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Effective Schools

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In July 1966, University of Chicago sociologist James Coleman finished Equality of Educational Opportunity, which asserted that schools were generally ineffective in breaking the poverty cycle. The "Coleman Report,'' as it came to be known, gave rise to the widespread notion--a misinterpretation, according to Coleman--that schools cannot make much difference in the lives of poor children. In some measure, the Coleman Report spawned the effective schools movement, by provoking a number of research studies to determine whether this notion was true or false.

The late Ron Edmonds, Harvard professor and the father of the effective schools movement in the United States, defined the characteristics of the effective school and put them into practice in a number of poor schools in New York City. Today, thousands of schools--in 42 percent of the nation's districts, according to one recent estimate--are basing their programs and procedures on effective schools research.

The overriding principles of the effective schools movement are that all children can learn, that schools can be effective, and that schools must be held accountable for becoming effective and providing "learning for all.''

Among other things, the following characterize effective schools:

  • A safe and orderly environment.
  • High expectations for student success.
  • A principal who provides instructional leadership and communicates the mission of the school to staff, students, and parents.
  • A clear and focused mission.
  • The opportunity to learn and a large amount of student time on task.
  • Frequent monitoring of student progress.
  • Parental understanding of, and support for, the basic mission and parental participation in the school.

The high point of the effective schools movement was in the first half of the 1980s, when its ideas seemed mint fresh and the reform stage was much less cluttered. But its leaders stress that the movement's mission is alive and well and the job is by no means finished.

The movement has entered what they call "the second generation,'' in which the original principles have been broadened and adapted to accommodate the changed circumstances of the 1990s.

Lawrence Lezotte, senior vice president of Effective Schools, for example, says that the movement has expanded its efforts from individual schools to include whole districts and even states and plans to be a major voice in the school debates of the decade ahead.

He quotes Ron Edmonds, who said in the mid-1970s: "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 this. Whether we do it or not must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we have not done it so far.''

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