ERIC Number: ED284349
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1987-Apr
Reference Count: 0
Prescription, Ceremony, or "Trickle Down": How Do National Commissions Try to Reform Education?
Wimpelberg, Robert K.; Ginsberg, Rick
Educational reform commissions and their reports can be traced back to the massive expansion of public schools during the 1890s. The reports of reform commissions over the years follow the same format: problems are identified, experts are selected to examine them, and improvement proposals are recommended. This report examines 14 national studies over nine decades from the 1890s to the 1980s. Four factors are common to the reform-by-commission process: (1) longevity, (2) generality of recommendations, (3) weak implementation strategies, and (4) limited direct impact of findings and recommendations on school system and classroom behavior. This paper explores these factors and attempts to understand the reform commission phenomenon. The persistence of national commissions cannot be explained in terms of diagnostic and prescriptive effectiveness based on a rational, scientific method. An alternative view stressing the symbolic character of organizational behavior and commission activity as a tribal ceremony is equally difficult to substantiate. A third alternative (bringing together both rational/prescriptive and symbolic/ceremonial elements) is "trickle down" reform, analogous to supply side economics. This approach sanctifies the control and authority of local actors (educators, parents, and the public) and directs them to certain elements in curriculum, instruction, or organization needing improvement. In this view, the commission reform process becomes an act of faith predicated upon pronouncements made with enough strength and drama to survive in spirit, if not letter, the filtering outcomes of trickle down. Commissions do not change schools; local educators and parents are the true reformers. Forty-eight references conclude the document. (MLH)
Publication Type: Speeches/Meeting Papers; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Audience: Practitioners; Researchers
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers: Nation at Risk (A); National Commission on Excellence in Education; National Commission Reports; Supply Side Economics
Note: Revised draft of a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (Washington, DC, April 20-24, 1987).