jacob e. adams jr.
reports of historical significance
In 1983 American education reform entered a new era. It was in that year that the federal government published a report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education entitled A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. Commissioned in August 1981 by President Ronald Reagan's secretary of education, Terrel H. Bell, and chaired by David P. Gardner, then president of the University of Utah, this eighteen-member blue-ribbon panel of educators and elected officials examined the quality of elementary and secondary public education in the United States and found a "rising tide of mediocrity" that threatened the nation's future. In inflammatory tones, the commissioners reported that the United States had engaged in unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament, asserting that if an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance the commissioners found, the nation might well have viewed it as an "act of war."
In support of their conclusions, the commissioners presented numerous indicators of risk, including Americans' poor academic performance relative to students overseas, high levels of functional illiteracy among U.S. adults and seventeen-yearolds, and declining achievement-test scores. The commissioners also cited increasing enrollments in college remedial courses, increasing business and military expenditures on remedial education, and a diluted curriculum in the schools. They detailed low expectations for student performance and college admissions, less time devoted to instruction and homework, and poor-quality teaching and teacher preparation. According to the commission's analysis, the nation's schools narrowly emphasized basic reading and computational skills at the expense of other essential talents, such as comprehension, analysis, problem solving, and the ability to draw conclusions. For the first time in U.S. history, the report concluded, the educational skills of one generation would not surpass, nor would they even equal, those of its predecessors. This development was particularly striking as it would occur during a period of increasing business demand for highly trained workers.
The commission called for a new public commitment to excellence and education reform anchored in higher expectations for all students. It encouraged students to work harder and elected officials to encourage and support students' efforts. The rhetoric of reform proclaimed that all children can learn and that public policies should do everything possible to fully develop the talents of America's youth.
Specifically, the commission recommended tougher high school graduation requirements, more rigorous and measurable standards of student performance and conduct, more time devoted to learning, better teaching and teacher preparation, more effective school leadership, and greater fiscal support. The report struck a national nerve, defining the public dialog about school quality and sparking state action in education reform. California acted first, adopting omnibus education reform legislation that increased high school graduation requirements, lengthened the school day and year, raised expectations for homework and student conduct, expanded student testing, and increased education funding. Other states followed California's lead, adopting education reforms of varying magnitude. The excellence era in education reform was launched, ushering in more than two decades of federal, state, and local initiatives to improve America's public schools.
Why was A Nation at Risk such a successful catalyst for U.S. education reform? Arriving against a backdrop of widespread concern regarding the health of the U.S. economy, the report reflected contemporary misgivings that America was losing its "once unchallenged preeminence" in commerce and technology. Confronted by economic recession at home and declining market share abroad, government and business leaders looked to public schools to assign blame and to seek solutions. In fact, one of the fundamental assumptions of education reform in the mid-1980s was that the quality of K–12 education would determine the nation's economic success. While the booming U.S. economy of the 1990s proved this assumption false in the aggregate, the relationship between improved education and an individual worker's success in the new marketplace remained compelling. According to analysts, the business-related skills needed to earn a middle-class income had changed radically.
In the mid-1990s the economists Richard Murnane and Frank Levy described three elements to these new basic skills: (1) basic mathematics, problem-solving, and reading abilities at levels much higher than high school graduates typically attain;(2) the ability to work in groups and to make effective oral and written presentations, skills many schools do not even teach; and (3) the ability to use personal computers to carry out simple tasks such as word processing. To secure these skills, they concluded, schools must help teachers learn to teach new material, devise better tests of student knowledge and understanding, raise expectations, and engage students' attention and energy. Education reform promised an avenue to such changes.
Further reinforcing A Nation at Risk 's call for education reform, the mid-1980s saw publication of book-length, unflattering critiques of American high schools written by leading academic researchers. All told, philanthropic foundations, business groups, academic researchers, education organizations, political associations, and government agencies produced more than two dozen influential reports on public education between 1983 and the end of the twentieth century. All of these reports found deficiencies in American schools, and all called for education reforms of one kind or another.
The impetus for reform gained additional energy from growing social and political discontent. Social service agencies reported increasing incidences of poverty, drug abuse, unwanted pregnancy, and violence; while citizens, through property-tax revolts and consideration of privatization proposals, demonstrated a declining confidence in public institutions. Could changes in American education address these social and political ills in the same way that they might better prepare students for productive careers? Advocates thought so, and the call for reform broadened.
Buttressing the imperative for education reform, the nation's top political leaders added their support. In 1989 President George Bush convened an education summit of corporate leaders and the nation's governors. This elite group crafted the firstever national goals for public education. Subsequently, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush similarly sponsored national education summits (in 1996 and 2001, respectively), symbolizing the continued importance of public education reform to the nation.
In the 1990s education reform benefited still further from a broad social demand to improve government efficiency. Operating under the moniker reinventing government, advocates argued that bureaucratic government had become inefficient, or even bankrupt, and they promoted new forms of government organization and activity that emphasized dispersed authority, competition, flexibility, customer service, community empowerment, performance incentives, and oversight based on results. Many excellence-era education reforms substantially reflected this reinventing government agenda.
Finally, national commissions on teaching and education governance issued reports in the 1990s, the former crafting a blueprint for recruiting, preparing, and supporting excellent teaching; the latter defining options for infusing greater adaptability, flexibility, and accountability into public school governance.
This groundswell for public-education reform was not without critics, however. Contesting the evidence of public education's demise, these critics argued that Americans were being misled about school accomplishments, even to the extent of confronting a "manufactured crisis." The ensuing debate contested the interpretation of student test scores and other performance indicators, while the tone of the debate reflected alternative political claims that conservatives wished to discredit public education and that liberals undercut a legitimate need for education reform. While neither side claimed that public education was satisfactory, they scuffled over which problems deserved attention and which solutions held the key to fundamental school improvement.
This debate was not surprising. As historians David Tyack and Larry Cuban have noted, disagreements about progress and regress in American public education are characteristic of the landscape, and political arguments have often been used to mobilize and direct education reform.
During the excellence era two strands of activity have dominated the nation's education reform efforts. The more visible strand involved federal, state, and local initiatives to improve educational programs and governance. Designed to influence what students know and are able to do, program and governance reforms divide into three overlapping periods, which are distinguished by their predominant reform strategy and relative reliance on governmental, professional, citizen, and market mechanisms of education reform.
