Worlds Apart

Redesigning Primary Education in a Divided Society

In half of all New York City pre-K classrooms, more than 70 percent of children come from a single racial or ethnic group. Nationally, 66 percent of all fourth-graders – and a staggering 80 percent of those from low-income and English learner backgrounds – scored "below proficient" in reading. Piecemeal education reforms make clear the “Great Equalizer” hasn’t lived up to its promise.

Despite major changes across society in the past 50 years, the classroom scene children enter into this year would look oddly familiar to their grandparents. As the U.S. population experiences robust demographic, linguistic, and cultural shifts, its education system has remained a static structure detached from the communities it serves. As Nikole Hannah-Jones articulated in her New York Times Magazine cover story, the impact shouldn't come as a surprise: wide achievement and resource gaps are usurping opportunity, with large percentages of black, Hispanic, and low-income children labeled as underperformers before they even enter kindergarten.

In a new book, First Things First!Dr. Ruby Takanishi argues that policymakers, reformers, educators, and citizens have tried – and largely failed – to forge a consensus that universal access to quality early education is a public responsibility. Disinvestment, in pre-K and through all primary education levels, is the root cause for why the U.S.'s education system – and our socioeconomic standing in the global economy – has become a civil and human rights imperative disregarded for too long.

Join New America's Education Policy Program for a discussion on how we can create a twenty-first century education system that gets a child's first ten years of learning off to a stronger and more equal start.


Lisa Guernsey  @LisaGuernsey
Deputy Director, Education Policy Program, New America


Ruby Takanishi  @RubyTakanishi
Senior Research Fellow, New America
Former President and CEO, Foundation for Child Development
Author, First Things First!: Creating the New American Primary School

Nikole Hannah-Jones  @nhannahjones
Staff Writer, The New York Times Magazine
Emerson Fellow, New America

Dana Goldstein  @DanaGoldstein
Author, The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession