Issue Number 226 January 31, 2018

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, seven free books based on the newsletters are available: Joy of Learning; Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

The Coalition of Essential Schools: Principles for a Good Secondary School Education

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

“Ignorance is merely a condition of lacking knowledge. It is cured by education.” (Unknown.)

“Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.” (Kofi Annan; Ghanaian diplomat, seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, winner of 2001 Peace Prize; 1938-.)

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” (Carl Rogers; American psychologist; 1902-1987.)

We all want children to get a good education. Many great thinkers and many organizations have addressed the question of what constitutes a good education and how to provide (achieve) a good education for all children. For example, Article 26 of the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states:

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

The Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) project began in 1984 in the United States. At its peak, the CES project had more than 1,000 secondary schools as members. It closed in December, 2016.

CES began with nine principles, and eventually added the 10th in the list discussed in this newsletter (Woods, 3/10/2017). Larry Cuban has written an excellent article providing an historical perspective to the CES project (Cuban, 1/2/2018).

In this IAE Newsletter, the ten principles upon which the CES project was based are quoted below (CES, n.d.). As you read this list, you will notice that there is no detail provided on curriculum content, instructional processes, and assessment. The intent was to provide guidance that would endure over the years, as content, pedagogy, and assessment changed.

I have added a personal comment to some of the principles from the point of view of how they are being affected by steady improvements in computer technology and educational research.

1. Learning to use one’s mind well

The school should focus on helping young people learn to use their minds well. Schools should not be “comprehensive” if such a claim is made at the expense of the school’s central intellectual purpose.

Moursund Comment. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has provided us with a “second” brain. It is not like a human brain, but it can solve many problems and accomplish many tasks which in the past have required human brain power. In my opinion, one of the largest weaknesses in our current educational systems is that they do not yet strongly emphasize the idea of human and computer brains working together, each doing what it is best at.

Some of our schools do much better than others in emphasizing critical thinking (Moursund, 2017a). We need students to learn to use a combination of their minds and AI in doing this critical thinking.

2. Less is more: depth over coverage

The school’s goals should be simple: that each student master a limited number of essential skills and areas of knowledge. While these skills and areas will, to varying degrees, reflect the traditional academic disciplines, the program’s design should be shaped by the intellectual and imaginative powers and competencies that the students need, rather than by “subjects” as conventionally defined. The aphorism “less is more” should dominate: curricular decisions should be guided by the aim of thorough student mastery and achievement rather than by an effort to merely cover content.

Moursund Comment. The totality of collected and reasonably readily available human knowledge is immense and growing rapidly (Moursund, 2017b). Our schools face pressure from many different interest groups that want a particular discipline or area of study of study to receive greater emphasis.

Mathematics provides a good example. I have a doctorate in mathematics and certainly consider it to be a very important area of study. But, I think we have gone overboard in the math requirements we place on students in our schools. Moreover, our math curriculum does not adequately reflect the fact that computers can solve most of the types of problems that we currently require students to learn to solve by hand.

I sometimes wonder what constitutes an essential skill. For example, consider the biology and science of genetic engineering (Moursund, November, 2016.). While the beginnings of genetic engineering predate the 1984 start of the CEO, it is only in recent years that this field of biology/technology has exploded. I find it interesting to examine what the general public now knows about genetic engineering, and how such an important topic works its way into the precollege curriculum.

3. Goals apply to all students

The school’s goals should apply to all students, while the means to these goals will vary as those students themselves vary. School practice should be tailor-made to meet the needs of every group or class of students.

Moursund Comment. I strongly support this principle. For years I have felt that Highly Interactive Intelligent Computer-assisted Learning would provide a level of individualization that would much better fit the needs, interests, and abilities of the full range of our students (Mpoursund, November, 2016). This has not yet occurred. In some sense, our schools remain a “sorting” process, rather than focusing on each student getting the most possible benefit from what education can provide.

4. Personalization

Teaching and learning should be personalized to the maximum feasible extent. Efforts should be directed toward a goal that no teacher have direct responsibility for more than 80 students in the high school and middle school and no more than 20 in the elementary school. To capitalize on this personalization, decisions about the details of the course of study, the use of students’ and teachers’ time and the choice of teaching materials and specific pedagogies must be unreservedly placed in the hands of the principal and staff.

Moursund Comment. While many high-cost private secondary schools have a modest number of students per teacher, our typical public secondary school does not come close to meeting the criteria of no more than 80 students per teacher. At least since the time of Benjamin Bloom, we have known the value of individual tutoring—the one-on-one interaction between a student and a teacher over an extended period of time.  Quoting from the Wikipedia (n.d.):

Bloom's 2 sigma problem refers to an educational phenomenon observed by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom and initially reported in 1984 in the journal "Educational Researcher". Bloom found that the average student tutored one-to-one using mastery learning techniques performed two standard deviations better than students who learn via conventional instructional methods. That is, "the average tutored student was above 98% of the students in the control class".

In most instructional situations, the best of current computer-assisted learning materials are not as good as a well-qualified individual human tutor—but in a variety of settings, such materials out-perform an individual teacher who is faced by 25 or more students. Also, think about airline pilot and car driver computer simulations that can allow a learner to experience challenges that cannot be provided by human teachers.

A somewhat different example is provided by computer simulations of science laboratories. First, students can conduct experiments without danger. Second, much of the equipment in a modern science laboratory is computerized. So, computer simulations can actually be quite authentic.

