Seismic Reports on Education

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Anyone who is interested in the data that shows us the various directions in which our country is headed — or anyone who just likes reading George Will — will want to see this article. It certainly helps explain one important way we have changed over the last 50 years and how we may be destroying ourselves from the inside.

Submitted by Rick Caporale, Beaufort County Council, District 8 Representative

The sobering evidence of social science

From The Washington Post: By George F. Will Opinion writer July 6, 2016

The report was so “seismic” — Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s word — that Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration released it on Fourth of July weekend, 1966, hoping it would not be noticed. But the Coleman Report did disturb various dogmatic slumbers and vested interests. And 50 years on, it is pertinent to today’s political debates about class and social mobility. So, let us now praise an insufficiently famous man, sociologist James Coleman, author of the study “Equality of Educational Opportunity.”

In 1966, postwar liberalism’s confidence reached its apogee. From 1938, when the electorate rebuked Franklin Roosevelt for his plan to “pack” the Supreme Court, through 1964, congressional Republicans and conservative Democrats prevented a liberal legislating majority. But Johnson’s 44-state victory that year gave Democrats 68 Senate seats and a majority of 155 in the House. Effortless and uninterrupted prosperity seemed assured as the economy grew in 1965 and 1966 by 10.7 percent and 7.99 percent, respectively. So, a gusher of tax revenue coincided with liberalism’s pent-up demand for large projects. It hoped to meld two American traits — egalitarian aspirations and faith in education’s transformative power.

The consensus then was that the best predictor of a school’s performance was the amount of money spent on it: Increase financial inputs, and cognitive outputs would increase proportionately. As the postwar baby boom moved through public schools like a pig through a python, almost everything improved — school buildings, teachers’ salaries, class sizes, per-pupil expenditures — except outcomes measured by standardized tests.

Enter Coleman, and the colleagues he directed, to puncture complacency with the dagger of evidence — data from more than 3,000 schools and 600,000 primary and secondary school students. His report vindicated the axiom that social science cannot tell us what to do, it can tell us the results of what we are doing. He found that the best predictor of a school’s outcomes was the quality of the children’s families. And students’ achievements are influenced by the social capital (habits, mores, educational ambitions) their classmates bring to school:

“One implication stands out above all: That 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.”

Coleman’s report came exactly one year after — and as an explosive coda to — what is known as the Moynihan Report, which was leaked in July 1965. Moynihan, then a 37-year-old social scientist in Johnson’s Labor Department, presented in “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” what then counted as shocking news:23.6 percent of African American births were to unmarried women.

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