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Posted at 8:45 AM ET, 05/12/2010

Goodlad: How to help our schools -- Part 3

By Valerie Strauss

This is the last 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.


By John I. Goodlad
President Lyndon B. Johnson viewed our public schools as having a major role in creating the Great Society he envisioned. They would contribute to a moral agenda of addressing the nation’s problems of poverty, unemployment, urban decay, crime, violence, and racial discrimination.

In 1965, sociologist James Coleman was commissioned to select a research team and, in a year, come up with a blueprint to guide and strengthen the schooling enterprise. The president was stunned by the core conclusion of Coleman’s controversial report: What children bring from their homes and encounter in the classroom from other children, not teachers and their practices, is what contributes most to their academic attainments.

This report set off a bevy of studies and arguments that went on with vigor for over a decade regarding just what makes a difference to children’s learning in schools.

England’s Michael Rutter and several colleagues did a magnificent job of reviewing these in preparing their own planned three-year study of 12 secondary schools in London. They neatly summarized the questions to be answered: “Do a child’s experiences in school have any effect; does it matter which school he goes to; and which are the features of school that matter?” (Fifteen Thousand Hours, 1979, a title based on hours spent in school from the age of five until graduation from high school).

The conclusions of Rutter et al. were very much like those of the researchers they summarized, one of them being that schools have accounted for far less of the variance in students’ scholastic attainments than have features of the family and home.

But they noted that these results do not necessarily mean that schools’ influences are of little importance. Instead, they may be a consequence of the fact that there is a bigger difference between the “best” and “worst” home than between the “best and “worst” school.

They became curious to know if these worst schools might have characteristics that were much less apparent in the best schools. They hit pay dirt: They found large differences in attendance, delinquency, recidivism of delinquent behavior, and rates of referral to child psychiatric clinics and reform schools. There was a high correlation of these characteristics and poor academic performance.

Aha! Might there be impactful characteristics differentiating the worst and best schools just as there were characteristics differentiating their students: Formal and informal rules, internal organization, teachers’ distribution of praise, punishment of misbehaving students, ethos? Yes, indeed.

But does this sequence of situational and human decline need to be? The words and concept “reform school” give me chills. For four years early in my career, I was responsible for the schooling component of the British Columbia (Canada) Industrial School for Boys (a.k.a. reform school).

There was an internal contretemps that created two differing staff camps regarding juvenile delinquency. One, led by the senior officer in charge of the daytime activities of the boys other than those attending the academic school component I directed, believed that there were no routes to the metamorphoses of bad boys into good ones. The other, modeled by Hugh Christie, a younger senior officer in charge of almost everything else and a compassionate but firm scholar studying juvenile delinquency and criminology, believed strongly in rehabilitation and prevention.

By law, all boys up to the age of 16 were required to attend the “grade” school. In the past, few, if any, had continued beyond that age. With Hugh’s subtle help, we changed the pattern. I had replaced the lone teacher of what had been an eight-year elementary program. Later, I had to request an additional teacher to take care of all boys through the sixth grade, while I, with the assistance of a superb provincial correspondence school service, taught those older boys now going back to school.

But for most of them, already several years behind normal grade advancement, it was too late. I never saw Hugh Christie again after my departure, but I heard that he had succeeded in effecting a profound shift in provincial policy and action designed to turn youths around before their delinquency became a habit.

I return now to those much later years of ongoing intense scholarly study of what in schools makes significant differences in students’ academic performance and what makes differences within schools greater than those between schools. There was also great interest in the longstanding question of why schools have changed so little over time, even when there is considerable pressure for them to do so, as there was with federal money flowing to the several Titles of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

Beginning in 1960, my professorial duties at UCLA included directing the famed laboratory school that had settled into its past following the retirement of the creative founder Corinne Seeds. We had updated its strengths, made some fundamental changes, recaptured the confidence of parents, and were endeavoring to cut back the number of visitors who showed up by the busload each year.