Intensification period initiatives (1983–1987) tightened existing education regulations and raised student requirements. Examples include increased high school graduation requirements, a longer school day and year, and skills tests for beginning teachers. Restructuring period initiatives (1986–1995) altered the way education was organized and governed, devolving authority to schools (particularly teachers) and to parents. Examples include school-based management and school choice. So-called whole-school designs emerged during this period as well, representing ambitious attempts to restructure American education. The New American Schools, the Coalition of Essential Schools, Core Knowledge schools, Accelerated Schools, Success for All, and the Edison Project represent these research-based, result-driven comprehensive plans to reorganize entire schools. Restructuring reforms also reached beyond the schoolhouse, linking education and social services in an effort to address poverty, pregnancy, and other nonschool circumstances that inhibit students' learning.
Standards period initiatives (beginning in 1992) established content standards for student knowledge, performance standards regarding levels of student mastery, and opportunity-to-learn standards governing conditions of learning. States reinforced the new standards through equally new performance accountability systems composed variously of public reporting requirements and performance tests, some tied to school rewards, sanctions, or state interventions to assist failing schools.
Standards-based reforms adopted a systemic perspective on education change, pursuing greater coherence across the gamut of learning goals, curriculum changes, professional development, accountability assessment, and governance arrangements. Simultaneously, other governance concerns spawned unrelated experiments with charter schools, contracting, and forms of privatization.
A second strand of education reform activity during the post-1983 period originated in legal challenges to state school-finance systems. Based on equal protection claims, judicially mandated finance changes attempted to ensure the equitable provision of educational resources. In arguing that unequal resources unfairly preclude groups of students from the educational services they need to have even a chance at academic success, equity proponents conceived the problem of poor student performance as an issue of relative, even minimal, educational opportunity.
On the whole, the program-governance and finance reforms developed separately. Program-governance reforms arose as a remedy to the nation's poor showing on international comparisons of economic and educational performance; they sought changes in student achievement, promoted excellence, involved multiple levels of government, mandated changes in educational practice, and promised difficult implementation. In contrast, school finance reforms arose as a remedy to unequal educational resources; they sought a different distribution of dollars, promoted equity, primarily involved state government, and mandated only technical changes in school funding formulas, which were relatively simple to implement.
In the 1990s the two strands began to converge. Fourteen state supreme courts decided school finance cases on the unique basis of education clauses in state constitutions, finding a new obligation that public education must be adequate, not just equitable. Adequacy combines equity concerns regarding resource distribution with attention to what those resources accomplish. Though the future of adequacy as an important impetus to education reform remains uncertain, adequacy does link school finance to the core purposes of public education in ways that equity does not.
While finance, intensification, restructuring, and standards-based reform strategies all sought improvements in student learning, they operated from different conceptions of the problems that hamper school success. Finance reforms attempted to remedy inequitable resource allocations. Intensification policies targeted low expectations. Restructuring addressed outmoded forms of school organization. Systemic initiatives combated fragmented and uncoordinated state education policies, and standards redressed unspecified student learning goals and measures of success.
Within the excellence era, the transition from one period of reform to another resulted from judgments that current initiatives were not improving student achievement, primarily because they were not addressing the right problem. The transitions signaled the continued search for a sound theory of education reform.
Analysts working from different disciplinary perspectives have identified other dynamics that shape the promise of reform. Political scientists, for instance, have highlighted fundamental value conflicts in education reform proposals. Because values conflict, reform goals and resources shift as often as their supporting political coalitions shift, or as issues gain and lose salience in legislative deliberations.
Policy analysts have depicted the incomplete design of many education reform policies. Researchers Paul T. Hill and Mary Beth Celio coined the phrase zones of wishful thinking to describe the situation that occurs when reform initiatives do not cause all of the changes in public education that are necessary to achieve the results they seek, leaving school improvements, in part, to chance. Implementation scholars have noted, at the local level, the lack of motivation or capacity to undertake reform, inspiring Milbrey McLaughlin's conclusion that it is incredibly hard to make something happen, especially across levels of government and institutional settings.
Sociologists have discussed how the organization of schooling shields teaching from education policymaking, protecting classrooms from the turmoil of shifting reform agendas but also fostering a teaching culture of isolated and idiosyncratic practice, rendering uniform changes problematic. This loose coupling of education policy and practice helps explain how constancy and change coexist in public schools. Educators have targeted weak instruction, proposing improvements in teacher preparation, initial licensing, and advanced certification, thus pinning reform hopes on a re-created infrastructure for professional learning and accountability.
While these dynamics influence parts of the education system, political economists have assailed the whole system, arguing that the prevailing bureaucratic organization of public schooling, with its regulatory and compliance mentality and reliance on collective bargaining, precludes serious change. Their remedies would alter education's incentives and governance arrangements.
Psychologists studying adolescent behavior have added a further dimension to the debate, demonstrating how students' home environments, peer culture, and part-time work explain more differences in student achievement than teacher quality or other school factors. From this perspective, education reforms must extend beyond the boundaries of schools.
While demonstrating the complexity of education reform, these analyses also signal how the search for excellence in education has opened the entire educational enterprise to review.
What are the results so far, in the early twenty-first century, of excellence-era education reforms? First, reform produced policy changes at all levels of government. At the national level, elected officials and business leaders articulated national education goals. Three presidents, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, launched and touted education reform initiatives, while national education organizations adopted new professional standards for teacher education and administrator licensure.
At the state level, all states developed tests to measure student performance, and forty-nine states developed academic standards. Twenty-seven states began to hold schools accountable for results, promoting performance-based accountability but also inspiring debates about the scope and quality of standards, the adequacy of tests, and needed supports for change. Many states, California and Kentucky notably, legislated substantial programs of reform. Eighteen state courts overturned school finance systems, opening the door to greater equity in educational opportunity or adequacy in school funding.
Locally, with varying degrees of success, school districts and schools either adapted to these reforms or launched their own improvement initiatives. School spending increased approximately 36 percent in real terms, and education agencies grappled with how best to intervene in persistently low-performing schools. Throughout this period, education reform remained on legislative agendas, reflecting the public commitment to reform envisioned by the National Commission on Excellence in Education.
