'There Are No One-Two-Three Solutions' for Schools' Problems

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In the early 1960's, John I. Goodlad went to the University of California at Los Angeles to direct the university's laboratory school. Working closely with the teachers at the school, he established a program that incorporated many of the principles that he viewed as central to good education. The changes he put into effect were based on his own research, as well as on that of other scholars in education and psychology.

"So I went out and began to introduce basic innovations in the school," Mr. Goodlad says. "We had individualized instruction, we team-taught, we eliminated grade levels, and all that."

The many visitors to the school were impressed with its program. What, they asked, could they do to make their schools like that?

What they were hoping for, the former dean of ucla's graduate school of education suggested in a recent interview, was a neatly packaged program that they could take home and assemble like a prefabricated house. "What those people wanted to do was to take what we were doing and to install it in their own schools," he says. "They wanted to install innovation."

The anecdote's message is, to Mr. Goodlad, as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. In a year that has seen more than its share of reports and task forces on educational reform, he argues, there is a clear danger that the necessary fundamental changes--which are outlined in his recent book, A Place Called School--will be eclipsed by a desire for quick fixes. The process and problems of schooling, he believes, are far too complex to be amenable to simple, let alone simplistic, solutions.

"That's not what I'm talking about," Mr. Goodlad says of "installed" change. "What I'm talking about is developing the capability of people who run schools to think about the problems in their schools and to look for remedies. You're not talking about installing change, you're talking about developing the capability of change."

Mr. Goodlad is in a good position to know about the need for change. For the past eight or so years, as the director of the ucla-based research project ("A Study of Schooling"), he has spent most of his waking hours sorting out the threads that, when woven together, make up the fabric of schooling. Many of the study's findings are presented in A Place Called School.

The research project is the most recent part of a career that began when Mr. Goodlad was hired to teach in a one-room school and proceeded through teaching and administrative positions at all levels of education. Mr. Goodlad is now a professor of education at ucla, having resigned in June as dean.

Like other studies of education, A Place Called School presents a picture of an education system that is far from satisfactory, given the high expectations and goals that Americans have for their public schools.

Basing his description on data collected in 1,016 classrooms and from 1,350 teachers, 8,624 parents, and 17,163 students, Mr. Goodlad finds evidence that practices such as tracking and ability grouping deny many students access to knowledge. He presents evidence that common methods of teaching militate against "the central requirement of teaching": to present "humankind's knowledge and intellectual tools in such fashion as to make them accessible to all."

The expectations of those who use schools are consistent, Mr. Goodlad found. They want students to graduate with a sound base of knowledge and intellectual skills, and they want them to be ready to join the workforce. They also want them to have the understanding of their society that will enable them to be successful citizens, and they want them to have a sense of personal responsibility, of their own talents and capacities to express them.

But absent is any clear statement on the distance between the goals and the status quo. "Whatever the reasons," he writes, "the unfortunate consequence is a lack of a long-term agenda generated at the state level to guide educational effort at the district level. This lack, in turn, is conducive to galvanic and frequently insensitive responses to perceived but usually not carefully diagnosed problems."

Unlike many of the other people who prescribe remedies for the schools' problems, however, Mr. Goodlad does not suggest the immediate imposition of higher standards, computers, and merit pay for teachers. Rather, he suggests, the first step should be to analyze the problems and dynamics of individual schools and then to apply suitable remedies.

This slower and more difficult route to improvement, Mr. Goodlad acknowledges, continues to puzzle and frustrate those who would prefer to see change packaged in the form of three-point plans that can be uniformly applied to all schools.

"Several years ago," he says, "I gave a talk in Beverly Hills to a very sophisticated, bright audience. It was on the dynamics of educational change and the change processes. After it was all finished, the first question was, 'All right, can you tell us what it is you're supposed to do to bring about change?' And I'd just finished. This woman didn't even begin to grasp the notion of what it's like for people to empower others to make their own decisions, how that requires trust, and that people will do dumb things. What she was looking for was: Tell me, one-two-three, how to do it. And there are no one-two-threes."

"I'm not alone in this," Mr. Goodlad says of his desire to proceed thoughtfully and provide students with a balanced curriculum. "But the voices are stilled, almost. They're quieting against this whole simplistic movement--more discipline, more homework, longer school days, all of these simple solutions--and posed as though schools were all alike."

In the 361 pages of A Place Called School, Mr. Goodlad offers ample evidence that indeed, schools are not all alike. But although the data reveal significant differences among the schools, they also reveal underlying similarities. Schools are alike in that they uniformly stick to a limited repertoire of teaching methods, the study found, and they are alike in their reluctance to acknowledge that students learn in different ways.

