The Developmental Years:
First Wave Reform

THE FIRST MAJOR milestone in the current generation of education reform appeared in 1983 with the publication of the report A Nation at Risk. The report outlined the poor state of affairs within the K-12 environment, from low basic comprehension rates to high dropout rates. A Nation at Risk became the call to arms for administrators and policy makers and ushered in what became known as the first wave of education reform.

One of the greatest changes initiated by first wave reform was that of standardization. Though the majority of states already required periodic standardized testing of students, the results of those tests did not always lead to direct assistance to the children who were scoring poorly. By the mid-1980s, though, 45 states had expanded their testing, including more strenuous graduation requirements, more regular testing and greater standardized test preparation.

Additionally, numerous states began to legislate merit pay programs for educators. By 1986, 46 states offered merit pay plans, an increase from 28 states in 1983. Teachers were evaluated on their educating ability and knowledge of their subjects in order to determine periodic raises and bonuses.

But despite the vast developments of first wave reform, research now suggests that this focus on standardization did little to affect student learning and comprehension (Fuhrman et al, 1988; Fuhrman and Elmore, 1990; Clune, 1989, Schwille et al, 1988, McCarthy, 1990). The studies suggested that changes in professionalism and administration did not always trickle down to effective education strategy implementation. Teaching guidelines became more complex and less coherent. Reform, therefore, had to tackle the bureaucracy of the administrative structure, as well as curricular planning, asssessment and teacher empowerment.

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