Fifty years after Coleman Report: Are we any more open to integration by social class?

In 1975, demonstrators in Louisville, Ky., marched to protest the start of court-ordered busing. (AP Photo/The Courier-Journal)

In his landmark study of American schools, sociologist James S. Coleman arrived at a startling conclusion: “The educational resources provided by a child’s fellow students are more important for his achievement than are the resources provided by the school board.”

Fifty years ago this month, Coleman delivered the “Equality of Educational Opportunity” study to Congress, which commissioned it as part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The assumption had been that racial segregation explained the gaps in student performance, but the Coleman Report pointed to socioeconomic segregation as the greater impediment to children’s learning.

“A child’s learning is a function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher,” said Coleman. “Particular individuals who might never consider dropping out if they were in a different high school might decide to drop out if they attended a school where many boys and girls did so.”

The idea that peers influenced achievement more than teachers or school spending was brand new. Rather than race, the study fixed on social class as a more effective lever for equality of outcomes. A half-century later, Americans seem resistant to using either race or class to diversify their schools.

Schools are more racially segregated today than in the 1970s. About 8 percent of public school students attend school districts or charter schools that now use socioeconomic status as a factor in student assignment, according to the report, “A New Wave of School Integration,” released earlier this year by the Century Foundation.

“Part of the reason for this surge in racial segregation is that American communities are increasingly stratified by social class…Socioeconomic and racial segregation have become related and often overlapping phenomena,” states the report.

Despite evidence that higher-income students don’t lose ground when they share classrooms with lower-income peers, many middle-class parents remain leery of what they consider failed social experiments and prefer to maintain neighborhood schools. It is a battle few school districts are willing to enter, even in liberal bastions.

In 1993, City Schools of Decatur attempted to persuade adjacent white and African-American neighborhoods to voluntarily blend two racially segregated elementary schools that were a mile apart. The superintendent and other school leaders promised they wouldn’t mandate changes to the attendance line, but appealed to the conscience of the community, asking for “a redrawing of the line in your hearts.” No one pulled out a pen, metaphorically or otherwise.

Many advocates have given up on changing hearts and minds and hope to transform schools in poor communities by investing more resources and assigning the best teachers. But research suggests even high quality instruction cannot catch poor children up to middle-class peers. When the majority of students begin school already far behind, teachers must devote more time to remediation, and the bright students can be neglected. Schools in poor communities often have more transient students, so teachers lose time bringing new kids up to speed.

Parents in poor schools lack the time or social capital to lobby for higher standards. Consider the recent revelation that 65 students at an Atlanta high school received no grades because a series of substitute teachers never submitted any or gave any graded assignments. No one in authority at the school could be sure what happened, and the incident only came to light after a fired secretary reported it. Had it occurred in Fulton or Forsyth, parents would have stormed the school board.

As Coleman noted 50 years ago, “Cultural dominance of middle-class norms prevail in middle-class schools with a teacher teaching toward those standards and with students striving to maintain those standards.”

Reader Comments 0

34 comments
Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Wait for it.... wait for it.....


"equality of outcomes."

There it is.  Took a while, but the author finally got to the liberal mantra.


"Despite evidence that higher-income students don’t lose ground when they share classrooms with lower-income peers,"

That's not the question.  What the author should be asking is "where would these higher income students be if they were provided instruction at a pace and level commensurate with their ability level?"  But no, much easier to stick them in a class of low ability students and say "See, they're still exceeding expectations".

Starik
Starik

"Despite evidence that higher-income students don’t lose ground when they share classrooms with lower-income peers"

"A child’s learning is a function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher,"

How do you reconcile these assertions? 

Starik
Starik

@MaureenDowney @Starik That's exactly the problem in DeKalb. Poor kids, and troublesome kids are freely assigned to middle and upper class schools for their benefit, and that's OK, but eventually there's a tipping point and the school becomes another segregated school as the middle and upper class kids flee. In DeKalb they can't tolerate a truly integrated school, by race or poverty.


In my experience, middle class kids (forget upper class kids, they're gone) adopt the culture of poverty to fit in, and are awarded high grades without working for them. They are not prepared for college. 



MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Starik I think it is a matter of numbers -- if every child in the class is poor and the family is struggling, teachers can be overwhelmed as those kids experience greater instances of homelessness, health problems, fractured families etc.  A few kids with extraordinary challenges will not overwhelm a teacher or school.

