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The Johns Hopkins School of Education will convene some of the nation’s leading researchers and policymakers, including United States Secretary of Education John King, to examine the legacy of the Equality of Educational Opportunity Report (EEOR) during a two-day conference in October.

The 1966 study, informally known as the Coleman Report and named for the Johns Hopkins sociologist James Coleman who conducted it, had been ordered by Congress to determine the “lack of availability of equal educational opportunity” for minority students in the United States.

On October 5, the first day of the conference, 11 scholars from across the country, invited by co-chairs Karl Alexander, John Dewey Professor of Sociology Emeritus, and Stephen Morgan, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Education, will review how well the report has held up and its relevance to today’s educational and social policy debates. In addition, retired Johns Hopkins professor James McParland, a co-author of the report, will deliver a keynote address during lunch.

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.

On the second day, David Steiner, executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and former New York State commissioner of education, will host multiple presentations and reflections on policies implemented since Coleman that were designed to narrow the achievement gap.

In addition to Secretary King, Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and Deborah Gist, superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools and former Rhode Island commissioner of education, will address the conference.

“Our speakers include many with direct experience in our schools,” said Steiner. “They will address the central issue of race, poverty and educational opportunity, and will focus on what can be done better and more imaginatively to create a very different level of expectations and outcomes for our nation’s most challenged students.”

It was over the July 4 weekend 50 years ago that the U.S. Office of Education released the 800-page report by James Coleman and his team of researchers that shocked the nation’s educational policy leaders.

The Equality of Educational Opportunity Report found that families mattered more in determining a child’s success in school than what goes on in the classroom. As the report said, “schools bring little influence to bear on a child’s achievement that is independent of his background and general social context; and that this very lack of an independent effect means that the inequalities imposed on children by their home, neighborhood, and peer environment are carried along to become the inequalities with which they confront adult life at the end of school.”

With its finding that the socioeconomic status of a child’s family and peers is a better predictor of academic success than actual schooling, the Coleman report challenged conventional thinking. A group of Harvard scholars, convened to review the findings, said Coleman “turned a major area of social policy upside down.”

President Lyndon Johnson, who wanted to build support for his War on Poverty at the time of the report’s release, was hoping the federal study would show how a lack of adequate resources for schools, especially in the Southern states, was depriving poor and minority students access to a quality education.

The Coleman team worked for two years interviewing more than 600,000 students and 60,000 teachers at 4,000 schools across the country. It’s considered one of the largest and most comprehensive sociological studies of its kind.

“Coleman’s presence at Hopkins was transformative,” said Alexander. “He founded what is now the Department of Sociology at Hopkins, and he helped launch the School of Education’s Center for the Social Organization of Schools, a world-renowned education R&D center.”

The conference is sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation, William T. Grant Foundation, Spencer Foundation and The Academy at Johns Hopkins.

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