Citizens for Effective Schools

About Us

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

CES culminates advocacy efforts over more than 45 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 (assisted by talented law students), wrote 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 urban schools failing to educate their students in basic skills had a legal duty to adopt such teacher practices. But he was advised that anecdotal evidence would be insufficient; instead, what would be needed would be social science evidence of common characteristics of urban schools successfully educating large concentrations of poor and minority students. Thus, in 1973, he began collaborating with the late Ron
Edmonds to develop social science research to identify urban schools that were effective in teaching large concentrations of disadvantaged students and any characteristics such schools had in common. 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 “inputs” 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 environments with generally accepted disciplinary standards; and regular standardized testing to measure student achievement, with instruction adjusted accordingly. Edmonds 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 and policy arguments. Tragically, Edmonds died young, before he was able to write his portion.

From 1979-1984, Ratner worked to write such a 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). It argued 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. The article pioneered the idea that urban public schools can, and should, be held legally accountable for doing what works to create effective schools.

“A New Legal Duty for Urban Public Schools” was featured in The New York Times’ “Week in Review,” Education Week, numerous other newspapers, columns and radio programs nationally, and was presented to national education advocacy and civil rights legal organizations' conferences and the Harvard Law School faculty.

With support from knowledgeable educators, school reformers and educational research, in 1998 Ratner founded CES to advocate for changing education law and policy so public schools would provide the key teaching and learning conditions that were needed to effectively educate students from all backgrounds. CES initially framed these as: effective teaching, challenging curriculum and family support for high student achievement.

In January 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) had incorporated the basic test-driven, totally inadequate concepts of the States' “standards, assessments and accountability” movement into federal law.

NCLB’s “school reform” strategy was, most relevantly, to mandate the States to continually increase the percentage of Title l-funded public school students who were “academically proficient” on State standardized tests or have such schools subjected to escalating sanctions. Sanctions included staff replacement, conversion to charter schools and state takeovers. Thus, NCLB’s strategy essentially converted the State’s focus from holding students accountable to holding schools accountable.
In 2001, even before NCLB was enacted, CES publicly critiqued it as misconceiving why public schools widely failed to effectively educate large percentages of disadvantaged students and explained what needed to be done differently. “Bush’s education ‘blueprint’ bound to be inadequate,” The Standard Times, New Bedford, MA (9/6/01).
In 2003, CES initiated a conference at Princeton University with Princeton alumni on how NCLB needed to be changed. The conference resulted in an “Open Letter to President Bush and Congress: To Accomplish ‘No Child Left Behind” Act Goal of Academic Competence for All Students, We Need to Move Beyond ‘Accountability’ (10/15/03), signed by distinguished educators and citizens nationwide, and a full-page ad in Roll Call.
In 2004, CES joined an alliance of national education, civil rights, and other organizations committed to advocating for overhauling NCLB. This alliance evolved into the Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA).  From 2004 until NCLB was replaced in 2015, CES was a leader of FEA’s analysis, writing and advocacy on school improvement and accountability issues.

In 2013, the Executive Director’s Huffington Post blog urged Republicans and Democrats to overcome their six-year impasse in replacing NCLB by adopting a principled middle way. “Principled, Sound Middle Way to Education Reauthorization.” (11/4/13)
In 2014-2015, key Congressional education staffers — Republicans and Democrats — invited the Executive Director, on behalf of FEA, to submit legislative language replacing NCLB’s on accountability and school improvement.  He did so, consulting, in part, with Monty Neill.

When the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) replaced NCLB in December 2015, several important ESSA provisions were ones for which CES had been a principal advocate on behalf of FEA and/or itself.  These included: removal of NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress and escalating sanctions mandates and Race to the Top; requiring needs assessments and stakeholder collaborative comprehensive plans for lowest-achieving schools; and expanding accountability beyond test scores to include “school quality” indicators.

While ESSA still vastly overemphasizes standardized testing and test-based accountability, it abolished the worst of NCLB and gives States potentially invaluable discretion and guidance to do what works.

Since 2016, CES has focused on what States and localities should do to effectively implement ESSA. “Open Letter to States and Localities: How to Implement ‘Every Student Succeeds’ to Significantly Improve Low-achieving Schools?,” Huffington Post (2/1/16).

We’re especially seeking to change the culture of the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) — essentially from top-down, test score and graduation rate-driven to stakeholder collaborative, teaching-and-learning-centered, supportive and decentralized. This work included testifying on the nomination of new 2017 DCPS Chancellor (Testimony on the Nomination of Antwan Wilson for Chancellor, D.C. Public Schools before D.C. Council Committee on Education — 12/8/16) and, thereafter, strongly endorsing the kinds of changes he was seeking to make. “D.C. Pioneers New Direction for American School Reform,” Huffington Post (10/3/17)

Our D.C. work also includes organizing an open letter, signed by education advocates and organizations citywide, urging the Mayor and D.C. Council to select a 2018 replacement Chancellor who would move in these same directions. And we’re helping DCPS’s large, diverse Wilson High School to effectively use a uniquely powerful school climate survey — the School Climate Assessment Instrument, (SCAI) Cal. State Univ-L.A. See “States’ Crucial Choice Under New Federal Education Law: Selecting the Best Survey to Measure and Improve School Quality,” Huffington Post (5/25/16). Wilson High School is using SCAI to assess its needs and guide comprehensive improvement in its climate and culture, thereby improving student learning.


© 2018 Citizens for Effective Schools