School & District Management

1970s-1980s

December 15, 1999 7 min read

Elizabeth Balsley | Robert Coles | Marva Collins | W. Edwards Deming | Ron Edmonds | Jaime Escalante | Joseph Featherstone | W. Arthur Garrity Jr. | E.D. Hirsch Jr. | Madeline Hunter | Howard Jarvis | Eugene M. Lang | Kinney Kinmon Lau | Deborah Meier | Debra P. | Phyllis Schlafly | John Serrano Sr. | Theodore R. Sizer | Harrison A. Williams Jr. | William Winter

Doing Things Her Way:
Marva Collins

From the start, Marva Collins made no secret of her dismay with what she considered the poor quality and attitudes of Chicago’s teachers. Determined to go her own way in educating the poor, inner-city children she believed were being ignored by a callous system, she quit her job as a teacher in the city’s public schools to open her own private school in 1975.

In it, Collins preached self-respect, success, and self-reliance. She insisted that her students read, read, read. She advocated the use of phonics and salvaged some of her first textbooks from a garbage dump at a Chicago public school.

The Westside Preparatory School, housed in the basement of a community college, soon became one of the best-known schools in the country. Visiting reporters watched as children who had been labeled failures by the public schools recited passages of Shakespeare and wrote letters to heroes of Greek mythology.

Her determination-and the success of her students-earned her a spot on the newsmagazine show “60 Minutes.” In 1980, Collins’ message of academic rigor and self- reliance caught the attention of President-elect Ronald Reagan’s transition team. But Collins turned down an offer to become U.S. secretary of education. Instead, she has gone on to train teachers nationwide in her methods, lend her name to both public and private schools, and write four books.

Despite the acclaim, Chicago teachers remained critical of her success, questioning her results in bitter attacks that prompted Collins to defend herself on the Phil Donahue television show in 1982.

Collins was born in Monroeville, Ala., in 1936. Though she came from a prominent family, she was denied access to the local public library because she was black. She graduated from the all-black Escambia County Training School in Atmore, Ala., and from Clark College in Atlanta.

In Chicago, where she began her teaching career in 1961, Collins became known as a maverick and troublemaker. Determined to do it, as she titled her autobiography, Marva Collins’ Way, she came to embody a firm but friendly style of teaching that has proven effective with disadvantaged students.

“In each classroom, we have a mirror,” she says, “and the little ones, each time they walk by, have to hug themselves and say, ‘I am wonderful. I am marvelous.’ ”

—Ann Bradley


Phyllis Schlafly
Since launching her national organization, now the Eagle Forum, in 1972, she has been the most prominent social-conservative activist in education. Schlafly’s syndicated column, Internet site, and radio show take aim at federal school-to-work programs and the Channel One classroom news show, among other targets.


Joseph Featherstone
His 1967 series of articles in The New Republic introduced Americans to the flexibly run classrooms of Britain’s “infant schools.” By the early 1970s, what others had dubbed “open education” was the hottest trend in U.S. schools.


Ron Edmonds
Harvard professor who inspired the “effective-schools movement,” which challenged the notion that schools couldn’t make much difference in the lives of poor and minority students. Edmonds and other researchers set out in the early ‘70s to identify the characteristics of schools that succeeded-notably, a well-defined mission, strong leadership, and teachers with high expectations.


W. Edwards Deming
A 1980 NBC documentary called “If Japan Can Win, Why Can’t We?” introduced Americans to the man credited with bringing about the economic miracle in Japanese industry following World War II. By the early 1990s, Deming’s Total Quality Management techniques had been widely adopted in U.S. schools.


Debra P.
One of 10 black students who sued the state of Florida after failing its minimum-competency test required for high school graduation. A federal appellate ruling in 1981 found the test valid, but prohibited its use as a graduation requirement until the state could prove the material on it had been taught in the schools. That principle-teach first, test later- has become a cornerstone of education policy.


