this key finding, as well as the report’s companion finding that minorities enter school burdened with accumulated educational disadvantages.2
The Coleman study signaled that large-scale social science projects could inform the nation on critical policy challenges. A nation that used science to design radar and make the atomic bomb for its war effort could also declare a “war on poverty” and a “war on drugs,” expecting the social sciences to help policy makers design programs and then evaluate whether programs were having their intended effect.
The government launched an ambitious agenda of nationally scaled social experiments based on randomized field trials. Examples included studies of a negative income tax, housing allowances, health insurance, and time-of-use electricity pricing. The government funded specialized institutes, such as the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin. University-based survey capacities grew apace, notably the Institute for Social Research (ISR) at the University of Michigan and the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. The federal government, the main provider of social and economic statistics, made its data easily available for analysis by university-based researchers, who in turn began to influence what statistical data were collected. A steady stream of studies based on secondary analysis of labor, health, income, crime, and related statistics from what has grown to nearly 90 federal programs and agencies underpinned debates about policy challenges and options. Hundreds of dissertations used federal statistics, and the writers of these dissertations became professors and researchers in university social science departments and interdisciplinary centers, where they produced the next generation of researchers trained to ask “big” questions about social welfare and economic trends, public health, and school reform. An early preoccupation in this research was whether the policies were having the expected outcomes.
Measuring outcomes quickly moved to the center of debate over the significant investments in the “Great Society” programs. The first Handbook of Evaluation Research was published in the mid-1970s (Guttentag and Struening, 1975). Policy and program evaluation focused attention on research at the intersection of what policy makers needed to know and what social science research offered. Is a program producing its intended
2See also Mosteller and Moynihan (1972), which arose from a Harvard faculty seminar to reassess Coleman’s research. Although some conclusions were contrary to Coleman’s findings, the reanalysis generally agreed with the relationship between educational achievement and equality of opportunity.