Ethics Center examines the ideal of education for all

Equality of opportunity is an essential American ideal. But its meaning is deeply contested — especially with respect to education. For the past three years, Stanford’s McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society has been examining the ideal of equality of opportunity in education. Now, the center has launched a website to highlight the major debates about equality of opportunity in education.

Anne Newman
Anne Newman

“We hope it will be a useful resource for people to learn about philosophical debates about equality of opportunity, and what these debates mean for education,” said Center for Ethics in Society Associate Director ANNE NEWMAN, who worked on the project.

She noted, “As far as we know, this is the only online accessible resource with an extensive annotated bibliography allowing people to make sense of the issues surrounding educational equality.”

The new site, Newman said, can be a valuable resource for researchers, college and graduate students, teachers, school administrators and interested citizens – on and off the Stanford campus.

Funded by the Spencer Foundation, the project addresses three questions: First, which ideal of equality should govern the provision of public education? Second, what does this ideal mean for decisions about school financing, admissions practices and the distribution of national, state and local educational authority? And, finally, what are the obstacles to achieving equal educational opportunity?

Newman pointed to the escalation of income and wealth inequality in the United States. Numerous studies, she asserted, show how far this country is from actually achieving equal opportunity for all.

While many academics have worked on issues of inequality in education, empirical work has been generally separate from ethical concerns, according to Newman. The Center for Ethics in Society, she noted, was eager to examine the relationship between ideals of equality and the public provision of education in a way that would consider empirical work and that would work across disciplines.

LILY BIXLER CLAUSEN is communications and outreach specialist for the Center for Ethics in Society