Much of the work concerning out-of-school influences on students' prospects for academic success stems from James Coleman's 1966 study of racial and ethnic segregation, student and family characteristics, and student achievement. In Equality of Educational Opportunity (1966), prepared for the United States Department of Education, Coleman found that family factors such as household composition, socioeconomic status, and parents' level of education were stronger predictors of students' educational attainment than were direct school-related factors. The Coleman study gave rise to decades of research and writing, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, on so-called family effects on students' academic achievement. These studies generally concluded that the factors Coleman identified do exert enormous influence on students' achievement, though they are not necessarily deterministic of it. Students who come from backgrounds that would seem to doom them to school failure often find a way to beat the odds and achieve at high academic levels. And some students who hail from seemingly ideal life situations never thrive academically. During the 1990s, as the United States education system was focused intensely on raising academic achievement across the board under the banner "All Students Can Learn," many educators, researchers, and policymakers began to adopt the no excuses philosophy. Regardless of a child's life circumstances, they asserted, an effective education environment can overcome other challenges and enable all children to achieve at high levels. As is the case with most complicated issues, both points of view have considerable merit. All (or nearly all) students can learn. But the circumstances of a child's life, the social indicators that paint a cumulative picture of a child's total environment, are important signposts pinpointing conditions that either make learning possible or present challenges that must be overcome to pave the way...
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