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Effective Schools: Introduction

Introduction to the Effective Schools ProcessSM

Quiet, Steady Victories Bring a New Call to Effectiveness
and a Challenge to Educators

by Barbara O. Taylor, Ph.D.

There is a quiet revolution that is taking place in public schools throughout America.  It is a solid, research-based, data-driven reform process that is succeeding in restructuring and improving entire school districts and revitalizing the committed individuals who work day after day to cultivate the dreams of America’s young.  It has become the best-kept secret in American education.

It is the successful application by school practitioners and many state boards of education of the findings of Effective Schools Research.  This research proceeds from  the earliest “school effectiveness” and “effective schools” research carried out in the seventies by Wilbur Brookover, Ronald Edmonds, and Larry Lezotte.  The National Center for Effective Schools Research and Development (NCESRD) has service marked (sm) the interpretation and development of the research by these men and many other researchers and “action research” by practitioners into a cohesive whole named the Effective Schools ProcessSM.  Lawrence W. Lezotte was the first director of NCESRD. 

Effective Schools?  Isn’t that old hat?  Didn’t we try that in the early 1980s, and then move on?  What was Effective Schools Research anyway besides a loosely clustered group of philosophical yearnings? 

Effective Schools Research has been translated into a school reform process that has worked in many inner cities as well as in rural settings and suburbs.  The findings and statistics are in.  And what is most surprising to those who are making Effective Schools work is not that the process is working, but why so few people know about its success.  Why do we hear so much about the other reform programs and efforts and not Effective Schools?  Especially when Effective Schools, perhaps more than any other effort, has the documentation to prove its very effectiveness.  Those existing findings, and the vibrant success exhibited in schools across this nation, might even come as a surprise to the man who was the driving force, the late Ron Edmonds.

In 1982, a year before his death, Ron Edmonds held a unique, public discourse with James Comer to debate the essence of school improvement procedures, according to their similar but individual philosophies: Effective Schools and the Comer Process respectively.  Today this conversation is as compelling as when it was held under the auspices of the Danforth Foundation at Yale University over a quarter century ago. 

In reply to a question in that debate, “Are there some other people out there that we really ought to be talking with to expand this conversation?”, Ron Edmonds replied ‘’Yes.”   He suggested research from:

  1. the people who contribute to the literature on school effectiveness,

  2. those contributing to the literature on teacher effectiveness,

  3. those knowledgeable about the processes of change, and

  4. from practitioners who are using all three of those bodies of information to run their schools. 

“Now, clearly, that couldn’t be comprehensive, but somebody should be commissioned to portray, simultaneously, the substance or content of each of those four areas and the extent to which they interact.  There really is a movement.  That’s fairly clear.  I think that the most useful body of information accumulates even as we speak.  Next year, and the year after, our continuing knowledge of how participating schools are doing, their differences and similarities, and their abilities and outcomes, are really going to advance this discourse” (1982)*.

You were so right, Ron Edmonds, and now, before it’s too late, it’s show time.  For if Ron Edmonds were alive today, he just might be stunned at the progress and development of Effective Schools and of the research base on which they are built.  The four groups of people, experts in their field, mentioned by Edmonds, have come together and Effective Schools and districts all over America have answered the clarion call to create schools where all children learn. 

The seeds of development of the Effective Schools Process were evident then in the mind of Edmonds, a brilliant scholar who worked at Michigan Sate University and Harvard, and then began working out the implementation process for Effective Schools as Senior Assistant for Instruction in New York City (1978-1982).  Today the language of school reform everywhere is the language of Effective Schools Research.  It is the foundation, and in most cases, the guiding essence of all we hear today: All children can learn.  High expectations.  Shared decision-making and professional collaboration.  Clear and focused mission.  Instructional leadership.  Opportunity to learn and time on task.  Monitoring of student performance outcomes, and data-guided decision-making.  Disaggregated data.  Accountability.  Positive home-school relations.  Parental Involvement.  Safe and orderly environment.  A climate conducive to learning. 

Yes, these very goals that many regarded as “philosophical yearnings” in the early 1980s have proven to be the template for change that is restructuring and revitalizing schools, their students, teachers, and administrators. 


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* A Conversation Between James Comer and Ronald Edmonds: Fundamentals of Effective School Improvement (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing, 1989).