Education 1960-1980: The Coleman Report (1965) and EHA (1975)

1966 saw the publication of the report titled Equality of Educational Opportunity, which became known as The Coleman Report (Wikipedia). The report’s purpose was to see if students of different races, religions, and national origins had equal access to educational opportunities. It revolutionized the way schools were evaluated by both the public and the government (Hanushek, 2016). Previously, schools were evaluated based on their inputs: how much money they spent per pupil, books per pupil in the library, breadth/depth of curriculum, etc. The Coleman report focused on outcomes such as how much students learn each year, long-term employment, future earning opportunities, etc.

It found that student background and socioeconomic status dramatically impact student achievement, though it is disputed how accurate these findings were. Some argue that the report valued student/family background too highly and that the analysis was skewed as a result.

The Coleman report also found that black students who attended majority white schools performed better academically. This finding led to “mass bussing” where black students were bussed to “white” schools in order to help desegregate schools and improve outcomes for black students. This intervention proved to be incredibly controversial, and ultimately ineffective. In a later report, Coleman said that the bussing strategy failed, not because the original finding was incorrect, but because the bussing policy led to white flight (Kiviat, 2000).

In measuring academic outcomes, the Coleman Report was able to definitively show how large the achievement gap was. In 1965, in a national test of math, black 12th graders came in at the 13th percentile of the score distribution for white students. This means that the 87% of white students scored better than the average black student (Hanushek, 2016). The results were slightly better, but still depressing for reading. As the achievement gap became public knowledge a push was made to rectify this injustice (injustice is the correct term for a man-made problem of this scale).

Shortly after the report was published, President Johnson was pushing for a federally funded education program that would help equalize the educational opportunities of low-income students by increasing funding schools in low-income neighborhoods. A bit later, in the 1970s there was the Serrano v Priest California Supreme Court Case. The decision stated that all schools in the state of California must spend the same amount per pupil (Hanushek, 2016). The hope was that this would increase educational equity. These went forward even though their basic premise is contradicted by the Coleman Report that increased funding does not impact educational outcomes. Today, further research has shown more clearly that money does matter. How states, schools, and districts spend it matters (Baker, 2017).


In 1975, Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) was passed. The core of this law was that all children are entitled to an education. The law required that all public schools receiving money from the federal government needed to provide free, equal access to education and one meal per day for children with physical and or mental disabilities. This law also forced schools to interact with these children’s parents. Schools would work with parents to create an education plan for the child that would provide the least restrictive environment, and therefore imitate the regular curriculum as much as possible.

The ongoing impact of EHA can hardly be overstated as, it the time of its passing, around one million students were excluded from public education because they had a physical or mental disability (Special Ed News, 2018). The impact from this has compounded as every year since 1975 these children have been allowed to be students. This often not only improves the child’s quality of life because they have a greater opportunity to learn, but it probably improved the families quality of life as well (I can’t find sources, but assume it is true). This happened because the family would no longer need to pay for private schooling/daycare and both parents would be able to fulfill their obligations during the day. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there are approximately 6.7 million students receiving some form of special education today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s