I met with a couple of groups a week. Most were intrigued with what we were doing but said that they could not implement what they had seen. I was shocked on learning from them that there were no ongoing structures for changing anything major in their home schools. Several members of the staff and I then visited an array of schools, finding little hesitation on the part of principals and teachers to list school problems but no agendas for fixing them.

An invitation from the Kettering Foundation in the late 1960s, followed by the support of a clutch of other philanthropies, enabled me to add to my responsibilities at UCLA a quarter of a century of inquiring into and participating in the conduct of schools, the ecology of educational change, and other matters of interest to me and successive groups of colleagues.

Our first venture was the creation of the League of Cooperating Schools comprising eighteen schools in 18 districts in the southern half of California—schools chosen by the superintendents at our request to be in the middle range of performance. The challenge to the schools was for them to design and implement, with our support, an agenda of comprehensive school improvement.

Not to our surprise, none of the principals knew how to go about doing this. I will not go into details; however, during several months of a bumpy first year, we developed and taught the principals a process of total staff and smaller group dialogue, decision making, taking action, and evaluating progress (DDAE) that ultimately not only guided a renewing mode in the schools but also, with the leadership of several superintendents, penetrated other schools in their districts.

Teams of teachers often got ahead of their principals in making changes not only in their classrooms but also in the ethos of their schools. Problems and issues that school personnel simply lived with and talked about before were now taken care of—with accompanying satisfaction.

It is one thing for those of us in major research universities to study schools and their practices and then turn our findings and conclusions back to practitioners in publications. We earn professorships that way. It is quite another for us to get seriously involved in the ecology of schools. The tangible rewards are thin, but once one gets involved, the near-spiritual ones fuel a lifetime passion. The accompanying epiphanies provide understandings that make the gruel of remotely conceived, externally imposed school reform hard to digest.

We left our story in a half-dozen upbeat books and rich memories of the many participants in the League who still speak of those deeply satisfying years, often with tears in their eyes. Several of my colleagues and I established a relationship with social psychologist Seymour Sarason that continued to his death a few months ago. His parallel work produced a classic book, "The Culture of the School and the Problem of Change."

I became aware of his work as I was finishing my book "Dynamics of Educational Change," drawn in large part from our experiences with the League and amazingly in agreement with Sarason’s conclusions regarding the power of school culture, the folly of ignoring it, and the routine continuation of this folly in the history of schooling. The impact of this power on the school experience, personality, and psyche of principals, teachers, students, and parents is considerable and often profound. The consistency of scholarly research findings over the past half-century makes of this conclusion a fact, not a hypothesis.

Limitations in space and time necessitate my leaving to you implications of the foregoing paragraph for effecting improvement in the schools we have and making changes in current strategies. To assist you, I suggest reading chapter eight, “The Same But Different,” in the 20th anniversary edition of my book "A Place Called School." For those of you who asked for sources of more information about public expectations for our schools, see chapters two and three of the above book and chapter eight of Gerald Bracey’s "Rhetoric vs. Reality."

* * * * *
In my first article in this Washington Post series (April 27), I referred to a couple of long overdue things we must do now—not changes but additions to what we have—that I would address in articles two and three.

Instead, in the second, I addressed long-term contextual issues that are far more appropriate for the work of the federal government than its tinkering with the grammar of schooling. The ongoing functioning of what I propose now is a state and local responsibility that needs a jumpstart from the Department of Education.

The first will keep far more young children from falling behind than did the No Child Left Behind Act. Five-year-olds begin kindergarten at a scheduled date following the summer vacation. But if they are not yet five when this date rolls around, they wait another year.

For most parents of the middle class and beyond, this means the cost of a private school, which may result in a head start for the first grade or regular admission into it the following year. This inequity was partially addressed years ago by Head Start, but millions of children were left behind.

