Lukas also forecast the current consuming debate over income inequality. Wherever Colin looked, Lukas wrote in the final pages, he saw legal remedies undercut by social and economic realities—“The terrible gap between the rich and the poor, the suburb and the city, the hopeful and the hopeless.” Pioneering research at Stanford has proved him right: Sean Reardon found that the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40-percent larger today than it was 30 years ago.
Yet the education reforms favored by the last two White House administrations have aggressively avoided any policies designed to remedy the disparities. Instead, the most popular charter school networks champion a “no excuses” curriculum, which is based on the belief that educators use poverty as an excuse to avoid offering rigorous teaching to minority children. President Obama’s signature Race to the Top policy places a premium on creating charters and ranking teachers based on student test scores. No incentives are built in for districts that are raising achievement scores through large-scale integration.
One wonders what Lukas would have to say about this new technocratic climate. Common Ground is long overdue for a modern sequel. Tragically, Lukas died in 1997. He killed himself after submitting the final manuscript for his last book, Big Trouble, about the trial of a labor leader for the murder of an Idaho governor. Anthony Lukas was a perfectionist in a world that is far from perfect. Common Ground is probably as close to that ideal as journalism can get.