Second, education reform introduced new structures to the institutional landscape of public education. Notable governance additions included school site councils, charter schools, service contracts, and vouchers. The new National Board for Professional Teaching Standards institutionalized professional teaching certification, while experiments with teacher compensation systems and with labor-management relations challenged teacher pay and work arrangements. At the school level, whole-school designs offered ready-made reform structures, and family resource centers integrated educational and social services.
Third, reform's policies and institutions wrought shifts in authority over education's goals and work. Among key actors, control shifted from educators and education interest groups to state policymakers, business leaders, mayors, and parents–the latter two, respectively, through mayoral takeovers of school districts and the introduction of school councils, charter schools, and school choice. At the organizational level, authority shifted simultaneously from school districts upward to state agencies and downward to schools. The shifts resulted from diminished public confidence in educators and education bureaucracies to accomplish school improvements and from the new focus on performance accountability, which enhanced state-school connections.
Fourth, in contrast to the level of reform activity, academic performance remained essentially flat. A gap persisted between test scores of white and minority students, though some gaps narrowed for some age groups in some subjects. More high school graduates made an immediate transition to college, from 53 percent in 1983 to 63 percent in 1999. Dropout trends were erratic but lower overall. In percentage terms, twice as many students took advanced courses in math, science, English, and foreign languages, though the overall numbers remained low–less than a third in English and language, less than half in math and science. In international comparisons of student performance, fourth and eighth graders in the United States scored above international averages in math and science, while twelfth graders scored below international averages in both subjects. On another dimension, Americans failed to attain even one of the six national education goals by the target year 2000.
Fifth, flat achievement notwithstanding, public support for public schools reached a new high in 2001. For the first time, a majority of Americans (51 percent) graded public schools either A or B, with 68 percent of public school parents grading their child's school A or B. Moreover, when asked to choose between reforming the existing school system and seeking alternatives to it, 72 percent of Americans chose education reform.
Finally, lessons learned from extensive school reform efforts in Kentucky and in Houston, Texas, demonstrated that bold education reform is possible but difficult. Observers credited success in these locations to a common vision of success, high expectations for all students, focus on results, strong leadership and teacher competence grounded in coherent curriculum and professional development, and business involvement. In short, education reform in these locations required incentives for performance, investments in organizational and individual capacity, and greater school autonomy.
Americans have long translated their social ambitions into demands for education reform. In the excellence era, these ambitions primarily addressed economic and civic vitality. The compelling argument behind excellence-era education reform was that persistent, low levels of student achievement failed to equip students for success in the emerging economy and polity. That challenge remains. History's lesson is that, of all education reforms, changes in teaching and student achievement come slowly.
See also: Educational Accountability; School Reform.
Berliner, David C., and Biddle, Bruce J. 1995. The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Boyer, Ernest L. 1983. High School. New York: Harper and Row.
Chubb, John E., and Moe, Terry M. 1988. Politics, Markets, and America's Schools. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
Goodlad, John I. 1984. A Place Called School: Prospects for the Future. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Hill, Paul T., and Celio, Mary Beth. 1998. Fixing Urban Schools. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Ladd, Helen F.; Chalk, Rosemary; and Hansen, Janet S., eds. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
McAdams, Donald R. 2000. Fighting to Save Our Urban Schools … and Winning! Lessons from Houston. New York: Teachers College Press.
McLaughlin, Milbrey Wallin. 1987. "Learning from Experience: Lessons from Policy Implementation." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 9:171–178.
Murnane, Richard J., and Levy, Frank. 1996. Teaching the New Basic Skills: Principles for Educating Children to Thrive in a Changing Economy. New York: The Free Press.
Murphy, Joseph, ed. 1990. The Educational Reform Movement of the 1980s: Perspectives and Cases. Berkeley: McCutchan.
Murphy, Joseph. 1991. Restructuring Schools: Capturing and Assessing the Phenomena. New York: Teachers College Press.
National Commission on Excellence in Education. 1983. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
National Commission on Governing America's Schools. 1999. Governing America's Schools: Changing the Rules. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States.
National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. 1996. What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.
Osborne, David, and Gaebler, Ted. 1992. Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Transforming the Public Sector. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Pankratz, Roger S., and Petrosko, Joseph M., eds. 2000. All Children Can Learn: Lessons from the Kentucky Reform Experience. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Powell, Arthur G.; Farrar, Eleanor; and Cohen, David K. 1984. The Shopping Mall High School: Winners and Losers in the Educational Marketplace. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Sizer, Theodore R. 1984. Horace's Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Smith, Marshall S., and O'Day, Jennifer. 1990. "Systemic School Reform." In The Politics of Curriculum and Testing, ed. Susan H. Fuhrman and Betty Malen. New York: Falmer.
Stedman, Lawrence C. 1998. "An Assessment of the Contemporary Debate over U.S. Achievement." In Brookings Papers on Education Policy 1998, ed. Diane Ravitch. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Steinberg, Laurence. 1996. Beyond the Classroom: Why School Reform Has Failed and What Parents Need To Do. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Tyack, David, and Cuban, Larry. 1995. Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
U.S. Department of Education. 1991. America 2000: An Education Strategy, revised edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 2001. The Condition of Education 2001. Washington, DC:U.S. Government Printing Office.
Jacob E. Adams Jr.
REPORTS OF HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE
Reports compiled by individuals or commissions suggesting reforms for public education have appeared throughout America's postcolonial history. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, committees and commissions of prominent individuals became popular for suggesting innovations to cure some educational ills. Since the 1983 release of the National Commission on Excellence in Education's landmark report, A Nation at Risk, reform reports have peppered the landscape on a wide array of topics affecting K–12 and higher education. Most of the waves of reform since the 1980s have been spearheaded by a high-profile study of schooling containing a clarion call regarding the need for improvements. Indeed, reform-by-commission has become a mainstay in the arsenal of those hoping to change schools.
Those specifically examining the reform-by-commission process have come to a series of conclusions about these reports: (1) they have been around for a long time; (2) they tend to suggest changes in a very general manner; (3) they rarely attend to the significant issues in the implementation of reforms; and (4) their specific recommendation have had little direct impact on schools. That said, it is also clear that reform reports provide the rhetorical and symbolic context for reforms to be considered, as they denounce perceived problems and attempt to incite a sense of urgency demanding resolution.
