June 28, 2006
When buying fireworks this weekend, don't forget to throw a box of birthday candles into your shopping basket. It's the 40th anniversary of the Coleman Report, which was released Fourth of July weekend 1966 to "deafening silence." Why the tepid initial response? Partly because folks were busy looking skyward at brocades and blasts, and partly because in the Great Society era, the report's most vivid finding-that a student's family background affected academic results more than schools-didn't go down well. Many of Coleman's discoveries remain pertinent today (for example, teachers' verbal abilities are tied to higher student test scores), while others have been disputed (schools, and especially teachers, matter quite a lot, it turns out, and some are far more effective than others). Its greatest legacy is the use of test data to measure academic outcomes and school performance--a novelty among ed researchers at the time. It highlighted achievement gaps and shocked Americans into acknowledging that often, even in the midst of well-meaning efforts, some students aren't learning enough. "The Coleman Report," says economist Eric Hanushek (who in his youth participated in a Moynihan-led "faculty seminar" at Harvard that reanalyzed these data), "changed the perspective to concentrating on student performance, and that has endured." We'll light a Roman Candle to that.
"Race Report's Influence Felt 40 Years Later," by Debra Viadero, Education Week (subscription required), June 21, 2006