The study began with the controversial and innovative premiss that equality of opportunity should be assessed by equality of outcome rather than equality of input. The researchers therefore collected data, not only on the educational resources available to different groups of children, but also on students' achievements (as measured by, for example, test scores). For the first time it was possible to provide an informed answer to the question of how much, and in what ways, schools were able to overcome the inequalities (notably those associated with race) with which children came to school. Coleman himself later argued that the most important research findings of the study were twofold. First, it showed that variations in school quality (as indexed by the usual measures such as per pupil expenditure, size of school library, and so on) showed little association with levels of educational attainment, when students of comparable social backgrounds were compared across schools. (Differences in students' family backgrounds, by comparison, showed a substantial association with achievement.) Second, a student's educational attainment was not only related to his or her own family background, but also (less strongly) to the backgrounds of the other students in the school. These findings had clear implications for social engineering: opportunities could best be equalized via strategies of desegregation of schools (for example by busing). They challenged a major plank of Lyndon Johnson's vision for the Great Society; namely, that increased spending on education could rectify social deficits.
The report was a focus of controversy both among academic researchers and in the political arena for many years. It was widely misinterpreted as an argument that ‘schools don't matter, only families matter’. Ironically, some of Coleman's subsequent work was designed to identify those characteristics of schools which did matter, so that the impact of school relative to that of family could be increased. For example, later research (reported in High School Achievement, 1982, and The Impact of Communities, 1987) suggested that, after controlling for background and other effects, pupils in private Catholic schools did better than others, because of the higher academic demands and disciplinary standards set in these schools, and because of the kinds of families and communities to which the children belonged. This second set of factors was discussed by Coleman under the heading of social capital.
Remarkably, considering both the constraints of time under which he and his colleagues worked and the limited agenda set by the government bureaucrats who monitored the study, all but one of the major findings generated by Coleman withstood subsequent examination by an army of social scientists. (For example, a group of eminent social scientists and social statisticians formed the Harvard University Faculty Seminar on the Coleman Report, and met regularly for a whole year, for the sole purpose of verifying the original findings by reanalysing the data.) Subsequent reanalysis showed that a coding error had produced greater evidence of peer effects in schools than was actually the case, a particularly unfortunate mistake, since this finding was often cited as evidence to support policies of forced integration and busing as the most effective way of ending racial segregation and raising Black educational achievement.
There is an excellent summary and appraisal of the Coleman Report, together with an account of research that followed in its wake, in the article on ‘Coleman's Contributions to Education’, in J. Clark ( ed.) , James S. Coleman (1996)
"Coleman Report." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 12, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coleman-report
"Coleman Report." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Retrieved May 12, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coleman-report
Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).
Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.
Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
- Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
- In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.