AERA and AAPSS Hold Capitol Hill Briefing on Educational Inequality

March 2018

Left to Right: Thomas A. Kecskemethy
(American Academy of Political and Social Science);
Susan Moffitt (Brown University); sean f. reardon
(Stanford University); Prudence L. Carter
(University of California, Berkeley); Heather C. Hill
(Harvard University); Felice J. Levine (AERA)

On March 22, nearly 100 congressional staff, federal employees, and members of the research community attended a congressional briefing—“In the Age of Inequality, Does Public Schooling Make a Difference?”
—cohosted by AERA and the American Academy of Political and Social Science (AAPSS). More than 300 people viewed the online livestream of the briefing.

  • Watch the briefing webcast
  • Download Sean Reardon’s PPT slides
  • Download Susan Moffitt’s PPT slides

The briefing, held on Capitol Hill in the Russell Senate Building, facilitated a critical discussion centered on the Coleman Report’s extraordinary and controversial finding more than 50 years ago: that public schooling exerts little influence over inequality in America. 

The lunchtime briefing, which drew from the November 2017 volume of the AAPSS journal The Annals, captured what researchers have learned about inequality and educational opportunity since the Coleman Report, examined new empirical work on the effects of schools on the life chances of underserved youth, and addressed connections to policy and practice.

AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine opened up the conversation by introducing the audience members to the purpose of the event as well as the panelists and moderator.

“Today’s briefing addresses one of the most persistent and important challenges facing American education and society today: the inequality of opportunity and outcomes in American public schools,” said Levine. “This issue has been, and continues to be, very much a central focus of education and social science research.” 

The briefing featured four distinguished panelists: Heather C. Hill (Harvard Graduate School of Education), Sean F. Reardon (Stanford University), Susan L. Moffitt (Brown University), and Prudence L. Carter (University of California, Berkeley). Sarah Dockery Sparks, who covers education research for Education Week, served as moderator.

Hill examined specific research findings regarding what scholars have learned about inequality and educational opportunity since the Coleman Report, an analysis that concluded that the effects of schooling are outweighed by “the inequalities imposed on children by their home, neighborhood, and peer environment.”

Reardon focused his remarks on the patterns, trends, and consequences of social and educational inequality in the United States, drawing largely from his own research. Among other findings, Reardon highlighted the fact that “school districts with high levels of segregation have much larger achievement gaps by race or socioeconomic status than districts with low levels of segregation.”

Moffitt continued the discussion with a particular emphasis on how research can help inform policy and practice at the national and local levels, including investing resources across multiple age groups, schools, and families working in conjunction with one another, and supporting teacher’s instructional improvement.

Drawing on her own research regarding opportunity gaps in education, Carter examined causes behind educational disparity since the 1960s, concluding that educational disparities are an outcome of a host of contextual factors such as families, neighborhoods, and schools.

Sparks, who moderated the briefing, highlighted various policies that focus on the years before school entry, when children are in critical and sensitive periods of development. Sparks also received questions from audience members as well as online participants, and each panelist took turns addressing the questions individually.

AAPSS Executive Director Thomas A. Kecskemethy wrapped up the event by underscoring the importance of research aimed at answering how public schools can make a difference to equality.