Race Report’s Influence Felt 40 Years Later (Coleman Report)

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Just before the Fourth of July weekend in 1966, the U.S. Office of Education quietly released a report that would shake the beliefs upon which many educators and social reformers had staked their work.

Titled “Equality of Educational Opportunity,” the mammoth, 737-page study reached the unsettling conclusion that school might not be society’s great equalizer after all.
On the eve of the 40th anniversary of that study, now better known as the Coleman Report, researchers continue to grapple with many of the same questions about how family background contributes to disparities in children’s school performance.

The report found that black children started out school trailing behind their white counterparts and essentially never caught up—even when their schools were as well equipped as those with predominantly white enrollments.

What mattered more in determining children’s academic success, concluded the authors, was their family backgrounds.

“This was the 1960s,” the policy expert Marc S. Tucker recalled. “The idea that who one’s parents were and what happened in the home is a far greater determinant of one’s future than what schools could do was a pretty grim commentary and one that was very hard for people to accept.”

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