The Question of the Student In Educational Reform


  • David P. Ericson University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • Frederick S. Ellett University of Western Ontario



Educational Change, Educational Objectives, Elementary Secondary Education, Interaction, Student Responsibilty, Student Role


In pursuing the goals of educational reform over the past several decades, educational policy makers have focused on teachers, administrators, and school structures as keys to higher educational achievement. As the would-be beneficiaries of reform, students, and their interaction with the educational system, have been almost entirely overlooked in the pursuit of educational excellence. Yet, as we argue, students are as causally central as educators in bringing about higher educational achievement. In what follows, we examine rational student interaction with the educational system and show why a large number of students have incentives to undercut the intent of the reforms. These are incentives created by our development of an educationally-based, meritocratic social and economic system. No one, apparently, is asking what exactly is in the reforms from the point of view of quite rational, if sometimes irresponsible, student self-interest. Indeed, the eduationally-based, meritocratic social and economic system may be actually forming student preferences guaranteed to result in educational mediocrity rather than excellence. Finally, we comment upon the meaning of "educational excellence" and show why the educational reformers' understanding of the purpose of public education—to compete in the global economic system—can only fail to capture it. In doing so, we point to the kinds of educational structures and policies that create multiple pathways to competent adulthood that do have a chance of bringing about the reformers' stated goal of excellence in the educational system. But these are structures and policies that challenge the entire conceptual framework of the current educational reform movement.


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Author Biography

David P. Ericson, University of Hawaii at Manoa

David P. Ericson is a Professor in and Chair of the Department of Educational Foundations at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Studies in Philosophy of Education and currently serves on the policy research board for the Hawai`i Educational Policy Center. Frederick S. Ellett is an Associate Professor of Philosophy of Education on the Faculty of Education at the University of Western Ontario. He teaches in the preservice teacher education program and the graduate program in philosophy of education, policy analysis, and research methods. Beyond their many independent contributions to the field of education, they began an active collaboration while they were together on the faculty of the Graduate School of Education at UCLA from 1979—1989. In education, they have collaborated on numerous articles published in, among others, Educational Theory, Teachers College Record, Paideusis, Proceedings of the Philosophy of Education Society, and Educational Researcher. Their strong interest in the logic of causal inference in assessing program and policy effects have led them to publish in such philosophy journals as Synthese, Nous, and Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, as well as the social science research methodology journal Quality and Quantity. They are currently working together on several books in both education and the philosophy of the social sciences.




How to Cite

Ericson, D. P., & Ellett, F. S. (2002). The Question of the Student In Educational Reform. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10, 31.