Tracy L. Steffes Associate Professor of Education, Associate Professor of History

Tracy Steffes is Associate Professor of Education and History. Her primary research and teaching interests are twentieth century United States history, the history of American education, and political and policy history. 

Brown Affiliations

Research Areas

scholarly work

School, Society, & State: A New Education to Govern Modern America, 1890-1940. University of Chicago Press, 2012

(with Lendol Carldor), "Measuring College Learning in History," Improving Quality in American Higher Education.  Edited by Richard Arum, Josipha Roksa, and Amanda Cook.  Jossey-Bass, 2016: 37-86.

“Managing School Integration and White Flight: The Debate over Chicago’s Future in the 1960s,”Journal of Urban History, 42 (July 2016): 709-32.

"Governing the Child: The State, the Family, and the Compulsory School in the Early Twentieth Century, in Boundaries of the State in U.S. History.  Edited by William J. Novak, James Sparrow, and Stephen Sawyer.  University of Chicago Press, 2015.

"The 'Race Problem' and American Education in the Early Twentieth Century." In Inequity in Education: A Historical Perspective. Edited by Debra Meyers and Burke Miller. Lexington Books, 2009.

"Solving the Rural School Problem: New State Aid, Standards, and Supervision of Local Schools, 1900-1933." History of Education Quarterly 48 (Spring 2008): 181-220.

"Lessons from the Past: A Challenge and a Caution for Policy-Relevant History." In Clio at the Table: Using History to Inform and Improve Education Policy. Edited by Kenneth K. Wong and Robert Rothman. Peter Lang Publishing, 2008.

research overview

I am currently working on two book projects: Shifting Fortunes: City Schools and Suburban Schools in Metropolitan Chicago, 1945-2000 which examines the role of schooling within metropolitan development; and What Makes Good Schools?: The Lessons of History and Philosophy for School Assessment, a collaboration with philosopher Kenneth Howe. My first book, School, Society, and State: A New Education to Govern Modern America, 1890-1940, was published by University of Chicago Press in 2012.  

research statement

My research interests fall broadly into the categories of twentieth century United States political, legal, and intellectual history, American political development, and American education history and policy. Trained as a twentieth century historian, I am particularly interested in ideas and practices of governance, questions of democracy, equity and opportunity, and in the political, social, and intellectual development of modern America. I am also increasingly interested in contemporary education policy, reform, and public discourse and how historical perspective can inform them.

My first book, School, Society, and State: A New Education to Govern Modern America, 1890-1940 (University of Chicago Press, 2012) explores the connections between public school reform and American political development in the early twentieth century. It explores how an array of reformers across the nation, working from the top down and bottom up in ways both planned and improvised, expanded the reach of public schools, broadened their aims and activities, rationalized their organization and governance, strengthened state government oversight, developed a national policy conversation, and expanded public authority and oversight over children. In the process they expanded the institutions and authority of government into the everyday lives of children and families, developed a de facto national education system despite decentralized legal control, and positioned schools as social welfare institutions that would safeguard opportunity and provide for the welfare of citizens in an era of deepening economic inequality and instability. The book thus "brings the state back in" to the history of education and brings schools back in our discussions of state power during a pivotal moment in American political development.

I am currently at work on two new book projects. The first, tentatively titled Shifting Fortunes: City Schools and Suburban Schools in Metropolitan Chicago, 1945-2000, explores connections between public schooling and uneven metropolitan development. It asks how state policies, including funding formulas and aid, regulatory policies, and rules about district formation and governance, structured unequal schooling in metropolitan Chicago and considers how educational inequality shaped and deepened other forms of spatial and social inequality in postwar America. In addition, I am beginning a new collaboration with philosopher Kenneth Howe, tentatively titled What Makes Good Schools?: The Lessons of History and Philosophy for School Assessment to explore the roots of current testing and assessment policies and offer broader perspective on them. 

funded research

Richard Salomon Faculty Research Award, 2013-2014
Robert L. Platzman Memorial Fellowship, University of Chicago Regenstein Library, 2012-2013
Albert Shanker Educational Research Fellowship, American Federation of Teachers, 2011-2012
Richard B. Salomon Faculty Research Award, Brown University, 2008-2009
National Parent-Teacher Association National Research Fellowship, 2008
Rockefeller Archive Center Grant, 2004
Doolittle-Harrison Research Grant, University of Chicago, 2003
Freehling Research Grant, University of Chicago, 2003