5. Student-as-worker, teacher-as-coach

The governing practical metaphor of the school should be “student-as-worker”, rather than the more familiar metaphor of “teacher as deliverer of instructional services.” Accordingly, a prominent pedagogy will be coaching students to learn how to learn and thus to teach themselves.

Moursund Comment. Two of the most important aspects of learning to use one’s mind are learning to learn and learning to make effective use of aids to learning. Thus, for example, we want students to become good readers so that they can learn by reading. Computer technology has brought us new aids to learning such as computer-assisted learning and the Web—the world’s largest library. Moreover, the Web provides access to video and audio materials, which are great aids to learning.

6. Demonstration of mastery

Teaching and learning should be documented and assessed with tools based on student performance of real tasks. Students not yet at appropriate levels of competence should be provided intensive support and resources to assist them quickly to meet standards. Multiple forms of evidence, ranging from ongoing observation of the learner to completion of specific projects, should be used to better understand the learner’s strengths and needs, and to plan for further assistance. Students should have opportunities to exhibit their expertise before family and community. The diploma should be awarded upon a successful final demonstration of mastery for graduation: an “Exhibition.” As the diploma is awarded when earned, the school’s program proceeds with no strict age grading and with no system of “credits earned” by “time spent” in class.

Moursund Comment. There is considerable research literature on authentic assessment. For me in my everyday life, authentic includes use of my computers. However, few students are currently being tested in an “open computer, connected to the Web” environment. Contrast this with the routine use of such facilities by people at work and play outside of school.

7. A tone of decency and trust

The tone of the school should explicitly and self-consciously stress values of unanxious expectation, of trust, and of decency (fairness, generosity, and tolerance). Incentives appropriate to the school’s particular students and teachers should be emphasized. Families should be key collaborators and vital members of the school community.

8. Commitment to the entire school

The principal and teachers should perceive themselves as generalists first (teachers and scholars in general education) and specialists second (experts in but one particular discipline). Staff should expect multiple obligations (teacher-counselor-manager) and demonstrate a sense of commitment to the entire school.

Moursund Comment. Computer technology has added a new challenge to this principle. We now need every teacher to have a general education in the four basics: reading, writing, arithmetic (math) and reasoning (Computational Thinking). Computational thinking is the use of computer technology and human mental capabilities to address the problems and tasks students are likely to encounter in their further education and in their adult lives (Moursund, 12/23/2016).

9. Resources dedicated to teaching and learning

Ultimate administrative and budget targets should include student loads that promote personalization, substantial time for collective planning by teachers, competitive salaries for staff, and an ultimate per-pupil cost not to exceed that at traditional schools by more than 10 percent. To accomplish this, administrative plans may have to show the phased reduction or elimination of some services now provided to students in many schools.

Moursund Comment. Our current schools are human labor intensive. In industrial-manufacturing and many other aspects of product production and distribution, computers, robots, and other tools have significantly decreased human employment costs. Many people believe that eventually computers will play a significant role in student instruction, and this will decrease the human labor costs of schools. Others believe that this will free up human teachers to provide much more individual and small group interaction with students. I strongly support the latter approach!

10. Democracy and equity (This principle was added later, in the mid-nineties.)

The school should demonstrate non-discriminatory and inclusive policies, practices, and pedagogies. It should model democratic practices that involve all who are directly affected by the school. The school should honor diversity and build on the strength of its communities, deliberately and explicitly challenging all forms of inequity.

Moursund Comment. I am surprised that it took so long for this principle to be added. Reread the second paragraph of the quote from the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights earlier in this newsletter:

Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Final Remarks

I am impressed by how well the CES principles have stood the test of time. They are based on a combination of human values and decency. You will also notice that many of the basic ideas have been widely adopted in our schools. Larry Cuban suggested that this is likely one reason that the CES Project has ended (Cuban, 1/2/2018). To a large extent, it has accomplished its mission.

References and Resources

Cuban, L. (1/2/2018). Whatever happened to the Coalition of Essential Schools? Retrieved 1/11/2018 from

CES (n.d.). Common principles. Coalition of Essential Schools. Retrieved 1/11/2018 from

Moursund, D. (1/5/2018). Rapid changes in GMO technology. IAE Blog. Retrieved 1/12/2018 from

Moursund, D. (12/23/2016). The Fourth R. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the Microsoft Word file from Download the PDF file from Access the book online at

Moursund, D. (2017a). Critical thinking. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 1/11/2018 from

Moursund, D. (2017b). Information underload and overload. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 1/11/20118 from

Moursund, D. (November, 2016). Adding a 4th R to the 3Rs of education. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 1/11/2018 from

Wikipedia (n.d.). Bloom’s 2 sigma problem. Retrieved 1/11/2018 from

Woods, G. (3/10/2017). Farewell from the Coalition of Essential Schools. Retrieved 1/11/2018 from

Free Educational Resources from IAE

Moursund, D. (2017). Free educational videos. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/14/2017 from

Moursund, D, (2017). Free open source software packages. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/14/2017 from

Moursund, D. (2017). Open source and open content educational materials. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/14/2017 from

Moursund, D. (2017). TED talks. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/14/2017 from

IAE publishes and makes available four free online resources:

David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executuve Officer of AGATE.


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