Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Goodlad on school reform: Are we ignoring lessons of last 50 years?

This is the first of three articles by influential education theorist and reformer John I. Goodlad.

Goodlad, author of more than three dozen books, is president of the Institute for Educational Inquiry in Seattle and has held professorships at Emory University, the University of Chicago, the University of Washington and UCLA, where he was dean of the Graduate School of Education from 1967-1983. His1984 book “A Place Called School,” is often credited with launching research efforts on school improvement.

This is long for a blog post, full of reflections by Goodlad about his own life, educational history and schools today, but it is worth your time. Goodlad always is.

By John I. Goodlad | Washington Post
April 27, 2010

Each year the child is coming to belong more to the State and less and less to the parent.
—Ellwood Cubberley, 1909

In autumn 2008, I was at the end of a four-year metamorphosis that embraced a life-threatening illness and the loss of my wife of sixty years. Coming out of it was akin to a teeter-totter ride, with a measure of hope when my end was going up and a measure of despair when it was on the way down.

During the last three years of this semi-spiritual turning, I read a lot and then began to write a little again, a process that yielded one page worth keeping for every four that went into my wastebasket.

As autumn advanced, I became increasingly aware that some of what I had been reading about—on the nation’s cultural readiness for a long-overdue great turning—might come to pass.

At least it was being much talked about in my little domain of human behavior.

The prospect of sweeping change was gaining attention and conversation. Of course, as philosopher Hannah Arendt makes clear in her classic book “The Human Condition,” there is a considerable distinction between behavior and action. To act takes courage, risks failure, and often stirs contrary views and actions.

Perhaps this is a reason why schooling, a very large part of my long professional career, has been so shy of having even modest turnings. Perhaps it is also why researchers David Tyack and Larry Cuban found so little change in their study of schooling over the past hundred years and titled their book on the subject “Tinkering Toward Utopia.”

A few years before the onslaught of illness, I had joined with several other educators in creating the Forum for Education and Democracy, a nonprofit agency for stemming the tide of miseducation that has been steadily rising since Sputnik I and II circled the globe in 1957. The Soviet Union’s success in space had frightened the populace, increased expectations for our schools, and expanded the role of the federal government in their conduct.

Just a quarter century later, the solidification of these expectations and the federal role were at the core of the presidentially commissioned report “A Nation at Risk,” which offered this stunning rebuke of our schools in 1983: “If an unfriendly power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might have viewed it as an act of war.”

As always with reform era reports, those who are to implement the recommendations do not get to participate in their formulation. The National Commission on Excellence in Education recommended that “citizens across the nation hold educators and elected officials responsible for providing the leadership to achieve these reforms.”

But with the passage and subsequent implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, the founders of the Forum for Education and Democracy realized that Congress and the president [George W. Bush] had sharply limited the role of “citizens across the nation” in both determining and implementing their expectations for schooling.

And so, in 2008, the Forum published Democracy at Risk, a call for a new federal policy in public education. Half of the first paragraph reads as follows:

“As Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘If Americans desire to be both ignorant and free, they want what never has been and what will never be.” Indeed, it is our democratic system of governing, based upon the twin pillars of equal rights and responsibilities, which requires we have a system of public education.”

I was deep in both illness and grief when colleagues in the Forum wrote this powerful document that has gained at least modest attention in the Washington, D.C., Beltway. I was able to comment on the manuscript when it was still a work in progress.

By the time of its publication in April 2008, I was beginning to catch up with the growing discourse that linked with my earlier reading regarding the coming of a great turning in the well-being of the moral ecology that holds us together as a people. A healthy, thinking people sustained by this culture is essential to the good society.

It was clear a year later that health care and schooling were high on President Obama’s action agenda, as they had been in his campaign rhetoric.

But, as 2009 merged into 2010, the expectations for a new dawning in schooling were slipping away. The good news was that the No Child Left Behind Act soon would be history. But the proposals for “reform” were déjà vu all over again—been there, done that.

I suddenly awakened to the realization that we were tinkering, one more time, toward an ill-defined utopia.

