Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 10
Landmark Equity Study Turns 50
A chat with Coleman report co-author
With Johns Hopkins University
researcher JAMES MCPARTLAND
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the report "Equality of
Educational Opportunity." The study came to be known as the Coleman report after its
lead author, University of Chicago sociologist James S. Coleman. And it changed the
debate on how schools, families, and communities affect student learning.
Johns Hopkins University researcher JAMES MCPARTLAND, the study's only living co-author, talked with
Education Week Assistant Editor Sarah D. Sparks earlier this month about the report's legacy. The
transcript of their conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
The study came out in the heat of
desegregation efforts. What lessons
do your findings then have for the
school diversity discussions today?
MCPARTLAND: There really was a great
distinction for both black and white kids of
their test scores and their racial attitudes by
the [percentage of white students] in their
class. The more desegregated [the class], the
higher the test scores for both blacks and
whites and the more accepting were their
One of the big findings of Coleman was,
of course, climate, the school environment
of fellow students. That was more important
than the quality of the teachers and facilities
[in influencing student achievement]. I am
a desegregation advocate. A parent should
be able to consider that diversity is part of
learning, growing up. It will benefit in the
long run. It will not hurt the test scores.
Parents should have more information to
evaluate [the benefits of diversity] as an
element of their school choice.
What have people most often
misunderstood about the report?
Lawyers George E.C. Hayes, left, Thurgood
Marshall, center, and James M. Nabrit led
the 1954 court fight to desegregate
schools. Twelve years later, the Coleman
study found segregation was still an issue.
MCPARTLAND: I think it's overstated the
weakness of schools. Only about 15 percent
of the total variance [in achievement] was
due to schools. The reason: There was very
little variation in the schools [at the time].
They were all having similar effects, not
weak effects. There was kind of a move [after
Coleman] into research and development,
inventing new school models and then
evaluating them so we could see the potential
of a school that was really created to have an
impact on lower-class kids.
Today's debates on the role of mindset and
motivation in learning were foreshadowed
in the findings, weren't they?
MCPARTLAND: We call it control of
environment, a sense of utility. Do my actions
count? Can I change my life or am I just a
billiard ball in the social forces of the world?
It turned out that was a big black-white
student difference. Black kids really felt more
futile and [that] life is more luck than effort.
That also has become a part of reform. I
think that is another consequence of the
Coleman [report]. It was not a matter of selfesteem, it was a matter of feeling in control
of your future. How can you build that into
a school experience? I think that was an
overlooked finding for a while.
What has the study shown about
teachers' role in learning?
MCPARTLAND: We did give teachers a test-
voluntary, not timed or anything, just fill out
the questionnaire. It was hardly a precise
measure of knowledge or teaching ability.
Teacher quality was measured by this silly
little 20-item test. It was the most important
teacher variable as I recall, which seemed
to say you want the best teachers. You want
a well-trained, intellectual presence in the
[In the findings, there] was very little
on instruction. How do you teach reading
comprehension? How do you teach math
problem-solving? All those nitty-gritty details
of how you engage a kid's mind and energies
in a classroom. We really did not touch that
at all. It was more about things you would
spend money on.
This was a huge undertaking-a study
of more than 650,000 students in districts
nationwide and one of the first educational
equity studies. Were there any times you
worried it wouldn't come together?
MCPARTLAND: The whole sample was
in this box-all of the cards, addresses,
everything. [Once, colleague Bob York and
I] hop on the train out of Washington on
our way to Princeton with my box of the
whole sample. We said, "Let's go to the bar
[car] and have a drink." I left the box on
the seat. We go back. The whole Coleman
study is gone.
It is a true story. I only told Coleman
the story years later.
The car has been [decoupled], it is on
its way to Harrisburg [Pa.]. I got off at
Philadelphia and went to the station
master and said, "I am with the federal
government; you have got to stop that
train." Somehow, they found the train.
They found the box, and they took the box
off at the Harrisburg station. I rented a
car, got it back to Princeton by our 9 a.m.
meeting. No one ever knew the difference.
* Watch the entire conversation with
* Take a quiz: What did teacher quality
look like in 1966?
* Compare: What's changed for schools
since the Coleman study?
Powerful Rifles at Center of Debate
Also Used by Some School Police
| RULES FOR ENGAGEMENT | Recent debates over guns, which
have touched heavily on school shootings, have often focused
on the availability of powerful semi-automatic rifles. So it
may come as a surprise that some school police departments
stock these types of guns, including AR-15s and modified
weapons obtained through a military-surplus program.
Questions about whether school-based officers should
obtain or carry such powerful weapons run parallel to larger
questions in debates over how to prevent school shootings:
Is the burden of addressing such rare but devastating
incidents on schools? Or should society play a greater role
through changes like tighter gun restrictions and increased
access to mental-health programs?
