Long-Term Relationships: How Longitudinal Datasets Shaped our Views of Educational Attainment, Inequality, and the American School System
Ethan Hutt

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Primary Discipline

Long-Term Relationships draws on archival records and oral histories to trace the first three decades of nationally-representative longitudinal data through a history of its first three datasets: Project Talent, the National Longitudinal Survey of 1972, and High School and Beyond. In doing so, it asks: what choices were made in the design and execution of these datasets? How did these choices not only reflect but also construct specific visions of the American school system? What were the consequences of those choices for our understanding of the operation and outcomes of the American school system? How, for instance, did assumptions about the operation of class or racism in schools become encoded in variables and, in turn, shape understandings of student achievement, educational inequity, and the appropriate policy responses? Answering these questions adds to our understanding of how data shape both understanding and governance. In particular, this history demonstrates that while these data provided only mixed progress towards the stated goal of greater educational equity, they proved “useful” in other ways: providing researchers and policymakers with an array of possible research and policy targets and sustaining the belief that the education system, if properly tweaked and optimized, could ultimately secure educational equity.
About Ethan Hutt
Ethan Hutt is an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. His research focuses on the historical relationship between quantification, education policy, and the law. In particular, Hutt’s work focuses on the numbers and metrics that are used to describe, define, and regulate American school systems and asks: Where did these numbers—whether grades, test scores, value-added measures—come from? How did they become central to the work of schools? How did they gain and maintain their legitimacy? What effects have they had for how we think about what schools can (and should) do? In pursuing these questions Hutt’s research has explored the history of the GED, grading practices, standardized test use, value-added measures, and measures of school attendance. He is the co-editor of Absent from School: Understanding and Addressing Student Absenteeism (Harvard Education Press, 2019).

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