Families matter a great deal and schools very little when it comes to education, concluded the famous Coleman report, Equality of Educational Opportunity, 50 years ago. Coleman mixed up cause and correlation, writes Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby as part of Education Next‘s look back on the influential report.
Coleman “did not consider the possibility that advantaged children might have had high achievement precisely because their parents could choose good schools and ditch bad schools,” she writes.
Coleman believed teacher quality didn’t matter because measurable teacher characteristics, such as experience, education and vocabulary score, explained little of the variation in students’ achievement.
Parents always knew some teachers were better than others, writes Hoxby. These days, “numerous rigorous analyses of value-added demonstrate that teachers matter a great deal.”
Coleman failed to see that “good” families might be those who could discern which teachers were effective and get their children into those teachers’ classes. Thus, part of the apparent family effect was really a choose-effective-teachers effect.
(Before my daughter started kindergarten, I visited the two teachers’ classrooms and requested the one I liked the most. In later years, I networked with other parents to determine which teachers had the best reputations.)
Coleman also concluded that minority children achieved more when they had white classmates, Hoxby writes. But his study didn’t look at students randomly assigned to an integrated or all-black classroom. The data, from an era before desegregation orders, reflected “the sort of black families who were motivated and able to live in integrated neighborhoods.”
Hoxby attended voluntarily integrated schools in Shaker Heights, Ohio. “Often, the blacks were professionals who already spent most of their working lives among whites, had white friends, and participated in mixed-race church and social groups. ”
Her research has found that “when students are randomly assigned to schools, it is the achievement and not the race of their peers that matters.”