Carnegie Seminar on the Coleman Report

  • Education
  • 1966

In 1966, the federal government published a major investigation into the effectiveness of schools (and how that intersects with race) which came to be known as the Coleman Report. As soon as it was released the report was understood to be important, but at more than 700 pages, with 650,000 students in its sample, its specifics were not quickly absorbed. To make sure it wasn’t ignored, Harvard professor Daniel Patrick Moynihan obtained a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to convene a yearlong seminar to dissect and analyze the findings. The Harvard Faculty Seminar attracted 75 prominent scholars as regular attendees at its twice-monthly meetings, and resulted in a book and many papers which cemented Coleman’s key insights. First among these were that home environment and peer influences are far more important than schools in determining educational outcomes, and that when it comes to schools, the quantity of money or other inputs pumped in has little correlation with results.

“Up until that time, very little attention was paid to student outcomes. It was all about inputs,” says Eric Hanushek, a Stanford economist who was an important participant in the Harvard Seminar. The Harvard/Carnegie dissection of the Coleman Report drove home that schools must be judged by what their enrollees actually learn—as revealed in testing data—not by spending or class size. This new perspective fired the next wave of school reform—and recognition that school management is more important than physical resources, and that the only changes of consequence are those that produce measurably different outcomes.

  • Frederick Mosteller and Daniel Moynihan, On Equality of Educational Opportunity (Random House, 1972)