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.


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 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 appreciation.


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.


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 improvement.

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 incentives.

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.


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.


Adler, Mortimer J. THE PAIDEIA PROPOSAL: AN EDUCATIONAL MANIFESTO. New York: Macmillan, l982.


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: McGraw-Hill, l983.

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 ll2.

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