One thing is for sure: The use of powerful weapons
capable of killing with speed and accuracy has weighed
heavily in school safety discussions. Around the country,
lawmakers have passed measures requiring more regular
school lockdown drills, annual audits of school safety plans,
and inspections of buildings to find ways to limit access and
passage for armed intruders.
10 | EDUCATION WEEK | July 20, 2016 | www.edweek.org
In some cases, school police have opted to carry semiautomatic rifles themselves, sometimes raising questions
about the role of police in schools. A few examples:
*School-based police in at least 22 districts in eight states
have acquired modified M-14 and M-16 rifles, grenade
launchers, and fortified vehicles through a military-surplus
program, watchdog groups found in 2014.
*In 2013, the president of the San Diego school board
questioned school police officers' use of AR-15s, a decision
that was made without board approval, the Union-Tribune
*In 2015, the school board in Compton Unified in south
Los Angeles County approved a policy that would allow
school police to carry AR-15s in the trunks of their patrol
cars, drawing national media coverage.
School Credits Saturday Classes
For Remarkable Turnaround
| TIME & LEARNING | The plan to offer Saturday classes at
a Washington state elementary school started as a joke.
Dana Reynolds jokingly told her 3rd graders that students
should come to school on Saturdays, and they ran with it.
That's how the Saturday School Learning Club was
born at Thompson Elementary in Tacoma, where more
than 70 percent of students receive free or reduced-price
The club began meeting in February and had its last
session of the past school year on May 21. Its creation
coincided with the school increasing its focus on
academics, and administrators and teachers are calling
it a big success. After Saturday classes began, Thompson
went from being ranked 14th out of 17 schools in the
district for academic achievement in grades 3-5 to being
Principal Ralph Wisner says the Saturday classes also
led to an attitude change for many students. They began to
think they could achieve, and they wanted to be successful
in school. They also took ownership over their learning.
Initially, the club, which is voluntary, was supposed to
be just for students who needed a little extra help, but it
became a place for everyone.
Students attended school from 9 a.m. to noon. The
program was supported by extended-day funds the district
received for Title I schools for disadvantaged students. The
school is already making plans to have the Saturday School
Learning Club again next year.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - July 20, 2016
Education Week - July 20, 2016
First-Generation College-Goers Try Campus Life
Dose of Empathy Found To Cut Suspension Rates
Vouchers Put Some Parents in Squeeze on Spec. Ed. Rights
Data Loom Large in Quest for New School-Quality Indicator
Detroit District Splits To Shore Up Schools
News in Brief
Common Core Poses Logistical Challenges In Writing Instruction
Longtime Leader in Education Journalism Passes the Baton
Schools Prepare to Confront Questions on Race, Policing
Blogs of the Week
Landmark Equity Study Turns 50
A Persistent Divide
Digital Device Choice Has Noticeable Impact On Test Performance
Will FAFSA Changes Speed Up Aid Awards?
U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015-16 Term
States, Districts Eyeing Chance to Craft Innovative Tests
K-12 Issues: Where the Candidates Stand
Setting the Education Department’s Direction
Blogs of the Week
ALICE JOHNSON CAIN: ESSA Could Leave Vulnerable Students in Limbo
ERICA FRANKENBERG & LILIANA M. GARCES: What Fisher v. University of Texas Means for K-12 Districts
SAUL DREVITCH: The Wisdom of an 8th Grader
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
ADAM KIRK EDGERTON: K-12 Schools: We Have Our Own ‘Brexit’ Problem
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Detroit District Splits To Shore Up Schools
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 2
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 3
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - News in Brief
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Report Roundup
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Common Core Poses Logistical Challenges In Writing Instruction
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Longtime Leader in Education Journalism Passes the Baton
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Schools Prepare to Confront Questions on Race, Policing
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 9
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Landmark Equity Study Turns 50
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 11
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - A Persistent Divide
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Digital Device Choice Has Noticeable Impact On Test Performance
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Will FAFSA Changes Speed Up Aid Awards?
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 15
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 16
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 17
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 18
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 19
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 20
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - States, Districts Eyeing Chance to Craft Innovative Tests
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - K-12 Issues: Where the Candidates Stand
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 23
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Setting the Education Department’s Direction
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Blogs of the Week
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 26
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 27
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - ERICA FRANKENBERG & LILIANA M. GARCES: What Fisher v. University of Texas Means for K-12 Districts
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - SAUL DREVITCH: The Wisdom of an 8th Grader
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Letters
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 31
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 32
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 34
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 35
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - ADAM KIRK EDGERTON: K-12 Schools: We Have Our Own ‘Brexit’ Problem
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - CT1
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - CT2
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - CT3
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - CT4