Student Coverage: Symposium: "Is Equality of Educational Opportunity Improving? A Look at the Evidence 50 Years Following Coleman"
Thalya Reyes, Master of Public Policy and Master of City & Regional Planning Candidate, Rutgers University-Bloustein School
In a motivating symposium moderated by Adam Gamoran from the William T. Grant Foundation, Nora Gordon (Georgetown Univesity), Richard Murnane (Harvard University), and John Easton (Spencer Foundation) reviewed trends in the equality of educational opportunity 50 years following the influential Coleman report that highlighted racial and socioeconomic disparities in student achievement.
Gaps in graduation rates, standardized test scores, and career earnings between black and white students have closed significantly since the 1960s, but current national trends indicate disparities have been increasing since 1990. Murane contends that this setback is largely due to extraordinary changes in the U.S. economy and qualifications for the labor market, criminal justice policies that accelerated mass incarceration of black men and Latinx men, changes in the demographics and structure of black families, and worsening economic inequality. Gordon agrees that progress has not been as expedient as the education community would like, but significant steps are being taken to understand how educational inequality affects other marginalized youth including Hispanic/Latinx students, Native American students under Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) jurisdiction, English language learners (ELL), student with special needs, and now, under the recently adopted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), homeless students and students in foster care.
Easton applauded efforts that emphasized the power of quality research to close racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities, enthusiastically declaring that “measurement matters!” Gamoran highlighted the Stanford Education Data Archive, an initiative aimed at harnessing data to help the education community learn how to improve educational opportunity for all children. Going forward, we need to think about schools as organizations and not classroom silos to enhance teacher feedback, collaborative problem-solving efforts, and innovative professional development methods. Those involved can also do more to lessen inequalities outside of the school year, particularly over the summer when research has shown student skills drop off and crucial resources for health and well-being, like access to school breakfast and lunch, are cut off. Scholars, researchers, policymakers, educators, parents, and youth have a role to play in ensuring equal opportunity in education for all - together we can lay a strong foundation that allows every child to thrive.