Citizens for Effective Schools

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Executive Director | Board & Advisory Council | History | Supporters' Statements

CES culminates advocacy efforts over more than 35 years to remedy public schools' failure to adequately educate poor and minority students in academic skills. In 1972, Gary Ratner, a Boston legal services lawyer, developed a paper describing the extent of this failure in Boston Public Schools, its adverse impact on students and how it might be corrected. Since, at that time, there was no research on what made schools effective, the paper identified and recommended adoption of practices found by anecdotal evidence to be common to individual, successful, urban school teachers.

Ratner was interested in bringing a lawsuit to establish that schools failing to educate their students in basic skills had a legal duty to adopt such teacher practices. Because he was advised that anecdotal evidence would be insufficient, in 1973 he began collaboration with the late Ron Edmonds to identify common characteristics of effective schooling through social science research. They decided the most meaningful unit for study would be a school, rather than individual teachers or a school system as a whole.

In 1974, Ratner published an article urging education and civil rights lawyers to move beyond their focus on increasing educational "input" to increasing the most critical schooling "output": that all children master basic skills. In "Remedying Failure to Teach Basic Skills: Preliminary Thoughts," 17 Inequality in Education 15 (Harvard Center for Law and Education, June 1974), he set out a factual, legal and strategic framework for creating a new legal duty requiring all schools that failed to adequately educate large numbers of their students in basic skills to adopt what future research would find to be the characteristics of effective schools.

Ron Edmonds later identified five characteristics of effective schools serving poor and minority students: high teacher expectations for all students; teacher/principal agreement on basic skills education as the school's central goal; principals as instructional leaders; orderly, well-maintained environment with generally accepted disciplinary standards; and regular standardized testing to measure student achievement, with instruction adjusted accordingly. He became the country's leading spokesperson for the movement to have schools adopt these five characteristics, the "effective schools" movement.

In the late 1970s, Edmonds and Ratner agreed to co-author a book on effective schools, with Edmonds describing the research identifying such schools and their common characteristics and Ratner setting out the legal theories. Tragically, Edmonds died young, before he was able to write his portion.

From 1979-1984, Ratner worked to write the book by himself. It was published as "A New Legal Duty for Urban Public Schools: Effective Education in Basic Skills," vol. 63, Texas Law Review (Feb. 1985), arguing that urban public schools failing to effectively educate their students in basic skills had a legal duty to adopt the five characteristics of effective schools. It was featured in The New York Times "Week in Review," Education Week, numerous other newspapers, columns and radio programs nationwide and was presented to national education advocacy and civil rights legal organizations' conferences.

The "New Legal Duty" championed a number of changes in education policy that were later substantially incorporated into federal law and policy. In 1990, the President and the National Governors Association adopted as Goal 3 of the National Education Goals that: "all students will...demonstrate competency over challenging subject matter... [and] learn to use their minds well...." In 2002, the federal No Child Left Behind Act established new legal duties for states and local school districts to: educate all students to academic proficiency in reading and math, regardless of the percentage of poor and/or minority students; regularly test all students and use the results to meet the academic needs identified; disaggregate and publish students' test results in each school, showing the percentages of students who are severely below grade level; and have ineffective, low income schools prepare, with teacher and principal involvement, self-improvement plans.

Now that federal law has adopted the goal of effectively educating all students in essential academic skills and requires annual testing to assess progress, attention must be turned to greatly improving teaching and support for learning, especially for poor and minority students in urban and rural schools, so that the goal may actually be achieved. This will require instituting major changes in training, mentoring, education and recruitment of teachers and administrators and enhancing family support for student achievement nationwide.

With support from knowledgeable educators, school reformers and educational research, Ratner founded CES in 1998 to mobilize citizens to work for such changes in law and public policy. Advocacy to make these changes happen is the mission of CES.

© 2011 Citizens for Effective Schools