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RECENT EDUCATIONAL REPORTS VS. BACK TO BASICS Mary Anne Raywid Hofstra University One can go back over the rounds of rejections and reversals comprising educational reform and view them like those long lists of "begats" in the Bible: The Committee of Ten begat the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education 25 years later. The Child-Centered Progressives begat the Society-Centered Progressives. The extreme cognitivism of the early 1960s begat the Humanism and anti-cognitivism of the later 1960s. The hubris of the 1960s begat the 'no confidence' votes of the 1970s and 1980s. And the lack of confidence blossomed into the demand for basics and minimum competencies — which in their turn begat the pursuit of excellence. It almost appears we'd rather switch than fight. In what follows, I will discuss both the substance and the politics of the most recent switches — of the strategies by which we are pursuing excellence, as well as of the nature of the excellence pursued. As others have noted, it is not simply that our educational reform fads proceed as cycles: they proceed as pendular swings in which the excesses of one era are "corrected" by equal and opposite excesses in the next. John Dewey warned us about this, of course: education is too complicated, he said, to attack with "either/or's." And the group that wants only to throw the rascals out and reverse what the current Establishment has wrought is clearly under the sway of that Establishment — it is still dictating directions. But we persist. There's nothing novel, then, about the current path being trod to educational reform. As my reversals list was intended to show, it's been going on for at least a century. What does seem to have changed, though, is the time it takes to complete a full swing of the pendulum. The fashion pace has become faster — even though the implementation pace has not always kept up, so that even before implementation occurs in some districts, the fashion has already moved on. Since what is 'in' is so largely a denial of what was 'in' — and what will be 'in' next is a reversal of what's 'in' now — delayed implementation can prove a dis- -29- -30tinct embarrassment or educational statesmanship. It can be a real predicament for an ambitious administrator. Or, on the other hand, if one can tough it out — stonewall it, or talk dedication to principle, or keep the locals in the dark for long enough — one's 'out' will be back 'in.' But this is getting much harder to do because the locals everywhere have grown restive. It's getting harder to keep them in the dark. To put it differently, education is not only back on the national agenda, as the President has told us, his Administration has placed it at the top of that agenda.* A lot of people have been pleased about that. I have heard members of the National Commission on Excellence in Education note proudly that it was a major accomplishment of the Commission's effort, quite apart from its recommendations. I'm not quite sure I agree. I wonder what the reformers of the early 20th Century, who thought education was too politicized then, would say about what we've got now. According to Secretary Bell, the Excellence Commission report has begotten task forces in 40 states 2 trying to clean up the mess in education. Whether or not the Secretary is entitled to claim all that parenthood, it certainly seems to be the case that an overwhelming number of states are working on school improvement recommendations — and that some notable similarities mark their conclusions about what will bring improvement. Somewhat ironically for an Administration whose rhetoric has consistently called for the reduction of the Federal role in education, they have enlarged it. As one official has acknowledged, "The Reagan Administration has actually broadened the conception of the 3 Federal role in education 'to include not only access and equity but standards and quality.'" So far, to a considerable extent the standards and quality have translated into basics and competencies tests. Concern about a national curriculum — as dictated by standardized tests administered nationwide...


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