In "A Place Called School," I recommended moving the beginning of schooling down a year and admitting all children who had turned four prior to a specified date at the beginning of the school year. All children becoming four later would be invited to begin school with a party on a specified date in their month of birth. The medical and child development specialists I consulted did not agree on children’s beginning school at the age of three, but all were comfortable with the age of four. I got a positive response from parents; many were exuberant. Teachers were cautious; I was upsetting a longstanding symbol and custom of schooling.

My proposal did not embrace the expectation that children would get an equal start at the gate. They already would have experienced three years of extraordinarily varying social capital in their educational surround. They would be leaving the gate with others having enormous difference in intellectual horsepower. But they all would get an additional year of intentional education in the culture of schooling. To think of them all fitting into the academic spread of a grade level, as we often do, is sheer nonsense. Don’t waste time trying to find me wrong; it’s a fact.

This brings me to my second recommendation: Get rid of grade promotion and nonpromotion.

This is an idea that goes back many years; Robert Anderson and I updated it in our book "The Nongraded Elementary School."

During the early years of schooling, there is very little difference between the academic achievement of slowly progressing promoted and nonpromoted pupils.

Where there is a considerable difference is in how they feel about themselves, something to which we pay very little attention. Most slow-progressing children know that they are and do not like it. They do not need having this rubbed in by the reality and embarrassment of being “flunked.” This is what Michael Rutter and his colleagues found to be the first downward step in the sequence that differentiated the “human quality” in the culture of the schools in their sample.

And this is what significantly differentiates promoted and nonpromoted children in America’s school culture. Do we care?

There is no need to upset the longstanding symbols of schooling by getting rid of the word “grade.” We need only to refer to it as a symbol of a child’s year in school. But what nongrading accommodates is the necessity (currently often ignored) for pupils to understand the learning intended—that is having access to knowledge.

In the concluding study of my quarter-century of inquiry referred to earlier, 40 percent of students in the elementary grades answered “sometimes” when asked if they understood what their teachers said and set for them to do.

About 20 percent of high school students reported having trouble understanding what was expected of them. The year’s academic agenda simply does not accommodate well the range of individual differences of students in most classrooms.

There is a factor that complicates deliberate planning for anticipated differences in student progress through the grade year: vagaries in the trajectory of a student’s progress—sometimes to the degree that near nonpromotion this year is followed by leading the class the next. I was one of those. A year is too short a period for judging the intellectual competence of the young.

This is one of the reasons I recommended, a quarter century ago, a comprehensive reconstruction of the patched-together structure of schooling we have had for many years. The fate of my proposal was that of a lead balloon. I am not about to trot it out again.

If I am blessed with several more years, it will be part of the book I am writing about the places called school I would like to have seen years ago. But it has been a wonderful run with people believing education to be the lifelong becoming of wise and caring human beings.

Click here for Part 1.


Click here
for Part 2.


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By Valerie Strauss  | May 12, 2010; 8:45 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, John Goodlad, Learning  | Tags:  Guest Bloggers, John Goodlad, NCLB, National Standards, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top | Tags: John Goodlad, goodlad and a place called school, goodlad on school reform, guest bloggers, john goodlad and school reform, no child left behind and goodlad, race to the top, school reform  
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Comments

Dear Dr. Goodlad,
You have so much to share with the rest of us that it must be really annoying to have to say it over and over again while none of us gets it! We all have to find out for ourselves, it seems, 40 years of everyone in education recreating the wheel, and now we come down to this simple restatement: You said 25 years ago what people are JUST now beginning to hear, that a comprehensive reconstruction of the system is desperately needed.

Maybe we were waiting for the Internet to get the message out, but none of what is happening now would ever have been possible without your work and your powerful voice. For example, I discovered for myself that each school needs to be changed in its own unique way, working within the informal leadership structures in place at those sites, and that, given an opportunity, teachers WILL lead the way.

I have so much enjoyed your series on this blog and ask you not to give up on us yet; after the longest gestation period ever known, schools may just about be ready to throw off the yoke of the old system and to create something new: A new vision about what we want our schools to become. I'm looking forward to your next book. Patricia Kokinos, www.ChangeTheSchools.ning.com

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