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Coleman Report, Forty Years On
The Coleman report was authorized as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was conceived within the context of the legal system’s growing reliance on social science to inform legal decisions, most notably Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. In the decades following the report’s publication there was a dramatic drop in school segregation in the Southern U.S. There also was a significant decline in the proportion of Black students attending 90-100% minority schools in the nation as a whole. But the gains in desegregation peaked in the 1980s and were practically reversed in the 1990s.
Gamoran’s paper finds that:
Newer and more sophisticated analytical methods have allowed researchers to mine Coleman’s original data and to tease out more specific information than was apparent 40 years ago, uncovering more striking realities. UW-Madison education professor Geoffrey Borman has separated differences in student achievement that can be attributed to students’ individual backgrounds from the school’s social composition. Borman says these differences provide evidence that going to a high-poverty school, or a highly segregated African-American school, has a profound effect on a students’ achievement outcomes, above and beyond the effect of his or her individual poverty or minority status.
In particular, Borman found that
Gamoran’s study, coauthored with Daniel A. Long, Department of Sociology, Wesleyan University, concludes that contemporary policies could bring about equal opportunity in two ways. First, policies could be enacted across the board that have greater benefits for disadvantaged students than for their more advantaged peers. Second, policies that have similar effects on all students could be focused mainly on disadvantaged students. The school choice provision of NCLB may fit the first category, in that private schools have in some studies been shown to benefit minority students more than other students. NCLB policies on teacher qualifications, evidence-based practice, and tutoring may fit the second category.
Borman’s study, coauthored with WCER researcher N. Maritza Dowling, concludes that “going to a high-poverty school or a highly segregated African American school has a profound effect on a student’s achievement outcomes, above and beyond the effect of his or her individual poverty or minority status. Specifically, both the racial/ethnic and social class composition of a student’s school are approximately 150% more important than a student’s individual race/ethnicity or social class for understanding educational outcomes. In dramatic contrast to previous analyses of the Coleman data, these findings reveal that school context effects dwarf the effects of family background.”
Borman’s report was written with the support of a National Academy of Education/ Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship award. Other funding was provided by the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk (CRESPAR) and by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, OERI, National Institute on Educational Governance, Finance, Policymaking and Management.
Borman, Geoffrey, and N. Maritza Dowling