ERIC Identifier: ED252636
Publication Date: 1984-05-00
Author: Ascher, Carol
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban
Education New York NY.
The 1983 Educational Reform Reports. ERIC/CUE Digest Number 22.
During l983, a flood of private and public commissions issued their findings
and recommendations for educational reform, largely for secondary school. A
common premise of the l983 proposal is that the nation's global preeminence in
science, technology, industry, commerce, and military defense is threatened by
its mediocre education.
Questions raised by the reports are whether the function of high school is to
prepare all youth for their various life paths or to prepare only a small
proportion of college-preparatory students; whether there should be a common
curriculum or differentiated offerings; and whether the high school should be
responsible merely for imparting organized knowledge or also for values,
attitudes, creativity, and self-realization.
EXCELLENCE AND EQUITY
The current reports state their commitment to equity within the context of
raising academic standards. In the words of Adler (l982), "The best education
for the best is the best education for all." However, the proposals generally do
not recognize that, because students are diverse, a uniform education will not
necessarily create either uniform end results or even the maximum possible
achievement for each student. Instead, some proposals establish such difficult
requirements that many students will not be able to comply and so will either
have to be given second-class programs and diplomas or simply drop out.
THE GOALS OF EDUCATION
The new reform reports generally agree that the purposes of education have
become too varied and diffuse. Literacy in the larger sense is a common
priority. Personal growth skills, work skills, and social and civic skills are
prevailing but secondary goals.
The current reports stress the New Basics, a common core curriculum or
prescribed curriculum. Several recommend that all students be required to take
more mathematics and science as well as more English, social studies and foreign
languages; that computer science be added as a requirement; that "soft courses"
or electives be severely curtailed and brought under tight control; and that
students be frequently tested to assess their progress according to strict (and
raised) standards. In fact, the New Basics or common core curiculum is
essentially the traditional college-preparatory fare.
Several of the reports stress the importance of teaching higher-level mental
processes, such as conceptualizing, critical thinking, and analyses. Sizer
(l984) criticizes the emphasis on amassing quantities of information and
suggests that these higher order skills can best be learned through a much
smaller body of knowledge. Sizer, Boyer, and Adler propose new divisions in
academic disciplines and suggest more dialogic teaching for developing the
higher intellectual skills, as well as emotional understanding and aesthetic
The reports unanimously condemn tracking. However, few authors offer detailed
solutions to the problems of management and pedagogy arising from wide
differences among students.
By proposing a common core curriculum with few electives, the reformers tend
to assert that a sound general/liberal education is "truly vocational" (Alder
l982), that all secondary school students need career orientation but not
specific job training, that career education is best undertaken in
experiential-based internship programs, and that equity is best achieved through
avoiding the second-class status of vocational training.
The reports agree on the new place of computer "literacy" in basic education
(though what this means remains vague). They also advocate the use of computers
as a means of extending instruction.
The reports disagree over whether increasing the amount of time spent in
school should be a priority or whether the focus should be more on effective use
of existing classroom hours. A minority view is that this and all other
decisions should be made locally, by individual pricipals and teachers,
according to the needs of their students.
TEACHERS AND TEACHING
The reports agree that the crisis in education must be laid at the door of
the teaching profession. Several note that admission and graduation requirements
in schools of education are too low and that the courses offered need
improvement and perhaps radical change. Most argue for a more solid academic
grounding in the subjects teachers will teach, with less time devoted to
pedagogical training. Selection procedures applied throughout the entire teacher
preparation process, evaluation of all education programs for quality and
productivity, improvement of the certification process, and tightening of
evaluation procedures for those who continue to teach are other suggestions.
Strategies for renewing teaching as a profession include restoring to
teachers "the respect-laden autonomy enjoyed by other professionals" (Sizer
l984), severely restricting administrative chores, and reducing class hours in
order to add time for class preparation and school-based programs for staff
A number of reports also propose recognition and awards for outstanding
teachers, including summer study and travel, well-defined career ladders, and
special local, state, and national rewards for excellence. Only the Southern
Regional Educational Board Task Force deals specifically with the problem of
recruiting minority teachers.
Those reports that cover teacher shortages in mathematics and science stress
the need for flexibility in requirements, increases in salaries to make them
competitive with salaries in other math and science careers, and other special
Although the reports agree on the need for continuing education, there is
little agreement about where and how it should take place, and under whose
auspices and what conditions.
FEDERAL, STATE, AND LOCAL ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Most reports tend to advocate a decrease in federal and an increase in state
and local responsibilities. A few direct themselves specifically at the roles to
be played by particular sectors.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Adler, Mortimer J. THE PAIDEIA PROPOSAL: AN EDUCATIONAL MANIFESTO. New York:
Boyer, Ernest L. HIGH SCHOOL: A REPORT ON SECONDARY EDUCATION IN AMERICA. New
York: Harper and Row, l983.
Education Commission of the States. Task Force on Education for Economic
Growth. ACTION FOR EXCELLENCE: A COMPREHENSIVE PLAN TO IMPROVE OUR NATION'S
SCHOOLS. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States. l983.
Goodlad, John I. A PLACE CALLED SCHOOL: PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE. New York:
National Assessment for Educational Progress (Rexford Brown). NATIONAL
ASSESSMENT FINDINGS AND EDUCATIONAL POLICY QUESTIONS. Denver, CO: Education
Commission of the States, l982. ED 224 839.
National Commission on Excellence in Education. A NATION AT RISK: THE
IMPERATIVE FOR EDUCATIONAL REFORM. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing
Office, l983. ED 226 006.
National Science Board Commission on Precollege Education in Mathematics,
Science and Technology. EDUCATING AMERICANS FOR THE 2lST CENTURY. A REPORT TO
THE AMERICAN PEOPLE AND THE NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD. Washington, D.C.: U.S.
Government Printing Office, l983. ED 223 9l3.
Sizer, Theodore R. HORACE'S COMPROMISE: THE DILEMMA OF THE AMERICAN HIGH
SCHOOL. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, l984.
Southern Regional Eduational Board Task Force on Higher Education and the
Schools. MEETING THE NEED FOR QUALITY: ACTION IN THE SOUTH. Atlanta, GA:
Southern Regional Educational Board, l983. ED 232 534.
Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on Federal Elementary and Secondary
Education. MAKING THE GRADE. New York: The Twentieth Century Fund, l983. ED 233