A friend who taught in APS -- where poverty is often multigenerational rather than episodic -- said she could deal with four students in dire straits, living in a shelter, shuffling from one relative to another, parents on drugs.

But she could not make progress if half her class or more faced such serious life problems and brought the fallout from those problems to the classroom.

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

The reality in Atlanta is that schools that are integrated by social class tend to segregate in the classroom with most of the high SES students in the AP/gifted classes and most of the low SES in the normal classes.  Tends to drive out non gifted high SES kids as "normal" tends to move slowly and have more disruptions.  Had one friend move to private as the public "normal" classes seemed to be more baby-sitting than learning.

trifecta_
trifecta_

Maureen, since the 1960s when that report came out the black illegitimacy rate has rocketed to over 70 percent. It was "just" 25 percent back then.

The social pathologies associated with that rise are what white, Asian and Hispanic parents fear, not skin color.

It's deceptive and hypocritical to pretend otherwise.

MotocrossSurvivor
MotocrossSurvivor

@trifecta_ It might be interesting to see how long the play pretend game can last, before breaking.  Political correctness is a proven sham, and never really intended to promote equality, justice, etc.  Its sole purpose is to beat the Anglo fabric upon which America was built into submission.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@trifecta_ It is "deceptive and hypocritical" to pretend that the white illegitimacy and single parenthood rate has not skyrocketed since then also.

MotocrossSurvivor
MotocrossSurvivor

@Wascatlady @trifecta_ Not nearly as much as for blacks.  But when standards were lowered to allow for the relentless promotion of certain racial groups, there was blowback.  It is exactly why the concept of "single mom" has been so perkily promoted by the same people who are directing society into the toilet.  LBJ's so- called war on poverty has been an abject failure.  You can't turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MotocrossSurvivor @Wascatlady @trifecta_ In fact, in 1960, white illegitimacy rate was 3%--now ~30% in 2012--a 1000% increase!  Makes that 300% increase for black children look pretty small, eh?


Makes me question the size of the stone you are throwing.

Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

@Wascatlady @trifecta_ They have skyrocketed, with equally disastrous results.  There have been several books confirming the stats and conclusions in Charles Murray's book entitled "Coming Apart."


The SAT has been re-normed, downward, several times since the 1950s.  For the last couple of re-normings, we can't much blame the share of high school students taking the test.

kaelyn
kaelyn

I don't care for or need racial quotas in our school. It also doesn't matter to me if the kids sitting next to my children receive free lunch or if they drive Land Rovers. We've been in private schools with more than their fair share of brats who terrorized classrooms. We've also been in public schools that refuse to enforce basic disciplinary rules. The only demographic label that matters to me is "knows how to behave in school."

Removing the bigots from the equation, I honestly believe that most of us just want our kids to be in safe and academically sound schools.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@kaelyn It is interesting many parents assume poor kids who are not academically strong will misbehave in class and cause distractions. At Decatur High, there are very bright kids who disrupt the class -- in part because they either don't like the teacher or the content. In a few cases, the kids are smart enough to talk through class, ignore the teacher and generally create bedlam and still perform well on tests.  My kids come home often and complain about class time lost to kids brazenly insulting or ignoring the teachers

Asked by a novice teacher why he refused to pay attention, a student told the woman, "Because you are the worst teacher I've ever had."  When I asked what happened to the student, my child told me, "Nothing." 

kaelyn
kaelyn

@Maureen

Yes, lost class time due to disruptions is a big problem in a lot of schools. We left private school because of it. The school we left was predominantly white and wealthy, so the kids disrupting classes were...,white and wealthy! Administrators were afraid to rein them in because their parents were very involved (time and $$) with the school. Now we're in a predominantly black public school and the kids disrupting classes are...SURPRISE....mainly black! Anyone see a pattern here? Administrators bend over backwards to make excuses for their behavior and don't rein them in, either.

In both instances, it's a small minority of the population causing trouble. I long for the good old days when parents were ashamed when their kids intentionally misbehaved.

kaelyn
kaelyn

Amen. It's disrespectful and disruptive any way you choose to look at it.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaureenDowney @kaelyn It is just parental wishful thinking 95% of the time when parents say their child is bored or it is too easy.  If it were too easy they would be making 100% all the time.  And if they were bored, they would pull out a book.


My son went to school reading at third grade level in kindergarten.  In Head Start, at 4, he was allowed to read the daily stories to his classmate. His kindergarten teacher, bless her, individualized with him and sent him to the top first grade group for reading (which was still below his reading level, but maturity-wise was appropriate).  In first grade, same thing,but he was on 5th grade level by then (although, in other ways a typical 6 year old boy.)


