By: Jennifer Nelson 

In his chapter entitled, What Does It Mean to Say a School Is Doing Well? Eisner asks many questions that could serve as a catalyst for idea generation and self-reflection.

The first question I would like to address is, “Are test scores the criteria that we want to use to reward professional performance?” (Eisner, 2001, p. 299). Test scores may be the one of the easiest ways to evaluate professional performance because scores are easy to measure. But that comes at a cost to the students. Educators should want their students to be prepared for life. Life is not about test scores.

Learning healthy communication skills, problem solving skills, how to function as a member of a group while still maintaining one’s own individuality, how to think critically, and how to earn and manage resources are the types of things that children need to be educated on.

If 13-years are spent neglecting these areas due to being focused on test scores, that will lead to unfortunate results for all of society. Furthermore, focusing on test scores increases the temptation to be dishonest. If educators fear losing out on opportunities – it could call their ethics into question.

Wong recalls the 2015 cheating scandal in the Atlanta Public School System, “The cheating scandal, which led to years of prison time for some of the offenders, has grown to symbolize the ills of America’s emphasis on standardized testing. Tell teachers their salaries are tied to test scores and, the thinking goes, they’ll do whatever it takes to ensure those scores are up to par—even if that means fudging the numbers” (Wong, 2016).

No one should have to work in a fear-based environment. Yet there is still a sense of personal responsibility. We all have to be responsible for our actions.

This is why foundations are so important. The children we educate in schools grow up to be adults. Who is taking the time to ask, what kind of adults does our educational system bring forth? Perhaps if more time was spent educating students on honesty, integrity, and staying true to your personal values despite fear; then problems like this could be avoided.

Eisner also asks, “What are some of the deeper problems of schooling?” (Eisner, 2001, p. 299). I would say that this question cannot be answered from the inside. It has to be answered stepping outside and evaluating the overall purpose of schooling. Real reform that leads to improvements for the betterment of all cannot be had without examining the basic foundation.

Eisner says, “The deeper problems of schooling have to do with teacher isolation and the fact that teachers don’t often have access to other people who know what they’re doing when they teach and who can help them do it better” (Eisner, 2001, p. 300).

That may very well be true. But my question is do better in regards to what? Teacher isolation is not the cause of the deeper problems, that is a result of the deeper problems. It is time to ask: is school a place where students come to be educated so that they can make positive contributions to society in the best way that they are capable of? Or does the purpose of schooling have more to do with implementing a control system over society?

The foundation that the educational system is built upon must be considered.

Factory owners required a docile, agreeable workers who would show up on time and do what their managers told them. Sitting in a classroom all day with a teacher was good training for that. Early industrialists were instrumental, then, in creating and promoting universal education. Now that we are moving into a new, post-industrial era, it is worth reflecting on how our education evolved to suit factory work, and if this model still makes sense (Schrager, 2018).

The deeper problem starts with the original intent. How can one develop a proper curriculum without examining the overall motivations?

Finally, the author asks, “Can we widen what parents and others believe to be important in judging the quality of our schools?” (Eisner, 2001, p. 304). I think this is a great question, and the answer is yes. But first fear has to be eliminated.

Perspectives cannot be widened when people are loaded down with fears. Many parents and others have the idea that the purpose of going to school is to get into college, so that you can get a job. Therefore, if you don’t go to college, then your life will be ruined.

If that’s the generally narrative, then it’s going to be difficult to convince someone of the value of activities that fall outside of the scope as what is considered to be academically worthwhile. But it’s not impossible. I think asking questions is a great first step.

The next step comes with individuals being brave enough to follow their own convictions, despite popular opinions. For example, democratic schools are one option for people who feel passionate about education reform. The curriculum of a democratic school is described as such:

At the beginning of the year the children are given curriculum options, which offer about five different lesson possibilities for every hour of every day. Most of these are taught staff, but some are taught children or parents. Each kid spend [sic] the first three weeks checking out classes they found interesting, and then choose which classes they would like to sign-up to for the year. You’re not obligated to choose anything (and in fact free time is also encouraged), but once you choose you are committed to that class for the year, and you accept the rules and requirements of that particular class. (Gher, 2018).

Options such as democratic schools, independent schools, and homeschools are the types of situations that are likely to bring about lasting changes; because a system that was implemented in order to create docile workers is not going to stray too far from the purpose. Change comes from stepping outside of the box. And then you realize that there never actually was a box, it was only a perception that some sort of limitation existed.

(Date: November 20, 2019)


Eisner, E. (2001). What does it mean to say a school is doing well?. In Flinders, D. J., & Thornton, S. J. (Eds.), The Curriculum Studies Reader, Fourth Edition (pp.297-305). New York, NY: Routledge. Retrieved from:

Gher, Y. (23 August 2018). How a democratic school works, and how it improves society. Retrieved from

Schrager, A. 29 June 2018. The modern education system was designed to teach future factory workers to be “punctual, docile, and sober”. Retrieved from

Wong, A. 27 April 2016. Why Would a Teacher Cheat?. Retrieved from