Sophia Loughlin has been awarded the 2021 Kouguell Prize for her thesis, “An Elusive Promise: Baltimore School Reform in the 1990s.” Loughlin’s thesis draws on oral interviews, commission reports, quantitative data, and contemporary journalism to explore mayor Kurt Schmoke’s experiments with privatization and standards-based reforms at Baltimore schools in the 1990s. Schmoke’s efforts, Loughlin argues, were marked by an extraordinary record of failure: both school privatization and new performance assessments generated measurably worse outcomes, often at greater cost, while exacerbating tensions between school administrators and the communities they served. “An Elusive Promise” uses this history to raise troubling questions about the educational implications of “neoliberal ideas about the inadequacies of the public sector and the advantages of the market,” and the corresponding “retreat in government responsibility for ensuring educational opportunity.” Richly contextualized, deeply researched, and powerful in its social critique, Loughlin’s manuscript stood out among the exceptionally impressive collection of theses that were nominated for the prize.
The Arthur Kouguell Memorial prize was established by the parents and friends of the late Arthur M. Kouguell ’73. The prize is awarded annually by the Department of History to the senior honors thesis that best represents Arthur Kouguell’s commitment to scholarly and humane values.