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Penn Press at UHA 2023

The Roots of Educational Inequality

The Roots of Educational Inequality

Philadelphia's Germantown High School, 1907-2014

by Erika M. Kitzmiller

37 illus.

  • Hardcover
  • 9780812253566
  • Published: December 2021



The Roots of Educational Inequality chronicles the transformation of one American high school over the course of the twentieth century to explore the larger political, economic, and social factors that have contributed to the escalation of educational inequality in modern America.

In 1914, when Germantown High School officially opened, Martin G. Brumbaugh, the superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, told residents that they had one of the finest high schools in the nation. Located in a suburban neighborhood in Philadelphia's northwest corner, the school provided Germantown youth with a first-rate education and the necessary credentials to secure a prosperous future. In 2013, almost a century later, William Hite, the city's superintendent, announced that Germantown High was one of thirty-seven schools slated for closure due to low academic achievement. How is it that the school, like so many others that serve low-income students of color, transformed in this way?

Erika M. Kitzmiller links the saga of a single high school to the history of its local community, its city, and the nation. Through a fresh, longitudinal examination that combines deep archival research and spatial analysis, Kitzmiller challenges conventional declension narratives that suggest American high schools have moved steadily from pillars of success to institutions of failures. Instead, this work demonstrates that educational inequality has been embedded in our nation's urban high schools since their founding. The book argues that urban schools were never funded adequately. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, urban school districts lacked the tax revenues needed to operate their schools. Rather than raising taxes, these school districts relied on private philanthropy from families and communities to subsidize a lack of government aid. Over time, this philanthropy disappeared leaving urban schools with inadequate funds and exacerbating the level of educational inequality.