With little fanfare, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration released a two-volume report on July 2, 1966. That report, On Equality of Educational Opportunity, is now widely regarded as the most important education study of the 20th century.
“I don’t think there’s anything close to it,” says Albert Beaton, who helped analyze the report and its surveys of 570,000 students and 60,000 teachers as a researcher for the Educational Testing Service. “It changed the way we thought about the whole issue of equality of educational opportunity,” says Beaton, a professor of education at Boston College and the director of its Center on Testing.
Instead of proving that the quality of schools is the most important factor in a student’s academic success--as its sponsors had expected--the report written by the sociologist James S. Coleman of Johns Hopkins University found that a child’s family background and the school’s socioeconomic makeup are the best predictors.
A version of this article appeared in the March 24, 1999 edition of Education Week as Echoes of the Coleman Report