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Winter 2012

Books: Whither Opportunity?

Whither OpportunityAmerica is called the land of opportunity, where hard work is enough to turn rags into riches, and a better life is just around the corner. However, as the gap between the incomes of wealthy and poor families has increased over the past three decades, so too has the educational performance of their children, bringing into question the nation's reputation for equal opportunity for all.

How exactly does income inequality affect the educational achievements of children? In an effort to answer this overarching question, in Whither Opportunity?, Professor Richard Murnane and Greg Duncan bring together contributions from a diverse group of economists, sociologists, and experts in social services and education.

Approaching the problem from a variety of angles, the volume explores a diverse range of causes that have led to the rise in educational inequality. Over the course of 25 chapters, it first summarizes existing research, then presents readers with a wide array of new findings. Not only does it illuminate the effects of social and economic factors — such as unequal family resources — but it also reveals the profound impact of environmental factors such as disadvantaged neighborhoods and insecure labor markets. The volume then supplements these findings by offering advice to policymakers, touching on issues such as funding distribution, child development strategies, and even calling for a national policy debate.

Arising at a time when the disparity of test scores, college attendance, and graduation rates between wealthy and poor students is reaching an unprecedented level, this volume urges that the problem of educational inequality be addressed and that changes be made within the educational system. With extensive analysis, this collection not only provides readers with a clearer understanding of the problems surrounding educational inequality, but also offers guidance to policymakers in addressing these problems.

"For generations of Americans, education was the springboard to upward mobility," writes Murnane and Duncan. "Only if our country faces the consequences of growing income inequality will it be able to maintain its rich heritage of upward social mobility through educational opportunity."