The differences are less tangible. "Schools are more different, it seems, in the somewhat elusive qualities making up their ambience," Mr. Goodlad writes, "the way students and teachers relate to one another, the school's orientation to academic concerns ... the way principals and teachers regard one another, the degree of autonomy possessed by principals and teachers in conducting their work, the nature of the relationship between the school and its parent clientele, and so on."

The changes that Mr. Goodlad proposes cover both the "elusive qualities," such as satisfaction with schooling, and the organizational factors that he views as vital in providing good schooling. But the two are inseparable in many ways, and those who seek to reform schools, Mr. Goodlad argues, must pay close attention to the interplay.

"Our data show very clearly the difference in our schools and differences in classrooms have more to do with human relationships than anything else," Mr. Goodlad says. "Students reject teachers who have favorites. They reject teachers who use sarcasm. They like teachers who help them when they're in trouble; they like teachers who are enthusiastic; they like teachers who seem to like their work. These are the things that differentiate among our schools. The methods of teaching don't; the curriculum doesn't."

"You can bring the love of learning into the classroom enthusiastically and still have a good solid math program and a good solid English program, with a lot of varied approaches, but really being concerned about whether kids are learning to read and write and spell," he says.

Mr. Goodlad's recommendations, based on the study's data and on his own experience, provide mechanisms to change situations that he identifies as problematic. For example, he urges that tracking, ability grouping, and much of the traditional grade system be abandoned in favor of a more flexible approach based on students' mastery of material. He proposes dividing large schools into smaller units, organized vertically so that each unit would have the equivalent of several grades of students.

He also suggests that teachers work on 12-month contracts to provide them with the time they need to create good curricula and to participate in the planning that will determine the school's effectiveness. And he calls for the establishment of a core cur-riculum that has its roots in the 1945 Report of the Harvard Committee, General Education in a Free Society, to provide students with a balance of subjects.

What sets Mr. Goodlad's work apart from that of many other researchers is his focus on individual schools and the people who run them. "Significant educational improvement of schooling, not mere tinkering, requires that we focus on entire schools, not just teachers or principals or curricula or organization or school-community relations but all these and more," Mr. Goodlad writes in A Place Called School. "We might begin with one or several of these, but it is essential to realize that all are interconnected and that changing any one element ultimately affects the others.

"Consequently," he continues, "it is advisable to focus on one place where all the elements come together. This is the individual school. If we are to improve it, we must understand it. If we are to improve schooling, we must improve individual schools."

"What I am saying," he explains, "is instead of trying to legislate and impose change from the federal level or the state level, then give money to the schools to effect change, and then condemn the schools because they don't change, we ought to be saying, 'What can we do to develop the capability of the principal and the teachers to run the enterprise?"'

Central to the development of that capacity, Mr. Goodlad argues, is the creation of a more cooperative approach to schooling. "Decentralizing authority of the local school, encouraging teachers, giving teachers a broader array of decision making, linking schools together to help one another, trying to provide clusters of schools with resource people to try to encourage teachers, or at least hold their hands when they're in trouble," would, Mr. Goodlad says, be key factors in change.

"Teaching is a very lonely, isolating kind of job, and being an administrator is even more so," he says. "So that's real reform, which will be done by educators after all the hoopla dies down. Or we may not. We may just muddle around with a whole lot of conflicting recommendations and not derive a sense of direction."

Mr. Goodlad, a self-described optimist, says he sees pessimism as incompatible with a career in education. That optimism not withstanding, he acknowledges the distinct possibility that "muddling around" will continue until the current impulse for reform has passed.

"I have to believe that we've got what a lot of people are calling a window of opportunity to take a quantum leap forward in American education before the counter-reform which will turn us back sets in," he notes. "Our problem is we rarely consolidate the gains during reform periods, so we start right back at scratch again."

Mr. Goodlad speaks from experience. In the 1950's and 1960's, he proposed many of the measures that have now become recommendations in his recent study. Then, as now, he based them on both research data and his own perception of what made for successful schooling.

"I guess the reason there will be similarities in my recommendations now and 20 years ago--and even before that--is because compared to my definition of education, which is not unlike some other definitions of education, I have to say that we've hardly tried it in the schools. The passage of 20 years doesn't necessarily bring us any nearer to closing the gap between what schooling is and what education is."

Education, in Mr. Goodlad's judgment, extends far beyond the focus on students' successful attainment of "minimum-competency skills" that now prevails in many schools.

"The philosophical backdrop," he says, "is that you want youngsters to inquire, you want them to be curious, you want them to engage in problem solving. You want them to develop an attitude, 'It is not necessarily so but it could be that, it could be something else,' rather than [becoming] human beings approaching situations with pat answers."

"In a way, I guess John Dewey said some of it a long time ago when he said education is not just to develop responsibility as a mother or a father or a worker or a citizen. It is to go on growing and developing as a human being."

