The Coleman report was an effort to study how a poorer economic status affected students’ educational opportunities in 1966. James S. Coleman was in charge of this endeavor and led a research group in this study; their findings were complied in the Coleman Report. In my review of the Coleman Report, I found that the importance which was placed on having quality teachers to be quite encouraging. Coleman (1966) states, “The quality of teachers shows a stronger relationship to pupil achievement” (p. 1). I know that this could seem obvious, but it is a factor that I feel every teacher asks when in a low moment. Am I making a difference? Good teachers care deeply about their students and hope that their instruction is helping students succeed in education. When students have lost motivation and it seems that nothing is getting through to them, it is good for teachers to remind themselves that their instruction makes a great deal of difference.
I was also very interested to see that a majority of Coleman’s findings were based on students’ attitudes rather than access to resources (or lack there of). Coleman (1966) explains the “pupil attitude factor” by stating that it, “…appears to have a stronger relationship to achievement than do all the “school” factors together…” (p. 2). This is an important concept that we should take away from this report because it reminds teachers that the students’ perception of the world around them is a huge factor in their learning. Even though each student absorbs the attitudes of their social groups, teachers can use their influence to speak truth into students’ lives.
I don’t think that the Coleman Report hindered educational reform because it brought up important questions that educators needed to think about. Urban and Wagoner (2009) explained “Although the Coleman Report offered no definitive answer to the problem it addressed, underachievement of poor students, its greatest contribution was to bring into mainstream social scientific inquiry the question of the links among economic class, race, and school achievement” (p. 360). This report was not a catalyst for educational reform but it did open the doors for educators to see important factors that affect student learning and achievement that they might not have otherwise considered.
There were a few things that struck me in this module. It was amazing to see how the goals for education were vastly different depending on who the driving forces were. Urban and Wagoner (2009) stated that the four R’s for many households were “…reading, ‘riting’, rithmetic and religion…” (p. 141). In looking at today’s curriculum, some of these elements have remained elevated while others have been pushed aside. I did not realize that religion had such a large presence in early classrooms and it is easy to see the effect of this in that day’s society. It was evident that there was no uniformity that systemized education, and the effects seemed to be that the strongest voices got to choose the many paths that education went down.
The effects of strong class division in the south led to a very slow implementation of a common educational system. African Americans had many challenges to become educated even after the Civil War because opposed citizens saw their attainment of knowledge as a threat. Urban and Wagoner (2009) state, “Sensing that literacy and schools contained the seeds of insurrection, southern states began to clamp down on educational activities for blacks…” (p. 151). Access to education meant change and action and I believe that is still true today. In current society, education can at times be taken for granted as a “hoop” that children need to jump through before becoming an adult. This is not to say that American citizens are not grateful to be given the freedom of education, however it is interesting to compare the differing viewpoints towards learning today and throughout history. During the Civil War, the connection between freedom and education went hand in hand (Urban and Wagoner, 2009, p. 164). This makes my job as an educator even more impactful because I get to be the means for children receiving this opportunity.
When looking at the first steps towards building a modern education system in America, I see that many of the first terms and ideas are in place today. For example, they saw a need to create a system to separate students into learning groups (age grading), a need to test their learning progress and achievement of goals, and a need to categorize the content material. Decisions started to be made and action started to form the modern school system. Since everything seemed to be born out of organizational necessity, I wonder what would school look like today if we restructured it to first and foremost meet the needs of the students rather than a system that could be replicated throughout American society? I think that some systems are asking similar questions and pushing the structural boundaries today. Even in the beginning of education in America, it was evident that there was a deep connection between education and the students’ enculturation into society. This is still true today and something that we need to remember. Education does not only serve to give young people knowledge that they will need to be successful in society, it also teaches them how to be a respectful citizen. These lessons are not usually in curriculum, but are instead taught through the teacher’s actions in the classroom.
Urban, W.J. and Wagoner, J.L. (2009). American education, a history (4th ed.) New York, NY:Routledge.