I was dumbfounded. How could we so ignore the lessons of 50 years of failed school reform and the learning and strategies of those hundreds of innovative boutique projects, funded over these years by billions of dollars from philanthropic foundations, that excited and changed thousands of teachers nationwide?

How could we simply set aside the conclusions and recommendations of those many behavioral and social scientists in the fields of economics, history, psychology, sociology, child development, psychometrics, philosophy, education, and more, who have from their inquiries provided so much of the knowledge necessary for those whose work it is to guide the becoming of a wise people? And what about the knowledge of those experienced practitioners, thoughtful parents, and others? Is there any major field of endeavor other than schooling that has so little agency for its own mission, conduct, and well-being?

Given this reality, it is not surprising that the schooling enterprise is so rife with evidence-free ideology regarding its functioning. We will never have the schools we need until local communities, educators and their organizations, and policymakers share a common mission for them. And we will never have the world-class schools we seek until the people closest to them and best prepared for their agency are their designated stewards.

Now that the state is getting seriously into another era of school reform, it makes sense for us to study and learn from those of the past half-century. There are peculiarities that require considerable thinking if one tries to connect them with both reality and major patterns of human behavior. Significant change in most organizations, corporations included, comes from inside.

Reform, however, is commonly regarded as coming from the outside, imposed, and frequently regarded on the inside as noxious.

In the dictionary in front of me, reform as a verb is “to put an end to [an evil] by enforcing or introducing a better method or course of action.” The far less palatable definition of the noun is “amendment of what is defective, vicious, corrupt, or depraved.”

Because, early in my career, I taught in and directed the education component of the British Columbia Industrial School for Boys (a.k.a. reform school), I always cringe with our careless use of “school reform,” which I have endeavored, unsuccessfully, to get at least school principals and teachers to eschew.

In what probably were researcher Gerald Bracey’s last published words, he wrote the following: “Americans never hear anything positive about the nation’s schools and haven’t since the years just before Sputnik in 1957.”

In this same piece, Bracey notes that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said repeatedly that we are in an educational crisis. In dozens of books and magazines I have read over the past year, writers have simply taken it for granted that the public views today’s schools as a disaster.

It is rare for stewards of our supposedly malfunctioning schools to be left out of the blame. Yet, those who teach in them have for years been near or at the top in polls of the public’s trust.

This combination of realities is more than passing strange. The 41st Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitude Toward the Public Schools, reported in September 2009 that more than 50 percent of the public gave either an A or a B to schools in their communities, the highest rating since 2001.

Seventy-five percent of parents gave the schools their oldest child attends an A or a B, the highest recorded. The people polled gave much lower marks to all those malfunctioning schools “out there.”

After all, for half a century, we have been taught that our poor-performing system of schooling is failing us and steadily getting worse.

There has been during these years a peculiar duality of two widely separated themes in school reform, whatever the driving force might have been.

There is initial rhetoric of deep concern. How much deeper can this be than the comment in A Nation at Risk that the imposition of our system of schooling upon us would be akin to an act of war? But the course of subsequent interest and action is like the month of March: it comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.

The agenda for addressing initial deep concern is set aside as tomorrow’s business. The agenda for today is the grammar of schooling: the what and how of teaching, assessment, discipline, teacher evaluation, etc., and the ideas driving them. It would appear that these are precisely the components of schools that the Founding Fathers believed to be the responsibility of local schools and communities.

Interestingly, they constitute a large part of the symbols of schooling that the middle class in particular equates with the good old days of schooling and does not want changed.

The agenda for tomorrow that creeps in its petty pace from day to day pertains primarily to the cultural context of schooling that cries out for federal attention and sweeping change. Between the grammar and the cultural context of schools lies a domain of necessary collaboration and agreement among local communities, states, and the federal government.


A century has passed since the prescient educational historian Ellwood Cubberley wrote the epigraph with which this writing began: “Each year the child is coming to belong more to the State and less and less to the parent.”

My only disagreement with his observation pertains to the implication of our owning children. We parents do not own our children; we just rent them for a while. Given the extent to which what he was troubled about has expanded, however, his reference to state ownership may well be appropriate.