Kinney Kinmon Lau
Hong Kong-born elementary student who, as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit on behalf of 1,800 Chinese-speaking students in San Francisco, won a Supreme Court mandate in 1974 that the district do more to remedy language deficiencies. The court pointedly declined to specify a teaching method, and debate persists over whether bilingual education or other approaches work best.


E.D. Hirsch Jr.
Forceful proponent of “cultural literacy"-a shared background of names, terms, places, sayings, book titles, key dates, and the like-as essential to becoming an educated citizen. His “Core Knowledge” curriculum is now used in some 800 schools.


John Serrano Sr.
Los Angeles County father who launched a 1968 lawsuit on behalf of his son, John Jr., that helped revolutionize school finance nationwide. The California Supreme Court ruled in 1971 that the state’s funding system, which depended heavily on property taxes, discriminated against the poor by making “the quality of a child’s education a function of the wealth of his parents and neighbors.” The case prompted a wave of school finance lawsuits across the country.


Jaime Escalante
His success teaching calculus to Latino students in a Los Angeles high school challenged the perception that poor and minority students could not handle advanced subjects. In 1982, 18 of Escalante’s students at Garfield High School passed the Advanced Placement calculus test, and by 1987 Garfield had more calculus test-takers than all but four other U.S. high schools.


Theodore R. Sizer
Horace’s Compromise, Horace’s School, and Horace’s Hope laid out in simple, eloquent terms the immense problems facing U.S. teachers and schools, and Sizer’s proposals for a solution. The Coalition of Essential Schools, which he founded in 1984, seeks to put those ideas into action.


Deborah Meier
In education, Meier believes, big is bad. In the 1970s, she founded Central Park East Secondary School in New York City as an alternative to the large, institutional schools in which so many poor and minority children disappear. By providing an intimate environment and talented, supportive teachers, the school proved that such students could succeed.


Howard Jarvis
Retired businessman who launched a populist tax revolt in California. Proposition 13, approved in 1978, cut property taxes statewide and limited future increases. Critics say the measure, which inspired similar tax limits elsewhere, pushed the state’s highly regarded school system into an academic free fall.


W. Arthur Garrity Jr.
Federal judge whose June 1974 busing order tore the Boston schools apart that fall. Images of the clashes between black and white protesters and police made a lasting imprint not only on Boston but on the whole country.


Elizabeth Balsley
A combatant in the running battles over equity in school sports. As a 15-year-old in 1985, she won a place on the all-male football team in North Hunterdon, N.J., after a state judge found she had been unfairly barred because of her sex.


Robert Coles
Children’s own voices are the heart of psychiatrist-educator Coles’ books. Volumes from his Children of Crisis series won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973. His books on the political, moral, and spiritual lives of children are reminders that learning is not just about academics.


Eugene M. Lang
In 1981, the New York City entrepreneur made a promise to the 6th graders at his alma mater in Harlem: If they finished high school, he would pay their college tuition. Lang’s pledge evolved into an enduring relationship with “his” class and support for similar efforts nationwide through his “I Have a Dream” Foundation.


William Winter
In a 16-day special session of the Mississippi legislature in 1982, the Democratic governor won passage of a $106 million education package designed to lift the state out of the basement in scores on national tests. The legislation, which included mandatory kindergarten, penalties to enforce compulsory school attendance, and an across-the-board raise for teachers, helped set a model for a decade of activism by “education governors.”


Harrison A. Williams Jr.
U.S. senator from New Jersey who was a prime architect of the 1975 law—now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—that is considered the educational “bill of rights” for children with handicaps. With its mandates for individualized education plans, “mainstreaming” wherever possible, and new spending on services, no federal law has had a greater impact on schools.


Madeline Hunter
Teaching-methods guru who in 1982 coined the phrase “mastery teaching.” Hunter focused on what it was teachers did to bring about increased student learning. Then she boiled those findings down into seven essential “elements of effective instruction,” such as stating the objectives for each lesson and not making tasks too easy or too hard. Hunter was often appalled at the simplification of her work, which critics said forced teachers into overly prescriptive methods.

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A version of this article appeared in the December 15, 1999 edition of Education Week as 1970s-1980s

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