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Ronald_R._Edmonds / Donnelley and Lee Library Archives and Special Collections at Lake Forest

Ronald R. Edmonds

Ronald R. EdmondsRonald R. Edmonds (1935-1983), educator and author, introduced the concept of Effective Schools.  Indeed, Edmonds was an educational philosopher in the tradition of Horace Mann (1796-1859), who fostered the notion of universal, free, non-sectarian public education, and of John Dewey (1859-1952), who transformed static, passive learning into active learning in modern classroom settings.  Edmonds pioneered the idea that all students can learn, not just be allowed into classrooms, but actually learn there in spite of disadvantaged backgrounds and other issues.  He relied on data to counter arguments  against his insights and to guide learners and those who oversaw their progress. He worked out conditions or correlates that would turn this late 20th C., Mann/Dewey successor dream, that all students can learn, into educational reality. 

In a career spanning about two decades Edmonds worked in three major states with significant urban and minority populations: Michigan, Massachusetts, and New York. In these states he spread his Effective Schools ideas and worked directly to implement them.  He undertook this work in the high school classroom, at the district level, at the state level and in higher education as a researcher, teacher, trainer, professor and thinker.  He published widely, both studies and articles, the latter to promote his findings within the profession.  He stands out among a handful of great twentieth century innovators in education whose works have shaped the field and the broader society around it. 

“Edmonds was interested in what makes a school a good school. At a time when many educators questioned the validity of testing, Edmonds felt that standardized reading and math tests gave students important information about their performance and gave educators and administrators useful data not only about individual students but also about the quality of the education being offered at the school.”
(New York City Department of Parks & Recreation)

Born May 24, 1935 at Ypsilanti, Michigan, Ronald R. Edmonds received his B.A. in American History from the University of Michigan and an M.A. in the same field from Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti. He also received a certificate of advanced study from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. 

From 1981 until his death in July 15, 1983 Edmonds was Professor, Departments of Teacher Education and Administration and Curriculum, and in the Urban Affairs Programs, Michigan State University and also Senior Researcher in the Institute for Research and Training there.  For the 1980-81 3rd edition of Who’s Who Among Black Americans, Northbrook, IL: Who’s Who Among Black Americans, Inc. Publishing Company, 1981, Edmonds reported that he was a lecturer in the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, a post he’d held since 1977, according to his May 1983 curriculum vitae.  While at Harvard he was engaged in indepenent study from 1972-73, and was director of the Center for Urban Studies in Harvard’s graduate education program from 1973-77.  He listed his immediately previous position, 1977-80, as senior assistant for instruction, New York City Public Schools. He served under Chancellor Frank J. Macchiarola and fostered the belief that improving education for poor children with management and discipline would improve education for all children. Edmonds Playground, Brooklyn, is named in his memory.  

Prior to his move to Harvard, Edmonds had been a faculty member in the Labor School, Univeristy of Michigan, 1968-70, and also was human relations director for the  Ann Arbor, Michigan Public Schools. In 1970-71 he was employed in the Title V — Improving State Leadership in Education program, for the Michigan Department of Public Instruction.  In 1970-72 he was assistant superintendent in the Department of Public Instruction, State of Michigan, Lansing, MI. 

His education career had begun as a teacher at Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, 1964-68.  These were the years between Dr. King’s August 1963 “I Have a Dream” Speech, Washington, DC, and Dr. King’s death and then the 1968 Democratic Convention at Chicago, August 1968, a period of high aspirations and major federal accomplishments toward insuring the civil rights of all Americans.  In that period he began doing project work with the departments of the University of Michigan, including the Center for Research on Conflict Resolution, 1967-68.  Throughout his career he received many federal government and foundation grants, the latter including the Ford Foundation (1972-73) and the Carnegie Corporation (ongoing after 1973).

Today Ronald R. Edmonds is virtually unknown outside of the fields of school effectiveness and school reform, theory and practice.  “Virtually,” since he barely registers on a Google search.  But three and four decades after his period of active contributions his work on school effectiveness is having a major impact on U.S. educational improvement efforts, from the early 2000s’ No Child Left Behind Act to the Obama administration’s Department of Education priorities under Secretary Arne Duncan, previously the successful reform head of the Chicago Public Schools.  In Chicago Duncan in the earlier 2000s led a data-driven, de-centralized, leaders-empowered quest for significant improvement in education for all learners.  Though Edmonds was a person of color, his Effective Schools ideas and practical suggestions for implementing them have been mainstreamed throughout a broadly based constituency of educators and policy makers.  Even while challenges continue to arise to his basic premise of Effective Schools, as they continue to do so for John Dewey’s ideas as well, Edmonds’ thinking has captured a significant following.  Thus, he ranks among the great educational innovators and philosophers of this country’s rise from a small coastal, elite-led and agrarian society to the world’s leading democracy, fully open to all its citizens.  

One of Edmonds’ research publications is available in full text from ERIC:
Search for Effective Schools: The Identification and Analysis of City Schools That Are Instructionally Effective for Poor Children, 1977. (full-text pdf)

His ideas from this research also are highlighted in his landmark article, “Effective Schools for the Urban Poor.” Educational Leadership 37 (October 1979), 15-24. (full-text pdf)

See also the Selected Sources page on this website. 

Arthur H. Miller

November 26, 2010