Then we moved to Tallahassee. The second day of school his teacher pulled me aside to ask if he had been tested for gifted. Because of very slow responses from student services, he spent the rest of the year reading independently and tutoring the other students.  Was he bored? Yeah, some, but he was NOT a behavior problem. He knew the world, or the classroom, was not revolving around him.  


We moved to a much better neighborhood and he had much better instruction, plus the gifted program there was very good, including 2 days a week at one of the colleges there doing challenging things.  He learned an even more important lesson: There were kids smarter than he!


Turns out, a lot of these "bored" kids are "bored" at home, unless they are allowed to decide everything that goes on in the household, and catered-to!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@ErnestB @MaureenDowney @kaelyn It's like the broken windows paradigm: If a neighborhood has lots of buildings with broken windows, no one pays much attention, but soon there are other broken things, cars and houses broken into, etc. If schools take care of the small things, impartially and decisively, the large things are much less likely to happen.  I tried, without success, to explain that to an administrator I taught under. She thought the most severe punishments (OSS) should be "saved up" till the end of the year to use, rather than jumping on a problem immediately in August and not allowing it to continually fester for 9 months!

kaelyn
kaelyn

@Wascatlady

Exactly! Kids size up the administration and the culture of a school pretty quickly. If they test it through acting out and nothing happens, that's an open invitation to behave as they please. ALL. YEAR. LONG. You'd think if the kids have this figured out, the so-called adults in the room should, too.

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@Wascatlady @MaureenDowney @kaelyn Its really, really common for bright kids to get bored and not pay attention in class.  You don't just read a book or you will get in trouble with the teacher.  Some teachers are boring.  Some classes are too slow for some students.  Now that doesn't mean those kids become behavior problems and are rude to the teacher, but some of them do.

heyteacher
heyteacher

@MaureenDowney @kaelyn


They snark and taunt the teacher because it makes for good reality show fodder (snapchat or the app of the week) so there's an audience for their behavior outside of the classroom. For a newbie teacher, it is overwhelming to try to figure out how to stop the train wreck -- as a veteran my problems are not as pervasive but I still have that one class that won't cooperate (and after calling parents multiple times you really don't have many options). 

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@kaelyn It is interesting to hear parents explain their kids don't pay attention because they're bored and the subject matter is too "easy" for them. I don't get why these kids just don't open a book and read rather than snark talking and taunting the teacher. Unfortunately, I think kids who disrupt this way are not seen as serious problems by administrators who are more focused on kids who throw desks and threaten. But this low and constant drone of laughter and mockery can distract other kids in the class and undermine the tone and tenor of the class. 


NewName
NewName

@heyteacher @MaureenDowney @kaelyn - I was going to say something similar. I don't really have many issues in the classroom any more b/c I figured out if the kids were engaged and I wasn't talking too long, a whole lot more gets done. But before then, with the requisite phone call about Little Johnny's talking, when the parent would say that he was bored, they never really seemed to have an answer as to why the student didn't have a 100 in the class, or even an A, since the student seemed to think that they knew the content already.  To echo the person above, truly studious students will pull out a book, other schoolwork or with permission their phones if their work is done to work on other classes. It takes a very insecure child to pick on a teacher or other students.

redweather
redweather

In a land where the affluent retreat to gated communities, segregation is viewed by many as a virtue.

MotocrossSurvivor
MotocrossSurvivor

My public school didn't fully integrate till I was in 8th grade.  Prior to that, there may have been one black student in each grade for the entire school--obviously to get us all "used to it" slowly.  I can tell you that during that first year of integration, there were significant changes in the school experience.  I can speak from real life experience.  Looking back, I can say that the entire morale of the the people running the place was at rock bottom.  I lost interest in "learning" much of anything and started hating school and saw it as a gigantic bore, and waste of time.  I also saw things I had never seen before in school....some of it was amusing and funny though.  One day, I heard a commotion in the hall, and saw a large black teacher pursuing a small black student in a very angry manner.  The teacher had the white rectangle of chalk imprinted on his forehead.  The student had apparently womped him with a blackboard eraser.  A middle-aged, but stocky, white female teacher had the student in a headlock, while the student was delivering left hooks to the teacher's face. (She wasn't hurt, and kept the vice-like headlock in place.)  We didn't have much overt racial strife there, but the conversion took years to recover from---if it ever did.