Opinion
Education Letter to the Editor

‘Coleman Fallacy’ Diverts Us From Needed Reforms

April 18, 2006 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

To support her plea to postpone education standards until society reduces social inequalities, Rona Wilensky claims that low academic achievement is caused not so much by education policies, but by students’ socioeconomic status (“Mediocrity: Deplorable, Yes. Until We Consider the Alternative,” Commentary, March 22, 2006). This perpetuates the misuse of the 1966 Coleman Report that for years has given American society a supposedly scientific excuse to avoid undertaking the kind of in-depth redesign of our education systems needed to help children reach much higher levels of learning.

Ironically, the same issue includes Vivien Stewart’s Commentary, “China’s Modernization Plan,” which relates how that nation is radically raising the achievement of millions of its students. Few of these children have “the privileges of white middle- and upper-class students,” without which, Ms. Wilensky writes, it is “difficult, if not impossible,” to pass advanced courses. Luckily for the Chinese, they seem undeterred by the “Coleman fallacy.”

Having been part of the Johnson administration’s team that sponsored the Coleman study, I persuaded James S. Coleman in 1979 to publicly repudiate this misuse of his research. The resulting news report stated that the “notion that schools can’t help poor children overcome the effects of their family background was buried” at the meeting, with Mr. Coleman helping in “shoveling it under” (Education USA, Nov. 5, 1979).

Ms. Wilensky is right that we should reduce social inequalities and amend current accountability policies to better reflect and encourage progress toward more-relevant achievement and to avoid hurting children caught in the transition to higher expectations. But the “Coleman fallacy” should stay dead and buried, since it is a major block to making the deep changes needed, both in and out of schools, to produce the kind of high-quality education that will help children meet higher standards.

David S. Seeley

City University of New York

College of Staten Island

Staten Island, N.Y.

The writer was an assistant U.S. commissioner of education during the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson. He later was a chief education adviser to Mayor John V. Lindsay of New York.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
Future of the First Amendment: Exploring Trends in High School Students’ Views of Free Speech
Learn how educators are navigating student free speech issues and addressing controversial topics like gender and race in the classroom.
Content provided by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Science Webinar
Real-World Problem Solving: How Invention Education Drives Student Learning
Hear from student inventors and K-12 teachers about how invention education enhances learning, opens minds, and preps students for the future.
Content provided by The Lemelson Foundation

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: June 8, 2022
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: June 1, 2022
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: May 11, 2022
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Briefly Stated: April 27, 2022
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read