Fifty years ago, a landmark education study changed how researchers and policymakers think about the challenge of educating disadvantaged students. Many are taking a second look at the decades-old report and reaffirming its conclusion, reports the Baltimore Sun.
James Coleman, a Johns Hopkins University professor, led a team of researchers who produced an 800-page report in 1966 titled Equality of Educational Opportunity.
The study, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, has become known simply as the Coleman Report. Its major conclusion, which is relevant five decades later, is that the socioeconomic status of a child’s family and peers is the primary predictor of academic achievement.
It immediately caught the attention of policymakers. At the same time, it created complications.
The Sun said President Lyndon Johnson hoped the solution would have centered on school funding. Instead, it focused on the more difficult task of ending poverty.
Not long after, policymakers instituted race-based school busing initiatives, which turned out to be a disaster.
The Coleman report is still relevant. U.S. Census Bureau figures reveal that the national poverty level has climbed to 1960s levels. At the same time, the student achievement gap between Black and White students has remained stubbornly wide, as U.S. News reported, marking the anniversary of Coleman’s study.
Today, the report continues to influence policymaking. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama introduced his Stronger Together initiative, a competitive grant program that will enable school districts to attain a diverse mix of students from diverse economic backgrounds.
Obama’s education budget included a $120 million line for the program. The funding would go to districts with large achievement gaps and challenges achieving socioeconomic integration. It would help them either to design a socioeconomic integration plan or implement an already designed strategy.
“No district would be required to participate, but it would increase the options available for interested communities and enhance the research base for effective strategies,” the-acting Education Secretary John B. King wrote on medium.com.
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