The Roots of Educational Inequality: Germantown High School 1907 – 2013
Erika Kitzmiller

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Harvard University

Primary Discipline

History of Education
The Roots of Educational Inequality” is the first study to examine the political, economic, and social factors that have transformed urban high schools over the course of the twentieth century and led to this nation’s growing educational disparities and social inequality. Through a fresh, longitudinal analysis that investigates daily events rather than focusing solely on key turning points, this study challenges conventional, declension narratives that suggest that American high schools have moved steadily and inevitably from pillars of success to institutions of failure. Many of these narratives argue that the current failures of urban public schools stem from postwar white flight and failed desegregation policies.In contrast to these traditional declension narratives, my work illustrates that the fiscal crises and educational inequality that urban schools experience today has existed since the moment these schools opened at the turn of the twentieth century. At that time, urban school districts across the nation lacked the tax revenues to fund their schools adequately. Rather than raise taxes to meet the school district’s actual needs, many school districts relied on private philanthropy and local institutions to subsidize urban public schools. The School District of Philadelphia’s dependence on philanthropy provided additional resources to the city’s revenue-strapped public schools, but at the same time, this approach masked the school district’s fiscal insolvency and contributed to the escalation of inequality between youth who had access to the city’s finest educational institutions and those who did not.
About Erika Kitzmiller
Erika M. Kitzmiller is a historian of race, social inequality, and education. Her book manuscript, The Roots of Educational Inequality: Germantown High School, 1907 – 2013, examines the political, economic, and social factors that have contributed to the transformation of urban high schools and the escalation of inequality over the course of the twentieth century. Currently, she is a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center (formerly the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute). She earned a joint Ph.D. in History and Education, Culture, and Society from the University of Pennsylvania in 2012 and a M.P.A. from the Fels Institute of Government at Penn. She received her B.A. in History and Italian from Wellesley College. Before graduate school, she worked with the Steppingstone Foundation in Boston, MA and served as middle school teacher and administrator at the Calhoun School in New York City and Wayland Middle School in Wayland, MA.

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