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The Dynamics of Opportunity in America

Evidence and Perspectives

Editors: Kirsch, Irwin, Braun, Henry (Eds.)

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  • Addresses what may be the civil rights issue of our time – inequality of opportunity and its impact on growing numbers of Americans, future generations, and the nation as a whole
  • Expertise provided by individuals representing a range of areas, including economics, education, demography, and public policy 
  • Provides a balanced foundation for understanding a topic of high public policy interest 
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  • ISBN 978-3-319-25991-8
  • This book is an open access book, you can download it for free on
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About this book

Across the country, our children are beginning life from very different starting points. Some have aspirations and believe they can be achieved. For too many others, aspirations are tempered, if not dashed, by the sobering realities of everyday life. These different starting points place children on distinctly different trajectories of growth and development, ultimately leading to vastly different adult outcomes. 
How did we get to a place where circumstances of birth have become so determinative? And what must we do, within communities and across our country, to better equalize opportunity for more Americans – both young and old? The editors of this volume contend that if, as a nation, we do nothing, then we will continue to drift apart, placing an unsustainable strain on the nation’s social fabric and the character of its democracy. Consequently, understanding the dynamics governing the distribution and transmission of opportunity – and transforming this understanding into policies and programs – is critical for not only the life outcomes of individual Americans and their children, but also the country as a whole. 
The goal of Educational Testing Service’s Opportunity in America initiative is to explore these powerful dynamics and to describe and convey them in a way that advances the national conversation about why we must take action – and how best to do so. This volume contains 14 chapters, including an epilogue, written by leaders from a range of fields including education, economics, demography, and political science. Collectively, they not only illuminate key aspects of the problem but also offer suggestions of what policies, programs, and changes in practices could begin to reverse the trends we are seeing. Written in an engaging style, this volume constitutes an essential foundation for informed discussion and strategic analysis.

About the authors


Irwin Kirsch
is Tyler Chair in Large-Scale Assessment and Director of the Center for Global Assessment at Educational Testing Service (ETS). He also serves as Project Director of ETS’s Opportunity in America initiative.
Henry Braun is Boisi Professor of Education and Public Policy in the Lynch School of Education and Director of the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation, and Education Policy at Boston College. He also serves as Project Co-Director of ETS’s Opportunity in America initiative.


Bruce Baker
is Professor at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University and maintains blogs on school finance and educational policy.
Jared Bernstein is a Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. He previously served as Chief Economist and Economic Adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.
Danielle Farrie is Research Director of the Education Law Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Chrystia Freeland is the Canadian Minister of International Trade and Member of Parliament for University-Rosedale, Toronto, author of Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, and journalist.
Harry J. Holzer is Professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University and is an Institute Fellow at the American Institutes for Research. He previously served as Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Labor.
Carl Kaestle is University Professor of Education, History, and Public Policy emeritus at Brown University.
Ishwar Khatiwada is a Labor Economist at the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University.
Robert I. Lerman is an Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute, Emeritus Professor of Economics at American University, and a Research Fellow at IZA in Bonn, Germany. He is also the Founder of the American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeship.
Douglas S. Massey is the Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Leslie McCall is a Professor in the Department of Sociology and Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.
Jennifer A. O’Day is an Institute Fellow of the American Institutes for Research and is the Founder and Chair of the California Collaborative on District Reform.
Richard V. Reeves is a Senior Fellow in Economic Studies, Co-Director of the Center on Children and Families, and Editor-in-Chief of the Social Mobility Memos blog at the Brookings Institution.
David G. Sciarra is Executive Director of the Education Law Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Timothy M. (Tim) Smeeding is the Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Public Affairs and Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was previously Director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at Wisconsin-Madison.
Marshall S. Smith is a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a former Dean and Professor at Stanford, and a former Under Secretary and Acting Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education in the Clinton administration. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Education.
Andrew M. Sum is Professor Emeritus of Economics at Northeastern University in Boston. He was previously the Director of the Center for Labor Market Studies.
Jonathan Tannen is a Doctoral Candidate in the Urban and Population clusters of the Woodrow Wilson School and the Office of Population Research at Princeton University.

Table of contents (14 chapters)

Table of contents (14 chapters)
  • Introduction: Opportunity in America—Setting the Stage

    Pages 1-10

    Braun, Henry (et al.)

  • Segregation, Race, and the Social Worlds of Rich and Poor

    Pages 13-33

    Massey, Douglas S. (et al.)

  • Federalism and Inequality in Education: What Can History Tell Us?

    Pages 35-96

    Kaestle, Carl

  • The Changing Distribution of Educational Opportunities: 1993–2012

    Pages 97-136

    Baker, Bruce (et al.)

  • The Dynamics of Opportunity in America: A Working Framework

    Pages 137-164

    Braun, Henry

Buy this book

  • ISBN 978-3-319-25991-8
  • This book is an open access book, you can download it for free on
Hardcover $59.99
price for USA in USD
Softcover $59.99
price for USA in USD

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Bibliographic Information

Bibliographic Information
Book Title
The Dynamics of Opportunity in America
Book Subtitle
Evidence and Perspectives
  • Irwin Kirsch
  • Henry Braun
Springer International Publishing
Copyright Holder
The Editor(s) (if applicable) and the Author(s)
eBook ISBN
Hardcover ISBN
Softcover ISBN
Edition Number
Number of Pages
Number of Illustrations
68 b/w illustrations, 18 illustrations in colour