In Defense of Outcomes-Based Conceptions of Equal Educational Opportunity

Publisher: Educational Theory, 39 (4)
Page Numbers: 317-336

James Coleman's suggestion that 'equal educational opportunity' may be interpreted in terms of equal educational outcomes has taken a bit of a philosophical beating. The focus of criticism derives from putative conceptual relationships that underpin the "outcomes entail choices" argument, an argument which has the following basic form: (1) an educational outcome results from the existence of an opportunity plus the choice to exercise it; (2) choices freely vary among individuals; therefore (3) insofar as educational outcomes vary as choices to exercise educational opportunities vary, equal educational opportunity cannot be identified with equal educational outcomes. This paper challenges the view that the conceptual relationships among opportunities, choices, and outcomes associated with the "outcomes entail choices" argument serve in general to undermine outcomes-based conceptions of equal educational opportunity.