Educational reform reports can be separated into three distinct periods. The first period, the period of early reform-report activity, includes the few reports generated in the United States up until the late nineteenth century. The second period, the era of Progressive reforms, roughly covers the late nineteenth century up until the 1980s. The final period, the era of the modern reform report, began in the early 1980s.
Early Reform-Report Activity
A number of reports of Prussian and French educational innovations heightened interest in improving America's schools. For example, the German professor Johann Friederich Herbart published a volume on the psychology of the art of teaching in 1831, while a Frenchman, Victor Cousin, published a report on the Prussian system of preparing teachers that was reprinted in English in 1835. The first U.S. educational reform reports were generally conducted by prominent individuals driven to foster the development of the nation's universal, free, public, and compulsory system of common schools. Leaders such as Henry Barnard of Connecticut, Calvin Stowe of Ohio, Caleb Mills of Indiana, Calvin Whiley of North Carolina, and John Pierce of Michigan advocated reforms for schools. Most significant among these were the reports of Horace Mann, the secretary of the State Board of Massachusetts in the late 1830s and 1840s. Mann's twelve annual reports covered a broad range of topics and decried the poor efficiency of the public schools. His reports analyzed topics including the moral purposes of schooling, the curriculum, libraries, pedagogical methods, the quality and training of teachers, discipline, school facilities, and church-state relations regarding public schools. Mann urged the standardization of the schools.
Toward the end of the early reform period, the analyses of Joseph M. Rice, the editor of Forum magazine, were published. Rice, a pediatrician who had studied pedagogy in Germany, visited hundreds of urban classrooms in thirty-six cities during the 1890s. He found the conditions and methods of instruction deplorable. Rice eventually designed a simple method of testing spelling to make more reliable evaluations and reported his findings in a series of articles appearing in Forum.
As the design and nature of schooling in the United States unfolded during the nineteenth century, reports emerged that depicted the condition of American education and offered various remedies for reform. The pace of reports about schools intensified as the country expanded west and the American population grew. This pattern was evident in the era of Progressive reforms.
Era of Progressive Reforms
From the 1890s until the 1980s a number of key education reports were published. These ranged from blue-ribbon commissions produced by elite educators and business persons to studies of schools prepared by prominent individual researchers. In this period the practice of conducting surveys of individual school districts was popularized. A 1940 textbook on educational history by John Russell and Charles Judd of the University of Chicago reported an astounding 3,022 educational surveys between 1910 and 1935. Supporters of this burgeoning examination of schools stressed the importance of using scientific techniques to inform policy.
Beginning in the 1890s the National Education Association (NEA), the leading professional education organization, produced a number of reports, the first and most notable being the 1893 report of the Committee on Secondary School Studies (chaired by Harvard president Charles Eliot), the Report of the Committee of Ten. The report identified the lack of uniformity in secondary programs and college admission requirements and sought to formulate curriculum and admissions requirements that would bring some harmony to secondary and higher education. Though scholars differ in their interpretation of the impact of this report's findings, the report did force high schools to work towards greater uniformity in curriculum.
In response to the tremendous growth in secondary school enrollment during the early decades of the twentieth century, the NEA established the Committee on the Reorganization of Secondary Education, which produced The Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education in 1918. Published by the U.S. Department of Education, the document identified several means of preparing students for their duties as citizens, workers, and family members. The bulk of the report dealt with the goals of education in a democracy, the main objectives of education (seven were identified), and the role of secondary education in achieving these objectives. Key recommendations included compulsory schooling for at least eight hours a week until age eighteen and the creation of junior and senior high schools–with a comprehensive high school being one with a core curriculum, variables depending on vocation, and electives to accommodate special interests. The report reflected much of the thinking on education at the time, though its release during World War I no doubt affected its impact.
Other NEA-sponsored reports were released in the 1930s by the Commission on the Orientation of Secondary Education. Issues of Secondary Education (1936) and Functions of Secondary Education (1937) produced recommendations and key functions for secondary schools, including the idea of universal secondary school; curriculum beyond college preparatory, which was differentiated to meet specific needs; greater articulation between elementary and secondary schools; and, most controversially, that students should be eliminated from school once it was apparent that they would no longer benefit from being there.
Reports produced by the NEA-related Educational Policies Commission (EPC) included The Unique Functions of Education in American Democracy (1937) and The Purposes of Education in American Democracy (1938). In the first document, schooling was characterized as an institution that should be run by professionals with great academic freedom. Schools were to be run in a climate protective of democratic and scientific principles. The Purposes document amplified the key aims laid out in the Cardinal Principles. Some argued, however, that these recommendations were out of step with burgeoning issues related to the control of American youth.
The Progressive Education Association undertook several studies, the most prominent of which was the Eight-Year Study, the findings of which were released in 1942. This landmark evaluation project included twenty-nine secondary schools with Progressive curricula whose students were studied for eight years. Several colleges agreed to accept students from these programs who didn't meet usual entrance requirements. The evaluation matched 1,475 pairs of students from Progressive and conventional high schools across an array of variables in college. Much of the impact of the study was clearly blunted by its release during World War II, and although little remained of the programs in the Progressive schools years after the study, the evaluation design served as the model for studies for decades.
Toward the end of World War II, the EPC released Education for All American Youth (1944). Rereleased in 1952 to account for postwar changes, this report made suggestions for improving secondary education. At that time, more than half of all students never completed high school, yet the growing population and an increased faith in the power of schooling were swelling enrollments. Later in the 1950s, the Carnegie Corporation sponsored James Conant's The American High School Today, which involved visitations to fifty-five schools in eighteen states. Schools were evaluated, and it was determined that academically talented students were not being challenged. Key ingredients of successful schools were found to include strong school board members, superintendents, and principals; twenty-one specific recommendations for curriculum were included.
Probably the most significant report of the 1960s was the federally funded research study Equality of Educational Opportunity, published in 1966. Authored by James Coleman and associates, the report examined data from 600,000 students in 4,000 schools. The educational and socioeconomic backgrounds of students' families were found to be the most important variables explaining achievement, far outweighing the impact of school or teacher variables. These findings inspired several decades of debate, affecting a variety of school-related policies.
In the 1970s the Kettering Foundation created the National Commission on the Reform of Secondary Education, which worked on updating the Conant findings. Its 1973 report, The Reform of Secondary Education, focused primarily on alternatives to the traditional high school curriculum and a general definition for all American high schools.
