Access to Free and Equal Education

Access to Free and Equal Education

It is widely accepted that educational opportunities for children ought to be equal. This thesis follows from two observations about education and children: first, that education significantly influences a person’s life chances in terms of labor market success, preparation for democratic citizenship, and general human flourishing; and second, that children’s life chances should not be fixed by certain morally arbitrary circumstances of their birth such as their social class, race, and gender. But the precise meaning of, and implications for, the ideal of equality of educational opportunity is the subject of substantial disagreement . This entry provides a critical review of the nature and basis of those disagreements.

To frame the discussion we introduce three key factors that underscore the importance of treating equality of educational opportunity as an independent concern, apart from theories of equality of opportunity more generally. These factors are: the central place of education in modern societies and the myriad opportunities it affords; the scarcity of high-quality educational opportunities for many children; and the critical role of the state in providing educational opportunities. These factors differentiate education from many other social goods. We follow this with a brief history of how equality of educational opportunity has been interpreted in the United States since the 1950s and the evolving legal understandings of equality of opportunity.

Our subsequent analysis has implications for issues that are at the center of current litigation in the United States. But our philosophical discussion is intended to have wider reach, attempting to clarify the most attractive competing conceptions of the concept.

1. Equality of Educational Opportunity as an Independent Concern

  • The Value of Education
  • The Scarcity of High-Quality Educational Opportunity
  • The State Regulation of Education

2. A Brief History of Equality of Educational Opportunity in Pakistan

3. The Meaning of and Debates about Equality of Educational Opportunity

  • What is Educational Opportunity?
  • Formal Equality of Educational Opportunity
  • Meritocratic Equality of Educational Opportunity
  • Fair Equality of Educational Opportunity
  • Debates about Fair Equality of Educational Opportunity
  • Equality of Educational Opportunity for Flourishing
  • Equality of Educational Opportunity for the Labor Market
  • Equality of Educational Opportunity for Citizenship
  • Equality and Adequacy in the Distribution of Educational Opportunities

4. Equality of Educational Opportunity’s Tensions with Other Values

  • Education and the Family
  • Disability
  • The Target of Equal Educational Opportunity: Individuals or Groups?

5. Conclusion

  • Bibliography
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  • Other Internet Resources
  • Related Entries