U. S. Education Secretary, Leading Researchers to Address Coleman Report

Twelve of the nation’s leading educational researchers will join John King, U.S. Secretary of Education, for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the publication of the Equality of Educational Opportunity Report, otherwise known as the Coleman report.

A two-day conference, sponsored by the Johns Hopkins School of Education, will take place on October 5 and 6 on the Homewood campus to examine the legacy of the study, published in 1966 by Johns Hopkins professor James Coleman. It had been ordered by Congress to determine the “lack of availability of equal educational opportunity” for minority students in the United States.

Karl Alexander, a professor of education, and Stephen Morgan, the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Education, are co-chairs of the event and will be among the presenters. You can register here. Articles by the researchers will be available at the start of the conference in a free online edition of RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences.

Conference sponsors include the Russell Sage Foundation, William T. Grant Foundation, Spencer Foundation, and the Academy at Johns Hopkins.

On day one, scholars will offer their reflections on the report’s legacy and its relevance today. Among the presenters are Sean Reardon, professor of poverty and inequality in education at Stanford University, who will speak on “School Segregation and the Racial Academic Achievement Gap”; Angel Harris, professor of sociology at Duke University, “New Framework for Understanding Parental Involvement”; and Ruth Lopez Turley, professor of sociology at Rice University, “Connecting Research and Policy to Reduce Inequality.” See complete day 1 listing.

On day two, David Steiner, executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and former New York State commissioner of education, will host multiple presentations on policies implemented since Coleman that were designed to narrow the achievement gap. In addition to Secretary King, we will hear from Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and Deborah Gist, superintendent of Tulsa and former Rhode Island commissioner of education. See compete day 2 listing.

Coleman and his team of researchers interviewed more than 600,000 students and 60,000 teachers in 4,000 schools across the country. It was considered the most ambitious use of survey research methodologies at the time, and its findings stunned the education world.

Conventional thinking held that the report would show that low-income and minority students performed poorly because their schools lacked resources. Instead, the study found that family background and social composition of the school were more of a factor in student achievement than the quality of instruction.

“The report’s conclusion fundamentally reframed the debate over how to pursue the goal of achieving equal educational opportunity,” said Alexander.