Most of the reports in this period were driven by the push for scientific inquiry and the expanding role of schooling in American culture. In the early 1980s, highly visible reports underscored perceived problems and offered solutions for change.
Era of the Modern Reform Report
The 1980s became the decade of the reform report starting with the publication of Mortimer Adler's The Paideia Proposal in 1982. With the 1983 release of A Nation at Risk, the most widely acclaimed report of this genre, an unprecedented period of reform report activity began. It stated that a "rising tide of mediocrity" had overcome America's schools, and that if another nation had tried to impose such mediocrity on U.S. schools it would be considered "an act of war." Its many recommendations included strengthening the curriculum, lengthening the school day and the school year, paying teachers based on performance, and increasing homework. These recommendations were debated from statehouse to statehouse across the country. Though the recommendations may not have been followed exactly, the atmosphere for reform generated by the report ushered in a reform period unlike any other in the nation's history.
Other reports soon followed. In 1983 alone, major reports that were released included: Ernest Boyer's High School; the Business-Higher Education Forum's America's Competitive Challenge; the College Entrance Examination Board's Academic Preparation for College; John Goodlad's A Place Called School; the National Science Board Commission on Precollege Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology's Educating Americans for the 21st Century; the Southern Regional Education Board's Meeting the Need for Quality Action in the South; the Task Force on Education for Economic Growth's Action for Excellence; and the Twentieth Century Fund's Making the Grade. In 1984 Theodore Sizer's influential Horace's Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School was published. Obviously, diverse entities focused on education, and no reforms could be promulgated without a commission-style report.
This reliance on reform reports continued unabated throughout the 1980s. Key areas for scrutiny included teacher education (A Nation Prepared , Tomorrow's Teachers ), educational administration (Leader's for America's Schools), improving school performance (Time for Results ), and strengthening the economy through schooling (Investing in Our Children , Children in Need ). The pace of reform-report activity continued in the 1990s and the early part of the twenty-first century. Examples of such reports include government-sponsored documents, such as Does School Quality Matter, Beyond Rhetoric: A New American Agenda for Children and Families, and Prisoners of Time; reports from business groups, such as Investing in Teaching; and privately financed reports from think tanks and interest groups, such as The Teachers We Want and How to Get More of Them and The Essential Profession. It appears that any government agency or interest group wishing to propose a series of educational reforms often launch their initiative with a reform report. With the growth of the Internet and its ability to deliver information quickly and cheaply, reports continue to emerge and are readily available to anyone with access to a computer.
What can be said of reform reports across America's history? Clearly, such reports have been a mainstay of those interested in schools, though their use grew dramatically towards the latter part of the twentieth century. This history suggests that they will continue as a means of examining aspects of schooling and promoting particular solutions. Whether being merely symbolic or ceremonial in terms of creating a climate for considering change, or more directly functional in promoting specific policies into practice, they operate as a form of trickle-down reform, where some government agency or other body sets out policy recommendations for policymakers or those close to schools to consider. The policies that ultimately appear may not be as initially intended, but the reform reports help set the tone for the educational reform agenda that policymakers consider.
See also: Educational Accountability; School Reform.
Adler, Mortimer J. 1982. The Paideia Proposal. New York: Macmillan.
Boyer, Ernest L. 1983. High School: A Report on Secondary Education in America. New York: Harper and Row.
Business-Higher Education Forum. 1983. America's Competitive Challenge: The Need for a National Response. Washington, DC: Business-Higher Education Forum.
Card, David, and Krueger, Alan B. 1990. Does School Quality Matter? Returns to Education and the Characteristics of Public Schools in the United States. Washington, DC: Bureau of Economic Research.
Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, Task Force on Teaching as a Profession. 1986. A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century. New York: Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy.
Caswell, Hollis L. 1929. City School Surveys. New York: Teachers College Press.
Coleman, James S., et al. 1966. Equality of Educational Opportunity. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
College Entrance Examination Board. 1983. Academic Preparation for College: What Students Need to Know and Be Able to Do. New York: College Entrance Examination Board.
Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education. 1918. Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Commission on the Reorientation of Secondary Education. 1936. Issues of Secondary Education. Washington, DC: National Education Association.
Commission on the Reorientation of Secondary Education. 1937. Functions of Secondary Education. Washington, DC: National Education Association.
Committee for Economic Development. 1985. Investing in Our Children. New York: Committee for Economic Development.
Committee for Economic Development. 1987. Children in Need. New York: Committee for Economic Development.
Committee on Secondary School Studies (Committee of Ten). 1893. Report of the Committee on Secondary School Studies. WASHINGTON, DC: NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION.
Conant, James B. 1959. The American High School Today. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Cremin, Lawrence A. 1957. The Republic and the School: Horace Mann On the Education of Free Men. New York: Teachers College Press.
Deal, Terry E. 1985. "National Commissions: Blueprints for Remodeling or Ceremonies for Revitalizing Public Schools?" Education and Urban Society 17:145–156.
Educational Policies Commission. 1937. Unique Functions of Education in American Democracy. Washington, DC: National Education Association.
Educational Policies Commission. 1938. The Purposes of Education in American Democracy. Washington, DC: National Education Association.
Educational Policies Commission. 1944. Education for All American Youth. Washington, DC: National Education Association.
Educational Policies Commission. 1952. Education for All American Youth: A Further Look. Washington, DC: National Education Association.
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Two decades of school reform came to a close at the end of the twentieth century. These efforts, led by E.D. Hirsch and Ted Sizer, began in the early 1980s and continued through the 1990s, leading to the development of programs such as Success for All. These programs were aimed at developing comprehensive school reform models. The New American Schools Development Corporation supported many of these models.
This massive education reform effort set out to achieve educational goals never before attempted in the United States. Two major premises drove these ambitious goals. The first premise was that nearly everyone in the United States deserved, was capable of, and should be required to receive academic instruction through high school regardless of race, economic status, or post–high school plans. Second, academic standards needed to be raised considerably for all students. These driving premises were a result of the nation's leaders coming to an understanding that education, the economy, and a sustainable democracy are deeply intertwined in a postindustrial society.
