Reviewing the legacy of the 1966 Coleman report

Dec, 7, 2006

Equality of Educational Opportunity: A 40-Year Retrospective
Wisconsin Center for Education Research, December 2006, 27 pp.
Adam Gamoran and Daniel A. Long


“Equality of Educational Opportunity, the 1966 landmark study by James Coleman and colleagues, persists as a seminal source for continuing research on schools and student achievement.

“Three main findings of the Coleman report are still evident in the U.S. today.

0612Coleman“In 1966, U.S. schools were highly segregated by race. Following marked reductions in racial isolation during the 1970s and 1980s, segregation increased during the 1990s, and on some indicators, levels of segregation are nearly as high today as they were in 1966.

“Although African-Americans today are less likely to study in all-black schools, most are still enrolled in schools with predominantly minority populations.

“Black-white achievement gaps are smaller today than they were at the time of the Coleman report, but they are no smaller today than they were in 1990, and they remain substantial.

“Coleman’s most controversial finding — that variation in achievement is more closely tied to family background than to school resources — has stood the test of time. However, later studies have noted that a significant portion of within-school achievement variation is due to schooling, through mechanisms such as tracking and teacher effects.

“Moreover, despite recent claims to the contrary, achievement in countries with very low per-capita incomes is more sensitive to the availability of school resources. An emphasis on achievement testing in current U.S. education policy means that the research legacy of the Coleman report remains as important as ever.”