children living in families from different parts of the family income distribution. The school types we consider are public schools and private schools, and among private schools, we distinguish among three categories: Catholic, non-Catholic religious, and secular (not religiously affiliated). We to focus on trends in school enrollment patterns for children whose families are in different income quintiles, with special attention to trends in the top and bottom income quintiles. For each question, we examine whether patterns differ by region of the country and by city size. 1.What are the long-run trends in private school enrollment, by family income? 2.What are the trends in the types of private schools children enrolled in, by family income? 3.What are the trends, by income, in how much families pay for private school? The optimal datasets for our research would be periodic large representative samples of American children of school-age, with each observation containing information on family demographics and income, geographic location, the child’s grade in school, whether the child attended a public or private school (or was home schooled), and if a private school, the category of private school (Catholic, other religious, non-religious), and the school’s annual tuition and the amount of net tuition the family paid for their child. These optimal datasets would also include information on the income distribution of the students in each child’s school, and a measure of the school’s effectiveness. Unfortunately, these optimal datasets do not exist. However, using a variety of publicly available datasets, it is possible to shed light on the answers to our research questions.

Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge for American Education (2014-2014)
Ford Foundation

Richard Murnane and Greg Duncan co-authored a book entitled Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge for American Education. They are employing WGBH to create a 10-12 minute video that tells the story of the book, including both the disturbing effects of increased family income inequality on the quality of education provided to children from low-income families, and the evidence on strategies to improve educational opportunities for low-income children. They have already contracted with WGBH (with support from the Spencer Foundation) to make three five-minute videos highlighting effective school interventions at the preK, elementary, and high school level that are described in the book. This longer video incorporates the 25-30 hours of extremely rich video footage that WGBH shot at the sites of the successful education programs, as well as lengthy interviews with the authors.

Data Wise: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Assessment Results to Improve Teaching and Learning (co-editor with Kathryn Parker Boudett and Elizabeth A. City, (Harvard Education Press, Fall 2005),(2005)

The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Changing the Way We Work (Princeton University Press and Russell Sage Foundation, 2004) (with Frank Levy),(2004)

Low-Wage America (co-editor with Eileen Appelbaum and Annette Bernhardt), Russell Sage Foundation (2003).,(2003)

Upstairs, Downstairs: Computers and Skills on Two Floors of a Large Bank,” (with David Autor and Frank Levy), Industrial and Labor Relations Review (2002),(2002)

"Information Technology and Skill Requirements: Examples from a Car Dealership," (with Anne Beamish and Frank Levy), in F. Rauner, N. Schreier, G. Sp⎯ttl (eds.) The Future of Computer-Supported Diagnosis (Germany: W. Bertelsmann Verlag), 2002, 133-159.,(2002)

"Can the Internet Help Solve America's Education Problems: Lessons from the Cisco Networking Academies," (with Nancy Sharkey and Frank Levy) National Research Council (in press), in P. Graham and N. Stacey (eds.) The Knowledge Economy and Postsecondary Education, The Committee on the Impact of the Changing Economy on the Postsecondary Education System (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2002).,(2002)

"Do the Cognitive Skills of Dropouts Matter in the Labor Market?" (with John H. Tyler and John B. Willett) Journal of Human Resources . 82(Feb. 2000)1, 23-37.,(2001)

"Will Standards-Based Educational Reforms Improve Education for Children of Color?" (with Frank Levy), National Tax Journal (June 2001).,(2001)

"Key Competencies Critical to Economic Success," (with Frank Levy), in D. Rychen and L. Salganik (eds.) Defining and Selecting Key Competencies (Seattle, WA: Hogrefe & Huber Publishers, 2001).,(2001)

"From High School to Teaching: Many Steps. Who Makes It?" (with Emiliana Vegas and John B. Willett), Teachers College Record, 103(June 2001)3, 427-449.,(2001)

“Second Chance Strategies for Women Who Drop Out of School,” (with Kathryn Boudett and John Willett), Monthly Labor Review, December 2000.,(2000)

“Who Benefits from Obtaining a GED? Evidence from High School and Beyond,” (with John H. Tyler and John B. Willett), Review of Economics and Statistics (February 2000).,(2000)

“Estimating the Labor Market Signaling Value of the GED,” (with John H. Tyler and John B. Willett), Quarterly Journal of Economics 115(May 2000)2, 431-468.,(2000)

“Do Male Dropouts Benefit from Obtaining a GED,Post-Secondary Education and Training?” (with John B. Willett and Kathryn P. Boudett), Evaluation Review (October 1999).,(1999)

"Does Acquisition of a GED Lead to More Training, Post-Secondary Education, and Military Service for School Dropouts?," in Industrial and Labor Relations Review (Vol. 51, No. 1, October 1997) (with John B. Willett and Kathryn Parker Boudett), pp. 100-116.,(1997)

Teaching the New Basic Skills (The Free Press, 1996) (with Frank Levy).,(1996)

Who Will Teach? Policies that Matter (Harvard University Press, 1991) (with Judith Singer, John Willett, James Kemple, and Randall Olsen).,(1991)

Improving Indicators of the Quality of Science and Mathematics Education in Grades K-12 (National Academy Press, 1988) (co-editor with Senta Raizen).,(1988)

The Impact of School Resources on the Learning of Inner City Children (Ballinger, 1975).,(1975)

Member, Board of Directors, National Academy of Education,(2001-present)

Member, Editorial Board, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management,(2000-present)

Member, Editorial Board, American Educational Research Journal,(1999-present)

Member, Editorial Board, American Journal of Education,(1998-present)

Member, Editorial Board, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis,(1997-present)

Member, Board of Directors, Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation,(1993-present)

Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research,(1993-present)

Member, Editorial Board, Economics of Education Review,(1990-present)

Member, National Academy of Education,(1990-present)

Member, Advisory Board of Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Research Council,(1999-2005)

Member, Policy Council, Association of Public Policy and Management,(2000-2003)

Advisory Council on Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education,(1998-2001)

Chair, Center for Education Advisory Board, National Research Council

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