December 2008 Issue • Volume 36 • Issue 9

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Sociologist Presented 2008 Brown Lecture in Education

The Fifth Annual Brown Lecture in Education was delivered by sociologist Stephen Raudenbush, University of Chicago, on October 23 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC. The American Educational Research Association (AERA) lecture, which consistently draws an audience of several hundred education and science policymakers, advocates, and others, presents significant research addressing issues of equality and equity in education. Raudenbush is the first sociologist to present this distinguished lecture commemorating the Brown v. Board of Education decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which took into account social science evidence when issuing its landmark ruling.

The lecture, titled "The Brown Legacy and the O’Connor Challenge: Transforming Schools in the Images of Children’s Potential," focused on racial equality in today’s schools and evidence of dramatic progress in the last generation. An expert on quantitative methodology and social inequality and urban issues, Raudenbush discussed the history of the racial gap in education, the progress made, why and when progress ended, and whether school reform can get the U.S. education system back on track.

Raudenbush began his speech saying, "There can be big changes in a lifetime, but people have to be given a chance. And the smallest changes can contribute to that chance."

Referring to William Julius Wilson’s research, he said that profound changes in the city at the time of the Civil Rights Movement led to a gap in educational attainment and status between blacks and whites, especially in urban sttings. These changes were primarily due to a loss of industry, therefore a decline of the city, an increase in family disruption, and a loss of income, leading to a higher school segregation and resource deprivation in many urban neighborhoods. Yet, Raudenbush said, "Schools can be a huge part of the solution…. They can get us back on track to reducing inequality." He emphasized that school improvement can dramatically reduce gaps; most reforms have not supported improvements in classroom instruction, and his hypothesis (not yet a finding) is that "transforming schools in the service of ambitious instruction can get us back on track to reducing inequality and achieving the promises of Brown."

An Education Expert

Raudenbush, the Lewis-Sebring Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Sociology, has been instrumental in gathering data and providing statistical analysis regarding race-conscious admissions policies. This research was crucial for the University of Michigan amicus brief in the Grutter v. Bollinger U.S. Supreme Court case regarding affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan Law School. In addition to his research, Raudenbush is chair of the university’s interdisciplinary Committee on Education, which seeks to provide an exchange between researchers and practitioners in order to foster outstanding new scholarship on improving urban K-12 schools. With Robert Sampson (Harvard University), he has been a long-term collaborator on the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. The Project explores how family, neighborhoods, and school setting affect children’s overall well-being and was the basis of a Social Psychology Quarterly article that received the Robert Park Award from the ASA Community and Urban Sociology Section in 2006.

For more on the Brown Lecture or to watch the webcast of Raudenbush’s speech, see The AERA is currently seeking nominations for the 2009 Brown Lecture. To apply for or nominate a colleague for the lectureship, see The deadline is January 15, 2009. green_small


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