The American Academy of Political and Social Science (AAPSS) and the American Educational Research Association (AERA), both COSSA members organizations, hosted a Congressional briefing on March 22 entitled, In the Age of Inequality, Does Public Schooling Make a Difference? The event discussed the effects of public schooling since the “Coleman Report” of 1966, a groundbreaking and controversial study that found schools have little influence on inequality in America, and instead students’ growth is determined by their socioeconomic status and race. AAPSS and AERA welcomed four panelists who discussed their research on public schooling’s influence on the opportunities of underserved youth. AERA Executive Director Felice Levine introduced the event’s four panelists, many of whom were featured in the November 2017 volume of AAPSS’s scholarly periodical The ANNALS, a special issue focused on “The State of Unequal Educational Opportunity.”
The first panelist was Heather Hill, a researcher at the University of Michigan, who stated that providing data on school-readiness in communities helps provide a metric to measure whether public schools influence student growth. The second panelist, Stanford University researcher Sean Reardon, concluded that schools can influence student growth, but measuring that influence is complex. He presented a study that showed that while a national average of third graders in low-income communities have significantly lower test scores than wealthier students, some states such as Tennessee have successfully implemented strategies that have equalized opportunities across the board. This is evidence that students’ grades can be influenced by regional public school systems because other states, such as Florida, show a decrease in student grades from third to eighth grade.
Brown University researcher Susan Moffitt presented on the importance of early education programs and economic assistance for families. Schools have a more positive effect on students when partnering with programs such as Head Start, nurse-family partnerships, and income support such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The final panelist, Prudence L. Carter of the University of California, Berkeley, focused on discrimination at the individual school level as well as the national level. She stated there are unequal outcomes for African American students even in “so-called good schools.” African American students have limited access to honors programs and are more likely to be suspended or expelled compared to their peers. Carter stated that it is important for us to recognize that this is a result of systemic racism, and societal and policy inequalities need to be radically improved to prevent further inequalities in schools.
This article was contributed by COSSA’s spring intern, Dakota Leonard of Arizona State University.