The Coleman Report, “Equality of Educational Opportunity,” is the fountainhead for those committed to evidence-based education policy. Remarkably, this 737-page tome, prepared 50 years ago by seven authors under the leadership of James S. Coleman, still gets a steady 600 Google Scholar citations per year. But since its publication, views of what the report says have diverged, and conclusions about its policy implications have differed even more sharply. It is therefore appropriate—from the Olympian vantage point a half century provides—not only to assess the Coleman findings and conclusions but also to consider how and where they have directed the policy conversation.
The central goal of the report—the development of an education system that provides equal educational opportunity for all groups, and especially for racial minorities—has not been attained. Achievement gaps remain nearly as large as they were when Coleman and his team put pen to paper, even when better research has suggested ways to close them and even when policies have been promulgated that supposedly are explicitly designed to eliminate them.