Sizer Announces School Coalition To Try Reforms

By Charlie Euchner — February 22, 1984 3 min read

Washington--Theodore R. Sizer, whose report on American high schools was released here last week, has announced the creation of a coalition of schools that will attempt to implement the reforms outlined in his study.

Mr. Sizer, former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and headmaster of Phillips Academy at Andover, Mass., said he would recruit five to 12 public and private schools to become part of the “coalition of essential schools,” which will be headquartered at Brown University. The coalition will operate for 10 years starting this fall.

The proposals included in Horace’s Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School would fundamentally alter the way public and private schools operate, Mr. Sizer said. Teachers would have responsibility for fewer students than most do now, the curriculum would be simplified, students would be required to demonstrate knowledge in “exhibitions” as well as in paper-and-pencil tests, and the age-grouping of students would end.

Mr. Sizer, named chairman of the education department at Brown last week, sharply criticized the “top-down” initiatives, such as increased graduation requirements, that have been proposed in many states. “We cannot simply tinker with the present system, adding courses or increasing requirements,” Mr. Sizer said. Any successful reform effort, he added, must give greater authority and incentives to principals and teachers.

Research Project

Mr. Sizer’s book is the first of three reports to be issued from “A Study of High Schools,” the research project Mr. Sizer has headed for the last five years. (See Education Week, Nov. 16, 1983.) The study was sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the National Association of Independent Schools, with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Commonwealth Fund, the Charles E. Culpeper Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Esther A. and Joseph Klingenstein Fund, and the Edward John Noble Foundation.

The two education associations will also take part in the coalition, Mr. Sizer said at a news conference here.

Central to Mr. Sizer’s plan are the use of Socratic teaching and the requirement that students demonstrate proficiency in their studies by “showing off [their knowledge] in exhibitions.” He said no students should advance to high school or receive diplomas until they demonstrate mastery in basic subjects.

“As soon as you build in the imperative that students show off, you have a great ripple effect,” Mr. Sizer said.

The scale of the new coalition’s work “is deliberately limited” to between five and 12 schools, Mr. Sizer said. He said he would be “hard pressed to do more schools in an intensive way” because the projects will require “getting to know the community” and occasionally revising reform plans.

Mr. Sizer said some school officials have expressed interest in developing regional networks that could link informally with the coalition. He said he would support such an arrangement.

An advisory committee of the coalition, Mr. Sizer said, will select school districts and communities that support such changes--"soul brothers and soul sisters"--to participate in the coalition. The coalition’s schools will spend 10 percent more than they do now, which they will raise themselves, to run their programs, he said. Mr. Sizer said a 10-percent budget increase would enable schools to handle “up-front” planning costs. Mr. Sizer explained that he expects the coalition to include primarily schools from inner-city areas because “those communities seem to be prepared to take greater risks.”

‘Political Struggle’

Many educators agree with the principles outlined in Horace’s Compromise, Mr. Sizer said, but changing the structures of most public and private schools would require “a good deal of political struggle.”

Many of the changes--such as asking teachers to perform different tasks and abandoning the practice of spending a set amount of classroom time on certain subjects--would require that participating schools be exempted from some state regulations.

Educators interested in implementing the reforms of the study will have two major advantages in dealing with state education bureaucracies, Mr. Sizer said--the growing support for requiring students to demonstrate academic competency and “a growing fear of Armageddon.”

The anxiety that many students today feel about the possibility of nuclear war, Mr. Sizer said, has profoundly affected their attitudes about education. More than any generation, he said, today’s students “understand that the world’s a tough place” and will seek a sophisticated education.

A version of this article appeared in the February 22, 1984 edition of Education Week as Sizer Announces School Coalition To Try Reforms