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History of Effective Schools


Ronald R. Edmonds“How Many Do You Need to See? How many effective schools would you have to see to be persuaded of the educability of poor children? If your answer is more than one, then I submit that you have reasons of your own for preferring to believe that pupil performance derives from family background instead of school response to family background. Whether or not we will ever effectively teach the children of the poor is probably far more a matter of politics than of social science and this is as it should be.

“We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us.  We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.”
Ron Edmonds

  New! View a 3:13 minute video overview of Edmonds and his movement by Jeanne Kinnier, a Univ. of Richmond graduate student, December 2012 (with permission).

In the late seventies and early eighties, a group of educators, citizens and policy workers came together to work on public school reform. Using the research of many of these same people a movement began to form to advocate the findings of this research and to disseminate the findings in schools and school districts around the nation.

The movement became known as the effective schools movement. The leader of this movement was Ronald R. Edmonds, who with colleagues convinced the field of education and many practitioners in the field, that schools could be changed - re-formed- to become effective schools for all students. The quotation from his now famous article Educational Leadership (October 1979) reads as follows:

“It seems to me, therefore, that what is left of this discussion are three declarative statements: (a) We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us; (b) We already know more than we need to do that; and (c) Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.”

This short statement was built on research by both academic and field researchers who had come to the same conclusions: given certain organizing and cultural characteristics found in the researched schools and their districts, all children can be taught the intended curriculum and held to high academic standards that enable students to achieve successfully at the next grade level.

The effective schools movement then began to grow and educators all over the United States and ultimately globally replaced a vision of despair for many students in most large cities and rural districts with a vision of hope. At its zenith, the effective schools movement was a rainbow coalition of practitioners and citizens as well as researchers communicating their empirical findings across the land. Their number was in the thousands, working in over seven hundred school districts (Government Accounting Office Report 1990) across the country.

Tragically, Ronald Edmonds died of a heart attack in 1983. His leadership was lost and the movement foundered until the National Center for Effective Schools Research and Development was founded in 1986 in Okemos, Michigan near Michigan State University, where Edmonds had carried out his seminal work with colleagues until he moved on to the Center for Urban Studies at Harvard University in the late 1970s. What was this very comprehensive strategy, formed by each school involved, each district involved, parents and governing officials? It became, evolving over the years as a “what works” process for change, the Effective Schools Process. Development of training modules and the training of all involved in change at the district and school levels took place at University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is estimated that over three hundred districts were able to implement the full Effective Schools Process in the years 1985-1995. (Phi Delta Kappa survey, 1995). Schools exist today that benefited from this transformation and still harbor the characteristics of effective schools, called “Correlates of Effective Schools” by Edmonds. These schools continue to reach and teach students so that they achieve and are well prepared for the curriculum taught at the next grade level.

The City of Chicago is the foremost example of a large urban district that successfully implemented the Effective Schools Process (Hess, 1991), and then built on the principles the Process espoused to continue to improve to the present time.

What is the Effective Schools Process?

There is much confusion in the field of education about just what concepts the Effective Schools Process uses to achieve success, and how those concepts have been applied to each school, district, and state system of public school education in the United States and around the world. The National Center for Effective Schools Research and Development over the years of its existence (1986-2004) clarified and made consistent the unifying principles drawn from Ronald Edmonds’ original “Correlates of Effective Schools”.

Edmonds’ original correlates numbered five. These were the characteristics of unusual schools that in spite of the fact that their students came from low-income families taught over 90% of their students to a standard of achievement that permitted them to succeed at the next grade level. Edmonds and his colleagues at Michigan State and at Harvard University researched and developed the effective school correlates over the decade of the seventies. He defined these early correlates, in very plain but only early researched language, in his 1982 paper “Programs of School Improvement: An Overview,” according to Lezotte, as:

· the leadership of the principal notable for substantial attention to the quality of instruction;

· a pervasive and broadly understood instructional focus;

· an orderly, safe climate conducive to teaching and learning;

· teacher behaviors that convey the expectation that all students are expected to obtain at least minimum mastery; and

· the use of measures of pupil achievement as the basis for program evaluation.

(These are listed as reported in Lawrence W. Lezotte’s recent paper, “Effective Schools: Past, Present, and Future.”

These five later were reorganized, re-crafted and expanded by NCESRD’s board of Edmonds’ former colleagues and other followers, and are the official Effective Schools Process (SM) stated correlates:

Clear and Focused School Mission

There is a clearly articulated mission for the school through which the staff shares an understanding of and a commitment to the instructional goals, priorities, assessment procedures, and accountability

Safe and Orderly Environment

There is an orderly, purposeful atmosphere that is free from the threat of physical harm for both students and staff.  However, the atmosphere is not oppressive and is conducive to teaching and learning.

High Expectations

The school displays a climate of expectation in which the staff believes and demonstrates that students can attain mastery of basic skills and that they (the staff) have the capability to help students achieve such mastery.

Opportunity to Learn and Time on Task

Teachers allocate a significant amount of classroom time to instruction in basic skills areas.  For a high percentage of that allocated time, students are engaged in planned learning activities directly related to identified objectives.

Instructional Leadership

The principal acts as the instructional leader who effectively communicates the mission of the school to the staff, parents, and students, and who understands and applies the characteristics of instructional effectiveness in the management of the instructional program at the school.

Frequent Monitoring of Student Progress

Feedback on student academic progress is frequently obtained.  Multiple assessment methods such as teacher-made tests, samples of students’ work, mastery skills checklists, criterion-referenced tests, and norm-referenced tests are used.  The results of testing are used to improve individual student performance and also to improve the instructional program.

Positive Home-School Relations

Parents understand and support the school’s basic mission and are given opportunity to play an important role in helping the school achieve its mission

© 1995 NCESRDF and Lake Forest College revisions, 2010

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