Equity & Diversity

Fresh Look at Coleman Data Yields Different Conclusions

By Debra Viadero — June 20, 2006 4 min read

What would the landmark Coleman Report show if the numbers were reanalyzed today using more sophisticated statistical techniques? According to Geoffrey D. Borman, a researcher from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the results would be markedly different.

See Also

Mr. Borman, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy analysis, educational policy studies, and educational psychology, got the idea to reanalyze the report’s findings in the mid-1990s, when he was a graduate student at the University of Chicago. James S. Coleman, the famed author of the 1966 report, was on the university’s faculty before his death in 1995, and Mr. Borman had been a student in the last class he taught there.

The idea continued to haunt the young researcher a few years later, when he began work as an associate research scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Mr. Coleman founded that center in 1966 partly to house the federally commissioned study, known more formally as “Equality of Educational Opportunity.” And Mr. Borman’s office at Johns Hopkins overlooked a building that had been used to store the IBM 1401-model mainframe computer that analyzed the Coleman data.

Mr. Borman found the original data files from the report at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. With N. Maritza Dowling, a colleague at the University of Wisconsin, he weeded out and reanalyzed data collected on a subset of 56,000 9th graders who took part in the original survey.

Missed Opportunities?

Contrary to the findings of the original report, Mr. Borman concluded that school factors matter a lot in determining how students fare academically. The researchers for the reanalysis found they could attribute up to 40 percent of the variation in achievement differences between students to such factors, rather than to differences in students’ family backgrounds, such as how educated their parents were or how many books were in their homes.

“This really contradicts some of Coleman’s findings,” Mr. Borman said. “He attributed so much of the difference in achievement outcomes to what students brought with them to school.”

The reanalysis also suggested that whom students went to school with was more important than the color of their own skin or their families’ income levels.

“Being poor and being African-American is important for understanding achievement outcomes, but attending a predominantly African-American school or a predominantly poor school is one-and-a-half times more important,” Mr. Borman said.

Mr. Coleman found a similar link between achievement and the demographic makeup of schools, but the effects that he documented were smaller and linked more to social class than to race.

“It’s clear from these analyses that racially segregated schools compromised African-American students’ ability to achieve educational outcomes comparable to their white peers’,” Mr. Borman said.

“This kind of evidence may have been sufficient to hasten the implementation of Brown v. Board of Education,” the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down school segregation, he said of the findings from the reanalysis. “Who knows?” he added. “Maybe these findings would’ve hastened the advent of voluntary desegregation and avoided mandatory busing.”

Teacher Bias Explored

In addition, the researchers rehashed some of the teacher-survey data from the Coleman study and concluded that teacher biases may also have contributed to achievement disparities among students.

Student test scores were lower on average in schools where the typical teacher had expressed a preference for teaching middle-class students. The new researchers also found that achievement gaps between black and white students in the same schools tended to be larger in the schools where most teachers had expressed preferences for teaching college-oriented students or the children of professional and white-collar workers.

“That was overlooked in the Coleman Report because the main approach was on exploring differences that occurred across schools rather than specific differences within schools,” Mr. Borman said.

James M. McPartland, a Johns Hopkins professor who was part of the original research team led by Mr. Coleman, said in an interview last week that he considered Mr. Borman “a very good researcher,” and that his findings on teacher attitudes were indeed new.

Yet he said he regarded much of the reanalysis as principally reflecting “nuance differences.”

“This is a matter of degree rather than a contradiction,” said Mr. McPartland, who is the director of the Center for Social Organization of Schools.

Mr. Borman presented his findings at the annual meeting of the Washington-based American Educational Research Association in 2005. A revised version of the study is currently being reviewed for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

A version of this article appeared in the June 21, 2006 edition of Education Week as Fresh Look at Coleman Data Yields Different Conclusions


Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.
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.
Student Well-Being Webinar
The Social-Emotional Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on American Schoolchildren
Hear new findings from an analysis of our 300 million student survey responses along with district leaders on new trends in student SEL.
Content provided by Panorama

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

Equity & Diversity A $5 Million Fine for Classroom Discussions on Race? In Tennessee, This Is the New Reality
A Tennessee mother has already filed a complaint that a lesson on Ruby Bridges and Martin Luther King Jr. made white students uncomfortable.
5 min read
080321 Tennessee Education Commissioner CRT AP BS
Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn sits with students at Fairmount Elementary in Bristol, Tenn. on June 14, 2021.
David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP
Equity & Diversity Fight Over Transgender Student Policies Moves to Virginia's School Boards
A judge dismissed a lawsuit that sought to challenge a set of state guidelines meant to protect Virginia’s transgender students.
Matt Jones, Daily Press
3 min read
The entrance to the boy's and girl's restrooms at Gloucester High School in on Nov. 15, 2016.
The entrance to the boy's and girl's restrooms at Gloucester High School in Gloucester, Va., is seen on Nov. 15, 2016. A Virginia circuit court dismissed a lawsuit that challenged state guidelines meant to protect transgender students.
Joe Fudge/Daily Press via TNS
Equity & Diversity Opinion Q&A Collections: Challenging Normative Gender Culture in Education
Ten years of posts on supporting LGBTQ students and on questions around gender roles in education.
1 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Equity & Diversity Video These Schools Served Black Students During Segregation. There's a Fight to Preserve Them
A look at how Black people managed to grow a solid middle class without access to so many of America’s public schools.
According to The Campaign to Create a Julius Rosenwald & Rosenwald Schools National Historical Park, the two-teacher school was developed between 1926-1927 and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2009. The building is now owned by Cain’s Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, which sits adjacent to it.
The Russell School (also known as Cain’s School), a Rosenwald school in Durham, N.C., pictured on Feb. 17, 2021.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week