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School Funding & the Coleman Report
Write-in "Doug Mann" for School Board
by Doug Mann, 29 Oct 2004, Submitted to the Star-Tribune for publication 28 Oct 2004
Subj: Re: [Mpls] School funding & the Coleman Report
Date: 11/19/2001 8:07:51 PM Central Standard Time
Why didn't Audrey Johnson tell us anything about "...the research [which] shows that student achievement can be accurately measured as follows: 49% attributed to parent involvement, about 42% teacher quality, and about 8% to class size?"
To which study is Ms. Johnson referring? It must be an old study because one of the cited references is a book published in 1977.
One of the most frequently cited studies about the influence of schools and a students home life on academic achievement was a 1966 study by James Coleman and others entitled "Equality of Educational Opportunity." According to Coleman et. al:
"Schools bring little influence to bear on a child's achievement that is independent of his background and general social context; and that this very lack of an independent effect means that the inequalities imposed on children by their home, neighborhood, and peer environment are carried along to become the inequalities with which they confront adult life at the end of school [The Manufactured Crisis, 1995, Berliner and Biddle, page 71]"
That's the conclusion upon which the Minneapolis School District bases its policies. That's why Minneapolis School District spokespersons and cheerleaders say that the schools are doing a pretty good job. It is to be expected that a majority of students don't pass the Minnesota Basic Standards Test on their first try, and only 37% graduate on time. Smart kids will do well in any school. It just happens that smart kids are heavily concentrated in certain community schools that serve low-poverty neighborhoods, and less concentrated in others, or so the argument goes.
The conclusions of the original Coleman Report about the influence of a student's background on academic achievement are generally accepted by policy-makers. It just happens to support the agenda of the neo-conservative and neo-liberal school reform movements.
However, six years after the original Coleman Report was issued, Coleman published reanalyses of its data using "regression" procedures. (A "regression" procedure is a one-step analysis that estimates the net effect of each variable while controlling for the effects of the other variables.) Based on the reanalyses, Coleman concluded that the original report gave an inflated estimate of the influence of home background due to unexamined effects of school characteristics. Coleman's later work has been swept under the rug [ibid Berliner and Biddle, p 73].