The gap between the narrative of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001 and its implementation as the No Child Left Behind Act is a model of the duality in school reform described above. Its comprehensiveness was ignored in implementation. We do not yet know how wide the inevitable gap will be between the reauthorized Act and its implementation. But it does begin to appear that we could have Cubberley’s worry in spades.

So far, in the planning, there has been little sign of the transparency promised in the Obama election campaign. Where are the people who will be most affected by and involved in the consequences of the reauthorization: children and youths, teachers, school administrators, school board members, teachers of teachers, scholars of many stripes, PARENTS?

As a critic who has for decades conducted comprehensive studies of educational change, schooling, and the education of educators and worked with schools in replacing the sterility of the longstanding deep structure of schooling with strategies of renewal instead of reform, I find myself troubled with what I am writing.

It reads as though I am against change. Thousands of school people with whom I have worked over the years would chuckle at the thought. Many of the changes we have sought together are sweeping ones that we thought would be part of a new day.

I tend to be hopeful until overwhelmed by discouraging data. And so I have to believe that the "Race to the Top," taking place at about the same time as the race to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA, is simply a federal ploy to stir the interest of the populace in the comprehensive agenda put out by the U.S. Department of Education in "A Blueprint for Reform."

The words “blueprint” and “reform” give me the chills, however. I will feel more comfortable when local communities nationwide with long-term needs not included in the four domains approved for the Race to the Top are funded.

What is completely missing are data regarding the potential for an agenda that embraces a mission of schooling in addition to academic development of the young and then more academic development to ensure good work in the global age.

We need to be aware that recent decades of research on cognition reveal hardly any correlation of standardized test scores with a wide range of desired behavioral characteristics such as dependability, ability to work alone and with others, and planning, or with an array of virtues such as honesty, decency, compassion, etc. Employers dissatisfied with employees who studied mathematics and the physical sciences in first-rate universities often call for higher test scores.

Is academic development the totality of the purpose of schooling?

A comprehensive study asked 8,354 parents and 1,330 teachers to rank intellectual, personal, social, and vocational development of the young as purposes of our schools. About half of both groups selected intellectual development as first choice and variously ranked the other three.

Interestingly, the choice of 68.9 percent of the parents for the intellectual at the elementary school level dropped to 56.3 percent for junior high/middle schools and 43.1 percent for high schools. Teachers ranked the intellectual at about the same for all three—a little under 50 percent.

There is an irony here in regard to school reform eras, especially No Child Left Behind. Not only was its implementation confined to the academic realm, but it also reduced academic assessment of students and schools to a very narrow curriculum.

The consequence, of course, was the substantial narrowing of pedagogy to simply drilling for tests. We do not need schools for this. It is training, not education, and access to it can be obtained almost anywhere at any time in this increasingly technological age. That would leave the opportunity to turn schools, whose prime function has long been child care, into centers of pedagogy with the mission of guiding what education is: the process of becoming a unique human being whose responsibility it is to make the most of oneself.

Surely the formulation of standards for schooling makes no sense until we agree on a mission for schooling. In what was probably his last interview, behavioral scientist Ralph Tyler, arguably one of the most highly regarded and influential educators of the second half of the twentieth century, was asked what his long life told him about what schools are for. Without hesitating he said: they are to provide whatever educational is not being taken care of in the rest of our society.


Clearly, there must be a great turning in schooling. The new will not evolve out of what we have now or try to fix. It is not broken. Indeed, it is very stable and solid, guided by ideologies that will not be disturbed, no matter what the evidence to their contrary.

What we must do now nationwide is begin the 20-or-more-year process of creating a new tomorrow. But we have millions of children and youths who should have the best schools possible under present and future circumstances. Consequently, there must be a close linkage between these schools and the new so that the former move steadily toward the latter in their processes of renewal. What we have now is an enterprise of starts and stops that always is vulnerable to reform eras that change nothing fundamental but tinker once again with the grammar of schooling.

Schools of the new turning will begin to learn the processes of continuous renewal from the beginning. They will vary widely in their agendas of change, just as they vary in their cultural settings.

There are two long overdue things we must do now to begin the process of linking the schools we have with those we should and can have. I address one of these in part two and the other in part three of my trilogy.

1 comment:

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