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Richard Kahlenberg is a seasoned consultant to school districts, higher education institutions, and foundations. Given the substantial legal impediments to using race in K-12 student assignment and higher education admissions, Kahlenberg can assist education leaders in achieving racial and economic diversity by relying on socioeconomic rather than racial factors.


Following a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Parents Involved v. Seattle, which struck down racial integration plans, Kahlenberg has worked with a variety of school districts—including some of the nation’s largest—to create new socioeconomic integration plans that produce both racial and economic integration.

Applying an economic lens to diversity efforts has become a practical way to create a healthy economic and racial mix of students for a growing number of school districts. When Kahlenberg began researching socioeconomic integration plans in 1996 for a book for Brookings Institution Press, only two public school districts employed economic factors in student assignment. By 2020, 171 school districts of charter school chains did.


Kahlenberg's experience in consulting with K-12 schools on diversity issues includes:

Serving as an expert witness for Chicago public schools in United States v. Board of Education of Chicago (2009). He testified in U.S. Federal District Court about the use of socioeconomic indicators as a way of promoting racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity in Chicago Public Schools' selective enrollment and magnet schools.

Working with schools and school districts across the country, often in conjunction with education planner Michael Alves and civil rights lawyer John Brittain, to promote socioeconomic and racial diversity.

These include:

  • Hunter College High School, New York City (2021-present)

  • Los Angeles Unified School District (2020-21), as a pro bono member of LAUSD Equitable Enrollment Collaborative Group

  • New York City Department of Education (2018-2019), as a pro bono member of the Executive Committee of the Mayor’s School Diversity Advisory Group, chaired by Maya Wiley

  • Groton Public Schools, Connecticut (2018-2020)

  • District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties, South Carolina (2018)

  • New Haven Public Schools, Connecticut (2017)

  • Pasadena Public Schools, California (2017)

  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Schools, North Carolina (2016)

  • Chicago Public Schools (2008-2010)


Richard Kahlenberg has three decades of experience researching ways in which colleges and universities can boost racial diversity without considering race directly, such as providing a leg up to socioeconomically disadvantaged students, recruiting more community college transfer students, and curtailing preferences for the children of alumni.

His previous work with organizations seeking to improve diversity in college and universities includes:

Serving as an expert witness in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina. In those cases, he testified in Federal District Court in favor of the importance of racial diversity, a fact highlighted in Supreme Court oral arguments in these cases. Kahlenberg also explained in testimony that universities could employ a variety of strategies—including affirmative action for socioeconomically disadvantaged students—to achieve racial and economic diversity.  

Working with Duke economist Peter Arcidiacono, using data from thousands of actual applicant to Harvard and UNC, to estimate the current size of preferences provided by admissions officers to athletes, children of alumni, underrepresented racial minorities, and socioeconomically disadvantaged students. Kahlenberg and Arcidiacono were then able to simulate the results of what would happen if those colleges stopped employing preferences based on such factors as race and legacy status and shifted instead to socioeconomic and geographic preferences. They were able to assess in detail the different effects that various types of socioeconomic preferences had on racial and economic diversity and on the academic strength of the resulting student body.

Providing advice to The College Board on creating “Landscape,” a tool that colleges can use to create socioeconomic and racial diversity by considering the socioeconomic obstacles that students have overcome.

Working with former Pitzer College president Melvin Oliver and Occidental sociologist Peter Dreier to co-author Wealth: The Last Path to Diversity at College After SCOTUS Strikes Down Affirmative Action. 

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