The impetus for these two decades of reform took place in the 1980s, but it was a result of the major challenges facing education in the years before. In these years the nation's education system realized a major decline in enrollment. The 1970s marked the baby boom's departure from the schools and schools all over the country faced a sharp decline in enrollment. Along with this came a growing disengagement with education. As fewer and fewer residents had children in school, communities became less interested in schools and began resenting funding them through property taxes. This, along with other economic factors, brought on a major property-tax revolt in the late 1970s.
The school system was further challenged by social revolution. Teacher unions, the disabled, students with limited English proficiency (LEP), minorities, and women began to demand fair treatment in schools. Teacher unions in the late 1960s became increasingly active, organizing strikes regularly. Congress and the judiciary became more involved in protecting school-age citizens from discrimination with resolutions such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, and the 1974 Supreme Court decision Lau v. Nichols.
Perhaps the most important of all the discrimination decisions was Brown v. Board of Education (1954) which demanded that public schools be racially desegregated. In order to desegregate schools busing was mandated. This practice caused major upheaval. As minorities entered traditionally segregated schools looking for stable learning environments, they found themselves amid great chaos and violence. The result of the efforts mainly led to "white flight" from public education to private schools.
Concurrent efforts to make education a place of equal opportunity for all led to a de-emphasis on teaching and learning. Schools across the nation became increasingly bureaucratic as the nation became more litigious. School employees were often more concerned with enforcing and maintaining order and the new regulations than with teaching their students. It was said educators became more concerned with "dodging lawsuits than with the quality instruction in their schools, and they made the broadening of education opportunities rather than the quality of education the priority in much of public schooling" (Toch, p. 7).
As American public education was deteriorating rapidly in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it began to draw the attention of critics who published many reports detailing the problems in schools and calling for widespread reform. In 1966 James S. Coleman released a study reporting that socioeconomic status was the primary determinant in academic achievement. In other words, schools, teachers, and money had little bearing on the level of academic achievement that a student could reach. Another leading sociologist, Christopher Jencks, reaffirmed Coleman's study by stating that academic achievement was more an indicator of the student's characteristics than of the school input.
Despite more and more public attention to the education crisis, the federal role was still limited. Not until 1979, after a major lobbying effort by the National Education Association (NEA), which later became the largest teacher union in the country, was the U.S. Department of Education created by the Carter administration.
With a cabinet-level education office the problems in education drew more and more public attention. Newspapers reported major declines in students' scores on the SAT and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The National Science Foundation also reported that academic standards were declining in the nation's schools. This news was alarming when compared to the high standards that the United States' economic competitors required of their students. By the early 1980s business leaders, the government, and the general public had decided that public education in the United States was in "parlous trouble" (National Commission on Excellence in Education).
A Nation at Risk
Major economic problems in the 1980s magnified the public's disenchantment with public education. More and more people began to connect the downturn in the economy to the poor system of education in the United States. Under the direction of President Ronald Reagan, the Department of Education faced sharp criticism and calls for its abolition from the president's own political party. Reagan had appointed Terrel H. Bell to the department as Secretary of Education despite the skepticism of the Republican Party, who considered Bell too moderate. The new secretary of education was sympathetic to the department and was reluctant to entertain efforts to abolish the new cabinet office.
In response to claims that he was too soft on the problems in education, Bell proposed the creation of a independent presidential commission to investigate the state of education in the United States in a fair and balanced manner. Reagan, who saw little value in presidential commissions, turned down Bell's proposal. As a result, in 1981 Bell commissioned his own cabinet-level panel, to be called the National Commission on Excellence in Education (NCEE), to review education. The eighteen-member panel was composed of representatives from a wide spectrum of political perspectives. The panel produced the report A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform, which stands as perhaps the most important document in the late twentieth century's history of education reform. A Nation at Risk became the impetus for two decades of standard-sbased reform. Ironically, once the report's themes became known at the White House, Reagan adopted the report as his own.
The seminal report came in the form of an open letter to the American people and President Reagan in April 1983. The report was a serious indictment of education in the United States. It stated, "Our nation is at risk…. If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre education performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war" (p. 5). Despite acknowledging some gains in education, the report overall displayed a severely negative portrait of American education. Even though Bell's commission was pessimistic it maintained that if their strict recommendations were followed, they could reverse the declines and restore excellence in education.
A Nation at Risk made five recommendations for attaining excellence in education. The recommendations were: (1) that "five new basics" be added to the curriculum of America's schools. The basics included four years of English, three years of mathematics, three years of science, three years of social studies, and half a year of computer science in high school; (2) that more rigorous and measurable standards be adopted; (3) that the school year be extended in order to make more time for learning the "New Basics"; (4) that the teaching be improved with enhanced preparation and professionalization; (5) that accountability be added to education.
A Nation at Risk shocked the country. The report galvanized the public to demand action to restore education in the United States. The report was followed by a series of other critical reports on education from organizations such as the Committee for Economic Development and the Education Commission of the States. While no other report had the impact that A Nation at Risk did, the accumulation of the reports created the impetus for the start of two decades of education reform. The nation needed to regain its competitiveness among its economic rivals globally.
The calls to arms energized the nation's governors. Education reform became one of the most politically popular agendas for governors regardless of political leanings. The South became the hotbed for education reform led by governors. Progressively minded governors such as Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, William Clinton of Arkansas, James Hunt of North Carolina, and Richard Riley of South Carolina accepted the challenge of reforming education in their states and in turn led the country. The president, who even before A Nation at Risk wanted to return the responsibility of education to the states, embraced the new energy of the governors.
Leadership from the nation's "education governors" inserted itself into the National Governors' Association (NGA), which released its own report on the state of education. The NGA report reaffirmed the NCEE notion that without reforming education the nation would not continue to be economically competitive on a global level. This theme was especially provocative for the nation's business leaders, who began to call for improvement in the schools. Business leaders became a strong force in the reform movement and influenced political leaders to allocate more resources to education.
Education reform desperately needed the support of an unlikely ally–the president. Reagan had been opposed to a major federal role in education, had attempted to dismantle the Department of Education, and even denied the creation of the presidential commission, eventually established at the cabinet level by Secretary Bell, that wrote A Nation at Risk. After this report, however, Reagan realized the importance of the growing reform movement and began to champion school reform.
Reagan took A Nation at Risk on the road for eleven weeks after its release to announce his new emphasis on education. The president's leadership was essential in elevating the movement to the highest level. Reagan was able to use his control of the media to make education reform the highest national priority.
