Raymond F. Callahan,  Education And The Cult Of Efficiency
New York: 1990 ISBN080772985X
Pages 18, 19, 113,114, 116,120

That business’s influence was more likely to be pernicious to schools than beneficial was actually framed within rather narrow chronological limits.

Callahan’s claim is based upon events in business development between 1910 and 1930 and not in the era before or since. It was within that specific time frame that Taylorism, the cost accounting mentality, and “efficiency before all else” reached their zenith. Education and the Cult of Efficiency makes, I believe, a persuasive case that these ideas penetrated the fabric of American education and extracted a toll upon operations by reducing children to widgets and by converting the superintendent from an educational leader to a resource manager.

Profound social change is often reflected in metaphor, and, indeed, the era that Raymond Callahan described was no exception. For education it meant the virtual abandonment of the romantic nineteenth century view of the school as a “garden.” The extended metaphor depicted the child as tender seedling, the teacher as a loving gardener, the curriculum as nutrient, and the final process as the transformation of the seedling into a blossoming, hardy plant.

Henceforth, the school was a factory, the child was raw material, the teacher was assembly line worker, the curriculum was the production process, and the end result was a marketable product wanted by a consumer economy. To summarize, in Education and the Cult of Efficiency, Callahan presents a very practical model of the forces behind school reform in the early twentieth century. I includes (1) a new national technology; scientific management; (2) a highly visible and media-centered public criticism of the schools; (3) the business-oriented value system dominating American culture and controlling public education; (4) a response by professors and major programs which brought the “efficiency expert” ideal to the school superintendent; and (5) the vulnerability of the individual superintendent. The acceptance of the business manager model (as opposed to the scholar model of Horace Mann) was the best protection against that vulnerability.

Callahan goes on to document the changes in the organization and administration of public education. specific changes at local district level include

1. Standardized tests as measures of teaching efficiency
2. Score care for school buildings
3. Cost analysis of instruction
4. Questioning of small class size as useful to instruction
5. Use of terms such as school plant, effective products, investment per pupil, cost per pupil recitation, platoon school, and education balance sheet.

Returning to the five elements of natural public education reform set forth by Callahan, we can determine the extent to which the 1980s reform parallels the 1900 reform:

1990 National elements

1. Scientific-Management
2. Media criticism
3. Business orientation
4. University program response
5. Vulnerability of superintendents


1980s National Equivalents

1. Computers—micro-chip technology
2. A Nation at Risk and follow-up
3. Military/industrial orientation
4. State Departments of Education
5. Vulnerability of superintendents and local districts to state departments