School & District Management

Remembering Education Research Pioneer John I. Goodlad

By Sarah D. Sparks — December 03, 2014 2 min read
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John I. Goodlad, a pioneering education researcher and reformer, died Nov. 29 in Seattle. He was 94.

Mr. Goodlad’s education career ran the gamut: He wrote or edited more than a dozen books, founded the Seattle-based Institute for Educational Inquiry, co-founded the Center for Educational Renewal, worked as a professor emeritus in the University of Washington’s College of Education, and served as president of the American Education Research Association from 1967 through 1968.

According to an obituary by Roger Soder, the current president of the Institute for Education Inquiry (first noted in the Washington Post), Goodlad was born in Canada and first taught in a one-room, eight-grade schoolhouse in British Columbia. In 1949, he earned a doctorate from the University of Chicago and went on to earn 20 honorary doctorates from colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. In addition to his position at the University of Washington, Goodlad held faculty positions at Emory University, the University of Chicago, and the University of California at Los Angeles.

“John Goodlad offered an alternative vision of what schooling should be, and inspired generations of teachers, principals, academics, politicians, and policymakers to find ways to make good on that vision,” said David Imig, who was for three decades the head of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education in Washington and a long-time-colleague of Goodlad’s, in the obituary. Goodlad, he said. “was passionate in his beliefs about the role of schools in a free democratic society.”

Mr. Goodlad had lifelong “romances with schools” (the name of his memoir on his intellectual life as an educator) but few illusions about the work needed to improve them. HIs research included in-depth, longitudinal, and often site-based studies of teacher preparation, grading, curriculum, and school procedures.

Mr. Goodlad was perhaps best known for his 1984 book, A Place Called School, based on “A Study of Schooling in the United States,” a landmark observational study of the daily life in more than 1,000 classrooms serving more than 17,000 students. The study was among the first to document educational damage done by academic tracking, and it laid out many issues still being debated today, from the need for better teacher and principal preparation to more holistic approaches to school reform.

Work on the project convinced Mr. Goodlad that education reformers cannot simply take a successful education innovation and “install” it in a new school, he told Education Week shortly after A Place Called School was published:

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."

Similarly, many of the issues he raised in his 1990 Teachers for Our Nation’s Schools— such as the need for teacher colleges to be as academically rigorous as other departments on university campuses—still echo in the debate over educator preparation today.

Goodlad is survived by a daughter, Paula; a son, Stephen; and five grandsons.

AERA plans to hold a symposium in Mr. Goodlad’s honor at its upcoming 2015 annual meeting in Chicago, which was the same city that played host to the meeting during his tenure.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.