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Topic: Stanford University GSE: Why GSE? Why now?
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 14,475
Registered: 12/3/04
Stanford University GSE: Why GSE? Why now?
Posted: May 16, 2013 6:30 PM
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From Stanford Educator, Spring 2013, pp. 4-5. See
Why GSE? Why now?

By David Labaree

Professor of Education David Labaree spoke on Jan. 22 about the
school's adopting its new name: Stanford Graduate School of Education.

Professor of Education David Labaree gave the following remarks at
the Jan. 22 celebration of the education's school changing its name
to Stanford Graduate School of Education from Stanford University
School of Education. The party, which featured fleece vests
embroidered with the GSE logo and pens, buttons and post-its with the
new name, attracted some 450 students, faculty and staff, who posed
for an all-school photo. A story about the renaming has
been posted on the GSE website, as well as a brief about the party
and the photograph of students, faculty and staff on the steps of the
education school building. Labaree, an educational historian, is the
author of numerous prize-winning books, including The Trouble with Ed
Schools. What follows is a transcript of Labaree's talk.

You may be thinking the same thing I am: Why are we here? Ok, so
we're changing our name. But why throw a party, why hand out all the
loot with the logo? We took the name, school of education, and added
one word: graduate. What's the big deal?

As someone who has looked at the history of education schools, I
thought I'd try to answer this question, which really has two parts:
Why are we changing our name? And why are we doing it now?

On the surface at least, why we're doing it is easy. We're changing
our name to bring it in line with the kind of institution that we
really are. We're a graduate school of education. Enough said.

But maybe a little background would help. Historically American
education schools have emerged in two forms. The large majority are
located in institutions that evolved out of normal schools - which
over 100 years turned into teachers colleges, state colleges, and
eventually regional state universities. The California State
University system is a case in point. Ed schools in these
institutions tend to focus heavily on the production of teachers,
administrators, and other school personnel. The large majority of
educators in the U.S. graduate from these places. Given their focus
and the nature of the universities where they're located, they don't
have the time or resources to deal with advanced graduate programs or
do a lot of research. They usually call themselves schools or
colleges of education.

On the other hand, a small number of ed schools came into existence
through a different route. They were created around the turn of the
20th century within existing elite universities, and they have
focused primarily on doing research and offering advanced graduate
programs of study. Because of this focus, they typically engage in
the preparation of teachers and administrators at a much smaller
scale than the others.

The second is a pretty good description of the kind of institution we
are; most of our peers call themselves GSE's, so it makes sense for
us to do so. But why do so now? After all, we have been operating as
a top ranked graduate school of education for at least 50 years.

Therein lies a tale. The short version is that over the years
operating a graduate school of education has proven to be risky
business. Ed schools within former normal schools have a long and
stable history of growth and development. But research-oriented ed
schools have periodically found themselves under threat.

The problem is that the successful research-oriented ed school has to
maintain a very tricky balance. It has to excel at the production of
high quality research and at the graduation of high quality master's
and doctoral students. At the same time, it needs to be playing an
effective role as a professional school - closely connected to the
educational professions, responding to the needs that arise from
these professions, and contributing to the development of educational
policy. The kinds of things that professional schools traditionally

In practice this has not been easy to accomplish. After World War II,
research universities responded to huge surge in higher education
enrollments by shoring up their distinctive character as the academic
elite of the system. So they put pressure on schools to demonstrate
that they had the academic chops to be part of such a university. The
pressure was particularly strong on professional schools that had had
a reputation for being academically weak, such as business and
education. These schools dutifully shifted their emphasis in the
desired direction - dropping undergraduate instruction, ramping up
masters and doctoral programs, increasing research effort, and
establishing themselves as the academic peers of colleagues across

But this effort threw things out of balance. Many such schools,
including our own, became less professional schools of education than
graduate schools of educational studies. They focused on high-level
disciplinary research on education but with minimal investment in
professional training and few connections with the field of practice.
And, one after another, research-university presidents starting
asking what value these ed schools added to the institution. "You're
not really professional schools," they'd say. "Instead you're doing
disciplinary research about education. But we already have people in
the disciplines who do this work, and they're the real thing. So who
needs you?"