Reform in Action
With new levels of publicity, recommendations at hand, and ambitious governors, education reform activity was high. In fact some real improvement was taking place. High school curricula broadened and became more focused on academics. High school graduation requirements increased, modeled after the NCEE recommendation, in opposition to old ideas that proposed that intellectual/academic education was not for everyone. Reformers, especially business leaders, recognized that a new postindustrial economy needed skilled workers with higher-order thinking skills. No longer was an uneducated worker needed to stand in an assembly line. Employers demanded workers who could think.
With the reform movement's success in establishing more rigorous intellectual content in American education, students returned to the public schools. Enrollment surged and course work in the academic subjects became standard for almost every student. Students graduated with evidence of solid backgrounds in mathematics, science, history, and foreign languages on their transcripts. Many students even took Advanced Placement tests for college. As a result of the new emphasis of academic subject matter and higher rates of enrollment more teachers prepared with strong content were required. Unfortunately, there were not enough teachers with the content knowledge to meet the demand. Teachers were underprepared and their teaching methods were inadequate. As a result, curricular reform for most students came in name only; most students did not receive real academic training due to the lack of infrastructure to support it.
In addition, watered-down courses began to pop up in the school curricula across the country. In essence a new sequence of courses was created. Students could spend most of their high-school careers without being exposed to academic subject matter in depth. Critics began to note that American education was "an inch deep and a mile wide" for most students. Many students migrated to the easier tracks and many were forced into a shallow education experience. Despite advances in curricular reform, the majority of students felt few real learning gains. At the same time, with the new emphasis on academics, vocational education was fighting to stay alive in schools.
Still the education reforms were mostly undercut by the lack of teachers with the essential content knowledge to teach students adequately and accommodate the growing enrollment in academic courses. Teachers were being assigned to subjects in which they had no training or experience, just to satisfy the new curricular requirements. Tracking persisted and became more problematic as students in the lower tracks received instruction more often from the least-qualified teachers.
This led to a movement that spawned many initiatives promoting the professionalization of teaching, although the NEA often attacked the movement. Despite much work done to improve teaching and to improve the profession, it remained "business as usual" for most teachers. The NEA preserved the status quo.
Better Teachers, Greater Goals, and More Accountability
In response to the Carnegie Forum on Education report, A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the Twenty-First Century, the focus on the teaching profession was magnified. The Carnegie task force responded to A Nation at Risk by proposing solutions to improve the teaching profession. The report called for the formation of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and later national board certification for exemplary teachers.
With the reform movement well underway in 1987, there was a call by the U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett for accountability. The significant amount of money and effort spent to reform education required results. Business leaders and state lawmakers led the way in demanding evidence of change in education. The National Governors Association also began demanding greater accountability from the schools.
The nation's governors had played a large role in education reform since the announcement of A Nation at Risk. Their leadership became most prominent in September 1989 when President George H.W. Bush convened them in Charlottesville, Virginia, for an education summit.
The nation had already come to grips with the fact that improvement in education needed to be measurable if all the attention and resources were going to be recognized as worthwhile. In order to be able to recognize educational progress goals had to be established. President Bush and the governors made a commitment to establish measurable goals for education reform that they named America 2000. They agreed on a process for developing the goals at the education summit that would involve teachers, parents, local administrators, school board members, elected officials, business and labor communities, and the public at large. Their charge was to establish a common mission for improving education for all.
The goals the panel finally agreed upon and released early in 1990 were:
- By the year 2000, all children will start school ready to learn.
- By the year 2000, the high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.
- By the year 2000, all students will leave grades four, eight, and twelve having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography. Every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our nation's modern economy.
- By the year 2000, the nation's teaching force will have access to programs for the continued improvement of their professional skills and the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to instruct and prepare all American students for the next century.
- By the year 2000, U.S. students will be the first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.
- By the year 2000, every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
The governors and the president accepted responsibility for achieving these measurable goals. The conclusion of their declaration stated that "as elected chief executives, we expect to be held accountable for progress in meeting the new national goals, and we expect to hold others accountable as well …. The time for rhetoric is past; the time for performance is now."
Striving to Achieve Measurable Goals
In response to growing talk of creating academic standards Congress established the National Council on Education Standards and Testing (NCEST) in June 1991. The council was formed to explore establishing national education standards and to assess progress in reaching these standards. In 1992 NCEST released its report recommending that voluntary national standards be created. This report, combined with statements from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and the National Research Council, propelled the creation of rigorous academic standards that would establish the appropriate content for learning grade by grade. It was hoped that the depth and breadth of knowledge would be increased for all students.
In March 1994 President Clinton signed into law the Goals 2000: Educate America Act. Goals 2000 encompassed the goals established at the Charlottesville education summit as well as two additional goals that stated:
- By the year 2000, every school in the United States will be free of drugs, violence, and the unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.
- By the year 2000, every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children.
The Goals 2000: Educate America Act also established the National Education Standards and Improvement Council (NESIC), which had the responsibility to review and certify voluntary state and national education standards that were being developed. The NCEST and NESIC faced severe opposition, however, from those who raised the specter of federal involvement in education.
Despite opposition to national standards, efforts to develop state standards and assessments continued. The chief executive officer of IBM, Louis Gerstner, and Governor Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin convened the nation's top business leaders, governors, and the White House and Department of Education elite in Palisades, New York, for the 1996 National Education Summit. The summit was a reaction to the declining progress in education reform after Goals 2000.
The participants in the summit continued the work started in Charlottesville. In fact, the summit pushed for a sustained and more directed effort in establishing academic standards and assessments. Participants recognized that some opponents criticized standards as too much federal involvement in education, but noted that state standards were essential for improving education for all. Writing and measuring standards was not enough for the summit participants, however. They recognized that a commitment to helping students achieve the standards was essential. Another outcome of the summit was the call for an independent clearinghouse, free of ties to any federal agency, that would provide information to help the coordinate states' efforts to establish standards and assessments.
In 1997 in a landmark report, What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future, the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future once again established that teachers were critical to improving student achievement. The report challenged the nation to install high quality teachers in every classroom in America by 2006.
Options for Parents and Students
Throughout this period of reform many suggested school choice as a solution to improving education. School choice can mean several different things. Some of the models are districtwide, or intradistrict, which allow parents to choose from schools within their own district; statewide, or interdistrict, in which students can choose from the entire state's public schools; and perhaps the most controversial, private-school choice, which permits parents to send their children to private schools using public funds.