The practices that now dominate education, Mr. Goodlad argues, are poorly suited to developing these qualities in students. "If learning is acquiring prepackaged goods and regurgitating them on tests, you are going to think that there's nothing to be discovered, nothing to be learned out there. That's what I'm contrasting--I'm looking at schools and I'm asking, 'To what degree do schools live up to [Dewey's] definition?' And I'm having to say they don't do very well."

Mechanics of Learning

Ironically, Mr. Goodlad notes, the schools do a very good job of involving children in the mechanics of learning. "That's what the schools do all the time. And that's what we're saying we want more of. That's what we've got too much of. And it's always been this way. So when people say, 'We've got to get back to basics,' ... we've never got past them."

The data outlined in A Place Called School support that claim. In their extensive documentation of what transpired in more than 1,000 classrooms, Mr. Goodlad and his colleagues describe "the extraordinary sameness of instructional practices."

Most of the time, the data show, "the teacher is engaged in either frontal teaching, monitoring students' seat-work, or conducting quizzes." Students "generally engage in a rather narrow range of classroom activities--listening to teachers, writing answers to questions, and taking tests and quizzes." The pattern becomes more rigid as one moves through the elementary grades. In the early years, the researchers found, teachers are more likely to vary their methods of teaching, and students to spend more time taking part in active learning.

Although advocating a shift away from the current interpretation of ''basics" that prevails in many curricula, Mr. Goodlad does not suggest that schools swing to the opposite extreme. Rather, he urges a balanced curriculum that includes all of the five areas of knowledge described in the 1945 Harvard committee report--English, science and mathematics, social studies, vocational education, and the arts.

The back-to-basics movement itself, he says, represents part of a dualism that extends beyond education. "William James said it a long time ago when he talked about the soft and tender and the hard and tough," Mr. Goodlad says, referring to James' 1906 lecture, "The Present Dilemma in Philosophy."

"Those two are not in competition with one another in the sense that they are separated ideologies," he says. "They are embedded in a single culture, side by side. And so we are always pushing at ourselves from within this culture with these two separate sets of ideas.

"On one hand is that humanistic, soft and tender, love-'em-into-learning school. And on the other hand," he continues, "school ought to be tough, there ought to be discipline. President Reagan says it better than anybody. These are the two sides to the American character, and whenever we get too sentimental and too soft and tender, then the hard and tough side of us rears up and says, 'Hey, down, we've got to level things off,' and then it's the other way around."

'Soft and Tender Education'

At present, Mr. Goodlad argues, educators and policymakers see the past 15 years as an era in which "soft and tender education" prevailed. "That is not the case, but we think that's the case. So right now we are entering essentially the hard and tough: more discipline, more homework, longer school day, longer school year."

Those who take a closer look at this era, however, will see that "there has been little humanistic 'soft and tender' in the schools," Mr. Goodlad says. What this means, he says, is that we are at the end, not the beginning of a cycle.

"The cycles are never discrete and separate in time. They're dominant, but there's always a duality," he says.

The recent emphasis on "problem-solving" and "thinking skills," then, represents the counter-cycle, which Mr. Goodlad predicts will take schooling beyond basics--"but not much."

"We are now engaged in ceremonial raindances to celebrate a past era," he says. "Most of the recommendations are coffin nails on the coffin of the past. These recommendations will not begin the new era."

"What's going to happen now," he continues, "is a whole lot of grumbling about more discipline, more homework, harder courses, and the like. And it will become so excessive that we will become concerned about the neglect of the soft and tender. The people on the soft and tender side haven't disappeared off the face of the earth. They're just mute at the moment. They're offstage, waiting for their act, and within three or four years, there will be a strong tender-humanistic move in this country."

Ideally, Mr. Goodlad argues, the tough and the tender sides of education work together like muscles, which produce movement by stretching and contracting in opposing directions.

"If we can make those muscles work together, so that we don't get ourselves into the business of good guys and bad guys, if we can only keep from these 'either-ors,' if we can blend these two things," then, Mr. Goodlad says, the schools will be more successful at "education.''

The failure to realign the schools to make them more responsive to the needs of all students carries with it high stakes, Mr. Goodlad argues. Already, he says, public education is "nearing collapse."

"What I really mean about collapse is not necessarily that we aren't going to have a public education system, or that the schools, individually, are going to collapse," he says, "but that the public educational system may collapse in its function of educating all the children of all the people."

"At one time in our society, the public school was intended to be the common school for all the children. By collapse, I mean it may be left with an educational job of just some of the children of some of the people. Those are going to be the poor, and that means the minorities. That's what I'm referring to and that's what I'm worried about."

"The idea that fundamental improvement of the schools won't even begin to show results for about three to five years bothers people," he says. "But it's taken us a long time to get in this mess and it will take us a long time to get out of it. I guess the irony is that you have to explain all over again to every generation."

Vol. 03, Issue 12

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