One after another, elite ed schools started to receive the death
sentence, or came close. In the 50s, Yale and Johns Hopkins
eliminated their ed schools; in the 70s, this happened at Duke; in
the 90s it happened at Chicago; in the 2000s it happened at Arizona
State. In between in the 80s there was a series of skirmishes that
threatened such schools across the country. Berkeley had a major
battle, which eventually led to the preservation of the school, but
it was a near thing. Michigan considered a major downsizing of it ed
school, and here at Stanford there was talk of turning the school
into a program. Like most of our peers, our own school of education
was heavy on research but light on professional identity and
involvement in practice.

Here and elsewhere, deans got the message. Deans are usually the ones
who get the message about these kinds of things, not faculty. We in
the faculty don't care much about what's going on in the environment
as long as we keep getting grants and students and continue to have
time to do our research. By the time we learn about trouble, it's
probably too late. But deans have the job of looking around the
neighborhood for signs of trouble. That's why they get paid the big
So we had a series of deans - starting with Mike Atkin, then Mike
Smith, Rich Shavelson, and Deborah Stipek - who had a clear mandate
to restore the balance. This meant shoring up the school's
professional mission and connections with practice while still
maintaining excellence at producing research and PhDs.

Considering all that was going on, this would not have been an ideal
time to announce to the world that we were a graduate school of
education, since at that point we needed more than anything else to
reassure the university and the world that we were a serious
professional school. First we had to bring the mission back in

Over the next several decades, the Stanford School of Education moved
to enhance its professional commitments. We reconstructed the
secondary teacher education program, bringing in senior faculty to
design and operate a model program that would build on research and
enrich the profession. We brought in faculty who forged close
relationships with schools, both as research sites and as places for
professional intervention and service. We increased our effort and
visibility in the world of educational policy at both the state and
national level. We set up a series of major centers focusing on
issues of policy and practice. We added an elementary teacher
education program. And we developed a close relationship with a local
charter school. Overall these efforts have been enormously
successful. This is now a school that has established a stable and
credible balance of missions.

As a pragmatic matter, these were smart moves to make for an
institution that wanted to survive on the high-wire perch of the
elite ed school. Those of us who are associated with the school -
deans, faculty, staff, students, and alumni - want it to do well for
our own personal reasons. But what possible benefit does this kind of
rebalancing effort offer for the educators and students in our public
schools, for the public officials who rely on schools to address
major public problems, and for citizens who rely on schools promote
individual opportunities? What's in it for them?

It turns out there is broad array of benefits for both schools and
society. A rebalanced graduate school of education can facilitate a
fruitful conversation across barriers that have long divided
educational research and educational practice. It can provide
empirical and theoretical grounding for the work of practitioners,
while also serving as a resource for addressing the problems that
arise from practice. It can offer lift for teachers and
administrators who find themselves dragged down in the machinery of
schooling, and it can offer ballast for university researchers who
find themselves floating high above the fray. Both sides need each
other, and a balanced GSE can be a way to bring them together.

This, then, is another answer to the question of why we're making a
big deal about a change of name: Because our newly rebalanced
mission can make a real contribution to the field.

And what about why we're making the change right now? I already gave
the pragmatic answer: Such a move would have been risky. But in
addition I think it's because at this point in history the querulous
state of school reform means there is urgent need for a voice such as
ours - which can insert the long view into a notoriously
short-sighted conversation and also can keep the discourse intimately
linked to teaching and learning in classrooms. We need an institution
that can remind people of the higher historic purposes of education,
while also lowering expectations that schools by themselves can solve
our most urgent social problems.

And that is the kind of role that our school plays today. We produce
research of the highest quality, which shapes the intellectual
contours of our field; and we prepare educational researchers of the
highest quality, who become some of the leading scholars of the next
generation. At the same time, we educate model teachers and
educational leaders, who go on to exert an impact on the world of
practice; we provide an informed and authoritative voice in the
discourse of educational policy; and we work closely with
practitioners at every level of the educational system.

Therefore now is a good time to declare ourselves formally as the
Stanford Graduate School of Education, whose academic and
professional commitments are as clearly balanced as they are clearly
Prior to Labaree's remarks, GSE Dean Claude Steele gave the opening
address. To read Steele's speech, please
visit https://ed.stanford.edu/news/jan-22-inaugural-ceremony-new-name/claudesteele.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244
E-mail: jbecker@siu.edu

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