Although controversial, school choice has been a significant contributor to education reform. Perhaps the most salient examples took place in Wisconsin and Ohio. Since the early 1990s the city of Milwaukee has engaged in an experiment in private-school choice. Milwaukee offers vouchers for children to attend private schools, including religious schools. Although the program has come up against lawsuits, the courts have upheld the practice in Wisconsin. In November 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a case against Milwaukee that claimed that the program led to racial segregation in Milwaukee schools. The U.S. District Court in Ohio questioned the Cleveland school-choice program because 98 percent of the students leaving public schools were migrating to religious schools, raising the issue of separation of church and state. In June 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the lower court ruling and upheld the use of public money for religious school tuition.
The court decisions have helped proponents of school reform who claim that a free-market approach to education will improve the schools. In addition, the movement has also gained some victories as more and more analysis of data shows some success in educating children though school choice. Studies from Harvard University and Princeton University suggest that children participating in school-choice programs are at least performing as well as their counterparts in traditional public schools and the Harvard study even suggests that privatization might make schools more efficient.
Staying the Course
The contemporary standards movement that resulted from A Nation at Risk continues; in fact the message remains that the nation must "stay the course." In 1999 another national education summit was convened and it reasserted that the standards movement was the most prudent way to improve education for all. In addition, the participants demanded that action be taken to ensure that all students achieve the rigorous standards that had been set.
Yet the United States continues to be "a nation at risk." Business leaders, government officials, educators, and the public at large are heeding the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) warning that the United States ranks in the middle of the pack of its global economic competitors in student achievement. Continued focus on raising standards, improving teachers to help students achieve the standards, and holding all stake-holders (parents, teachers, and the business community) accountable for the education of the nation's future leaders is essential.
President George W. Bush continues to follow the direction of Secretary Bell's National Commission for Excellence in Education. President Bush's proposal for education calls for higher standards, annual measurement and accountability, more parental choice, and greater flexibility in federal funding. Perhaps the most significant part of Bush's proposal is the annual assessment of student achievement from grades three through eight to determine the value added by each school year and increase accountability.
See also: Curriculum, School; Education Reform; Elementary Education, subentry on Current Trends; Magnet Schools; National Board for Professional Testing Standards; No Child Left Behind Act, 2001; Paideia Program; School-Based Decision-Making; Secondary Education, subentry on Current Trends; Standards Movement in American Education.
National Council for Excellence in Education. 1983. A Nation at Risk. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Vinovskis, Maris A. 1999. The Road to Charlottesville. Washington, DC: National Education Goals Panel.
Achieve. 1999. "1999 National Education Summit." <www.achieve.org>.
Eakin, Sybil. 1996. "Forum: National Education Summit." Technos Quarterly 5 (2): <www.technos.net/tq_05/2eakin.htm>.
Christopher T. Cross
M. RenÉ Islas
Education is generally thought to promote social, economic, and cultural transformation during times of fundamental national and global changes. Indeed, educational change has become a common theme in many education systems and in plans for the development of schools. According to Seymour Sarason, the history of educational reform is replete with failure and disappointment in respect to achieving intended goals and implementing new ideas. Since the 1960s, however, thinking about educational change has undergone several phases of development. In the early twenty-first century much more is known about change strategies that typically lead to successful educational reforms.
Phases of Educational Change
The first phase of educational changes was in the 1960s when educational reforms in most Western countries were based on externally mandated largescale changes that focused on renewing curricula and instruction. The second phase, in the 1970s, was a period of increasing dissatisfaction of the public and government officials with public education and the performance of schools, decreasing financing of change initiatives, and shrinking attention to fundamental reforms. Consequently, in the 1980s the third phase shifted toward granting decision-making power to, and emphasizing the accountability of, local school systems and schools. Educational change gradually became an issue to be managed equally by school authorities and by the local community, including school principals and teachers. The fourth phase started in the 1990s when it became evident that accountability and self-management, in and of themselves, were insufficient to make successful changes in education.
Furthermore, educational change began to place more emphasis on organizational learning, systemic reforms, and large-scale change initiatives rather than restructuring isolated fields of education. In brief, educators' understanding of educational change has developed from linear approaches to nonlinear systems approaches that emphasize the complexity of reform processes, according to Shlomo Sharan and his colleagues. Similarly, the focus of change has shifted from restructuring single components of educational systems towards transforming the organizational cultures that prevail in given schools or school systems, as well as towards transforming large sections of a given school or system rather than distinct components of schooling.
Emerging Theories of Educational Change
In the early twenty-first century it is generally acknowledged that significant educational change cannot be achieved by a linear "recipe-like" process. The consensus among theorists and practitioners is growing that traditional models of thinking about educational change no longer provide sufficient conceptual tools for responding to multidimensional needs and politically contested environments. The major challenge of educational change is how to understand and cope with rapid change in an unpredictably turbulent world. Emerging new theories of educational change are beginning to employ concepts and ideas derived from the sciences of chaos and complexity. The main characteristics of these new theories are nonlinearity of processes, thinking about education as an open system, the interdependency of the various components of the system, and the influence of context on the change process itself.
Although educational change occurs everywhere, it is still not discussed systematically or analyzed by researchers and educators worldwide. Particularly in countries undergoing political and economic transition, educational change remains a political agenda rather than a well-designed engine of social reform. The heart of successful educational change is learning, both at the individual and at the community levels.
See also: Education Reform; School-Based Decision-Making; School Reform.
Fullan, Michael. 1998. "The Meaning of Educational Change." In The International Handbook of Educational Change, ed. Andy Hargreaves, Michael Fullan, Ann Lieberman, and David Hopkins. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.
Fullan, Michael. 2000. "The Return of Large-Scale Reform." Journal of Educational Change 1:5–28.
Hargreaves, Andy, ed. 1997. Rethinking Educational Change with Heart and Mind. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Hargreaves, Andy. 2000. "Representing Educational Change." Journal of Educational Change 1:1–3.
Sarason, Seymour B. 1990. The Predictable Failure of Educational Reform: Can We Change Course Before It's Too Late? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Sharan, Shlomo, et al. 1999. The Innovative School: Organization and Instruction. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.
Pasi J. Sahlberg