cover of book

RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences: The Coleman Report and Educational Inequality Fifty Years Later
edited by Karl Alexander and Stephen Morgan
Russell Sage Foundation, 2016
Paper: 978-0-87154-036-2

The 1966 Equality of Educational Opportunity Report (EEO)—also known as the Coleman Report—is one of the most important education studies of the twentieth century. Commissioned by Congress as part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the report revealed pervasive school segregation by race, among other inequalities, and began a national dialogue on educational opportunity for minority children. On the fiftieth anniversary of the EEO report, leading scholars revisit its legacy in this special issue of RSF, edited by Karl Alexander and Stephen Morgan. The contributors examine the report’s methods and conclusions through the lens of social science advances over the past half century, and analyze issues such as school reform, persistent racial segregation, and changing educational standards to provide a thoughtful analysis of barriers to educational opportunity today.
The issue begins with a reassessment of the EEO’s major findings. Karl Alexander analyzes the report’s conclusion that families exert greater influence on children’s school performance than the schools themselves. He finds that family, school, and neighborhood all interact to shape children’s academic development in ways that are not always separable. Other contributors investigate how racial achievement gaps have changed since the report’s release. Sean Reardon finds that disparities in average school poverty rates between white and black students’ schools are the most powerful correlate of achievement gaps. Barbara Schneider and Guan Saw show that while blacks aspire to attend college at greater rates than whites, fewer blacks than whites now attend four-year colleges in part due to lesser access to college preparation activities, such as advanced-level academic courses.
Contributors also evaluate and update the EEO’s proposals to reduce longstanding socioeconomic and racial achievement gaps. Prudence L. Carter argues that effective policies for ending racial disparities must account for inequalities within schools as well as between them. Brian Jacob and coauthors explore whether technological advances since the EEO, including online courses, have the potential to reduce some of the educational inequalities associated with residential segregation.  Ruth Turley shows how renewed partnerships between education researchers and policymakers at the local, regional, and national levels can improve disadvantaged students’ educational outcomes and increase racial and economic integration. By looking forward as well as back, this issue of RSF documents what educators and scholars have learned from fifty years of social science research on educational opportunity.

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