History Repeats

Some have marched across this bridge before.

Many crossed this bridge before.

Standards-based education reform of public schools has been tried before.

Around 1913, the industrial “efficiency movement” focused public attention on outcomes but when educators attempted to “routinize teaching,” or standardize it, it didn’t work according to Robert J. Marzano and Jon S. Kendall in “The Fall and Rise of Standards-Based Education.”

And by the late 1930’s research completed by the Cooperative Study of Secondary Schools Standards concluded, among other things, that standardized test scores as the sole means of evaluating schools tended to make “instruction point definitely to success in examinations,” cultivated “a uniformity that was deadening to instruction,” “thwarted the initiative of instructors,” and can “destroy the flexibility and individuality of an institution.” In addition to bringing about a rigid curriculum, the study concluded, this type of testing had little validity for identifying superior and inferior schools and a better method was available. In 1939!

But the plans were set aside while the country addressed the needs of World War II. We moved on, it would seem, unaware of what had come before. And in the process, we changed from looking to improve education by providing the necessary “inputs” to a heavier focus on “outputs.” (Recall the Coleman Report) So that is how we ended up repeating our standards experiment with an even greater emphasis on test scores.

By 2001, the country had become convinced that we needed a federal accountability system and the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) Act was it! The law focused all of our attention (and dollars) on accountability for all schools totally based on student outcomes as judged by standardized test scores.

We replaced individual “performance” standards with state “curriculum” standards. Now we risk setting national curriculum standards instead of recognizing that children need us to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses and work with them to attain a level of mastery of the classroom curriculum. This isn’t a proposal that gets away from being held accountable to a standard; it’s one that is responsible for meeting the needs of the individual student along with educational standards. This is a philosophy that can take us from a classroom culture of test preparation to a culture of educating each child to the fullest extent of his or her talents — meeting the standards for American excellence and equality.

We made tremendous progress in the sixties and seventies because we followed an educational philosophy focused on providing the necessary “inputs” to the hardest to teach students. Desegregation of schools peaked in the 1980’s and a narrowing of the achievement gap occurred during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Now, the focus is the gap, is the test, is the score, and, the gap persists.

In the march towards equal opportunity in education, we got stuck in the ditch of standardization of children because we set test scores as our goal — in law and in the minds of Americans. The Modern Standards Movement politically overpowered, but did not destroy, the Modern Community Education Movement.

If we can only come to understand standards and their proper use, we have a shot at getting it right— in the minds of Americans and in law.

The big question is; does Congress know enough to get it right this time?


The March Begins. was the first in this series On The Road to Educational Quality and Equality. Next Up: What Do YOU Mean “Standards”?

Still Searching for Solutions?

The importance of in-school and out-of-school factors on student achievement continues to be a point of debate just as it was back in the time when the 1966 Coleman Report was first interpreted, widely quoted, and used by people to justify their predetermined arguments.

Spurred on by this controversy, searching for answers, and increasingly convinced that “the characteristics of schools are an important determinant of academic achievement,” school effectiveness researchers in the 70’s and 80’s were studying schools where minority and low socioeconomic status students were achieving at higher rates than expected and the “achievement gap” was narrowing. These schools were labeled “effective” and researchers concluded that effective schools had “essential” characteristics common to all; they called them “correlates.”

The original work by Ron Edmonds and others stated the correlates as

1) the principal’s leadership and attention to the quality of instruction;
2) a pervasive and broadly understood instructional focus;
3) an orderly, safe climate conducive to teaching and learning;
4) teacher behaviors that convey the expectation that all students are expected to obtain at least minimal mastery; and
5) the use of measures of pupil achievement as the basis for program evaluation.”

Edmonds also noted that when it came to the common characteristics of the school improvement “programs” that were used in these schools, they all saw the local school as the focus of analysis and intervention; they all assumed all children to be educable; and all focused their design on more efficient use of existing resources.

In my research of the people who were influential in forming the prevailing philosophy of education reform leading up to Edmonds’ work, I concluded that “effective schools” were schools that were following the “community education concept.”

Search no further.

Search no further.

What’s really important? In-school factors? Out-of-school factors? Or a combination? Think about it.



Read on! This is a series on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that started with The March Begins.Next up: History Uncovered.